New Year’s Rotation

Following the conclusion of the Boxing Day test and another win for the Australian side – taking it to 4-nil for the series – the selectors made their first real change to the squad this summer (ignoring the mid-series “bowling cover” inclusions of Bollinger and Coulter-Nile). With Ryan Harris’ knees a potential worry and Shane Watson clearly not 100% in Melbourne, the selectors have added Tasmanian batsman Alex Doolan to the 13-man squad – at the same time relieving Bollinger of his drink-running duties allowing him return to his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes.

Given that the playing eleven has gone unchanged for four tests, and produced four decisive wins, is there a realistic chance that Doolan plays? And if he plays, is he the only change?

For me, if Doolan makes it into the final XI for Sydney he’ll be (at least) joined by fellow Tasmanian James Faulkner who has spent most of the summer with “12th man” scribbled next to his name. Their Tasmanian state captain, George Bailey, likely to be the unlucky guy to miss out. He hasn’t set the world on fire through four tests, with the obvious exception being that one-over demolition of James Anderson at the WACA – so if a batsman has to make way for the sake of overall team ‘balance’, then it will be Bailey.

It all seems to hang on the fitness of Shane Watson and Ryan Harris, so that’s where I’m focussing my attention.

Scenario 1: Watson is fit. Harris is fit.

Nothing changes. After a couple of years of mindless player rotation, the cricket romantic in me wants this. To see the same 11 go through a test summer, potentially claiming a 5-blot whitewash of the Poms in the process would be glorious.

Scenario 2: Watson is fit. Harris is unfit.

Everyone wants Harris fit and ready to roll through the South Africans when that tour kicks off in early February. With that in mind there’s a reasonable chance the selectors play it safe by resting him for Sydney. Only question is whether they go with Faulkner or Coulter-Nile as the replacement. You’d assume Coults  in a bowler-for-bowler swap, but I don’t think its that simple – they’re both bowling all-rounders and either would be an ample replacement.

Scenario 3: Watson is unfit. Harris is fit.

Again, with South Africa (and forthcoming limited overs matches against England) in mind, Watson could be rested if he’s not 100%. I see this scenario playing out two ways, they either throw Bailey up to number 3 and slot Faulkner in at 7/8, or they debut Doolan at 3, play Faulkner at 7/8 and drop Bailey. Either way Faulkner plays as bowling cover for Watto, at the same time easing the load on a hard-working pace-trio.

Scenario 4: Watson is unfit. Harris is unfit.

The odds of both being unfit/rested for Sydney are reasonably high given Watto’s tenderness during the 4th Test and ongoing concerns with Harris’ knees. If neither of them play, the end result will be much the same as the options outlined in scenario 3 above, just with the addition of Coulter-Nile to replace Harris.

What will happen. I won’t be at all surprised if the playing XI doesn’t change, but at the same time, I won’t be shocked if they make 2 or 3 changes – either for fitness reasons or simple resting purposes. Whatever it is, just don’t call it rotation.

My XI for Sydney, with the series wrapped up, the ODI/T20Is against England just around the corner, and the South African tour in mind, would be:

  1. D. Warner
  2. C. Rogers
  3. A. Doolan
  4. M. Clarke
  5. S. Smith
  6. B. Haddin
  7. J. Faulkner
  8. M. Johnson
  9. N. Coulter-Nile
  10. P. Siddle
  11. N. Lyon

There’s still a possibility you could slide Clarke and Smith up, and slot Doolan in at 5, but he’s probably more suited at his regular 3 spot. The trio of Faulkner, Johnson and Coulter-Nile potentially could bat in any combination.

Bring on Sydney, bring on a white-wash.