McDonald keeps fingers crossed over Ashes selection
Andrew McDonald is bracing for a nervous few days. With the Ashes squad announcement due this week, and Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds nipping at his heels, Australia's incumbent Test allrounder is uncertain which names will appear on Andrew Hilditch's team sheet on Wednesday.
Cricket Australia's 25-man contract list, announced last week, offered little insight into the selectors' preferences in regards to the allrounders' race for the Ashes. McDonald and Marcus North, both integral to Australia's recent 2-1 series victory in South Africa, and the more experienced duo of Watson and Symonds all received contracts, but at least one of the foursome is expected to be stood down from the 15- or 16-man Ashes touring party.
"There are always some nerves," McDonald told Cricinfo from South Africa, where he is currently based with the Delhi Daredevils. "You never take anything for granted. I'm over here in South Africa, and there's no real way to press my case. I'll just be waiting by the phone, like everyone else."
North's sound batting at No. 6 and ability to bowl finger spin - a potentially crucial secondary skill if Australia opt to play four specialist quicks - should guarantee him the nod. But just how McDonald, Watson and Symonds fit into the picture remains unclear, with all providing compelling, though not irresistable, cases for selection.
Watson and Symonds were both considered first-choice selections before injury and behavioural issues, respectively, intervened. Watson was in superb one-day batting form in the UAE this month, and has been a firm favourite of selectors in the past, but the minor groin injury sustained in Australia's most recent Twenty20 match against Pakistan will raise further questions as to his long-term durability. Symonds, too, has enjoyed the strong historical backing of Ricky Ponting and the reputation as an international game-breaker, but has done little to enhance either in recent months.
And then there is McDonald. A surprise selection for the Sydney Test against South Africa in January, McDonald performed steadily with bat and ball as Australia claimed three consecutive victories over their arch-rivals. The Victorian allrounder proved adept in the role of partnership-breaker - claiming nine wickets at 33.33 in four Tests, including the scalps of Jacques Kallis [twice], AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla - and allayed some concerns surrounding his batting with 68 in his last innings in Cape Town.
"Every game you play makes you feel a little more settled," McDonald said. "It does take a while to find your feet. The group we took to South Africa was fantastic and gelled well, so that made it a bit easier. I think with winning those Tests [against South Africa] it helped me to find my feet a bit quicker than it might have otherwise.
"But I'm not really sure how it [Ashes selection] will go. I don't really know what the conditions will be like in England - I've played a bit of league cricket there - and they could come into it. I suppose anyone in that 25-man contract list can put forward a strong case for Ashes selection. Shane showed in the last one-day series that he can bat in the top six, and Symonds has obviously been a consistent performer over a long period of time. There aren't any four- or five-day games between now and when they select the squad. I suppose there's not a lot I can do about it now."
McDonald has endured a frustrating month in the IPL, where he has yet to play a game for the tournament-leading Delhi Daredevils. But he has been more appreciated of late by Australia's selectors who, after a barren decade, have suddenly found themselves with an abundance of allrounders to choose from.
"I guess it goes in cycles," McDonald said. "Every era is different. Not so long ago we had two of the best spinners going around in Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, and now we're on the look-out for spinners, although Nathan Hauritz has done a fantastic job for us lately. Now we have quite a few allrounders, whereas a couple of years back we were searching for them. We have three candidates in that [contract] list who could fill the job, and that's great for the game.
"Watson and Symonds have done a fantastic job. But, for me, Jacques Kallis is the top of the tree. You look at his consistency and his output over a long period of time, and I think that's what every allrounder wants to be. He is a fantastic talent, and he is a consistent contributor."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo