Australia in India 2012-13

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

Daniel Brettig

January 31, 2013

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Steven Smith pulls on his way to a half-century, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 5th day, January 7, 2011
Steven Smith's batting method has matured since his first taste of Test cricket © Getty Images
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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.

Australia's absentees

  • Michael Hussey (retired)
  • Andrew McDonald (hamstring)
  • Jon Holland (shoulder)
  • Michael Beer (shoulder)
  • Ben Hilfenhaus (side/rib)
  • Ryan Harris (delayed recovery from shoulder surgery)
  • Shane Watson (touring but not bowling)

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

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Posted by landl47 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.

Posted by aznfratboy1 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.

Posted by Meety 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??????

Posted by Chris_P 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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by MoreTestsNoT20 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.

Posted by Simoc 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.

Posted by crh8971 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.

Posted by Paul_Sheahan 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.

Posted by   on (January 31, 2013, 21:01 GMT)

Seriously if the selectors think Henriques could bat 6 and be a 3rd seamer in the TEST side, they're slightly overrating the ability of the lad. The Indian batsmen will love his half trackers. On the spin front, surely they can't see Maxwell getting 10 wickets in the series if Lyon or Doherty got injured and he had to play. Handy bat but don't be fooled by a handful of T20 wickets. Graeme Swann he ain't! Gavin Robertson did ok in 1998, but he was a fully fledged offie! I think/hope Cowan does well. He has the temperament, but needs to convert starts. Watson to open if he doesn't bowl, he is one dangerous batsman in the line up, especially against the spinners. As for S Smith, I hope the selectors are right about his bowling!! We don't need to follow the lead of England and play Patel who was neither good enough with the bat or the bowl to be in the team. Joe Burns at 6 might have been a better call, given the success of Joe Root over there.

Posted by SevereCritic on (January 31, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

This need for a 5th bowler in test matches these days is very puzzling to me. Back when Aussies dominated tests, they played with 4 bowlers -- McGrath, Gillespie/Flemming, Lee and Warne. And these 4 were good enough to take 20 wickets on any surface, any condition. By choosing a bits-and-piece player like Maxwell, Henriques, you are effectively admitting the fact that 4 bowlers are not enough to take 20 wickets; and neither Maxwell nor Henriques can rescue you from 70-80/5 which might well happen once in 8 innings. England's recent win in the subcontinent was mostly orchestrated by Anderson, Swann and Panesar with little support from a 4th bowler. You don't need a 5th bowler -- go 2 pace + 2 spin option with 5 specialist batsmen and Wade. Clarke (when fit) is a very competent 5th bowler himself (man with the golden arm).

Posted by sifter132 on (January 31, 2013, 19:52 GMT)

@ blink182alex: you said "Test cricket is a simple game, look at how England went in India, pick your best 6 batsmen, your best keeper, and your best 4 bowlers for the conditions."

Sorry to inform you, but Samit Patel played in all the Eng-Ind Test matches as a 5th bowling option. He would NOT be one of England's 6 best batsmen. He didn't play much of a part with the ball, mainly because Swann and Monty did so well. If Australia truly thinks Doherty and Lyon can be similarly effective, then perhaps they can get away with no all-rounder. But I think those 2 have no chance of being as effective as the English spin duo, and therefore a 5th bowler will no doubt be required. Shame Watson has been scared off bowling - he'd be the guy to rely on for that job. Or Clarke himself can send down 10 cheap overs a day as another option.

Posted by blink182alex on (January 31, 2013, 14:27 GMT)

The selectors have over complicated things, yes Mike Hussey is gone but that doesn't mean we have to try and get fancy by covering all bases by bringing a spin bowling and seam bowling all rounders.

Test cricket is a simple game, look at how England went in India, pick your best 6 batsmen, your best keeper, and your best 4 bowlers for the conditions.

Smith, Maxwell and Henriques are not in your best batsmen or bowlers so they stay at home. Doherty is not test standard as seen in 10-11 Ashes, O'Keefe has performed well at first class level, Michael Clarke is a better spinner than Doherty. You replace Hussey by bringing in your next best batsmen which is Khawaja, then one of Rogers, Voges, Dave Hussey or Bailey go as back up batsmen.

We are going back to the team of 10-11 ashes, except weaker!

My Team: Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade, Starc, Siddle, Lyon, Bird.

If they start mucking about with the bits and pieces players we will loose. Simple.

Posted by   on (January 31, 2013, 12:19 GMT)

I think the premise of this article is thin at best. None of Holland, Beer or McDonald have any test record to speak of that makes their absence one of note. Hussey is gone now, so be it. Neither Harris nor Hilfenhaus have had any meaningful impact in the last 8 months, Harris hasn't even played. There has been plenty of water under the bridge since then, and like Watson, we should be used to covering for them. Of all these players, perhaps only Holland even has any real future prospect of playing a lot of test cricket. Yes there is some quality gone missing in Harris, Hussey and the bowling ability of Watson, but Hussey aside, the presence of quality cricket from all of the above players has never been consistent and certainly never to be counted on.

Posted by Someguy on (January 31, 2013, 12:10 GMT)

I understand that Haddin is not in the squad on the theory that he can be called in on short notice in case of an injury, but I would have him in the squad ahead of Smith as a backup batsman, or Watson for that matter. Watson can't score a century and whilst I am a Smith fan, he's not been getting a hell of a lot of runs this year either. This year, Haddin has 347 runs @ 57.83, Smith has 363 @40.33 and Watson has 186 @ 31.

Doolan, on stats alone, probably deserves to be there, but I imagine misses out due to lack of experience.

Posted by Someguy on (January 31, 2013, 11:44 GMT)

@VicPride - I agree, Watson has done nothing to justify his place as a specialist batsman. If he is not bowling, he shouldn't be anywhere near the starting XI. He is an excellent opener in short formats, but just doesn't seem to have the concentration to be a test batsman. Even if you take away the added pressure of bowling, I don't think it will make that much difference, because realistically, with maybe 1-2 exceptions, he never bowled more than a few overs here and there when they were struggling to break a partnership. He was the 4th quick, not the go-to man, not the work horse. There was rarely much extra work load on him from his bowling.

Posted by Dangertroy on (January 31, 2013, 11:37 GMT)

@ VicPride - agree with your comment re: Watson, without his bowling, I don't think he should bat in our top six. Unfortunately, I don't know who else does. I don't think its Maxwell (although I've never seen him play first class cricket...) I certainly don't think he should replace Cowan. I don't know how Cowan would go down the order, but who knows, maybe he can come in as that stonewalling number six like hussey, and bat for a day and half with Clarke. But I personally think he is better as an opener, whose job is to take the shine off the ball and to keep Warner on track. If Cowan is dropped, then who else comes in? Khawaja is already a given, so I guess that means steve smith comes in? or will wade stay at six with an allrounder at 7? I think thats my biggest problem with ths squad, the peices are so movable. While very flexible, I think that you should be able to look at the squad and likely starting teamr. I don't know what that is right now, and I don't think CA does either.

Posted by Someguy on (January 31, 2013, 11:37 GMT)

@Ozcricketwriter - I guess the main reason they went for Henriques instead of Faulkner is they wanted a batting allrounder, rather than a bowling allrounder. They can always use Johnson in that roll anyway.

I am surprised to see Doherty rather than O'keefe, who is in my opinion a better bowler in the longer formats, and a better batsman and a better fielder. Doherty gets in on his short format form, but will he be a wicket taker when the batsmen aren't in a hurry to score runs off him?

I am also surprised to see Smith in the mix. I suspect it is because there are not really any other standout batsmen and he offers brilliant fielding and part-time legspin.

With Watson not bowling they need Henriques if they are going to play two spinners. I'm not convinced that Maxwell is a good enough bowler to take wickets at test level, he seems more of a quick dart bowler for short formats in the D. Hussey style. Maybe Smith and only 1 specialist spinner and 3 quicks?

Posted by sando31 on (January 31, 2013, 9:59 GMT)

@Hawkmoon- I like your team. This should be the eleven, just swap Khawaja around with Clarke maybe!

Posted by CricketMaan on (January 31, 2013, 9:30 GMT)

Some tired, out of form, limited skilled players in the Indian team means, Aus are in good place, no matter who is in or out. Chill, this is the best chance for Aus to repeat the magic of 2004

Posted by AidanFX on (January 31, 2013, 8:19 GMT)

HycIass did I miss something - did YOU say Shaun Marsh is a class player? I repeat YOU HycIass? Did you really say that. And you are ok with Lyon in the side now?

Posted by Hawkmoon on (January 31, 2013, 7:58 GMT)

My preferred team: Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Watson, Wade, Johnson, Siddle, Bird and Lyon.

6 batsmen, 1 keeper and 4 bowlers. It's a formula that has served cricket teams well for decades. You only play an allrounder if you have a good one and Australia don't. Get some extra overs out of Clarke and Warner if you want a fifth bowling option. If Australia go into the Tests with only 5 batsmen and hope that Maxwell/Smith/Henriques can score enough to post a decent total they're kidding themselves. The top order is suspect and they no longer have Hussey to stabilise the middle. They need to play 6 batsmen.

Posted by Beertjie on (January 31, 2013, 7:54 GMT)

Daniel, you can surely do better than "Doherty's ODI returns and more consistent place in the national squad carried more weight". I guess it won't be worth your while to let the cat out of the bag about the real reason for SO'K's omission. After all, there won't be any more hot tips again. The talk from the NSP about Lyon being the best spinner can't gel with Maxwell also being in the team, so my conspiracy theory that SO'K - who could add useful lower order batting to the mix - is the victim of a Katich-like behind closed doors issue may have some credence.

Posted by   on (January 31, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

I think hycIass is pretty close. I think Cowan isnt good enough. Khawaja was dropped after similar issues of not being able to score, so I agree with the top 6 (Warner, Watson, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade). I believe that Maxwell and Henriques are in a coin toss and that effects the bowling lineup. Siddle and Lyon will play, but who are the other 2? For starters, id pick Starc. He is the best exponent of reverse swing in that bowling lineup (re-watch the spell he bowled to Herath at, hmmm, was it the WACA??? He was reversing it so far, it was beating the bat, the pads and leg stump. It took a pad to knock it onto the stumps). Then id pick Bird. He will bowl length, stump to stump, and long spells. As he is also an into the pitch bowler, he will also get variable bounce. Which means picking Maxwell. His bowling numbers are better than Doherty and he averages 42 with the bat.

Posted by wix99 on (January 31, 2013, 7:20 GMT)

Jon Holland and Andrew McDonald were certainly unlucky to be injured and probably would have been on the plane to India if they had been fit. Dan Christian is another player who was unlucky to miss out. He was on the verge of Test selection last summer, but hasn't been in quite the same form this summer. He offers a similar combination of batting and bowling as Henriques.

Posted by VicPride on (January 31, 2013, 7:16 GMT)

I am beginning to think that Watson doesn't warrant a place in Australia's test XI based on his batting alone. Two centuries after so many matches is simply not good enough. My XI for the first test depending upon the surface of the pitch would be: 1. Warner 2. Cowan 3. Hughes 4. Khawaja 5. Clarke 6. Maxwell 7. Wade 8. Pattinson 9. Siddle 10. Lyon 11. Bird If selecting another spinner I'd choose to rest either Pattinson or Bird as Siddle's hit the deck approach will probably be most effective on the pitches which probably won't favour swing.

Posted by Ricciardo2014 on (January 31, 2013, 7:13 GMT)

@hycIass Interesting team makeup there for the first test. Obviously depending on the conditions they'll play a single or two spinners. I personally think they'll add one more fast bowler to your test team & probably drop a spinner.

More interestingly, you dropped Cowan. I'm still unsure of him. Maybe since Ausralia's batting is still a bit fragile, he needs to be included but Watson at the top of the order seems right.

Posted by ygkd on (January 31, 2013, 7:04 GMT)

A touring squad of 17 for India and only one keeper who is currently hanging on to his gloves by his fingernails. Lots of short-form players (like the more mature and balanced Steve Smith!) and few Test specialists. It is a good job India are no longer strong and struggle with pace. Pace - that's the only thing Australia have going for them - provided injuries and rotations don't ruin it.

Posted by Mary_786 on (January 31, 2013, 6:52 GMT)

Makes the make up of the team to play the Indian XI in the warm up interesting.

Based on expediancy in that there are several who have to play for selection, form, fitness test and acclimatisation it would be have to be something like this

Watson Cowan Khawaja Smith Maxwell Henriques Wade Pattinson Doherty Lyon Bird

I expect Khawaja and Henriques to do well in the warm up game and will make it hard for the selectors not to pick them.

Starc 12th ( or Bird? ). If it's one of those funny non first class jobs the 12th will get a go I think?Wonder who the Indians will put up? Testing a few fringe players or rolling out the journeymen? My guess is they will put their journeyman as they don't have a ashes coming up.

Posted by hycIass on (January 31, 2013, 6:43 GMT)

Brettig keep in mind that Khawaja can also bowl and got Sangakara out in the Chariman's X1. And Inevarity suggested that he was very impressed with him in the PM's match. No one can replace Mike Hussey but Khawaja is the best we have at the moment. This is the XI I expect to see for the first test: 1. Warner 2. Watson 3. Hughes 4. Khawaja 5. Clarke 6. Wade 7. Henriques 8. Siddle 9. Pattinson 10. Lyon 11. Doherty

Variables: A. Maxwell plays instead of Henriques, we've got a 2nd spinner, so Bird comes in for Doherty

Doherty in the test team ahead of Bird? Look at their test and FC performances this summer for example. There are galaxies between them.

Henriques is probably a test level 7 (not 6, or not yet). He's not bad, bowling accurate outies, and is a bit like Watto. But the guy needs to prove himself. Also Shaun Marsh is a class player and deserves another crack if he can get some shield runs in the coming months.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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