Australian news August 6, 2010

North handed more breathing space

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There's a popular line in Australian cricket that goes "it's harder to get into the Test team than out of it". Usually it has applied to the batsmen and the current top six, which falters almost as often as it purrs, is benefitting from almost untouchable status.

Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, is not plotting any changes to the line-up for the two Tests in India in October, and would be happiest if the order didn't alter until after the Ashes. That's despite a couple of batsmen - Ricky Ponting and Marcus North - losing power since being defeated by England last year, Michael Hussey edging closer to the end, and Shane Watson being employed as an out-of-position opener.

In the early 1990s, the Waughs were sometimes called the koala brothers (not to their faces!) because they were seen as protected species. Back then Mark and Steve were in their 20s and their best was in front of them. Instead of being on the endangered list over the past year, Marcus North, a 31-year-old, remains in the top tree. Admittedly he is clinging on, but every time he is on the verge of tumbling his powerful admirers prop him up.

Hilditch wants North to be a long-term player and he will be given a chance in India to secure an Ashes role. "He's a very experienced cricketer and we're going to lose some experience in the next six months to two years, so if he was playing really well and gave us some experience, that would be our ideal outcome," Hilditch said. "But Marcus would be aware, as any cricketer is, that he needs to perform well and obviously his consistency is something that we'd be looking for him to improve."

For a professional batsman who has impressed for more than a decade, North has a rare ability to hit or miss. But it's not just his tendency for small scores - he has 21 or fewer in 19 of his 28 Test innings - that is a concern. It's also the times when he makes runs. After a fabulous Ashes series, North has registered only four half-centuries against the weaker opponents of West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Most tellingly, those successes came when Australia's innings were already set up. He entered at 4 for 253 to score 79 against West Indies and his 68 in the same series came after starting at 3 for 277. In New Zealand, where he excelled under immense scrutiny, he walked out at 4 for 176 to post an unbeaten 112, while his 90 in the next game began at 4 for 247. Apart from the century in Wellington, the runs were at the easier end of the Test scale.

With Australia's batting line-up showing regular brittleness - 160 at The Oval, 150 against West Indies in Perth, 127 in Sydney and 88 at Headingley - they need the No.6 to be capable of stability. In those four innings North scratched 8, 1, 20 and 16.

Against Pakistan in England he displayed the flail and fail method, appearing more like a nervy rookie than a senior pro with four hundreds in 17 Tests. "He's proved he can play international cricket," Hilditch said. "We've been preparing for this Ashes since we lost them last time, that's why Marcus has been in the side, he has been part of our longer-term planning for this Ashes series coming up.''

Watson's aggressive approach is made for the middle order and he is the logical choice to drop down whenever a middle-order space appears. After starting with seven fifties and a century in his first eight matches as opener, Watson's life has become tougher and he is less comfortable when the new ball swings, which is something England do well.

Hilditch is reluctant to shuffle the order, even though he sees Phillip Hughes as a long-term opener, but is confident a double switch to the top six can be done smoothly - if absolutely necessary. "You can make changes, I don't think you need to go away and say you can't," he said. "But the reality is we don't see changes being made. Shane Watson has been extremely successful at the top of order, he averages very close to 50 opening, which is a marked increase of where he was down the order."

Hilditch also does not want to break up Watson's partnership with Simon Katich. The pair averages 54.95 runs an innings, which currently places them behind only the Lawry-Simpson and Brown-Fingleton combinations in Australia's history. "It's been a very good partnership," Hilditch said. "Obviously Shane can bat anywhere in the order, but he certainly seems to be grabbing the opening spot."

One person returning after a long-lay who has a place waiting for him is Peter Siddle. Siddle has not played since a stress fracture was diagnosed in his back in February and is planning to return with Victoria at the Champions League in September. If that goes smoothly he will be expected to face England at the Gabba on November 25.

"He's certainly part of our Ashes plans, and has been since the last Ashes," Hilditch said. "He's got to be back bowling well and performing, nobody automatically comes back in. Certainly fully fit, we see him in the top echelon of fast bowlers." This is a panel that keeps faith in those who have served them ably in wins and losses.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Something_Witty on August 9, 2010, 15:52 GMT

    Why does everyone seem to think that Hughes HAS to open the batting? What would be wrong with him batting at 6? A lot of young batsmen do so at the beginning of their career, as it often helps to come in when the ball is older. Ponting played most of his early career at number 6 and I think we can say he turned out an ok batsman...

  • cricfan28063528 on August 9, 2010, 4:16 GMT

    i also am sick of the retaining of north he has been terrible ever since the ashes i mean come on a few runs against that NZ bowling attack you have got to be kidding and he could hardly buy a run against WI or Pakistan

  • popcorn on August 8, 2010, 13:36 GMT

    THIS is the beaty of the Australian System - Aussie Selectors do not chip -chop like the selectors of other countries.

  • usman_nile1994 on August 8, 2010, 9:52 GMT

    England has a chance of 70% win against Aussies. Aussies selectors are just foolish. They have lot of great players who have proved themselves but are not in team. Philip Hughes is the best example. He was discarded after failure only in two matches against England? And North who is playing so badly is retained. I admit North is a good batsman but not better than Hughes and Khawaja. I would like to see Shane Watson in 6th batting position and Philip Hughes in opening slot or either using Watson as a opener and Khawaja on 6th position. On bowling side also Aussies are making severe mistakes. Nathan Hauritz should be in the team alongside Ryan Harris and Stuart Clark. Remove the left-armers.

  • dummy4fb on August 8, 2010, 9:25 GMT

    with 17 tests and an average over 30 will siddle improve autralias bowling problems or will he just join in as another average bowler in a failing team that still think they r the best only because of their long term memory.

    England will keep the ashes, ponting will gain a new record of defeats and then finally the axe fall on the selectors who started this mess!!

  • Benster2 on August 7, 2010, 22:43 GMT

    I am personally so fed up with reading articles about Marcus North retaining his spot in the Aus test side. Let's face it - he's absolute junk. He's only a better than average first class batsman. Why do the selectors persist with this nonsense when they have two stars of the future, in Hughes and SPD Smith, waiting on the sidelines? And why do Ponting and Mr Cricket/Wicket seem to have a golden ticket to continually not perform without any pressure being put on their test spots?

  • george204 on August 7, 2010, 19:47 GMT

    Graham McMillan Thomas (& others): there's one factor you are forgetting about for the upcoming Ashes - the strange self-destructive decision making that seems to grip England whenever they set foot in Australia.

    The ball won't swing there, Swann will be cannon fodder, Finn will get found out, Broad's body will collapse underthe workload, there will be some bizarre selections, a 1990s-style batting collapse is just around the corner (Cook & Pietersen are walking wickets, Bell will be just back from injury/short of confidence, we can't rely on Strauss & Collingwood + the lower order all the time) etc, etc...

    Much as it pains me to say it, Australia 3-1 is my prediction.

  • Marcio on August 7, 2010, 13:44 GMT

    It's true enough that the selectors have made some bad errors, as has Ponting with his captaincy. Australia should have won the ashes easily last time - they were the better team most of the series, then failed to put a spinner in to the fifth test on a dust bowl manufactured for a result. If Tait or Nannes was in the one day squad from the start of the recent 50 over series, they would have won the series easily too. They lost the deciding 3rd game by a wicket (just like the ashes - remember the first test?), then thrashed Eng stupid in the last two with Tait. Then choosing to bat first in the recent test against Pakistan... All these were easily preventable outcomes. Still, one test loss vs pakistan does not make the ashes. Remember, Aust has won 8 of its last ten test matches, is no. 1 in the 50 over game, and just made the final of the T20 world cup. That's hardly what I'd call "a very weak Australian team", as some English fool has written below. The public always overreacts.

  • Aussasinator on August 7, 2010, 13:38 GMT

    They have no great choice actually.

  • jmey97 on August 7, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    North is a good batsmen and should be selected. They need to give him India to show his keep.

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