Posted by: nestaquin | February 6, 2009

Australian Cricket: Rebuilding the Fortress

baggygreenThe Australian Test squad for the coming South African tour was chosen, a tad prematurely in my opinion, this afternoon at Jolimont. There are few real surprises in the squad apart from Marcus North and when the team departs in a few weeks time they will be as inexperienced a line-up as Australia has fielded in decades.

BATSMAN

Phillip Hughes – 20 years old, 0 Tests

The young New South Wales left-handed opener has forced his way into the squad through his near insatiable appetite for big scores and his technique and temperament will no doubt be suited to the international arena.

It is seldom that a player not two years into his First-Class career is an automatic choice for the national squad and much is expected in the short and long term from the ambitious lad from the mid north coast. He’ll no doubt play every Test and if he succeeds against the likes of Steyn, Ntini and Morkel on their own turf his tenancy at the top of the order will be assured for many years to come.

Simon Katich – 33 years old, 35 Tests

In what can only be described as a Lazarus like performance these last few seasons, Katich has resurrected his international career after his dismal tour of the UK in 2005 to now be considered a permanent and important fixture in the BaggyGreen.

You have to admire his grit and determination and as Phillip Hughes’ First-Class captain he also has the added responsibility of shepherding the young gun as he begins what is likely to be an illustrious international career. Kat is the man for the job and with Hayden retired he now becomes the senior partner and I think that will sit easily on his broad and experienced shoulders.

Ricky Ponting – 34 years old, 128 Tests

For the first time in his career Ponting leads a tour overseas as the oldest member of the squad and it is this sojourn and the consequent Ashes series that will ultimately decide Ponting’s fate. If he loses both it wouldn’t surprise to see him hang up his boots for good.

He is still in reasonable form with the bat although the added pressures of age and captaining a developing team have diminished his previous dominance. Even with the burden of leadership, he is still Australia’s premier batsman by some distance. If Ponting doesn’t perform near his peak there is little doubt the team will find it tough going in all three matches.

Michael Clarke – 27 years old, 44 Tests

No longer the pup of the team, the next two seasons beginning in South Africa will determine if Clarke is an Australian great or just merely a polished batsman. He will certainly be the next captain if he stays fit and in form and I expect that he will be encouraged to take a more proactive role in the development of the squad off the field as ultimately many of the men in the team will soon be under his command.

Has concerns about his lower back and left thumb and there will be little time off to allow them to heal in 2009. Australia need him to bat responsibly and hold the increasingly fragile middle-order together especially in times of crisis which could be often if this summer is any indicator.

Michael Hussey – 33 years old, 34 Tests

Not in good touch even though he has top scored in the last two ODIs. Seems to have lost confidence and it will be in South Africa where we will discover the true worth of Hussey’s cricketing character. It is the first time in his international career that he has had a slump and how he responds will determine his and the team’s future success.

With a firing and hungry Hussey Australia’s batting has the stability required to grind out large totals. It is no coincidence that Australia’s worst run of results in nearly two decades has also been the nadir of the West Australian’s international career to date.

Marcus North – 29 years old, 0 Tests

A stylish left hand bat who bowls tidy right-arm tweakers. Like his State team-mate Michael Hussey, Marcus has had to wait for a chance internationally even though he has performed well enough over many fruitful seasons to deserve a showing.

Will be competing with Andrew McDonald for the No. 6 position and it will be interesting to see which way the selectors go when the initial Test team is eventually chosen. His outstanding quality is to perform on tricky pitches when everyone else is struggling but I doubt the tracks in South Africa will be anything but hard and flat.

Andrew McDonald – 27 years old, 1 Test

The incumbent No. 6 who offers a medium pace option for his skipper. Has plenty to prove and with North in the squad the pressure will be on the Victorian to perform immediately. He lacks the explosive quality of Andrew Symonds or the technical quality of Shane Watson but he is an honest cricketer who will no doubt give all he has for his captain and country.

WICKETKEEPER

Brad Haddin – 31 years old, 12 Tests

The current villain of international cricket is in the team for his batting alone as his wicketkeeping fundamentals are as poor as any Australian gloveman in memory. Continually, shows that he is as clueless and impulsive with the willow as he is talented and if he maintains his knack of throwing his wicket away at important moments of the match his international career should be curtailed.

It’s a shame the selectors did not add another ‘keeper to the squad even if another seat was needed on the team bus. Emerging ‘keepers of class like Queensland’s Chris Hartley or Victoria’s Tasmanian import Matthew Wade would have benefited enormously from touring Africa and I think the penny pinching will cost Australian cricket down the track.

SPINNERS

Nathan Hauritz – 27 years old, 4 Tests

Such is the dearth of spinning talent across the continent that a less than average player like Hauritz can gain selection. With a First Class batting average of 15 and a bowling average of 46 Australia will be in deep trouble if he plays a Test.

Bryce McGain – 36 years old, 0 Tests

In a touching and romantic selection reminiscent of Dutchy Holland, Australia’s only real leg-spinning option will definitely gain his first cap if he stays fit. Much like old Dutchy I suspect that he’ll be adored throughout the country, win a few matches, get smashed in many more and retire in a couple years content with his lot.

He has only played 20 First Class matches for 62 wickets so despite his age he is very inexperienced at the professional level but if he can land them consistently he will expose more than one South African technique.

QUICKS

Mitchell Johnson – 27 years old, 18 Tests

He will lead the attack and much depends on him. His return from a couple of weeks break has been less than impressive and he’ll need to get in top form if he is to regularly trouble South Africa’s formidable batting line-up.

The combination of the pace attack will dictate how Mitch fares as his continued use as both a strike and stock bowler does not make the best use of his abilities.

Peter Siddle – 24 years old, 4 Tests

There is no doubting his heart as he showed in India and throughout the Australian summer. He can bowl long spells and seems to thrive on the intense competition of international cricket.

For such a young man there are clouds about his ability to maintain and sustain fitness but he deserves his spot and the selectors should be congratulated for giving him a chance so early on his career.

Doug Bollinger – 27 years old, 1 Test

The New South Wales left-armer still has plenty to prove. His Test debut on his home track was ordinary. His First Class stats after 50 matches aren’t impressive and you wouldn’t expect him to run through the Protea batting in a hurry.

The selectors obviously see something in Bollinger that has escaped my attention but there is no doubts about his desire and commitment and he’ll need both those qualities either on the field or in the nets in Africa.

Ben Hilfenhaus – 25 years old, 0 Tests

Hilfy is not your typical fast bowler. I’ve watched him up close in most of his home Shield and limited over matches since his career began. He wears his heart on his sleeve but never sledges or stares maniacally at batsman, is humbled by his success and takes defeat hard. He is a true gentleman of the game and what, from a public relations view, Australian cricket needs.

He must surely play his debut Test with McGain and Hughes while in South Africa after being denied in Melbourne and Sydney last month. He has a knack of gaining quality top order wickets, regularly breaks partnerships at important junctures and he bowls more overs a season than any of his State counterparts. Ben just keeps improving and he could be Australia’s ace if given an opportunity.

He has what Australia’s bowling has been missing most this last year or so and that is the ability to move the ball regardless of conditions. He has the best surprise bouncer in the country and his form in the Shield this season is excellent (24 wickets at 18) He must be blooded so his full abilities will be on display when the team arrive in England where conditions are often similar to his home patch in Hobart.

In summary, you cannot expect too much from Australia’s inexperienced squad. If experienced players like Katich, Ponting, Clarke and Hussey deliver they should be competitive but the bowling overall is unproven and the catching will need to be flawless if Australia are to win a Test let alone the series.

Still, these are exciting times in Australian cricket with much to look forward to and if a miracle can be achieved and they win the series the young men in the squad will be lauded for their skill and tenacity for many years to come.

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Responses

  1. Wow.. Australia rebuilding.. who would have thought? Throughout their years of dominance we were made to believe that they had ready replacements for the greats. But they find themselves in a tricky situation… will def be a challenge for the strength of their character..

  2. Always question the propaganda Q. Especially from the mainstream Australian press. At least they haven’t panicked like Pakistan who only lost two in a row and then seemed to make change just so it appeared they knew what they were doing.

    It takes character to keep on losing and stay optimistic. I think Australia can achieve both without too much effort or angst.

  3. Thanks for the detailed and considered run through. It’s a gigantic task ahead of these lads and it’ll make some and break others.

    Re Hilfenhaus, what little I’ve seen of him suggests something of the Rafael Nadal about his shy downward glances and reticence. If he can be as good a performer as the Majorcan and as gentlemanly, he will honour the Baggy Green.

  4. Nesta: Thanks for the summing up. Very nice stuff. I’m a little stunned by just how many changes have taken place in the Australian team over the last couple of years. For what its worth, I’ve been very impressed by Hilfenhaus myself. BTW, why has Krezja been dropped?

  5. My pleasure fellas.

    Krezja? A mystery to me too. He has worked hard and done what the selectors asked – bowl more defensively for his State- but for the time being at least he isn’t being considered. There is no way known that Hauritz would ever roll a team in a Test. He’d be lucky to even get five in an innings.

    Very pleased to see that Hilfy is getting some recognition outside of Tasmania but I do know that it will take him a dozen or so Tests to really feel comfortable. He should have been picked two seasons ago when he took the most wickets in a Shield season in it’s 117 year history.

    Tasmania are missing him terribly, I can tell you that! They play Victoria in a one-dayer tomorrow at Bellerive and my family and I are looking forward to it eagerly.

  6. Nesta, no one does what the Pakistanis do. The number of captains they have had since 1992 is probably the same number of players that the Aussies have blooded during this time.

  7. Look on the bright side Q, all that leadership and tactical experience should help the new skipper no end!

  8. On Krejza: Thanks to the weird scheduling of the domestic competitions this season, he hasn’t had much first-class cricket recently. In the game last week against NSW, he took match figures of 2/205 from 44 overs. It nudged his first-class bowling average back over 50.

    The selectors are right to ignore him. He belongs in club cricket.

  9. They are damning statistics Dave but he has bowled some reasonable spells in the limited overs formats. However, with a First Class average of 50 he doesn’t deserve a professional contract.

    He has never been a permanent fixture in the Tasmanian team in the past and I have heard grumbles that the State selectors were ordered by CA to pick him for every available match this season regardless of figures or form.

    Now that he has missed selection perhaps that will change.


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