Chris Rogers is the shock selection that pretty much everyone expected. He’s the guy who most probably aren’t aware isn’t actually a test debutant in waiting having already played a solitary test 5 or so years ago against the Indians when Matthew Hayden was injured. He’s also the guy who has scored more first-class runs on Pommy soil than English captain, and resident gun batsman, Alistair Cook – Rogers has 9375 at 54, Cook has 9107 at 45 1. Sure, he might be 35, and he might not be a long term prospect – mind you, we could still potentially get a couple of years out of him if things go well against England – but with the experience chasm that opened up with the departure of Ponting and Hussey he’s a more than welcome addition to the national side.
It’s also a case of back to the future elsewhere in the Ashes squad with familiar names in Haddin and Harris also returning. With the unexpected – but not that unsurprising – decision by Shane Watson to stand down as vice-captain, the selectors needed to find a replacement but with the previously mentioned experience void, who would they go with? Unfortunately for Matthew Wade, who himself might have been considered a possible, outside, option for deputy, the selectors went with his predecessor, and now successor, Haddin. After about 14 months in the Test wilderness Haddin recently returned for the 3rd Test in India after he was rushed to the sub-continent to cover for an injured Wade. During his time out of the side he’d put together a reasonable Shield season for NSW just to make sure he was still in the selectors periphery. After all it wasn’t that they’d dropped him, he’d opened the door for Wade when he left the West Indian tour for personal reasons.
Harris’ selection marks the completion of his return from the injury that had kept him out of top level cricket for 9 months. He hasn’t stepped on to the field in a Baggy Green since April 2012 in the Caribbean, and only returned to the Queensland side at the back end of the domestic season – but he had immediate impact when he did return, picking up 19 wickets across the three Shield games that he played. Ryno comes into the squad in place of Mitch Johnson who only played in one test in India and failed to pick up a wicket. He’s joined by three fellow quick men in Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. It will be interesting to see what combinations the selectors go with, and how they ‘manage’ the players across the five test series – keeping in mind that there is the Australian leg of ‘World Ashes Year’ just a couple of months after the English leg wraps up. I doubt any of them will play all 5 even if they are fully fit and running riot with the ball.
Nathan Lyon’s spot as first choice spinner has been reinforced by the fact that he’s the only specialist spinner selected in the squad. In India there were back-up spin options coming out the wahzoo, but Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith aren’t getting a plane ticket to England. That will probably leave the role of ‘secondary’ spinner, if needed, to Dave Warner’s leggies – assuming that Clarke puts his batting and the health of his back ahead of the prospect of rolling the arm over for a few.
Of the three all-rounders that toured India – Maxwell, Smith and Moises Henriques – none of them got a look in for the Ashes squad, with the selection panel going for Tasmanian James Faulkner instead. Faulkner has played just a handful of ODI and T20I games for Australia, but at first-class level has taken 125 wickets at 22, and is averaging 29 with the bat – in the latest Shield season he finished 3rd on the wicket tally and 15th in runs (just behind Haddin, and ahead of Usman Khawaja – although he did play a couple more games than both). John Inverarity described Faulkner as the ‘bowling all-rounder’ in the squad, not sure what term he used to describe Shane Watson as I missed the start of the press conference. Presumably if Watto is playing as an all-rounder it would be a ‘batting all-rounder’, but having not bowled at all in India he’s only just returned to bowling in the IPL in the last couple of days. Mind you, he’s bowled a total of 3.5 overs in two games so that’s not really a work load at all, nothing compared to what will possibly be required if the selectors allow him to bowl in England.
The bowling stocks aren’t necessarily the problem though – provided they can pick up the 20 wickets we’ll need to win a test or three. It’s the batting that, particularly after India, everyone seems to be worried about – and, yes, with the absence of names like Ponting and Hussey it feels a bit thin, but they weren’t going to be around forever, we were going to have this problem eventually – it’s just arrived a little earlier than anticipated.
They’ve stuck with the Warner and Cowan opening pair, and I see no problem with this. Sure, Dave is a bit hit-and-miss, and Ed – who showed great patience on the Indian dust-bowls – maybe hasn’t lived up to the potential that everyone was expecting, but as a pairing they’ve done reasonably well. Yes, Chris Rogers is natural opener, and of course we all know that Watson wants his opening spot back, but for the moment they will both need to get in line and find themselves a spot in the middle order somewhere. For mine, the opening partnership is one that can’t be constantly chopping and changing, it needs to be stable and familiar. Especially in the lead up to the Ashes, the last thing we want to do is change it and give the Poms some sort of psychological one-up because they think we’ve changed it to deal with them – when more likely if/when it changes it will be due to the random whim of a selector.
So if not opening, where to Rogers and Watson slot in. At three and six respectively seems to make the most sense. Absolutely nothing against Hughes – as long as he can recover from the mental damage caused by the Indian spin – but between himself and Rogers I think I’d go with the older, wiser head at first drop. Hughes can come in at four, now I know people want Michael Clarke to move himself up the order but I want him at 5 for no other reason than, as his performances over the past couple of years would indicate, he is ridiculously comfortable at number 5. Comfortable is good, especially is paired with the ability to score a mountain of runs. The argument can be made that because he was always coming in at 3 for not-very-many that it should be no different for him coming in at 3 or 4. It’s not that I disagree, its just that I think its a little more complicated than that.
With Watson at 6 and Haddin at 7, it will likely be Khawaja that again sits on the sideline. Pretty sure he would have thought that after Ponting and Hussey retired that he’d have been a shoe-in for a spot only to see Henriques, Maxwell and Smith all appear ahead of him in India. I do feel a bit sorry for him, but on the bright side at least he got picked for the Ashes tour, unlike those other three names. I also don’t expect that Faulkner will be a first-choice selection, but if Watson falters in the first couple of matches he’s going to come under some serious pressure from the Tasmanian – especially if Watson’s bowling output is limited.
Have they gotten the selections right? A few guys, like Smith, might consider themselves unlucky to have missed out. A few, like Khawaja, might feel lucky they kept their spot. Others, Rogers, Haddin and Harris, will be grateful for another chance in the baggy cap. Wade might feel hard done by, but he should look at it this way – Haddin can’t stick around forever. A couple of curious points in the make up of the squad, for example, only the one specialist spinner – Doherty was never going to get picked again (not really sure how he ended up in India to begin with), and the talk was that Ashton Agar might get a run, but what about someone like Steve O’Keefe he’s more than handy, and averages 30 with the bat as well. I also anticipated that, given the length of the tour, the squad would be larger than 16, seems at least one batting option short – although, I guess theoretically, Wade or Haddin could play as specialist batsmen if needed.
So, have they gotten the selections right? Well, I don’t think they’ve gotten them wrong, and you’d have to say we’re definite underdogs heading into the series, but I guess we won’t really know until the battle begins in a couple of months time.
Bring it on.