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Opinion

Australian selectors should toss conventional thinking for Tests this summer

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Roar Guru
18th November, 2019
75

The basis for any cricket match is simple: the team that makes the most runs wins games.

Of course there are games that end up as draws, but clearly a side making fewer runs than their opposition can’t win.

This simple premise forms the basis for selecting Test sides. Traditionally Australian teams have had six batsmen, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers. This formula has varied from time to time, with all-rounders being included at the expense of a batsman.

The aim of this selection formula has been to score lots of runs using Test-quality batsmen and then take 20 opposition wickets for fewer runs using Test quality bowlers.

For the past century or more Australia has been gifted with having lots of choices for both batting and bowling roles, so selectors have been able to stick with this very conventional approach to selecting Test cricket teams.

In 2019, though, we have a serious imbalance in the pools of bowlers and batsmen. We have a massive oversupply of top-quality fast bowlers and significant undersupply of Test-quality batsmen.

Steve Smith.

(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Australian XI that’s likely to play in the first Test this summer will contain three batsmen who, on form, don’t deserve their places. The problem is that all other contenders have fallen by the wayside, forcing selectors to include Dave Warner, Joe Burns and Travis Head.

At the other end of the scale Australia will most likely leave out Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, James Pattinson (suspended) and Chad Sayers. These are all Test-quality bowlers in either good or very good form.

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Why don’t selectors get really brave and choose this list?

  1. Pat Cummins
  2. Nathan Lyon
  3. Marnus Labuschgne
  4. Steve Smith
  5. Matthew Wade
  6. Tim Paine
  7. Mitchell Starc
  8. Michael Neser
  9. Jhye Richardson
  10. Chad Sayers
  11. Josh Hazlewood

At first glance this side looks really weird. But is it?

Traditional thinking about winning games implies teams have to make lots of runs because the four bowlers traditionally chosen may need to bowl a lot of overs each to get a team out twice.

In this instance, this team has seven genuine bowling options, so the need to make a lot of runs to win games should be significantly reduced.

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Seven bowlers also means Tim Paine will always have guys fit and raring to go at any stage in an innings. This means the quicks can bowl flat out knowing they’d only have a short spell before another top-line bowler replaces them.

Playing all of these guys also removes the need for the ridiculous bowling rotation policy, there being no need to decide which bowlers should play on which surfaces – they all get a game!

Naysayers will point out the obvious: playing this number of bowlers will weaken the batting, especially with Cummins and Lyon to open the innings. But will it?

The following table highlights when Australia lost its first and second wickets during the recent Ashes series;

First innings Second innings
First Test 2, 17 13, 27
Second Test 11, 60 13, 19
Third Test 12, 35 10, 36
Fourth Test 1, 28 0, 16
Fifth Test 5, 14 18, 29

Surely Cummins and Lyon could not do any worse, and once they became comfortable in the role they might surprise many – if only they were they to be given the chance to show what they can do. An additional benefit from these two opening the batting would be that they’ll be fresh when it comes time to bowl.

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Labuschagne and Smith repeatedly showed in England their resolve to gut it out, which is exactly what they would need to do in this line-up, but each is in good form, Smith spectacularly so. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect those two, Wade and Paine to make enough runs for this team to win Tests, but how many would they need?

The great West Indies teams of the 1980s reckoned they had enough runs if their batsmen gave them 200 runs to bowl to. In chasing they were very confident about running down teams, leaving chases of 150 to 180. This was with four quality bowlers, so this should be a very achievable number if Paine has seven Test bowlers to use and with Smith in the team.

Sadly, though, this approach of choosing our very best cricketers won’t happen and we’ll all be hoping three out-of-form batsmen suddenly come good, otherwise four very in-form bowlers are going to have a very long Test summer.