Elegant Doolan states his Test case
Alex Doolan has always looked like a Test batsman. Possessing an attractive, languid technique that is nonetheless simple and compact enough to keep out high-quality bowling, Doolan has caused many observers to wonder how well he might perform if the Tasmania badge on his green batting helmet were to become the Australian coat of arms.
Until recently Doolan had not been stacking up the kinds of numbers that might have been expected of a player with his purity of method, as a tally of three first-class centuries in four summers entering this season can attest to. This season, however, Doolan is pushing his name ever closer to the front of an admittedly thin batting queue, and a polished, unbeaten 161 for Australia A against the South Africans at the SCG may be hard to argue with if the selectors find themselves having to cover for injuries to Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson.
At 26, Doolan is the right age to be graduating from first-class to international ranks, and in making 491 runs at 122.75 in four long-form appearances so far this season he is putting together the sort of hot streak that catapulted his Tasmanian team-mate, Ed Cowan, into the Test side last summer. Following his innings at the SCG, Doolan cautiously hoped he would be noticed.
"I certainly hope it's talked about," he said. "There are plenty of quality players in that dressing room at the moment. There's Phil Hughes who has got 19 first-class centuries and three Test centuries, two against South Africa, so I think he'd be right in the firing line as far as next man in, but who knows. Hopefully it puts my name up there and hopefully people are starting to talk.
"Coming to terms with the fact we were playing the world's best team was my biggest battle, and overcoming some nerves to a certain extent, but as far as reaching my highest score it was just a matter of batting and continuing to play in partnership with Tim Paine at the time.
"I feel confident, I still feel there's a bit of work to be done before that chance [to play for Australia] may arise, but I certainly feel confident enough to hold my own out there."
Doolan has been highly regarded in Tasmania for some time, taking possession of the state team's No. 3 batting spot over the past several seasons. When batting with Ponting against a full-strength Victorian attack at the MCG last week, his captain George Bailey noted that Doolan lost little by comparison with the man who has 13,346 Test runs.
"When those two were going together he didn't look outclassed; when I was batting with Ricky it felt like we were playing two different sports, but Dools and he were just on another level," Bailey said. "Dools is a bit of a cricket nuffy and the first couple of times Ricky did come back [to the state side] Dools was the unfortunate one who made way. The fact now he has had the chance to play a couple of games with him has been great for him.
"He made beautiful 20s and 30s and 40s last year, the year before he made a couple of hundreds. It's turning those starts into big scores, particularly at No. 3, that's going to make him of real interest to the selectors. In terms of his game and how classically, technically correct he is, I see he has just got so much time, and that's something the selectors would be excited to see."
As for why he had found such a rich batting vein to mine this time around, Doolan said he had grown more relaxed and confident about his place with Tasmania, and now tended to worry less about his innings' before he actually had the chance to play them. This in turn made him fresher in mind and body when he did go out to bat.
"Maybe just another year in the system and another year of feeling more comfortable at the crease has helped," Doolan said. "As far as mental preparation goes, it's just about trying to stay relaxed; if you worry too much before you get out there you're exhausted by the time you take your spot at the crease. I don't think I'm doing anything too differently to last year, but it's certainly working this year."
It is working so well, in fact, that if he keeps his form up Doolan may soon go from looking like a Test batsman to actually becoming one.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here