There has been a bit of contention of late re the Australian Test selection policy. Ian Chappell believes that picking Adam Voges is indicative of a broken system not producing young players capable of playing Test standard cricket. ESPNCricinfo's Jarrod Kimber disagrees, suggesting that few young players have ever really flourished on their first attempt and that experience is crucial. It is my opinion that the best policy lies in the middle. Like batting and captaincy, selection is at it's best when it is balanced.
Going into the 2nd (read last) Test against the West Indies Australia had 6 players over 32 years of age and none under the age of 24. In and of itself this is not an issue, as modern cricketers are far fitter and prepared to play in their 30's and many believe that batsmen are at their peak in the years between 28 and 34. Looking to the future though, this could be seen as a concern. It is much better to make gradual changes than to lose four or five experienced players in one fell swoop, which was the case when Lillee, Chappell and Marsh retired a year after Walters and when in the space of 3 Tests Martyn, Langer, Warne and McGrath retired.
After Voges we find Shane Watson, a player who inspires dislike more than most. Shane is 34 years old, which is old for an all-rounder and he has a history of breaking down with injury. Potentially he is talented enough to play as a batsman only but his test batting average shows that he's not quite up to the task. I think time is limited for Watson, with Mitch Marsh, James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell all putting together good cases for their selection.
Brad Haddin bats at 7 for Australia, and his age must surely be a concern for the selectors. Haddin has never been a superstar, though he has certainly been a good serviceable player. His attacking style can provide a wonderful counter attack but statistics would indicate that he fails more often than he succeeds. Measuring him against Gilchrist is unfair as Gilchrist was a one off, but it this point of his career is there any reason why a younger player shouldn't be given the job if he is capable of similar or greater output to the incumbent when the team is already quite experienced?
Next is Mitch Johnson at number 8. Johnson is 33 years old and no longer the dominant force he was a few years ago. While he can still terrorize opposition batsmen, his truly terrific bowling is punctuated with longer periods of mediocrity these days. As we have around him a few younger bowlers in good form Johnson's spot should be safe for the time being. He should be encouraged to give his all with the knowledge we have quite a few good prospects waiting in the wings and one or two proven Test workhorses that can shoulder workload if required.
If the selectors alter the line up from the 2nd Test against West Indies then it would likely be to include Chris Rogers but no longer Ryan Harris, who has retired. Rogers would certainly increase the average age of the team and possibly marginally increase our chances of winning the Ashes. I don't have any particular issue with including Rogers, but I do feel that if he is to come in, then it would be wise to inject some younger blood in other positions.
So let's have a look at the options that we have on the tour. Shaun Marsh played in the last test versus the West Indies as an opening batsman. He is likely to miss out in the first test versus England in order to make way for Chris Rogers. Marsh could easily play as a middle order batsman and has shown that he is capable both of scoring excellent hundreds and having terrible periods where he can't buy a run. Marsh is 32 years old, so time for him to become a consistent Test player is now. He could easily play as a number 6 Batsman in place of Shane Watson, whose bowling could hardly be considered a weapon. If he can't make that step now, then it may be time to look beyond the talented left hander.
Shaun's brother Mitch looms large for that number 6 spot should the selectors finally see Watson as anything but the answer to our all rounder question. Mitch Marsh made 2 100's on tour already but his bowling lacks penetration. With the loss of Harris through retirement Australia's bowling might be exposed as lacking someone other than Nathan Lyon to keep things tight. Is Mitch Marsh's batting prowess enough to cover for his bowling which can be so expensive?
Peter Nevill is on tour as the back up wicket keeper and frankly is unlikely to play a Test. I feel this is one of the bigger mistakes Australia could make. Brad Haddin has been a good player, but his best days are well behind him and in an aged lineup full of attacking cricketers his carefree batting style could easily be replaced by a younger player capable of matching or exceeding his output. While I feel this change should have been made in the West Indies to give Nevill a few games experience to better prepare for this challenge I do feel that waiting until Haddin is ready to retire would be a mistake. He isn't Gilchrist. He's not Ponting. He's replaceable. Replace him.
Assuming that the selectors go with their Dad's army and resist the chance to slowly integrate change rather than be forced to bring in groups of players due to retirement then next Aussie summer there will be some new faces in the line up. While the players on tour are the probable options, I'd like to see a few younger, mid 20's faces get a look into the test side. Here's a few of the candidates I'd like to see considered.
I'll start with the batsmen before moving into the All-rounders and Bowling options. The top three run scorers in last years Sheffield Shield season were all West Australians. Adam Voges, now in the Test side, scored an impressive 1358 runs at an average of 104.46. He scored 6 hundreds and 5 fifties. He batted 20 times but was only dismissed on thirteen occasions. He was obviously the inform player in the country and deserved his place in the Test Side.
Next were Michael Klinger (1046 Runs @ 58.11 with 4 Hundreds and 3 Fifties) and Cam Bancroft (896 Runs @ 47.15 with 3 Hundreds and 3 Fifties). Klinger is older (He's 35 years old) than my youth policy would prefer but I'd still be happy to see him strongly considered. Bancroft is very young (22 years old), and in all likelihood not quite ready for the challenge of Test Cricket. While Cowan (33 years old) & Ferguson (30 years old) also had fairly good years (Both scored over 800 runs with four hundreds each) Cowan has been tried before and struggled to really make his mark and Ferguson's career first class average of 39 is underwhelming for a batsman with nearly 100 games under his belt.
Joe Burns is in the right age bracket. Last summer he scored close to 800 runs at an average of 52. He scored two hundreds and 4 fifties from his 17 innings and actually has been given a go at Test level but looked nervous and a bit off the pace. That's not to say he's not up to it, he might be, but he is certainly an argument in favor of Jarrod Kimber's thoughts on picking experienced men in form before picking based on youth and talent alone.
The young batsmen that I am keen to see pushed through the Australia A side in order to fast track them are Peter Handscomb (24 years old), Chris Lynn (25 years old) & Marcus Stoinis (26 years old). Peter Handscomb has been a part of the Victorian system for a while now but last season he seemed to blossom. He scored 647 runs from 13 Innings with three hundreds and three fifties. That's close to 50% of his innings going passed 50. He averaged 53.91 for the season which is well above his career first class average of 35.28 which shows that he is maturing nicely. If a middle order spot was to open up in the Test side, Peter Handscomb would make an excellent long term prospect.
Chris Lynn only batted 7 times last season for Queensland for one hundred and two fifties. While he scored 439 runs at an average of 62.71, this is really on the back of his one hundred which was a massive 250. He hits the ball very hard, and doesn't seem to get too flustered in high pressure situations. His first class career average is a healthy 45.88 and he looks poised for greater things.
Marcus Stoinis couldn't crack a hundred last season. In spite of this, he made 785 runs at an average of 49.06. He made nine fifties from 17 innings, which shows incredible consistency. An opening batsman, he would be well served by knocking up a few hundreds as quickly as possible because with Chris Rogers already announcing his retirement from Test cricket after the Ashes campaign an opening spot will be up for grabs.
Mitch Marsh, as I stated above, is likely to take Shane Watson's All-rounder's spot in the team. The two other main candidates for his spot are Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner. Faulkner has 1 test under his belt where he performed well with the ball and OK with the bat. He took 4 wickets in 1 innings and 2 in the other and with the bat posted two scores in the 20's. His left arm bowling is hard to negotiate and his change of pace and accuracy can certainly be a handful. He'd make an excellent foil for Australia's stocks of strike bowlers and his powerful batting would be an asset in the lower middle order. Picking Faulkner would probably mean batting him at number 7 so the Wicket Keeper would need to be a steady hand at number 6.
Glenn Maxwell is a bit of a mystery. Capable of some of the most eye popping cricket I have ever seen, Glenn has found himself a home in the short forms of the game. His three Test matches were not a success, and he failed to make a 50 in his 6 innings. He was tried in multiple batting positions and was never given a chance to settle. At first class level, Glenn is building a good case for consideration with four hundreds and 12 Fifties. His bowling is not as compelling as Faulkner's, but his fielding is beyond most of those that have come before him. His first class average of 38.5 isn't quite what is required and what Maxwell really needs to do is concentrate on some red ball cricket. This might cost him a million dollars or so, but if his goal is to play Test Cricket for his country then it might just be a sacrifice he'd gladly offer up.
Australia's Test line up is both aged and aging. They have a young, classy batsman and now tested leader ready to fill the void when the current captain steps aside or retires. The bowling stocks, apart from Mitch Johnson, are young, strong and deep. The batting depth is less assured, and we would be well served with a gradual transition so that the younger guys can learn from experienced heads like Clarke while he is still around. The signs are there. We need to heed them. I fully support the need to pick your side to win Tests now, especially Ashes Tests. I also believe that if you have other, younger players capable of similar or greater output than those whose days are numbered in the Test side, you'd be mad not to look at moving those you can afford to lose before you can't afford to wait any longer.
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