With The Ashes safely back in the hands of England, the joyous shouts from all English supporters will be heard for months. The loss of the urn will haunt every Australian whenever an Englishmen decides to get one-up on his mates, we would do the same of course if we had of come close to winning them back. However, with the overall reward locked up and the only thing for the Australian team to play for now is respect, we need to begin rebuilding and looking to the future now and there is no better time than the SCG Test. Changes need to be made, of that there is no doubt, this time though, the changes need to be with an eye looking forward instead of the simple gap-filler, fix-it job that has been happening. One of the reasons that nobody seems to be talking about in regards to Englands success over the Aussies, is the fact that their Test side is settled and has been settled for a while now. A side that is constant will garner more results than a side that is constantly changing.
It makes sense to start at the top of the line-up and work down to the 12th man, who I am going to include in this article. With an eye to the future the 12th man becomes an important position as it gives whoever it may be the experience of net sessions, team meetings, match day agendas etc. at the international level. I am also going to be looking at this from the perspective that Ponting will not be playing in this Test due to his finger, in my eyes he played at the MCG only because of the occassion, there is no such glamour about the upcoming Test at the SCG.
The opening pairing of Shane Watson and Phil Hughes needs to remain as it is, both men have an aggressive style and in the first ten overs of the second innings at the MCG, that style was working and had the Aussies sitting at 0-52 off nine overs if I remember correctly. Once that solid foundation in the initial overs is set both batsmen can then settle into some sort of rhythm that will allow them a prolonged stay at the crease. Watson deserves to stay at the top of the order, he averages 41.55 which is decent enough and is always contributing a start, as shown by his 15 Test fifties. His only downfall is that he doesn’t continue on with those fifties, shown by his two Test centuries, he has some sort of mental break and finds himself walking back to the team rooms. Hughes deserves to be in the side, let alone opening the batting because he is a specialist opening batsmen, it is what he does. He has an average which is a tick better than Watsons, 41.75, has the same amount of Test centuries and two Test fifties in a handful of matches. While his technique has flaws and his style of batting comes under scrutiny, that will follow him no matter what. Anytime he gets dismissed someone will always say it is his technique that caused him to come undone, not a brilliantly bowled ball or a spectacular catch or, as was the case at the MCG, a bad decision by his opening partner to go for a run. If we are looking to the future, Hughes is one of the faces that needs to be seen now, so he can continue to be seen later.
The number three spot has become a massive talking point this past week, with Ricky Pontings failings yet again with the willow and his age and his seemingly quickening pace down the backend of his career. Usman Khawaja is the name that is being thrown around to take the mantle of first drop and to be honest, even though I personally don’t care much for him as a player, I have no argument to his being mentioned. He has great skill that has allowed him to average 51.70 with the bat for NSW in the same position with six centuries and ten fifties in under 30 matches. He is reported to being technically sound in terms of his technique and also as a man not easily flustered while standing at the crease. Another youngster that could be around for ten years in the international arena, but again he needs to be bred into the scene now.
Michael Clarke will remain at the four spot and will also be captain for this Test, even though I believe that both occurances should not happen at all. He is in poor form and is a questionable leader, why else would Cricket Australia be continuously sending him off to leadership training? You either have the nouse to be a leader, a tactician if you will, or you don’t and there are other men that could have been in this role sooner. Anyway, Clarke needs to show some glimmer of form at the SCG to maintain his spot in the side, otherwise another man, Callum Ferguson, Shaun Marsh or even Mitch Marsh will be snapping at his heels.
This next position is locked in and will not be changed, Mr Cricket, Michael Hussey will be batting at number five. I believed that the selectors would have made a grave mistake, again, if they had dropped Hussey at the start of this series for the simple reason of – Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In his international career to date Hussey has given Australia some sort of respectable score countless times after the top order failed and this series has been no different. Hussey has been the man to rescue Australia many times when those around him off fallen by the wayside and this series has shown just how important he is to this batting lineup.
Positions six and seven need to be switched around from their current format, Steve Smith to seven and Brad Haddin up to six. I’ll start with Haddin. Aside from Hussey, Brad Haddin has been the man to save Australia’s bacon from a meaningless score, aside from all the other meaningless scores we have put up this summer. In this series he has made three fifties and one century, second only to Hussey (three fifties and two centuries). He is batting too far down and as seen from the second innings at the MCG, has no time to settle himself because he invariably ends up with the tailenders. Steve Smith, like Hughes, is the face of the future. Right now, however he needs to be a batsman that bowls. I have mentioned this before in previous articles I have written on this site. However, get him in as a batsman, allow him to bowl 10-20 overs a match and groom him from there. In his 18 overs that he bowled at the MCG he showed just how good he could be as a bowler, there weren’t many pies thrown up and although he didn’t succeed in actually getting a wicket, he was close many times. More experience and those close wickets will become meaningful scalps. He needs to be in this team, he needs to be allowed to grow in this team.
Australia is after a spinning option yet they’ve gone to the bar and asked for Beer instead. No, no, no, no and no! Steve O’Keefe anyone? I can make it on the rocks if you prefer? Anyway, the SCG Test is known for providing assistance to the spinners, especially in the last few days of the Test. Why not introduce a young NSW spinner, who plays at the SCG consistently, who faced England while playing for Australia A, who made a half-century with change and who got a couple of wickets? That would be a novel approach, wouldn’t it? Steve O’Keefe has all the makings of a fine all-rounder, averaging 46.30 with the bat and 23.50 with the ball in 11 matches are good figures by anyones standards. He and Steve Smith could provide a great tandem for the Aussies in more ways than one. They provide variety to the bowling attack, one a left-arm spinner – the other a right-arm spinner, and they also provide a longer batting lineup. If O’Keefe plays, which he should, he can fire with the bat and the ball.
The number nine spot will be occupied by Mitchell Johnson, I’m going to leave him there for now, but I don’t like it. He is very hit and miss and at the moment, it is more miss than hit. His stunning spell in Perth was a once off for the summer and in Melbourne he never looked like replicating it. His batting was also dismal, along with the rest of the team, after his 62 at the WACA. Perhaps he needs to be dropped, I’m sorry I meant rested, every second Test so he can recharge? If thats the case, for those second Tests move Peter Siddle up a spot and bring in Peter George from South Australia, Josh Hazelwood or Mitchell Starc from NSW or James Pattinson from VIC.
The man just mentioned, Peter Siddle, fills the number ten spot. After his performance in Melbourne how can you drop him? However that is not the reason he gets the nod, the reason is that he has passion. When he gets a wicket, he celebrates and does it in style, glaring at the batsmen as they walk off the pitch, jumping high into the air to high-five teammates. Passion and excitement is what a bowling lineup and a team need. A bowling lineup needs to have one fast bowler that is the dedicated aggressor, the one that is sent in to get the batsmen jumping around the crease, not necessarily to get wickets. In this style of ploy the wickets tend to come from the other end, as batsmen seek to redeem themselves from the previous over from the aggressor. The Australian team needs a bit of fire, a bit of mongrel and a bit of attitude to their lineup, Siddle provides that and as seen from the MCG, he brings wickets, catches and batting to the table too!
The final spot in the lineup goes to Clint McKay in place of Ben Hilfenhaus. When the Victorian team played England, McKay had four wickets and shot through the English top order. Alastair Cook was out for under 20 in both innings courtesy of McKay, after making 400 odd runs in four innings against the Australian seamers! McKay like Siddle has a fire in the belly and can play the role of aggressor, however he can also keep it straight and tight. Averaging 25.80 with the ball in domestic cricket with eight four-wicket hauls at an economy rate of 2.48 an over he needs to be in the side in place of Hilfenhaus, who has done nothing in this series at all.
The 12th man spot, often a forgotten man in the team, but still potentially important to the teams future. Mitch Marsh gets the nod as my 12th man, he is 19 years of age, captain of the U19 champions, youngest debutant for WA in 70 years when he made his debut at the age of 17. He is a future batsman at the top of the order and when the day comes for Clarke to get the flick or retire due to back problems, or Hussey to retire, he should step into the team. Make him a permenant 12th man and the experience he gains will be invaluable.
Overall my team looks like this –
1. Shane Watson 2. Phil Hughes 3. Usman Khawaja 4. Michael Clarke 5. Michael Hussey 6. Brad Haddin 7. Steve Smith 8. Steve O’Keefe 9. Mitchell Johnson 10. Peter Siddle 11. Clint McKay 12. Mitch Marsh
A team made up of faces for the future that need to be groomed now. If you take a look at other international teams, they have brought players to Australia that are approximately 18 years old, for example Ishant Sharma from India. Australia take players that are over 30 years old when they travel, its time to change that.
I was reading the other day an article that involved an interview from Steve Waugh and what he said made me think that people need to keep this in mind for the current situation. Bare in mind that I am paraphrasing, I can’t remember the exact quote – it took him 26 Tests before he scored his first Test match hundred and he finished with 10927 runs in 168 Tests. The other thing, in terms of bowlers, to remember is that Shane Warne received figures of 0-100 and something in his first Test match and we all know how he finished his career. Give the young players a go, the future for Australian Test cricket should begin in four days time at the SCG!!