Australia March 28, 2013

One big muddle, 23 million solutions

Once upon a time, selecting the Australia Test XI was a straightforward business but, nowadays, you could ask everyone in the country and get an entirely different team from each of the them. Here's mine

Would Callum Ferguson make your Australia Test XI? © Getty Images

Once upon a time, the Australian Test team was as easy to pick as a North Korean election. Because, like North Korean elections, there was no election - it was just selected by divine right.

The top order was Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn and the Waugh twins. Gilly "The Amazing" had the gloves and the license to tonk. There followed: Warney; Binga; Dizzy; and Ooh-Ah McGrath. Quality bowlers, sure. But they had highest Test scores of 99, 64, 201 not out (oh, Diz, you keep me young) and 61 respectively.

So yes, one of the great sides and just about unbeatable. And after 16 straight Test wins they even called themselves that - "The Unbeatables". Sure, a bit naff. But there you go. They're cricket nerds not Muhammad Ali.

Anyway, things changed, as they usually do. And today you could poll every Australian and come up with 23 million permutations for Australia's best XI in batting order.

I ran a straw poll of ten mates and the only player selected in all XIs was Michael Clarke. Some brushed Shane Watson, some David Warner, some the entire top four. 'Wade men' argued with 'Haddin men'. Traditional 'top six' advocates clashed with adherents of bit-part all-rounders.

And anyone who selected Steven Smith or Glenn Maxwell was ridiculed and lambasted with frightening vigour. Hence it was an extremely entertaining email exchange.

But it's the same everywhere: social media; anti-social media; the telly; the Daily Tele; the pub. Everyone's got a different XI. Three blokes at my golf club played first-class cricket for New South Wales, and none of them have the same team. Indeed their opinions on who should bat where are as varied as Shane Warne's interesting edict that we drop everyone, install nine allrounders and put Rod Marsh behind the pegs (or whatever Warney put in his funny manifesto thing, I didn't read it).

For what it's worth (roughly the paper you likely won't print this malarkey upon) my Australia Test XI for the first Ashes Test - predicated on these guys being fit, and Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting remaining retired - is this: Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Michael Clarke, Callum Ferguson, Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon.

So yes - following the 4-0 debacle in India, I have dropped Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Smith, Matt Wade, Maxwell and old lionheart, Peter Siddle (a tough one - but he's next in, and 12th man).

Yes, there is no place for Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Jackson Bird and Ben Hilfenhaus, all of whom could sling the cherry prosperously in favourable Pommy conditions with the high-seamed Dukes. They could all factor later in the series given "rotation", and all that business.

"Such is the poverty of top-order batting, the strength of fast bowling, and the dearth of high-quality spin, that you could make a very good case for a completely different XI"

Harris? Had it hooping both ways at speed in the Shield final in Tasmania. Cummins is raw with shades of Allan Donald. And James "The Curse" Pattinson is an angry and super-quick leather flinger in the time-honoured way. Three right-handers, sure. But different enough. And it shows this: if you can in good conscience leave Pete Siddle out of your pace-bowling triumvirate then pace-bowling stocks are healthy.

Lyon gets the spin gig courtesy of rolling Sachin a couple of times, taking 7 for 94 in the fourth Test and because he is just about it, outside of Fawad Ahmed, the Pakistani refugee whose citizenship application is being assessed urgently by diplomats in Canberra.

The batsmen? Well, they and they alone are to blame for the unprecedented thrashing in India. The top four were miserable. The middle-order were dysfunctional. Siddle and Starc out-batted all of them. And the bell must toll for someone. And it tolls for them.

Cowan? Good fellah, good luck to him, looks like he'd shed blood for the baggy green. But thirty innings at 32 and no Test ton since November? Time to go off to county cricket, my friend, and earn the spot.

Hughes? Batted his way back into the team with a bunch of first-class hundreds. He's now batted his way out of the team with a bunch of Test-class duds. How would a left-hand batsman so inept against the ball leaving him fare against the quality, orthodox offspin of Graeme Swann? Answer: quite probably bloody poorly.

I've shifted Watson to bat where he bats best. The big man is Australia's second-best batter and gives the new ball a thump. Michael Clarke moves to the rightful No. 3 slot suiting Australia's premier batsman and where he can honour the legacy of Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Ian Chappell and Ricky Ponting. And Warner shifts to No. 6 where he can slog when the ball's not swinging. But Warner is on a promise. And David Hussey awaits.

Rogers gets a gig because he's averaged 50 for ten seasons. South Australia's Ferguson gets a gig at No. 4 because he's classy, looks like a batsman and averages 60.25 in his last nine innings (including 74 and 65 against England Lions). And Usman Khawaja bats at five because he's classy, looks like a batsman and is not Steven Smith.

Haddin replaces Matthew Wade because he's a better batsman and wicketkeeper. And leader. And presence. And cricketer. Wade bowls better. But keepers don't bowl.

So, there you go. That's my Test XI. Sounds all right, doesn't it? Yet such is the poverty of top-order batting, the strength of fast bowling, and the dearth of high-quality spin, that you could make a very good case for a completely different XI - such as Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Doolan, Wade, Siddle, Starc, Hilfenhaus, Doherty - and people would rub their mental goat-beards and muse, 'Yes, the man has a point'.

Okay, maybe not Xavier Doherty. But you get the point.

The other point, given England's 0-0 series draw against New Zealand, is that whatever team Australia field in the first Test of the Ashes, they can still beat England.

But that's a whole other column.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jessee on April 1, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    Rogers, Watson, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Warner, Wade, SOK, Harris, Cummins/Pattinson, Bird. Jackson Bird absolutely has to be n the side, his bowling is insanely tight and even if he weren't taking wickets (which is unlikely anyway) he'd at least prevent the batsmen from scoring from his end and the other bowlers would reap the rewards. I'd have Cummins back depending on his fitness and matches played before the first test. Harris showed with 4/6 in the shield final why he should be in the side, SOK is still our best spinner available for selection right now and it helps that he can bat better than the others too. I have a bit of a soft spot for Wade and you can see hm improving every day, Gilly wasn't a brilliant keeper either but that didn't stop him from being the best keeper-batsman ever. 6 sorts itself out really, most runs at shield level and proven performers in their positions and Clarke obviously prefers coming in and saving the innings rather than building it.

  • Chris on March 30, 2013, 10:15 GMT

    If Watto is going to taker up bowling again, then he just can't bat above 6. And jsut because he *used* to be okay as an opener is no proof he still would. And look, in India he was a pseudo-opener anyway, most times coming in before the patrons had even found their seats. And he still failed.

    If Watto is bowling, I'd have him, coz he does take enogh wickets at a handy average for an all-rounder. Bat him at 6 and the pressure is of, so a quick 50 is acceptable and anything more a bonus.

    I'd like to see Rogers or D Hussey get a guernsey too. I have some sentimental attachment to Cowan, but he doesn't look like he's going to win us a Test, but might save one or two. Hughes is a liability. I used to be a fan.

    In the end, we gotta pick a team to win Tests.

    I'd go:

    Rogers, Warner, Clarke, Khawaja, D Hussey, Watson, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, O'Keefe

  • Pete on March 30, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    I think the less frustrating thing is to try to name the squad you think the selectors will countenance. The team I think most likely for the first Test: 1)Cowan 2)Warner 3)Hughes 4)Watson 5)Clarke 6)Khawaja 7)Wade 8)Siddle 9)Harris 10) Pattinson 11)Lyon Of these, Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Watson, Khawaja, Wade and Lyon aren't really good enough on current form and past records. In my opinion there are four obvious categories of quick: brilliant but fragile (Pattinson, Cummins), workhorse (Siddle, Bird), England-attuned (Harris, Hilfenhaus, [Watson when able]) and hunch selections (Starc, Johnson). Ideally, you need one brilliant but fragile and one England-attuned, and one other.

  • Dummy4 on March 30, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    Mitty2, it seems like Warner moving to #6 is becoming an increasingly popular suggestion. Kerry O'Keefe also has been suggesting it for a while. I agree completely about Hughes staying in the side as per my other comments.

    After that, Chris Rogers has been in practically every side I see picked. Pattinson is the only bowler in every side. Matt even dropped Siddle, who I thought was doing well. I won't argue about whether Hughes or Cowan should open, but why a lot of people have Khawaja at #3 I don't know, he didn't do too well there and he's by no means Australias premier batsmen. Michael Clarke's gotta be at #3 for me, he's the best batsmen on the planet (or thereabouts) and head and shoulders above everyone in the Australian side.

    Lyon, he is what he is. Should we just say to hell with it at this point and stick Agar or O'Keefe in there?

    But the article by Matt is dead on, I can't ever remember a time with so much debate about who should be in the test XI.

  • Tim on March 30, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    Cowan, Warner [in a good team, neither of those openers would play], Hughes [doubts still abound, but really who else is there], Clarke, Smith [he is still 1-2 years away from ready but things really are that bad], McDonald [if fit, otherwise Khawaja or Doolan], Hartley [easily the best gloveman], Pattinson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon. Any eleven with Watson in it is instant fail. He should not even be in the touring squad to England. Opening or middle order, he barely averages 20 over the last two years.

  • Adrian on March 30, 2013, 5:41 GMT

    My XI as follows: 1) Shane Watson 2) David Warner 3) Jordan Silk 4) Michael Clarke 5) Usman Khawaja 6) Steve Smith 7) Matthew Wade 8) Mitchell Starc 9) Mitchell Johnson 10) Ryan Harris 11) James Pattinson . Depending on who uses the Duke ball the worst, 1 of those 4 pacers can make way for Nathan Lyon if spin is needed. My 2nd spinner is Ashton Agar. Also in my squad are: Joe Burns, James Faulkner and Jackson Bird, for a 17 man squad.

  • Cecil on March 29, 2013, 19:54 GMT

    Where is this guy Peter Forrest?

  • Alex on March 29, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    For me our best 11 for right now would be this:

    1. Watson 2. Warner 3. Rogers 4. Clarke 5. Voges 6. D.Hussey 7. Haddin 8. Pattinson 9. Siddle 10. Harris 11. Lyon

    Lots of these guys Rogers, Voges, Hussey have lots of county experience where they have done well, they all know their game and have decent techniques. Wade drops to many catches so Haddin comes in. Harris is quality so he comes in for Jackson Bird. Khawaja would be back up batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2013, 12:22 GMT

    Tremendous. And I can buy Lyon still in the side, the bowlers I figured Siddle and Pattinson for sure, but whatever I reckon there are lots of good pace bowlers about.

    Watson instead of Hughes, and Ferguson instead of Doolan, I'm pretty much fine with Ferguson or Doolan or a few other options. I think you're probably right about how Hughes will fare against Swan. A shame because surely the guys gotta get an extended run, just too many damn tons in first class to ignore. Plus he's already been dropped twice already, maybe he's just got to find his way?