There are three aspects to being a good Test cricketer: ability, experience and form.
All the ability in the world means nothing if players can’t use it when the occasion demands because they’re out of form or lack the experience to manage pressure situations. In reverse, the most experienced players can’t win games if they lack the ability or the form to do so.
The current Australian batsmen and the fringe batsmen who might be considered for selection are all missing at least one of these key aspects, Steve Smith excepted.
The following table highlights the number of Tests each has played as well as their current Test average. These are the players selectors considered when trying to come up with an Ashes squad.
The top six players formed the batting line-up for the fifth Test, and there are some telling issues.
Everyone knows about Dave Warner’s lack of form, but the averages for the other batsmen, excluding Smith, are simply not Test standard. It’s a serious issue when Tim Paine, who most pundits don’t rate as a Test batsman, has a better average than Nos. 2, 5 and 6. Throw in a lack of form or poor technique and it’s a wonder the side managed to make enough runs to win the Tests that it did.
The supposed challengers for Test batting spots also have their own issues, either through a lack of form, a lack of experience or, in some cases, both. These players were all given plenty of opportunities before the series started and none did enough to displace one of the touring squad. In other words, a lack of form, experience or ability stopped them from touring.
Some could argue Glenn Maxwell or even Aaron Finch could have been considered, and it’s likely their names were mentioned but discarded through a lack of either form or technique at Test level or some indifferent batting in other games.
The problem Australian selectors face is trying to find Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6 when the current crop and their challengers are failing at least one of the three key elements required to be a good Test player.
Guys like Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head seem to need only more experience as their techniques, while not perfect, look like they will improve with more Test under their belts. In that case, they need extended time in the side.
The same could be said for Joe Burns, but his lack of form killed his chances of touring, so he needs runs badly and soon.
The techniques of Marcus Harris, Matthew Wade, Mitch Marsh, Cameron Bancroft, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Kurtis Patterson were given a severe examination and found wanting. They all need to change some aspect of their game, but should they be allowed to do this in an actual Test or do they need to prove themselves in Sheffield Shield cricket?
What happens if these guys cannot make the changes required? Do the selectors persist with guys averaging in the 20s or 30s or do they turn to players many pundits have discarded – Warner and Usman Khawaja, for example?
It will probably take two or three years for the Australian batting line-up to become settled and effective as a Test batting unit. That’s assuming the current contenders stay in form and/or gain experience and/or fix their techniques.
Selectors are probably going to be making some very unpopular decisions along the way, but as long as they’re made for the right reasons, that should be acceptable.
It would make no sense, for example, to drop a guy who needs experience to improve his batting for a player who has a flawed technique. As we’ve just seen, guys with substandard technique are very quickly found out by good bowlers, and both our upcoming opponents, Pakistan and New Zealand, have quality attacks.
It may take some time to get the team right and the selectors might have to make some controversial changes, but as long as the end result is a new dynasty of great Test cricketers, Australian fans might have to suffer some short-term pain for some long-term gain.