Like I lot of people who read The Roar, I enjoy being a self-appointed selector and doing my own hypothetical Test XIs. It’s part of the fun of following a sport – it’s also a way of channelling frustration at some of the decisions of the real selectors.
A two-Test series against Pakistan is coming up in the UAE. It’s a really intriguing time because of sandpapergate – but even had Dave Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft been available for selection, the performance bar for Australian teams overseas is extremely low because of our rotten record.
In recent years we’ve been wiped out by England, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan in their own backyards (counting the UAE as home for Pakistan), and only just got away with a draw against Bangladesh. If Australia manage to not be thrashed in both Tests it’ll probably be acclaimed as a great victory for the new Langer-Paine regime – and in fairness, that would an improvement.
Who should play in the Tests? Selection got a bit tricker with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins ruled out but there are still plenty of really strong players available.
My team at the moment, for what it’s worth (i.e. not much!), is this:
1) Matt Renshaw: Been in blistering county and Shield form, he’s been through his sophomore slump, the stage is set for him to stay at the top of the order for a decade.
2) Usman Khawaja: I go hot and cold on Khawaja, but his county form has been impressive. He opens for Queensland and he’d partner well with Renshaw.
3) Travis Head: He never quite breaks through in the way he promises to but he played some wonderful Shield innings last season, his batting is improving, and he offers a bowling option and captaincy experience. For me, this gives him the edge over, say, Shaun Marsh or Joe Burns.
4) George Bailey (vc): A tough campaigner. Has as good a first class average as Shaun Marsh and offers better fielding and captaincy options. Teams seem to win when he’s in them. And I feel Australia could use his good nature and mature head.
5) Peter Handscomb: Good player against spin, good fielder, smart head.
6) Glenn Maxwell: The best fielder in the country, offers a bowling option and has solid first class form. Just needs one-fifth the support and patience that’s been given to Mitchell Marsh.
7) Tim Paine (c): Has done a tough job in difficult circumstances and deserves his gig. He would have plenty of captaincy support with Bailey, Handscomb, Head and Khawaja in the side.
8) Steve O’Keefe: I don’t know who he’s annoyed at the moment but he’s still the second best spin bowler in the country. If he’s injured, then Jon Holland, who’s the third best.
9) Mitchell Starc: A lock.
10) Nathan Lyon: Another lock
11): The second paceman is… honestly I’m open about this one. On UAE wickets I’d be happy with Chris Tremain, Jackson Bird or Chad Sayers. I’d go experience. And a medium pacer would go better in the UAE than a speedster.
I haven’t picked the Marshes. Mitchell still averages 30 with the bat at first class level and was poor in series loses against Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and Pakistan. Shaun has had his moments but is the oldest promising player in Australian cricket and doesn’t bring anything else to the party (captaincy, fielding or bowling).
Both will play however because Langer has such an investment in their success and also, to be fair, both had their moments over the last summer.
I think Langer will push for a West Australian for that second paceman spot, and I doubt anyone will fight him too hard because of the Australian selectors’ traditional preference for bowlers who can clock over 140 km/h, because that’s been so successful overseas (to clarify – I was being sarcastic there because it hasn’t, but they don’t seem to have realised).
I also think Langer will push for Ashton Agar as the second spinner because of the personal connection… but believe Jon Holland is a good chance at the latter if he does well on the Australian A tour. (I stress, this is all guessing.)
The selection panel have gone off Bailey – he’s too old for someone whose surname isn’t Marsh and isn’t a pretty strokemaker. They seem to be on the fence about Head and Handscomb – these two players have a chance to press claims during the Australia A tour. I don’t think Joe Burns is any chance.
I’ve got no idea what the selectors think of Maxwell in this post-Lehmann, post-Smith era. If he was picked on the Australia A tour, I’d say he was a lock. I get the impression (I could be wrong) they go back and forth – but Ricky Ponting is enthusiastic, which will no doubt carry weight with Langer. Also, Langer can surely see the narrative benefits in being the one who finally turns Maxwell into a Test champion.
So my feeling is that this is the planned Test team at the moment:
1) Matt Renshaw
2) Usman Khawaja
3) Shaun Marsh
4) Pete Handscomb
5) Glenn Maxwell
6) Mitchell Marsh (vice-captain)
7) Tim Paine (captain)
8) Ashton Agar
9) Mitchell Starc
10) Jhye Richardson
11) Nathan Lyon
I think Head and Kurtis Patterson have an excellent chance to supplant Maxwell and Handscomb with strong Australia A performances.
Am I right? We’ll see.
Roll on the Australian A tour.