Greetings all! Dongles is still alive. Even well. As the first real Test of the summer draws near, and the West Indies have even shown some encouraging signs, a new look Australian team takes shape. It will be interesting to see over the summer how the team makeup evolves. The Australian selectors will be looking to mould the team to move forward after the exits of Warne and McGrath (whenever that may be). One things is almost certain, we will see Warne and MacGill bowl together this summer. Probably more than once. But probably not in Brisbane.
It seems the key man in the selectors plan is Mr Shane Watson. He may be no doctor but he is a strapping lad with a fine head of hair and some good form on the board. It seems that the selectors want a good third seam option to allow them to play two spinners and to have a reasonable number seven following Gilchrist to the crease. I’m not too sure that this line of pursuit is so elementary. The Australian selectors must be sure not the fall into the same trap as the English selectors: For fifteen years they persisted playing an all rounder type, trying to replace Botham. An endless string of ordinaries which includes Mark Ealham, Phil Defreitas, Chris Lewis and Craig White graced English teams. Not until the true arrival of Freddie Flintoff was this position usefully filled.
While a player like Flintoff can give you in effect 12 men, a player like Mark Ealham can give you 10.5 men because they are Test standard in neither batting nor bowling. Perhaps this is what Watson gives the Australian team. The selectors would have been delighted with Watson’s showing with both bat and ball in the JW ODI series. But one day success does not automatically lead to success in the Test arena.
One thing against the selectors in the Watson experiment is time. It can take time for a player such as Watson to find his feet. Other notable all rounders such as Steve Waugh and Richie Benaud took years to fully repay the selectors faith with results. Even the great Freddie has taken time to arrive. There were a couple of key differences between Messrs Waugh and Benaud and that of Dear Watson:
1. Waugh and Benaud were both introduced at time when Australian cricket was at a low and it was acknowledged that the team was in a rebuilding stage. While the Australian public always demands results, there was less pressure on the selectors as things couldn’t get much worse. While Australia has just lost the Ashes and has gone four Tests without a win for the first time since 1994* , the team is still officially number one in the world and while England can stake some claims to being the best, they really have to beat Australia in Australia to be the undisputed Champions of the world. There is more pressure on the selectors not to persist with a direction that is not achieving instant results.
2. Waugh and Benaud were 20 and 21 respectively when they were thrown to the lions. Both were raw and it would have been expected that their potential might be reached only when they had some maturity. Watson is still young at 24 but he has played a lot of first class cricket. He is very experienced and I’m not sure that he will mature a great deal more.
My opinion is that Watson is not the ticket. If five bowlers must be played, let’s play five specialist bowlers and give it to ’em. But I could be wrong. It will be fascinating to see. I also watch with great interest Nathan Bracken. For me, he has come from the clouds and seems a very good chance to play in Brisbane. What has happened to Stuart Clark? Brad Williams seems to be forgotten. Tait must not be able to believe his bad luck. And Dizzie and Kasper have some work to do. Any bets on the bowlers who will play in the Sydney Test?
1. Marlon Samuels belted the Bulls to the tune of 257 and then took 5 for 87. If Sir Brian can get going, we could have a good series.
2. The Little Master has returned to international cricket with scores in his first two One Day matches against Sri Lanka of 93 and 67. I’d love to tell you what he made in the third (I can say it was not many) as India make a good fist of chasing 299, but as usually with any match between sub-continental teams, Cricinfo can’t cope with the load. Don’t you hate it?
3. Mike Hussey is on stand-by for Justin Langer, who has a cracked rib. Lang says he’s a sure starter but I don’t know. I’ve had a cracked rib and they are very painful.
* The last time Australia didn’t win for 4 tests was March-Oct 1994 – this included the final Test against the Boks, which was drawn (Border’s final Test) and the three Test series against Pakis which was lost 0-1. All of these Test were played “away”.