Don’t worry. I’m not proposing yet another fantasy team but asking a more concrete question: which 11 players constituted the best ever Test team taking the field on a single day, judged on previous form?
An eerie sense of calm has descended over Australian cricket.
Following the home series loss to India last summer, Australia has proceeded to beat Sri Lanka and retain the Ashes in England while a comfortable series win against Pakistan seems inevitable.
These teams are hardly the major players in Test cricket, but the process has finished with six batsmen who will play many more Tests for Australia. For the first time in a long time, there is stability about Australia’s top six.
Just how long could well be the subject of another article, but it could be argued that you have to head way back to the Ashes rout in 2006/07. Australia’s batting order was Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds.
I’m not suggesting that Australia’s current batting order is anywhere near as strong as this one, far from it, but they have do have one similarity in that no one in either team was or is under lots of pressure to retain their place.
Let’s work through the current batting order. David Warner was under plenty of pressure coming home from the Ashes. However a brilliant start to the home summer across all formats, most recently with centuries in consecutive Tests, has him once again firmly entrenched.
Joe Burns was perhaps lucky to get picked in the first Test against Pakistan, but his 97 has him firmly set for the remainder of the home summer and likely beyond. Four centuries from his 18 Tests is the best strike rate among the competitors for his role, and only marginally lower than Warner. He should be retained long term after being in and out of the Australian setup.
Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to argue this case without Marnus Labuschagne. He hasn’t looked back since coming in for Steve Smith in the Ashes. We saw glimpses of what he could do against India last summer but he worked hard on tightening up his technique.
Amazingly enough, at the time of writing, he had the most Test runs of any player in 2019.
Although Labuschagne has adopted many of Steve Smith’s mannerisms, he is distinctly old school in his approach. Don’t play outside off stump, make the bowlers bowl to you and then work them through leg side for fun. He will play for Australia long term.
I don’t need to justify Steve Smith. Arguably the second-best of all time. Next.
The selectors took a long time to bring Matthew Wade back into the team. Eventually, the weight of runs told. Two Ashes centuries against England have solidified his spot and the 60 against Pakistan was well made in reasonably quick time when Australia wanted quick runs.
Travis Head has obviously got talent and that is why Australia will stick with him at number 6. He only has one hundred to his name but remarkably averages 42, so getting a start doesn’t seem to be an issue for Head.
He just needs to work out what he needs to do to convert 50s into 100s. At just 25, time is on his side.
The advantage of a settled top six is that they all go out to bat knowing that one or two failures won’t cost them their spot. The resulting sense of calmness should help them perform without that added slice of pressure.
The constantly changing nature of Australia’s batting order in recent years has led to casualties within the Australian cricketing landscape. A settled order when new players come in to cover injuries would go a long way towards alleviating this. Having one or two Tests to solidify a spot just isn’t a reasonable ask.
Tougher battles lie ahead, with New Zealand shaping up to be a real challenge in the upcoming three-Test series. However, you get the feeling that this lineup will be up to the task. Australian cricket may again be on the rise.