The new Australian selection panel must be feeling rather happy. It is true that since they started taking over for the South Africa tour, that it has been a rocky ride. There have been some ups and downs to be sure. Thrills and spills. Both two Test series were drawn one-all. But thanks to the current series, there have been more wins than losses. And this series is the first time that they have dropped players in preference to others (rather than being subjected to the forces of natural attrition).
They axed Starc, some said harshly, for Hilfenhaus. But that was proven an inspired move. Hilfie immediately took two five wicket hauls. They stayed with Hussey and Ponting and aside from Clarke, they have outscored all others. Warner and Pattinson were selections that paid immediate dividends. But even though the team is winning handsomely, the selectors have some hard decisions to make.
Warner’s effort in Hobart aside, the top three have been anything but solid. There is a wicket keeper who is light on runs, is spilling catches and fumbling often. Another problem is that until six weeks ago, Ryan Harris was Australia’s number one bowler. When he was injured in South Africa it was assumed that we would come straight back into the team when fit. And now he is fit, he is in fact, being kept out by his successors. I guess that could be seen as an A1 problem to have. (It seems forces of attrition are at work again as Pattinson has a turn being injured so the A1 problem lasted about 5 minutes.)
For this article, I will focus on Haddin and Marsh.
First let me say that I was intrigued by Haddin’s antics in India’s first innings. Upon pouching his first two catches – regulation efforts – he ran towards the press box, arms outstretched, ball in palm as if to say, “What’s the big deal. Too easy.” What a tosser. Pride cometh before the fall, Brad. Come the end of day three, having spilt a chance that was only slightly difficult, at a time when Australia was struggling to break through, I can imagine that there was not a shovel big enough.
There is a lot of talk about Haddin. The general consensus is that if Tim Paine were fit, he would be in. Matthew Wade is a name that comes up. They say he is a class batsman but his keeping is not actually that flash. So stick with Haddin as he does add something to the team and there is nobody else.
How this is so, I don’t know. A wicket keeper who regularly drops catches and a batsman who gives his wicket away cheaply would seem to be a liability to me. So I found myself saying, “Is that it? There are six states in Australia. Doesn’t each one have a wicket keeper?” So I checked it out.
Maybe the commentators have a point. To start with, I had to look through the Sheffield Shield scorecards from this year to find out who they were. I admit, I had not a clue. I guess that is not a good sign. This is what I found:
Chris Hartley (Qld), 77 matches, ave 31.11. He’s played some cricket but I can’t say his name rings a bell.
Michael Johnson (WA), 10 matches, ave 12.5. He can do the 200m and 400m in world record time but he’s not pressing for Test cricket selection.
Tom Triffit (Tas), 9 matches, ave 28.16. Paine’s under study and no claims to fame.
Peter Nevill (NSW), 18 matches, ave 49.3. Haddin’s understudy. From the right state and not bad numbers but probably not in calculations.
Matthew Wade (Vic), 50 matches, ave 40.16 (ave 63 this season).
There you have it. Luckily for Haddin, the cupboard is bare. Wade is the only other contender. So barring a shock, Haddin would seem safe for now, which I think is a shame because he deserves to be dropped.
The other player I will focus on is Shaun Marsh. This is for two reasons. One is that I think he is hard to read. The other is that he is occupying the most import spot in the batting order and given the brittle nature of the Australian batting in general of late, and the top order in particular, the selectors have to produce a winner for number three.
Shaun Marsh has played just five Tests and even in that short space of time has managed to scale the heights and plumb the depths. This would appear to be an ability possessed by most of the Australian batsmen from the captain down and may account for the team’s batting roller coaster ride of late. It is something the selectors need to consider.
Marsh scored a century on debut and followed that with an eighty in the next match. Both of those matches were in Sri Lanka. He made 44 in the first innings against South Africa and was the only batsman to lend support to the captain on that occasion. Since then, Marsh has hardly scored a run. In five more innings he has scored just nine runs and made three ducks.
Marsh does not have much Test cricket to analyse so I have checked his first class results. He averages just over 38 in first class cricket and that concerns me. I would think that a batsman should be averaging over 50 at Shield level if he is a genuine contender for Test cricket.
People say he looks fantastic in IPL and he has a big reputation there. I have seen him bat there and it is all true. But we have seen many times that a batsman can prosper against the white ball but fail when it is painted red. And where is IPL played? The sub continent. And what are the pitches like? Flat. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Marsh’s Test successes were also on the sub-continent.
Marsh clearly struggles in conditions where there is movement in the air and off the pitch. All Australian batsmen do, as in fact, do most batsmen in world cricket. Since the Sri Lankan tour, until day three at the SCG, Australia has been playing on spicy pitches. The batsmen have suffered and the bowlers have triumphed. It is harsh to single out Shaun Marsh, and I won’t. I think he will be given more time but I’m not yet convinced that he is the best man for Australia’s first drop.
Onwards and upwards to Perth. It is a fascinating ride with the Australian cricket team.