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Opinion

A pathway for Australia’s next generation of Test batsmen

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Roar Guru
4th January, 2022
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Now that the Ashes have been retained, a lot of interest for the series seems to be focused who will be selected in the last two Tests.

Much was made about the inclusion of Nic Maddinson, Josh Inglis and Mitchell Marsh, while plenty of media talk has surrounded whether Mitchell Swepson should debut at the SCG.

Throw in discussion about Scott Boland’s future at Test level and the bowling squad in general and it’s safe to say there are lots of guys knocking on the door to play Test cricket.

There are two problems, though. The first is whether these guys and others not in the Test squad are good enough to oust the incumbents. The second issue is providing some opportunities, so fringe players can show off their talents.

A possible solution would require some bravery from the Australian selectors and a look back in time to the Aussie summer of 1994-95. I propose creating an Australian ODI team composed of fringe Test players.

Over the next seven months, Australia has the following series (ODIs only):

•South Africa in Australia – three matches
•New Zealand in Australia – three matches
•Australia in Pakistan – three matches
•Australia vs Afghanistan in India – three matches
•Australia in Sri Lanka – five matches

Rather than choose our traditional ODI team, which would include the likes of Aaron Finch, Marnus Labschagne, Steve Smith and the Test quicks, my suggested squad is;

Glenn Maxwell (c)
Usman Khawaja
Mitchell Marsh
Will Pucovski
Nic Maddinson
Mitchell Swepson
Mark Stekatee
Ashton Agar
Matthew Kuhnemann
Josh Phillipe
Josh Inglis
Henry Hunt
Bryce Street
Matt Renshaw
Michael Neser
Scott Boland
Adam Zampa

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There are any number of benefits from this approach.

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1. Our ODI team is ageing and sooner rather than later, some of these players will replace the Finchs, Warners, etc. Why not give them exposure to international cricket now?

2. It will take all the pressure off those players who have been used in both red and white-ball formats, allowing them to focus on winning Tests in Asia.

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3. It will give selectors a good chance to look at some exciting talent, not in the high-pressure environment of Tests, but still in international cricket

4. It will provide development opportunities for the players. How else can a squad this size gain experience playing cricket, especially in Asia, which Australia hardly seems to tour these days?

Mitchell Swepson of Australia bowls against England

Mitchell Swepson bowls against England (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

5. Given a number of these series coincide with Tests, it will provide an additional group of players who are match fit. It will also provide some good practice, should Justin Langer decide he wants to stage more intra-squad practice matches.

6. It will both reward the fringe players in the squad, but will also give them a taste of international cricket, as well as presenting opportunities to step into a more permanent role with either the ODI or Test sides.

7. It will provide much-needed match practice in conditions foreign to most Australian players. This in turn will provide selectors with valuable insights into who might be capable of taking the next step, just as selectors learnt from the ODI series in the summer of 1994-95.

8. A bonus could be the players in the Test squad would be freed up to play four-day cricket this summer, when that resumes. This would give them ongoing red-ball matches and their presence would certainly strengthen the Shield competition.

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Opposing teams would be hard pressed to complain about the quality of this Australian squad. They would still be facing a formidable team, even though a lot of recognised Australia ODI players would not be playing.

The best XI from this squad would certainly give the normal Australian ODI team a serious run for its money in a three-game series.

Detractors will be quick to point out this is white-ball, 50-over cricket versus red-ball Test cricket and of course they’re right.

It’s tough for batsmen to make the adjustment from trying to hit a ramp shot six from ball one, to trying to stave off a quick, bowling with a red ball at 90 miles per hour. It’s equally hard for bowlers to change approaches from white-ball variations to red-ball building pressure over after over.

That said, each player has a point to prove and could use these opportunities to send a message to selectors.

Glenn Maxwell can, as captain, bat where he likes in the order, so why not bat high in Asia to allow time to build an innings and remind selectors how well he plays spin.

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Glenn Maxwell of Australia hits out

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB)

Ditto for Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh. Both have to show they can play well in tough, spinning conditions.

Will Pucovski needs to open the innings and bat long, but is advantaged because he won’t have to be too concerned about bouncers or concussions.

Inglis, Phillipe, Maddinson and Renshaw have to be in the frame for both Test and ODI middle order batting positions. This squad would present lots of chances to stake claims for one of these spots.

Any one of the bowlers could easily be asked to play Tests, with the exception of Matthew Kuhnemann. For him, membership in this squad is about gaining experience.

Bryce Street is something of an odd man out, but playing in an ODI team would hopefully get him to play more expansively. At the least, it should teach him about keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

All too often we hear about these ODI series being considered a waste of time, but I’m sure there would be enormous interest in the series held in Australia for a start. Assuming this squad was successful, this interest would likely flow to the overseas series as well.

One final point about this suggestion and that’s about the coach. This is a squad all about opportunity and development, so I’d want someone like Ricky Ponting in charge. I can see players thriving under his mentoring and the team collectively doing extremely well.

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Langer should still tour, but as a selector and as the Test coach, just to ease the pressure on him over a tough 6-12 months.

Australia needs to be very careful about going the same way as England has with their dearth of Test-ready players.

In an ideal world, we’d follow India’s lead and provide opportunities through A squad tours and four-day matches. This is probably the next best thing. Hopefully Cricket Australia and the selectors see it this way, too.

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