North placed on batting alert
Andrew Hilditch, Australia's chairman of selectors, has warned the out-of-form Marcus North he must secure the No. 6 spot to hold his Test place, despite the increasing value placed on his offspin. North has scored 13 runs in three innings on tour to date and managed just a solitary run in the first innings against the England Lions at Worcester on Wednesday.
Hilditch is impressed by North's all-round skills and his offspin could become an important factor if Nathan Hauritz's inability to contain county batsmen continues. However, what Hilditch wants most from North, who scored 117 on debut against South Africa, is consistent runs.
"Like everybody else, he's got to nail the No. 6," Hilditch said. "Everything else will flow from that. The fact is he has very useful offspin, and is a very experienced campaigner. I like the way he goes about his offspin bowling, he's very certain about where he wants his fields, and is very certain about the way he wants to take his wickets. But the end result is he is going to have to bat well."
North faced five balls against the England Lions on Wednesday, gaining a single from an inside edge before a similar error ended in his downfall to Graham Onions. His scores of 1 and 11 against Sussex last week were notable only for the 22 deliveries he required to get off the mark in the latter innings, and a rustiness all but absent on his debut tour of South Africa.
Yet despite his form trough in England, North is under little pressure to retain his spot in the immediate term, with Shane Watson battling injury and Andrew McDonald yet to play on tour. The absence of a spare batsman - Hilditch's panel controversially opted for three allrounders in the Ashes touring party - has provided him with additional breathing room, although Brad Hodge or David Hussey could be called into the squad if Watson's thigh injury persists.
Speaking on the eve of the opening tour match at Hove, North was hopeful his form in South Africa would convince selectors to persist with him in England this summer. "Me and Watto [Watson] are both batters in our own right who offer different bowling styles, and Andrew McDonald is probably a bowling allrounder who offers a very good batting option, so there are a lot of options," North said. "It's nice to have that competition within the squad.
"It keeps you on your toes. The benefit for me is that I held that spot on the South African tour and I thought I performed pretty well. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting another opportunity sooner rather than later to hold down that spot and build my career at that level."
North has fond memories of Cardiff, scoring 219 in his first appearance there four years ago while on a county assignment with Durham. He played twice at the re-laid Sophia Gardens last year with Gloucestershire, managing 52 in his only first-class innings.
"I'd be very surprised if we got there and it was a dust bowl," he said. "I've played there since the new curator started and there hasn't been anything outrageous. From what I read in the papers it hasn't been spinning nearly as much the last few weeks."
North was considered by the selectors for the SCG Test in January, but McDonald was preferred and he had to wait until the South Africa tour for a game following 10 years of first-class service with Western Australia. He also has significant experience in England having played for five counties, although his results are not as attractive as those of Brad Hodge and David Hussey, who did not make the squad.
"Marcus is an interesting case as he's someone we have been watching for about eight years," Hilditch said. "His performances, I don't think he'll mind me saying, have been up and down at state level. Playing for your country is about form meeting opportunity, and on the occasion leading into South Africa, form met opportunity and he seized it."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo. Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo