January 12, 2009

Who after Hayden?

A look at the players in the reckoning to fill the impending vacancy at the top of Australia's order

Matthew Hayden will not be the only opening batsman desperate for the first week of February and the naming of the Test squad for South Africa. Until recently Hayden had the complete faith of the selectors, who wanted him to stay on for the Ashes, but their stance shifted slightly after the Sydney Test. Hayden's second-innings 39 was his top score of the home summer and the likelihood of his career ending on 103 Tests increased when he was cut from the Twenty20 and one-day sides. So who will partner Simon Katich in South Africa? A look at the contenders.

Back in the frame: Jaques has returned after surgery, and if fit, will be up there in the reckoning © Getty Images

Phil Jaques

Age 29, Tests 11
First-class hundreds 35
First-class runs in 2008-09 0

Why should he replace Hayden?
A first-choice player until the India series, when he succumbed to a long-term back injury, Jaques has a hundred in his most recent Test. In nine matches since replacing Justin Langer he has 806 runs at 50.37, but the most exciting thing for him is what happens next. After having surgery he can drive through cover without feeling pain. A solid, sensible and reliable replacement who is young enough for a long career.

Why not?
He hasn't played since he left the India tour with a bulging disc, and his first opportunity to erase the doubts over form and fitness will not come until a Sheffield Shield game for New South Wales on January 30, a week before the South Africa squad is released. With other contenders lining up, Jaques has been forgotten by those looking solely at the run lists.

Hayden-esque quality
Passionate about opening for Australia and knows the team culture.

Chances Will be first-choice if fit.

Phillip Hughes

Age 20, Tests 0
First-class hundreds 4
First-class runs in 2008-09 730 @ 56.15

Why should he replace Hayden?
By picking Hughes the selectors could change the entire outlook of the side. Seventeen years younger than Hayden, Hughes, an attractive left-hander, would make the team fresh, exciting and one for the future. In his second season with New South Wales, he didn't suffer the expected slump and his double of 93 and 108 in a Sheffield Shield game against Tasmania represented 58% of the team total.

Why not?
A conservative panel will see his age instead of potential. While the selectors recognise Hughes' supreme talent, they might be uneasy at relying on someone so raw in A-list series against South Africa and England, especially with more qualified options available.

Hayden-esque quality
Able to sway the local faithful. In New South Wales this summer he is more popular than ice cream.

Chances More likely for the Ashes tour.

Chris Rogers

Age 31, Tests 1
First-class hundreds 31
First-class runs in 2008-09 661 @ 82.62

Rogers: an old-style opener who can do the job on all kinds of pitches © Getty Images

Why should he replace Hayden?
He did last time, scoring 4 and 15 against India in Perth. Since then he has swapped states from Western Australia to Victoria and continued with the heavy contributions that earned him a national contract in 2007. An old-style opener, he builds rather than demolishes, and boasts runs on all types of surfaces.

Why not?
He was forgotten as soon as he arrived in the Test team, losing his contract four months after his debut, mainly because the selectors were sure Hayden would make it to the Ashes. Can't shake whispers he is not as committed off the field, with his exit from Western Australia used as an example. Might be one of those players who is just plain unlucky.

Hayden-esque quality
Likes big runs and tough runs.

Chances Will go if Jaques doesn't.

Shaun Marsh

Age 25, Tests 0
First-class hundreds 4
First-class runs in 2008-09 167 @ 23.85

Why should he replace Hayden?
Marsh covered for Jaques when he was injured in India, an appointment more for getting him experience around the team than because he was next in line. An explosive batsman in the limited-overs games, he could jump into the Test arena via his performances in coloured clothes. In eight ODIs against West Indies and Bangladesh he has been assured, but life will probably be different against South Africa or England.

Why not?
Like Michael Klinger, he has spent most of his time in first-class games not doing much of significance. During eight seasons with Western Australia he has only four Sheffield Shield centuries and an average of 34.01. His best score since coming back from India is an unbeaten 74, and he struggled for impact in four domestic games of his preferred Twenty20. At 25, he has time, and the selectors, on his side.

Hayden-esque quality
Not afraid to thrash the new ball.

Chances Not as good as three months ago.

Michael Klinger

Age 28, Tests 0
First-class hundreds 6
First-class runs in 2008-09 906 @ 90.60

Why should he replace Hayden?
After moving to South Australia in the off-season, he has dominated the competition like Hayden once did. Four hundreds have come in six Sheffield Shield games, including 255 against Western Australia, and he has another 366 runs in the FR Cup. Klinger is in incredible form but seems embarrassed when pushed on his chances of national selection.

Why not?
He spent too much time - almost 10 years - as a fringe state player at Victoria and needs to prove himself for more than a season at his new home. While he opens in the one-day team, he enters at No. 3 in the Sheffield Shield, which makes him a riskier proposition when compared to the specialists.

Hayden-esque quality
Not giving up when ignored by the selectors.

Hodge represents experience, but picking him may also seem a backward step © Gett Images

Chances Highly unlikely.

Brad Hodge

Age 34, Tests 6
First-class hundreds 49
First-class runs in 2008-09 245 @ 35.00

Why should he replace Hayden?
If Australia want an experienced batsman for such crucial encounters, then Hodge will come into contention. The last time the Test team went to South Africa the selectors pushed for Damien Martyn - Hodge was the one cut - for his cool head and consistent output. Three years later Hodge might be the fortunate one.

Why not?
Hodge represents a look back rather than a step forward, and like Klinger he is a No. 3. Despite an early hundred, his first-class season has been quiet, although he has been much more successful in the limited-overs formats. He substituted in the West Indies with 67 and 27 in Jamaica, but needs a few breaks to add a seventh Test.

Hayden-esque quality
Unbending confidence in his ability.

Chances The outsider. Could go as a squad batsman and get lucky.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo