My latest article about Test XIs we should have played looks at a series that actually happened in the 21st century: the Australian tour of India in 2012-13. Or, as I call it, the worst selected squad of all time.
Okay, that’s a little over the top. I’m not across the history of every cricket squad selected. It would be more accurate to call it the worst Australian cricket squad in recent memory. In my opinion, anyway.
It was a weird time in Australian cricket. Post-Argus review. Post-Katich. Post-Ponting. Post-Hussey. Post-Quiney. (Sorry, low-hanging fruit.)
Michael Clarke had taken over, along with Mickey Arthur as coach. We had just lost at home to South Africa but Clarke’s form with the bat was impressive and his tactics inspired. We had solid fast bowling stocks: Ryan Harris, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird, Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson.
Nathan Lyon was a decent spinner on his way to being a great one. Dave Warner was at the beginning of a glorious career.
Here’s the squad the selectors picked:
1. Michael Clarke (captain)
2. Shane Watson (vice-captain) (he couldn’t bowl so he played as a specialist batsman)
3. Ed Cowan
4. Phillip Hughes
5. Usman Khawaja
6. Steve Smith
7. David Warner
8. Jackson Bird
9. Mitchell Johnson
10. James Pattinson
11. Peter Siddle
12. Mitchell Starc
13. Xavier Doherty
14. Nathan Lyon
15. Moisés Henriques
16. Glenn Maxwell
17. Matthew Wade
Let’s take a look at the batsmen. The one lock was Clarke. And Warner, I guess, though he hadn’t become Warner yet. Cowan had done okay. Khawaja had potential. So too Phil Hughes and Steve Smith. Khawaja and Hughes had been scoring a lot of runs at domestic level; Smith less so but he clearly had plenty of talent.
Watson shouldn’t have gone. His batting had slumped ever since his former opening partner Simon Katich had been dropped from the national side. Watson managed to hold on to his position because of his incredible one-day form, and the fact he could bowl and the fact that… well, he looked so good. But Watson in Tests was so inconsistent. I think if Katich had still been playing, Watson’s form wouldn’t have dropped away, but he had and it did.
The selection of fast bowlers would have been relatively easy. You can’t fault any of them: Bird, Johnson, Pattinson, Siddle, Starc. Well, you could find faults – Johnson was maddeningly erratic, a rare bowler who could win and cost you Tests, often in the same series (hey there, 2009 Ashes… and 2010-11 Ashes). But it’s hard to resist the appeal of such a potent weapon.
Now for the spinners. Australia only took two – this, to India. Yes there was Maxwell, but Maxwell was, and only ever has been, a part timer useful for a few overs. Nathan Lyon deserved his spot. So too did Steve O’Keefe who took 24 wickets that summer at 22. But they overlooked O’Keefe in favour of… Xavier Doherty, who had taken two wickets at 80. It was an insane decision and led one to ask, not for the first or last time, what the deal was with the selectors and O’Keefe.
Henriques was picked so we had an all-rounder because an all-rounder had… never helped us win in India. Or anywhere, really, at least not since Keith Miller but we had to have one apparently, so… at least Maxwell averaged 40 with the bat.
And for the wicketkeeping was Wade, who had batted very well at Test level. His keeping wasn’t so hot. Australia had become frustrated over its ability to dismiss sides, especially in that recent series against South Africa at home. This prompted the selectors to continually try to sneak an extra bowler into the side and to be impatient with Lyon. What often wasn’t discussed was that a really excellent keeper is the equivalent of a fifth bowler. We didn’t have that with Wade.
Australia’s side for the first Test was as follows:
1. Ed Cowan
2. David Warner
3. Phil Hughes
4. Shane Watson
5. Michael Clarke
6. Matthew Wade
7. Moises Henriques
8. Mitchell Starc
9. Peter Siddle
10. James Pattinson
11. Nathan Lyon
It was a risky move to go into a Test match with five specialist bats, including one (Watson) who would’ve been dropped years ago if he couldn’t bowl, but presumably the selectors felt that Henriques and Wade compensated. Well, it didn’t work out that way. The batting collapsed, the bowlers were caned, India won by eight wickets.
For the second Test we dropped Starc for Maxwell to boost the batting and Lyon for… Doherty. The batting collapsed, the bowlers were caned, India won by an innings and 135 runs.
The third Test happened after homework gate, which saw Watson, Pattinson, Johnson and Khawaja ruled as ineligible for selection. Steve Smith came in for Watson, Starc for Pattinson, Lyon for Maxwell, and Haddin for an injured Wade. The batsmen made runs in the first innings, but collapsed in the second, the bowlers were caned, India won by six wickets.
Then was the fourth Test. Clarke was injured so Watson came back, this time as captain (such was the leadership vacuum in the team at the time, there was no one else), Maxwell replaced Henriques, Johnson came in for Doherty and Pattinson for Starc. It was Australia’s best bowling performance of the series but the batting collapsed gain and India won by six wickets.
First, it should be acknowledged that that Indian team were awesome. Full of champions, well balanced, playing at home, all that stuff.
But we didn’t have to bend over backwards to help them so much.
Australia just needed to pick its six best batsmen, best wicketkeeper and four bowlers.
But they were always trying to sneak in an extra player. ‘Well if we have a keeper who can bat maybe we can have a bowler who can bat, and then another spinner, and…’
I also think a team that just lost Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey suffered from a major maturity vacuum that they needed to at least try to replace.
Here’s the squad they should have taken.
1. Michael Clarke (c)
2. Simon Katich
3. Phil Hughes
4. Chris Rogers
5. David Warner
6. Usman Khawaja
7. David Hussey
8. Cameron White
9. Jackson Bird
10. Mitchell Johnson
11. James Pattinson
12. Peter Siddle
13. Trent Copeland
14. Steve O’Keefe
15. Nathan Lyon
16. Nathan Haurtiz
17. Chris Hartley
Before you throw things at me, I’ll explain my selections. (Then you can throw things at me.)
As mentioned previously, I wouldn’t have taken Watson – too erratic, he sucked up too much oxygen in the team. Cricket journos would allege the fans hated Watson, which wasn’t true – they just hated the way he was never dropped for form.
I wouldn’t have taken Cowan, either. It’s hard not to have affection for Cowan, but there were other, better candidates. In the absence of Ponting and Hussey I would’ve gone for the sheer first-class consistency of Chris Rogers and David Hussey.
Rogers would soon get in the side and do very well; Hussey might’ve done the same but for a poor domestic summer 2012-13 – but the man averaged 55 at first-class level… I would’ve overlooked an iffy few games in the context of his career.
I would’ve asked Katich to come back – he’d retired from first-class cricket in Australia but was still playing Big Bash and county cricket in England (Clarke later wrote he wanted Katich in the 2013 Ashes squad).
And for the eighth person, I would like to claim I would’ve picked Smith but I wouldn’t have, not then anyway, I would’ve gone for Cameron White… I’m trying to be honest here, and not wise in hindsight. I would’ve been wrong about White over Smith but not about the others – and the basis for most of my selections were simply first-class averages.
For the fast bowlers I would’ve taken Trent Copeland over Mitchell Starc. Starc was, is and will be a superb bowler, I just feel a line-and-lengther would’ve done better in India and then in England. I don’t think picking Starc was a mistake though. (It only was when playing him and Johnson at the same time.)
Glenn Maxwell is probably my favourite cricketer of the 2010s and I hate he’s never been given a decent trial in the Test team but he didn’t deserve to be picked in the Test side then. Neither did Henriques.
For spinners, Lyon and O’Keefe’s selection seemed beyond logical and I still can’t understand why O’Keefe didn’t go.
I would’ve taken a third specialist; as Fawad Ahmed wasn’t available for national selection until the end of 2013, I would’ve picked Nathan Hauritz. He was no world beater, but was better than Doherty, and had experience of Indian conditions.
As as for a wicketkeeper, I wouldn’t have dropped Brad Haddin back in 2012 (and the selectors to their credit soon realised their mistake), but if he was, I would’ve picked Chris Hartley to replace him (great keeper, good fighter). I never would’ve picked Wade. (I feel obliged to add I think the way Wade fought his way back into the side as a batsman is amazing).
So my side for the first Test:
6. D. Hussey
Looking back on the squad to India, one is struck by how many of the selections seemed driven by blind hope rather than reason. Hope that, say, Maxwell or Doherty would become a Test quality spinner, in India of all places, or that Henriques would give you two players for the price of one, or that Wade’s odd useful innings would compensate for the missed catches and stumpings, or that Watson would blossom without having to bowl even though he’d never done that, or that our pacemen will save us.
Australia had a torrid time after this tour, with Dave Warner being suspended, Mickey Arthur sacked, and the Ashes going down 3-0. Then things turned around almost overnight with Australia winning the Ashes at home 5-0, driven by incredible bowling from Mitchell Johnson and batting from Haddin. This proved to be a false dawn as Australia collapsed in a heap again in the UAE in 2014, making many of the same mistakes they did in India in 2013, and we still haven’t learned how to win overseas like we used to.
Test cricket is hard. Just pick the six best batsmen, best keeper and four best bowlers. Stop trying to be clever. It never works.
I recognise this is easier to say writing about at my desk rather than on the spot but I’m hardly proposing something radical, am I?
I’ve enjoyed doing this series for The Roar and have loved the responses, but might stop for a while. However if any other readers want to have a go at their own hypothetical XIs for great Australian disasters over the years, I’d love to read it!