2013 will be interesting
This time next year we’ll be approaching the end of the second Ashes series inside 6 months, and we will have been required to do it without Ricky Ponting or Mike Hussey. While many had their doubts that Punter was ever going to make it to England for one last Ashes tour, on the back of his recent form Mr Cricket was considered a certainty … right up until he suddenly announced his retirement following the Boxing Day test.
Michael Clarke now finds himself in charge of a test team where he – if you exclude Watson, while the next most senior, he has only played 38 tests – is the sole senior batsmen in the side having play 88 tests (this also means that barring injury, Clarke should play Test number 100 in Adelaide next Summer). With the questionable bowler rotation policy still in play there are also times when the bowling attack is also lacking any senior member, with the three most senior quick men rarely appearing in the same side (Hilfenhaus 27 tests, Siddle 36 tests, Johnson 49 tests). Scariest thing there is that Johnson, when included in the team, is the second most experienced test player behind Clarke. With a tour of India to be followed by back-to-back home and away Ashes series, its probably not the position Clarke and the rest of the selectors were hoping – or expecting – to find themselves in.
How do you replace guys like Ponting and Hussey, the short answer is that you can’t. The longer answer is that you have to. Phil Hughes has returned for a third crack at cementing a Test spot following a restructure of his game and a strong return to form – I’m keen to see how he goes in the first leg of “World Ashes Year” in England where he was in superb touch (in all forms of the game) during the last Australian Winter. Usman Khawaja has been on stand-by for Michael Clarke’s hamstring for two tests now, and seems to be the next in line for a batting spot.
So, naturally, when Watto hurt his calf (again) many assumed he’d get his chance in Sydney, but that doesn’t look like it will be the case, with Glenn Maxwell getting a surprise call up to the squad with all signs pointing to him making his debut at the SCG. I guess the plan by the selectors is fair enough, they want to replace an all-rounder with an all-rounder, and being Sydney where spin tends to be favourable picking an spin all-rounder makes sense. Given that the series has already been decided, its a decent time to give new blood a go to see how they take to cricket’s biggest stage – for Maxwell its also an audition for a spot in the squad to tour India in February/March.
That aside, Khawaja should probably be first to get a crack at replacing Hussey, it would seem cruel to keep him as back-up for Clarke only to pick someone else once a full-time spot opens up. If the selectors are feeling ‘cruel’ then what other options are there? David Hussey wouldn’t be a long-term option, but would be a deserving one, and he too goes alright in English conditions. Rob Quiney had a chance earlier in the summer, could he come back in? George Bailey might be another possibility, or maybe fellow Taswegian, Alex Doolan who’s been piling on runs in Sheild cricket and was a relatively unexpected name tossed into the pot when Ponting announced his retirement.
Many names will get thrown around, but just as Hughes was an unsurprising choice to replace Punter, Khawaja will likely be the unsurprising choice to replace Hussey – the only question that then raises is which men now become the back-up batsmen in the squad, and who do they take to India and England.
The biggest problem Australia face with their fast bowling options is being able to keep them on the park. All the young guns they pick get injured, some unlucky enough to not even get a game before they get injured (Josh Hazlewood). A second problem comes into play should, by some freak miracle, they all be fit at the same time. How do you decide on three quicks from a list that includes Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Johnson, Cummins, Pattinson, Starc, Hazlewood and Bird.
You could argue that this is where the rotation policy comes into play, so that everyone gets a game and none of them get burnt out – but on recent evidence the rotation policy isn’t working, or at least not for the purpose it was intended. More bowlers seem to be breaking down than when there was no rotation policy. There have only really been two true player rotations this summer that weren’t force by injured. Siddle’s exclusion from Perth (which in truth was probably fair since he could barely walk by the end of the Adelaide test), and Mitchell Starc’s cruel rotation out of the Boxing Day test. Yes, Jackson Bird held his own on debut, but that was a horrible, cruel move by the selectors.
Nathan Lyon remains our top spin option, his numbers back this up. He’s out-performed (and by considerable distance) the combined efforts of the numerous other post-Warne replacements that were trialled. The number 1 spot is his, no question. But with a tour of India on the horizon, that could mean an opportunity for a second specialist spinner to be added to the squad. Early in the summer is looked like Jon Holland had this back-up position sewn up, but his season ending injury took him off the list which brings guys like Michael Beer and Xavier Doherty back into contention. That second spinner spot could disappear however if the selectors pick Glenn Maxwell for the India tour (strong chance unless he complete screws up in Sydney this week), and are happy with the combination of himself, Warner – who I, and many others, believe is worthy of more than the occasional over here and there – and Clarke as the alternative spin options for the sub-continent.
Absolutely nothing against Brad Haddin, but I believe that his time as a test player is over. The keeper’s spot is now Matthew Wade’s to lose. Some say he needs to improve his batting, some say he needs to improve his keeping, all that aside the spot is still his to lose. And even if he were to lose it, it would probably be to someone like Tim Paine or Tom Triffit – a test recall at the age of 35 seems very unlikely for Haddin.
Clarke is captain, and will be for years to come, but the deputy ranks could see some change. Watson is currently vice-captain, but injuries again have his place in the side under scrutiny (which truly seems like madness given how much the side depended on him with both bat and ball for a couple of years). Warner has had a crack at the vice-captaincy in Watto’s absence, and with Hussey departing, he and Ed Cowan could find themselves the leadership team of the future – Ed certainly seems to have a cricket brain to match his talent, he just needs a couple of big knocks to really stop people questioning the worthiness of his place at the top of the order.
And that’s just Test cricket.
The Aussies also need to find a replacement for Mike Hussey in the One Day team, they also need to work out how to slot Phil Hughes into the side – and probably before Hussey departs. Pace bowling options will likely have the same issues as they do in the Test arena (injuries and rotation), the spin option for One Day cricket is still debatable. I for the life of me can’t work out why Nathan Lyon isn’t given a chance at the short forms of the game – it was after all, and I’ve used this argument before, his form in the Big Bash a couple of years ago that got him picked from out of nowhere for a Baggy Green.
The T20 team will probably never be locked down and consistent such is the nature of the game itself. But they need to get Aaron Finch into the side – and he probably should be in the ODI side as well. If Shaun Marsh’s BBL form continues he too could be back, and you could argue that even Brad Hodge needs to be recalled to the T20 side – weirder things have happened, remember they recalled Brad Hogg last year. And again, explain to me why Nathan Lyon isn’t in the Australian T20 side?
So what will 2013 bring?
Rebuilding in a post-Ponting, post-Hussey world. Australian cricket will be fine, its rebuilt before. The tour to India is never easy, but the Poms have just comfortably beaten the Indians at home – although it is yet to be seen if this is a good or bad thing for our chances, will they be down and broken, or fired up and ready to fight? Back-to-back Ashes series is going to be great to watch, and it will be even greater if we can win, but its certainly not going to be easy. I think it would be fair to say that the Aussies will be underdogs going into both the series, or at least the one in England.
So I say bring on the change, bring on the Poms, oh, and Happy New Year!