Picking the Australian XI for Brisbane

Part 1 – The batting core

What changes to the Australian XI might we see for the first Test at the Gabba? For starters, I would have Phil Hughes opening and Shane Watson at first drop – and I have the numbers to show why.

After being thumped by Pakistan change seems inevitable – justified or not – ahead of the Indian series. Question is will they be big changes, or small ones?

Of course there is no reason for mass change, it was only two matches, and the pitches here – and in the UK – are a far cry from what were encountered in the UAE.

With these four matches against India being the only Tests before next year’s Ashes, if changes are going to be made, then they should be made now so that the team can be somewhat settled by the time the Ashes rolls around.

From a batting perspective David Warner, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith should all be pretty safe. Sure, Clarke wasn’t in the greatest form against Pakistan, but he is captain and still our best batsman.

Let us also not forget how he slaughtered the Indian attack last time they visited. I want more of that.

The unfortunate timing of this year’s Sheffield Shield could hurt Chris Rogers. He needs runs after a lean time in the UAE, and his main challengers are going to get more red (or pink) ball action than he is ahead of the Indian series.

Of course, Chris Rogers is still a solid chance for Brisbane, but having looked at Phil Hughes’ statistics I believe it is his time to return and open with David Warner.

Most critically, Phil Hughes must face the first ball of the innings.

Why? Because when Phil faces the very first delivery of the innings he averages 50.41, and when he doesn’t his average plummets to 24.57. Conveniently, the reverse is true for Warner, he averages just 26.00 when facing the first ball, but a very healthy 58.84 if he starts at the other end.

On paper they look like the perfect pairing, provided they start at the correct ends.

Number three has been the trouble spot for the Australians ever since Ricky Ponting retired – a scenario for selectors not dissimilar to their search for a post-Warne spinner.

Plenty have been tried with Alex Doolan the latest, and like it or not, Shane Watson has been the most successful. His 10 matches at number three have garnered 2 centuries, 4 fifties and a reasonable average of 41.61.

The only position where Watto has been (slightly) more successful is opening – and facing the first ball – where he has averaged 41.79 across 27 matches. However, he can’t have that spot, because I’ve already given it to Hughes – who only averages 37.2 batting first drop.

Four and five I’m having difficulty with. Selecting the occupants is easy, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith, but I can’t decide in which order to play them.

My heart says Clarke is captain, and the best batsman, so he should be batting at four, however my brain is telling me something different.

My brain is fixated on the numbers, and those numbers very clearly show that he is significantly better at number five. In 30 matches at number four Clarke is averaging just 30.25 with 4 centuries and 4 fifties – passing fifty in just 16 per cent of his innings. Compare that to his 70 matches batting at five where he averages a whopping 61.83 with 20 centuries and 20 fifties – passing fifty in 37 per cent of his innings. Statistically, there is no contest.

The conundrum is that Steve Smith has been batting at five and doing really well, averaging 54.66 over 14 matches, and has only played a single match at number four – coincidentally against India.

So the question is, do you push the youngster up so that you can give the captain his ‘preferred’ spot back, or leave things as they have been recently.

I honestly can’t decide what I’d do.

With the batting core out of the way, come back for part two to find out if I’ve picked an all-rounder, who’ll be behind the stumps and what the bowling attack looks like.