Australia in India 2012-13 January 31, 2013

Making the best of it

Australia's selectors are desperately hoping their squad will evolve into a team far greater than the current sum of its 17 parts

Michael Hussey was meant to be in this squad. So too Jon Holland, and Andrew McDonald. After Holland fell to injury, Michael Beer was the next left-arm spinner in line. Shane Watson was to be included as a batsman who could bowl. And one of Ben Hilfenhaus or Ryan Harris would certainly have been chosen had they been fit.

Questions about the composition of Australia's Test squad to tour India need to be made with all these absentees in mind, for the national selectors' initial thoughts about the task of four Tests on the subcontinent had a far different tour party being chosen. Since that time, an unexpected retirement has created one major gap, injuries have opened up others, and the Big Bash League left John Inverarity's panel with precious little relevant recent cricket from which to draw their conclusions.

So in circumstances "less than ideal", a favourite recent phrase of those in Cricket Australia's team performance hierarchy, the 17 named for India provide the captain Michael Clarke with a vast array of options for the various scenarios that may lie ahead of him across the matches in Chennai, Hyderabad, Mohali and Delhi. Clarke wants those options because he is not entirely sure what is in store, nor how his players will respond to what they find.

Hussey's absence remains a hole the team will have enormous trouble covering. Looking at the two back-up batsmen chosen for the trip in Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith, Hussey's value can be quantified by noting he was effectively a higher skilled amalgam of both players. There was Khawaja's technique and comfort against the new ball, but also Smith's middle order invention, athletic fielding and occasional bowling, albeit medium pace rather than spin. These attributes were wedded to vast experience and a team ethic unsullied by the onset of the Twenty20 age. The coach Mickey Arthur was not joking when he said every other member of the Test side will now have to get "15% better" to cover Hussey's loss.

The inclusion of Smith reflects the fact that the selection panel installed after the Argus review now have an opinion of him no lower than that held by those who sat in their positions before it. Over the past two home summers Smith has played plenty of first-class cricket, engendering respect among Sheffield Shield opponents for a batting method that has grown more mature and balanced. Only one century in that time is a cause for concern, but Smith has at least shown an ability to get started consistently, and it is starting an innings that is considered among the most vexing elements of batting in India.

In preparing the squad, most careful thought has evidently been given to the mixture of allrounders and spin bowlers chosen. As England did on their recent subcontinental visits to Sri Lanka and India, Inverarity's panel have attempted to allow room for subtle changes in balance depending on the nature of the pitch, the weather and the state of the series. Samit Patel was not the reason England won Test matches in Colombo, Mumbai and Kolkata, but handy innings prevented his team's tail from subsiding in each match while his bowling offered a useful back-up when needed.

It is this sort of role that is envisaged for Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques. In the words of Inverarity, the permutations are thus: "One of the options is to play two pace bowlers, our two leading spinners and then a medium-fast allrounder in Moises Henriques. Another alternative is to play three pace bowlers, our leading spinner whether that be Xavier Doherty or Nathan Lyon, and then have the backup of the allrounder with Glenn Maxwell. Of course we could go with four bowlers and no allrounder, but the thinking is we will need more than four bowlers, we will need four bowlers and some more, so Glenn Maxwell is to the fore there and also Moises Henriques."

There will be some pressure on Lyon to hold his spot, particularly if the desire is for two slow bowlers turning the ball in opposite directions. Doherty's place is contentious when his first-class record, both overall and this summer, is lined up against that of the New South Wales captain Steve O'Keefe. But in the aforementioned absence of much Shield cricket due to the BBL's encroachment, Doherty's ODI returns and more consistent place in the national squad carried more weight than O'Keefe's eight wickets for the Blues against Western Australia at Blacktown Oval.

As has been the case for some time, Australia are served best of all in pace bowling, with the emergence of Jackson Bird adding another strong seam-up presence to the squad. Much is likely to be expected of Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, who first toured India for Tests as far back as 2008, while Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson will resume the young bowlers' rotation they engaged in during the home summer.

In all, it is no great assumption to suggest that Australia's selectors are desperately hoping their squad will evolve into a team far greater than the current sum of its 17 parts. The national team's first squad since Hussey's retirement was always going to require an element of speculation, and not for the first time the captain, coach and selectors must now hope like hell that a few of their gambles grow into sure things somewhere on their passage to India.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 2, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    I'll be interested to see how Michael Clarke approaches this series. He's shown he has the ability to do something the opposition is not expecting and put them on the back foot. Although this isn't a great Indian team, they are at home and they do seem to be discovering some good new players, so it won't be easy to beat them. I anticipate Clarke will try something unorthodox to unsettle them which will be fun to watch.

    I'll just point out that Ojha was easily India's best bowler against England; he took 20 wickets @ 30 against Ashwin's 14 @52. England had only one left-hander in the top 7. Aus could have as many as 5 (Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Khawaja, Wade). That's a significant advantage for Aus and one that should not lightly be thrown away.

  • Jason on February 1, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    I'd personally argue for the following team as the test line-up

    Warner, Hughes, Clarke, Haddin, Khawaja, Bailey, Wade, Johnson, Siddle, Starc, Lyon.

    That middle order needs genuine right handed batsman, thus Bailey and Haddin. Bird/Pattinson can be interchanged with the two Mitchells, or they can substitute Doherty in as a second spinner if they are desperate.

    Clarke should bat absolutely no lower than 4, as a captain without a genuine superstar batsman in your top 4 (remember S. Waugh had Slater [who at his best was pretty good], and later Langer/Hayden/Ponting/Martyn/M.Waugh). Clarke doesn't have that, an as the current best batsman in the world, cannot bat at #5 which is almost a cop-out position.

  • Andrew on February 1, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    @Simoc on (February 01 2013, 00:53 AM GMT) - good point, but as Brettig says in his article, it appears the NSP have no idea what to expect when they get over there. Probably the only thing they will know, is that their tour games will be the opposite of what to get in the tests & there will not be any spinners on show either??????

  • Peter on February 1, 2013, 2:33 GMT

    @Paul_Sheahan, How recent did you see him because a little more than a week a go I saw him scoring 70 odd runs at the SCG on a low bouncing turning track & not once did I see that ugly hoick to leg from wide of off stump. He had a tight technique moving well forward, even using his feet to get to the pitch on occasions.

  • Andrew on February 1, 2013, 1:21 GMT

    @Dan B - I am assuming the premise of the article was to try & articulate the NSP thought processes, which IMO wouldn't be easy. That being said, I really think the story most fans want to know is the rationale behind WHY no O'Keefe? Could you ask that question of any member of the NSP the nest time you have any interaction with them? It is THE STORY that I would say at least 75% of Oz cric fans on this site would like to know.

  • Andrew on February 1, 2013, 1:16 GMT

    @wix99 on (January 31 2013, 07:20 AM GMT) - I think AB Mac has been as well, unfortunate 3yrs ago just prior to the last Ashes too! Twin tons v NSW & some wickets then is injured. He could of played instead of North or Smith, IF his form carried thru, he may of been the diff between a draw versus a defeat at Adelaide. @ AidanFX on (January 31 2013, 08:19 AM GMT) - mate it's a different hyclass (impersonator). @SevereCritic on (January 31 2013, 20:57 PM GMT) - that was primarily because every 2nd innings was wrapped up in about 70 overs! They did often have Symonds & S& M Waugh too, so it wasn't completely a 4-prong attack.

  • Jamie on February 1, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    My team is 6 batsman, keeper, 4 bowlers - its test cricket. Anyway we do not have an allrounder good enough that deserves a spot. Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon, Bird. Need a second spinner Warner and Clarke would be better options to Maxwell and Doherty with a first class average of 44. Watson selected on his ability to dominate spin. Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja and Wade's ability to play the spinners is going to be tested at least we have taken plenty of net bowlers for them.

  • Simon on February 1, 2013, 0:53 GMT

    Given that India prepared spinning wickets for England and got comprehensively beaten they are more likely to opt for the risk free flat tracks option. So higher scores are likely especially early in the series. If that happens at least the batsmen would gain confidence. While not a strong looking team it is the best we have.

  • Cameron on February 1, 2013, 0:33 GMT

    it is a sad day when an Australian test squad of 17 is announced for a tour and realistically an effective argument can be made that close to half the squad should not be there: Cowan - has had opportunities and made starts but failed to convert Watson - a test average of 25 over 2 years should never hold a spot if he is not bowling Smith - has made one first class century in over 20 matches and is effectively a non bowler these days Doherty - a first class bowling average of 45 and only 2 wickets at 80 this season Maxwell - picked as a batting all rounder based on improved net bowling Henriques - good stats this year but has been underwhelming before that Wade - keeping against spin is questionable Personally I would not have selected Watson, Smith or Doherty. I would have rewarded genuine performance and included O'Keefe and Doolan.

  • David on January 31, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    Saw Smith practising recently at the MCG; the way he was playing way across the line defied belief, dragging balls well outside off to mid-wicket - I've seen a lot of batsman play for Australia, and with very few exceptions, they all show pedigree, and it is obvious why they get selected. Not this bloke though. He was found out terribly against the Poms a couple of years ago. Even worse is the fact that his non-descript leg-spin gets mention as part of his selection - this is simply an insult to other genuine batsmen waiting in the wings, who can really bat.