Australia must stick with Khawaja and Marsh brothers

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Vernon Philander and team mates of South Africa celebrate the wicket of Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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    After losing three members of their top six due to the ball-tampering scandal, Australia need to quickly decide upon their best Test batting line-up and then give these players time to grow.

    Australia’s batting unit is so greatly weakened by the loss of Steve Smith and David Warner that it will surely falter many times over the duration of that pair’s 12-month bans.

    When it does so repeatedly the temptation will be to lose patience and make changes in the forlorn hope new faces will help stem the bleeding. More than likely they wouldn’t – there are no readymade star batsmen biding their time in the Sheffield Shield.

    There are plenty of talented players who may well be able to succeed in Tests, but they too would need time and patience to find their feet at the highest level.

    Now is not the time for the Australian selectors to begin shuffling the deck constantly. The best thing they could do for a team trying to rebuild from a devastating incident is to pick who they believe to be the best 11 cricketers in the country and then guarantee those players a fair run.

    Australia’s bowling line-up picks itself, but it is on the batting front that there will be a lure to tinker. In the fourth Test against the Proteas Australia had close to their best possible top seven, with the only change I would make being to bring in Glenn Maxwell at the expense of Peter Handscomb.

    Glenn Maxwell Cricket Australia 2017

    (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

    Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh had awful series in South Africa, averaging 20 and 18 with the bat respectively, but they’re now Australia’s two most capped batsmen, and experience is a precious commodity after losing more than 12,000 Test runs in the form of Smith and Warner.

    Khawaja and Marsh both have serious queries over their ability to adapt to foreign conditions. The former has averaged just 18 in his past eight Tests away from home. Meanwhile, Marsh scored three tons in his first nine away Tests but since then has floundered, also averaging 18 in his past eight Tests outside Australia.

    Fortunately for Australia eight of their next nine scheduled Tests are at home, with the solitary away Test being against Zimbabwe, the weakest team in the format. That one-off Test in Zimbabwe this July will be followed by two home Tests against Bangladesh in August, four home Tests against India in November and December and two home Tests against Sri Lanka in January.

    That is a generous schedule, particularly for the Australian batting line-up, which will have time to gel in almost exclusively home conditions and against three weak pace attacks. They will need to make the most of this relatively easy run of bowling opponents because after that they will face consecutive major challenges.

    First they will play three Tests next March against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, where Australia’s batting line-up fell in a heap on their last visit in 2014. That will be followed by the Ashes in England, home of the Dukes ball and seaming pitches which have troubled them so often.

    By that stage Australia will have back the world’s best Test batsman in Smith and, perhaps, their best opening batsman in Warner.

    Until one or both of that star pair return Australia need to resist making too many changes to their batting line-up. After Warner and the banned Cameron Bancroft, Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns are clearly the two best first-class openers in the country and both have experienced periods of success at Test level.

    At 22 and 28 years old respectively, they have the potential to become a long-term opening partnership for Australia and must be given a long rope.

    The 31-year-old Khawaja and 34-year-old Shaun Marsh have higher expectations on them given their age and experience. Behind them at five I would love to see Maxwell finally given an extended run in the Test line-up.

    Shaun Marsh reacts with brother Mitchell

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The Victorian has been very poorly treated by the selectors so far in his Test career. Not only have all seven of his Tests been in Asia, the most difficult location for Australian batsmen, but those seven Tests incredibly have been spread out across four separate stints in the team.

    Imagine being dropped four times in a Test career of just seven matches. That is ridiculous. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Maxwell has been tossed around the batting order like a ragdoll, batting in every single position from opening to eight.

    Yes, you read correctly, in the space of 14 Test innings Maxwell has opened, and also batted at three, four, five, six, seven and eight. Aboslutely gobsmacking.

    Maxwell should be given time to find his feet at five, with Mitch Marsh provided similar latitude at six. The younger Marsh brother had a very disappointing end to the series in South Africa, but it must not be forgotten he also played easily the best innings of the series by an Aussie, with his backs-to-the-wall 96 setting up a victory in the first Test.

    In seven Tests since returning to the Test team Marsh has made 496 runs at 45, including two tons and that 96.

    At just 26 years old Marsh has not yet reached what are typically the peak years for a batting all-rounder. Given the lack of outstanding candidates to replace him, it would be wise to see whether Marsh can learn from his lean trot across the last three Tests in South Africa.

    Australia’s Test batting options are limited at present. That is why it is so important for the selectors to pick the best top six and then back them in.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (76)

    • April 7th 2018 @ 7:08am
      concerned supporter said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:08am | ! Report

      You are kidding, Rohan.
      How embarrassing were the Marshmallows & Kwawaja.

      • April 7th 2018 @ 7:35am
        rock said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:35am | ! Report

        And what outstanding players do you replace them with?

        Fact is they are still the best in our Shield ranks, until that changes, they stay in the Aus team.

        • April 7th 2018 @ 3:45pm
          KenoathCarnt said | April 7th 2018 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

          Burns
          Renshaw
          Khawaja
          Hughes
          Maxwell
          Paine
          Wildermuth
          Cummins
          Starc
          Rogers
          Lyon

          • April 8th 2018 @ 1:05am
            Malo said | April 8th 2018 @ 1:05am | ! Report

            If you want to keep losing, by all means. Keep them for local tests and abandon them for overseas ones

    • Roar Guru

      April 7th 2018 @ 7:15am
      Chris Kettlewell said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      Hard to argue with that. Khawaja has consistently looked a class above everyone in the Shield when he’s played there. There’s definitely nobody you could argue on Shield form to be a better option. Shaun Marsh I think is probably the one I’d give the least rope to largely because, at the stage of career he’s at, he should either be the consistent rock of the order or his position becomes tenuous.

      Do you reckon Handscomb is a bit like the Australian Gary Ballance? Scores lots of runs in domestic cricket, gets picked for test cricket, initially does really well, but has a dodgy technique that then gets picked apart by test bowling lineups and starts failing miserably. Goes back to domestic cricket and continues to score lots of runs with the same dodgy technique which gives false belief that he doesn’t need to change his technique and therefore find it almost impossible to succeed at international level?

      I do think that the coaching appointment is a vital one. The right coaching team should be able to work out how to get the best out of each of the players at test level. So far we’ve continually seen players struggling to just play the way they do at domestic level when they get to test cricket. Players, like Khawaja, who are confident stroke players and look in total control in domestic cricket (even in seaming conditions when faced with test quality attacks when all the test players are back playing domestic cricket) looks a shell of himself in test cricket much of the time.

      When I see that sort of thing, I often wonder what on earth the coaching staff are getting paid to do!

      • Columnist

        April 7th 2018 @ 10:39am
        Ronan O'Connell said | April 7th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        While Handscomb looked shaky against pace in that last Test he had improved his positioning on the crease.

        He was not starting from as deep in the crease and when he came forward to drive his front foot was actually well outside the crease, not on or behind it like in the Ashes. That’s a positive change at least,

        • April 8th 2018 @ 2:02pm
          Fergus said | April 8th 2018 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          The reality is that Khawaja has been poor away from home for his entire career and abysmal since 2016. South Africa is the closest away conditions you can get to Australia and he failed terribly their. Yes he has been a god at home but this summer showed his form is starting to fail there, and you can’t have a batsmen in your side who can only contribute at home. It creates selection headaches as you either have to carry him away from home or drop him for away tours then drop his replacement at home. The reality is you could chuck any batsmen from domestic cricket in the team and they’d have just as good a chance at averaging 20 as khawaga away form home. I wouldn’t drop him right now but he is on very thin rope. if he fails at home he should be dropped and if he fails in his next away tour he should be dropped. Same goes for shaun marsh really. They are both over 30 and australia has nothing to lose in blooding younger players if there losing or getting nothing out of there older players anyway.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 7:19am
      Brasstax said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      If Mitch Marsh is among our best top six batsmen in an hour of crisis, then something is seriously wrong with FC cricket and we are in dire straits.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 7:32am
      Rob JM said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Mitch Marsh has just had ankle surgery, so he’s out till summer. Along with Maxwell, Head and Fergusson would be in consideration. S Marsh is not a leader, and is looking over the hill. Time to move on I think. Khawaja needs to step up.
      Allrounder wise Wildermuth had a decent season with both bat and ball.
      Tremain is obviously the lead candidate with the ball now. Ave 21 this season despite all the games at the MCG.
      Would like to know more about Nick Winter, took 4 5 wicked hauls from 5 games.

      • Columnist

        April 7th 2018 @ 10:47am
        Ronan O'Connell said | April 7th 2018 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        Strangely that Mitch Marsh ankle injury report from AAP that’s doing the rounds states Australia’s next Test series is a 2-match series against Pakistan in the UAE, although it doesn’t specify what dates that will occur.

        That series is not listed for this year on either the ICC or Cricket.com.au websites – the ICC’s Future Tours Programme has the Pakistan series listed as 3 Tests, not 2, and to be played in March next year.

    • April 7th 2018 @ 7:59am
      donfreo said | April 7th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Well done Ronan, Flemo (and all his personalities) will at last be pleased.

      • April 7th 2018 @ 9:54am
        Don Freo said | April 7th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        What rubbish, donfreo

    • April 7th 2018 @ 8:05am
      Roger said | April 7th 2018 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Maxwell is a must – the way the selectors have treated him, bouncing him around the order at a whim, has been pretty rough. I’d love to see him get some home tests under his belt on the roads that others have prospered on rather than being pitchforked in when it’s crunch time overseas.

      SMarsh and Uzzie are fortunate to be around at this time (the reverse of Stuart Law and many others who were unfortunate to be around when the team was so strong) but as you say, their experience can’t be discarded now. Hopefully they’ll step up as the senior batsmen.

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