There’s a plethora of talent in the Australian cricket ranks but the problem is the nucleus of the Test team is also filling the white-ball squads.
Going back to the 1990s when Mark Taylor was being squeezed out of the ODI side despite being captain, Australian men’s cricket has been in an eternal struggle over the concept of specialist line-ups.
Despite three formats being on offer, the current situation is one of the least specialised scenarios since Taylor’s predecessor in the late 1980s Allan Border would lead a Test team one week then a very similar one the following week, save for a one-day ace like Simon O’Donnell, Peter Taylor or Simon Davis.
Fast bowling trio Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are ensconced across the three formats as the first-choice quicks when available.
David Warner has, despite middling red-ball form, managed to open in all three sides, Travis Head is now one of the first players picked across the board, Steve Smith used to be but is still locked into the middle order and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, after usurping Cameron Green in the winter Ashes tour, has a claim in all three now.
That’s six players taking up 18 of 33 spots and when you factor in two-format players like Marnus Labuschagne, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell, it leaves a lot of talented cricketers fighting for the scraps.
More as a thought experiment rather than anything that the selectors would ever conceive of doing, how would all three line-ups look if you could only choose a player once across the forms of the game?
First of all, you’d ink in the single-format stalwarts – Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon and Alex Carey, following his World Cup dumping from the one-day side, would go straight into the Test side.
But would you then fill it out with incumbents or try to keep a Starc or Head up your sleeve for the white-ball line-ups?
Maxwell showed he’s still a world-class performer at 35 in both white-ball versions with a double ton in the ODI World Cup then a blistering century in the T20 series that was apparently played after the tournament ended, not that many people in Australia stayed up to watch or even bothered to check out the highlights the next morning.
The same goes for Zampa – the best spinner at the 50-over showpiece event but also one of the top exponents of the artform in the T20 arena on this planet.
In the spirit of trying to spread out the talent across the three squads to make them each as strong as possible, here goes.
Khawaja needs a new opening partner, a decision the selectors will have to confront soon enough after avoiding tapping Warner on the shoulder for way too long.
Cameron Bancroft is deserving based on his superior Sheffield Shield output last summer and this one – Marcus Harris is a grinder and Matt Renshaw hasn’t done enough to warrant a recall.
Labuschagne is best in Tests so he stays in the baggy green and likewise with Smith – if you were trying to put players in their strongest format across three squads, you’d be telling him to devote his endless practice hours to hitting a red ball.
There is no right answer to picking a side for Head – he’s now indispensable in all three.
Middle-order run gluttons are thin on the ground in the Shield ranks. Aaron Hardie has been good not great this summer for WA and probably needs another solid first-class season under his belt before he’s ready.
At the real life selection table, if Hardie has to wait until a specialist all-rounder role comes up, he could be waiting a long time after Marsh’s renaissance and Green being the same age as him at 24.
Green gets the nod here at the No.5 spot with the best batter with Michael Neser bolting from left-field into the Test all-rounder’s spot. He could bat ahead of Carey or vice versa but he’s more than shown enough for Queensland and in county cricket over the past couple of years that he’s not only a reliable all-rounder but capable of big scores.
With Carey as gloveman and Lyon the tweaker, three quicks are needed and it’s time to split up the Blues Brothers triumvirate.
Cummins retains his Test gig and the captaincy, Hazlewood is arguably the best ODI seamer in the world and Starc is a T20 strike weapon.
For the Test side, Lance Morris is champing at the bit and Scott Boland is deserving for another year or two at least as the 34-year-old tries to extend his late-blooming international career.
Switching to one-day mode, there haven’t been too many options for new players in recent years so Head and Maxwell have been slotted into the top six here, along with keeper Josh Inglis, batting up the order where he is best suited.
Anyone who can hit a hundred in 29 deliveries is worth a shot at opener so come on down, Jake Fraser-McGurk, while Hardie could eventually be a long-term option in all three teams.
Marcus Stoinis gets a theoretical chance to be the middle-order mainstay that he has never been able to become while Tanveer Sangha is worth a twirl as the spinner – if he’s half as good as some of the compliments he’s been given coming through the ranks, he will be a special talent.
Hazlewood being backed up by a pace trio of Spencer Johnson’s raw energy, Sean Abbott’s veteran guile and Jhye Richardson’s all-round potency would be very handy on the international stage.
Moving onto the T20 outfit and on the back of his recent ODI efforts, Warner is a lock to go to next year’s World Cup and Matt Short has emerged from the pack in the BBL over the past couple of summers to loom as an explosive top-order option.
Ashton Turner has led Perth Scorchers admirably while also providing plenty of runs so he can lead from the middle order with Ben McDermott, Tim David and Marsh also clearing the pickets.
Matthew Wade appears on track to also get a T20 World Cup swansong and with Starc taking the new pill in this theoretical team, there’s still quality bowling options on the selection table with Jason Behrendorff, Andrew Tye and Zampa keeping batters guessing.
There’s plenty of talent on the Australian scene and once the selectors stop relying on the chosen few, these players will show they are up to international standard.
Australia’s specialist sides
|Travis Head (c)
|Ashton Turner (c)
|Pat Cummins (c)