May 20, 2009

The madness of Digger Hilditch

It's hard to think of an Ashes squad weirder than the one picked by the NSP
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Picking Australian cricket teams has got a lot more complicated since the days when the NSP was merely called the national selection panel, its simple task being to pick the country's six best batsmen, four best bowlers and a wicketkeeper. And the longer NSP chairman Andrew Hilditch spoke this morning, the more the complications swirled.

"Um," he said, "in the end result, um, I suppose it came down to a consideration of, you know, we were very happy with the top six that played in South Africa [and] it would be hard to see us moving away from that."

Not all that hard, surely, Digger? What if someone in the top six gets hurt? What if new boy Marcus North finds conquering capable English seamers on helpful English pitches less than a doddle? What if Mike Hussey - two fifties in his past 16 Test outings - continues to bat with the comfort and fluency of a haemorrhoids-stricken man grappling to find a cure for cancer?

And as you contemplated these questions, questions that went unasked at this morning's press conference, you looked at Ricky Ponting, sitting to Hilditch's left. And you felt for poor Bradley John Hodge of Sandringham. And you wondered whether perhaps the VB logos on the collar of Ponting's shirt stood not for Victoria Bitter but for Bitter Victorian.

And meanwhile you re-read the team sheet and you did the math and it dawned on you that, in a touring party of 16, the selectors had named only six specialist batsmen.

But, um, Hilditch sort of explained, you are forgetting Shane Watson - "a batter" who, at a pinch, might "give us a few quality overs". Right. So Watson is a batsman, a you-beaut one at that, accomplished enough to command a spot in the XI whether he is bowling or not. Sounds feasible. Then Hilditch kept talking.

"Um, and in addition, which is very important for us, he gives us quality pace bowling … As an extra player, ah, providing options within the group, um, we thought Shane Watson was the right choice."

And at that point you really wished someone would ask: well, Digger, which is it? Is Watson a batter? Bowler? Allrounder? Please, Digger, which is it?

And then you started to long for those innocent pre-NSP days when an allrounder was someone whose expertise lay in batting and bowling, not in providing options within the group.

In truth, Australia's selectors are clueless when it comes to determining who is Australia's best No.6. In fairness, working it out is not as easy as it once was. Fringe batsmen no longer get tested by world-class attacks in Sheffield Shield cricket. Old-time Bradman's XI versus McCabe's XI trial matches were abolished yonks ago. Klinger, Khawaja, Pomersbach, Henriques and Voges are just so many names in the newspaper small print.

Possibly the selectors do not rate Hodge or Callum Ferguson as being quite good enough - or surely one of them would today fill the spot occupied by Andrew McDonald. Probably the best batsman in Australia not getting a look-in is Chris Rogers. Rogers is an opener. It has seemingly occurred to no one that Simon Katich, a Test opener by default courtesy of Phil Jaques's travails, and a fine batsman, would be just as fine, and perhaps even finer, in the middle order, where he has after all batted almost all his life. Not once have the selectors tried a top six of Hughes, Rogers, Katich, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey. It looks a lot like an Ashes-winning top six.

If Phillip Hughes proves unbowlable, and if Ponting lives up to his career average, none of this will matter. If not, Australia's batting looms as one of two big potential problems.

Their other big potential problem is their bowling. The plan is to field four fast bowlers, subscribing to the reasonable-sounding logic that you pick your best bowlers and Australia's best bowlers are fast bowlers. History tells us that unless those four fast bowlers are super-powered and West Indian, the plan is doomed. Four quicks won't achieve what three can't. What invariably happens is that the fourth fast bowler hardly bowls. The lack of variety becomes mind-twistingly apparent to all. And finally, reluctantly, the selectors turn to a spinner.

Australia have picked only one of these, Nathan Hauritz, not because he spins the ball sharpest or loops it highest but because he is regarded as the one least likely to get slaughtered - or, in Digger-speak, because "in the end, for the balance we want in the side, which we think is a spinner that can assert lots of pressure and maintain pressure". A back-up plan involving some unassertive offies from Marcus North, whose mid-40s average flatters him, is hardly a plan at all.

They're a weird mob, all right, that Hilditch and his three helpers have chucked together. It is hard to think of any Australian Ashes squad weirder.

"England's ability to over-theorise and complicate the game of cricket is legendary," observed Ian Chappell 15 years ago. "Ever since I became involved in Ashes battles, I've felt that Australia could rely on some assistance from the England selectors."

Too true, eh? Get that man a job on the NSP. Get three others, any others, to join him. For Australia's selectors have gone mad, madder even than England's.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Samdanh on May 25, 2009, 7:43 GMT

    Australia paid an unnecessary price of a Test loss in South Africa for not having sufficient specialist batsmen in squad. When Marcus North fell ill, they went one batsmen short and eventually lost the 3rd Test, which I guess could have gone Aus's way had they had sufficient batsmen strength in bench to replace North. It is incomprehensible that the team at helm of affairs of Aus team selection are doing the same mistake again, this time for the Ashes. Symonds is not growing younger. But before he went into retirement, this could have been an ideal opportunity to have utilised him in a crucial series such as the Ashes in England, in place of Andrew McDonald, who has age on his side to serve Aus in future. Symonds, after the retirement of Gilchrist and Hayden, is the only player in the current Australia stable, who can win matches single handedly-someone who can counter attack to regain advantage from a crisis situation. I find the selection strange for the 1st time over the last 15 yrs

  • The_Wog on May 22, 2009, 7:51 GMT

    Hodge hasn't helped himself by shooting his mouth off, albeit justified - just ask Tait how well that works.

    You don't need 2 wk - you pick your standby keeper from County cricket. Nor do we need 2 spinners - there aren't 2 in the country. (It dawned on me during the IND tour that Sehwag would have been picked as a specialist bowler by AUS, even with a broken left hand!)

    So given that, they could have had 2 allrounders (for whatever reason unknown to those not on the NSP) and still picked Hodge or Rogers for 7 bats. Presumably they think with Haddin @ 7 we already have enough batting but it's all a bit silly. After losing the last test horribly by fielding 3 too few batsmen, they really should have known better.

  • Copernicus on May 22, 2009, 7:20 GMT

    "I cant remember the last batsmen who scored a 200 and got dropped next match" - Devil.Reincarnated ....That would be Jason Gillespie, mate!

  • redneck on May 22, 2009, 5:45 GMT

    Hartly has only been around a year or two see what his avg is like in another 3 years. also his home is the gabba, one of the few wickets that the ball seems around on. ofcourse he will have more dismisals than Manou who plays half his matches on the placid adelaide oval which is fast becoming the deadest of dead tracks around! aswell as south australia not being the best team in the domestic comp, if they lose by a innings which they can tend to do (hence the one south aussie in the squad), Manou is only going to have one inning behind the stumps! hes a great keeper who has finally been rewarded for his years of toil. Hartly's time will come, he has his place in the pecking order though!

  • SmashingBaby on May 22, 2009, 3:07 GMT

    I am so glad that Brad Hodge is not in the side. I wouldn't even pick him if he was averaging 100. Not that he ever would. But he thinks he's the best batsman in the world and expects to be picked in every Australian team. He is so far up himself that in the All Stars v Australia Twenty20 last year, he played as if he was trying to get selected in the test team instead of belting the ball to give the crowd some entertainment. Not selecting Brad Hodge is about the only thing the selectors consistently get right.

  • the_fruit on May 22, 2009, 1:52 GMT

    Like many people, I think Brad Hodge should have been picked. But all this business about Australia not having a spare batsman is nonsense. Shane Watson is the spare batsman. I don't think much of him as a bowler, but he's a genuine top order batsman that scored plenty of runs for Queensland last season and has a good first class record. I know his test stats aren't flash, but they will improve if he remains fit. Not saying I'd have picked him, but there is your spare bat.

    And I'm pretty sure that Chris Rogers is playing County cricket at the moment and can be pulled in at short notice when the selectors realise that Hussey really has lost it.

  • tfjones1978 on May 21, 2009, 14:39 GMT

    I agree with some of what Chris Ryan has said. My squad of 16 would be: Batsmen: R.Ponting, M.Clarke, S.Katich, P.Hughes, C.Rogers, M.Klinger. Wicky: B.Haddin Alrounders: M.North, S.Watson, J.Hopes. Fast Bowlers: M.Johnson, P.Siddle, B.Hilfenhaus, D.Nannes, D.Christian. Spin Bowlers: N.Hauritz

    This would allow a mixture of experience and up&commers. Rogers & Klinger have each scored 1200 runs average 70-75 over 8-11 matches. Hopes, Nannes & Christian each average 4 wickets per match, with Nannes a left hand fast bowler.

    N.Hauritz has achieved the most wickets by a spinner in Season 08/09 First class in Australia.

    My XI would be: (1)S.Katich (2)P.Hughes (3)C.Rogers (4)R.Ponting (5)M.Clarke (6)S.Watson (7) B.Haddin (8)J.Hopes (9)M.Johnson (10)N.Hauritz (11)D.Nannes.

  • Hazzak on May 21, 2009, 13:30 GMT

    What's Andrew McDonald doing there? He's the 3rd allrounder after Johnson and Watson. Yet no backup batsman? I know it's easy to fly someone in at short notice nowadays to cover - but what do they do if one of them wakes up on the morning of the test with the flu? Neither McDonald, nor Watson are the 7th best bastmen in the country. Picking 16 players for England isn't that hard. Your best 7 batsman, your best 2 wicket-keepers, your best 5 fast/medium pacers and your best 2 spinners. IF all your bowlers are rubbish with the bat then you can start looking at alternatives. However, given that Johnson averages almost 35 and Lee over 20, there's really no need. My squad would have been...Batsmen: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Marcus North, Simon Katich, Chris Rogers; WK: Brad Haddin, Graham Manou; Spinners: Nathan Hauritz, Jason Krejza; Seamers: Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark

  • ngai on May 21, 2009, 11:34 GMT

    "Australia's batting looms as one of two big potential problems.

    Their other big potential problem is their bowling."

    Well that's obvious...cricket is mostly about batting and bowling..

  • Howie_CrowEater on May 21, 2009, 10:33 GMT

    Hodge must not be a very popular guy. His skills are there, but I get the impression he is not well liked. I dont think he is a good team man. Maybe thats why.

  • Samdanh on May 25, 2009, 7:43 GMT

    Australia paid an unnecessary price of a Test loss in South Africa for not having sufficient specialist batsmen in squad. When Marcus North fell ill, they went one batsmen short and eventually lost the 3rd Test, which I guess could have gone Aus's way had they had sufficient batsmen strength in bench to replace North. It is incomprehensible that the team at helm of affairs of Aus team selection are doing the same mistake again, this time for the Ashes. Symonds is not growing younger. But before he went into retirement, this could have been an ideal opportunity to have utilised him in a crucial series such as the Ashes in England, in place of Andrew McDonald, who has age on his side to serve Aus in future. Symonds, after the retirement of Gilchrist and Hayden, is the only player in the current Australia stable, who can win matches single handedly-someone who can counter attack to regain advantage from a crisis situation. I find the selection strange for the 1st time over the last 15 yrs

  • The_Wog on May 22, 2009, 7:51 GMT

    Hodge hasn't helped himself by shooting his mouth off, albeit justified - just ask Tait how well that works.

    You don't need 2 wk - you pick your standby keeper from County cricket. Nor do we need 2 spinners - there aren't 2 in the country. (It dawned on me during the IND tour that Sehwag would have been picked as a specialist bowler by AUS, even with a broken left hand!)

    So given that, they could have had 2 allrounders (for whatever reason unknown to those not on the NSP) and still picked Hodge or Rogers for 7 bats. Presumably they think with Haddin @ 7 we already have enough batting but it's all a bit silly. After losing the last test horribly by fielding 3 too few batsmen, they really should have known better.

  • Copernicus on May 22, 2009, 7:20 GMT

    "I cant remember the last batsmen who scored a 200 and got dropped next match" - Devil.Reincarnated ....That would be Jason Gillespie, mate!

  • redneck on May 22, 2009, 5:45 GMT

    Hartly has only been around a year or two see what his avg is like in another 3 years. also his home is the gabba, one of the few wickets that the ball seems around on. ofcourse he will have more dismisals than Manou who plays half his matches on the placid adelaide oval which is fast becoming the deadest of dead tracks around! aswell as south australia not being the best team in the domestic comp, if they lose by a innings which they can tend to do (hence the one south aussie in the squad), Manou is only going to have one inning behind the stumps! hes a great keeper who has finally been rewarded for his years of toil. Hartly's time will come, he has his place in the pecking order though!

  • SmashingBaby on May 22, 2009, 3:07 GMT

    I am so glad that Brad Hodge is not in the side. I wouldn't even pick him if he was averaging 100. Not that he ever would. But he thinks he's the best batsman in the world and expects to be picked in every Australian team. He is so far up himself that in the All Stars v Australia Twenty20 last year, he played as if he was trying to get selected in the test team instead of belting the ball to give the crowd some entertainment. Not selecting Brad Hodge is about the only thing the selectors consistently get right.

  • the_fruit on May 22, 2009, 1:52 GMT

    Like many people, I think Brad Hodge should have been picked. But all this business about Australia not having a spare batsman is nonsense. Shane Watson is the spare batsman. I don't think much of him as a bowler, but he's a genuine top order batsman that scored plenty of runs for Queensland last season and has a good first class record. I know his test stats aren't flash, but they will improve if he remains fit. Not saying I'd have picked him, but there is your spare bat.

    And I'm pretty sure that Chris Rogers is playing County cricket at the moment and can be pulled in at short notice when the selectors realise that Hussey really has lost it.

  • tfjones1978 on May 21, 2009, 14:39 GMT

    I agree with some of what Chris Ryan has said. My squad of 16 would be: Batsmen: R.Ponting, M.Clarke, S.Katich, P.Hughes, C.Rogers, M.Klinger. Wicky: B.Haddin Alrounders: M.North, S.Watson, J.Hopes. Fast Bowlers: M.Johnson, P.Siddle, B.Hilfenhaus, D.Nannes, D.Christian. Spin Bowlers: N.Hauritz

    This would allow a mixture of experience and up&commers. Rogers & Klinger have each scored 1200 runs average 70-75 over 8-11 matches. Hopes, Nannes & Christian each average 4 wickets per match, with Nannes a left hand fast bowler.

    N.Hauritz has achieved the most wickets by a spinner in Season 08/09 First class in Australia.

    My XI would be: (1)S.Katich (2)P.Hughes (3)C.Rogers (4)R.Ponting (5)M.Clarke (6)S.Watson (7) B.Haddin (8)J.Hopes (9)M.Johnson (10)N.Hauritz (11)D.Nannes.

  • Hazzak on May 21, 2009, 13:30 GMT

    What's Andrew McDonald doing there? He's the 3rd allrounder after Johnson and Watson. Yet no backup batsman? I know it's easy to fly someone in at short notice nowadays to cover - but what do they do if one of them wakes up on the morning of the test with the flu? Neither McDonald, nor Watson are the 7th best bastmen in the country. Picking 16 players for England isn't that hard. Your best 7 batsman, your best 2 wicket-keepers, your best 5 fast/medium pacers and your best 2 spinners. IF all your bowlers are rubbish with the bat then you can start looking at alternatives. However, given that Johnson averages almost 35 and Lee over 20, there's really no need. My squad would have been...Batsmen: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Marcus North, Simon Katich, Chris Rogers; WK: Brad Haddin, Graham Manou; Spinners: Nathan Hauritz, Jason Krejza; Seamers: Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark

  • ngai on May 21, 2009, 11:34 GMT

    "Australia's batting looms as one of two big potential problems.

    Their other big potential problem is their bowling."

    Well that's obvious...cricket is mostly about batting and bowling..

  • Howie_CrowEater on May 21, 2009, 10:33 GMT

    Hodge must not be a very popular guy. His skills are there, but I get the impression he is not well liked. I dont think he is a good team man. Maybe thats why.

  • oscatag on May 21, 2009, 8:53 GMT

    I hope many of you criticizing the selection of some of the players especially watson would be made to eat the humble pie. Who said watson if given a chance will not improve his batting average. watson was selected pure on the form he has shown since last year's ipl. he batted in the last ODI series against pakistan like a test batsman and actually outscored all your so called specialist batsmen in clarke, north, ferguson, symonds etc. I think it's best we channel all our frustrations and criticism in supporting these players and wish they perform well.

  • citykitty on May 21, 2009, 8:41 GMT

    Who has Hodge p----- off among the selectors? That can be the only plausible reason why he keeps getting overlooked. He's annoyed one of them while McDonald has obviously told them the things they want to hear. What chance of one of the Aus top 6 getting an injury and the SOS going out for a batsman... This Ashes series could have been very much in Australia's favour- however with the Aus selectors making a few howling decisions (McDonald, Lee, Hauritz) they have well and truly brought England back into it, if not giving them an edge. Final thought, why is it always players and coaches who get dropped, but never selectors...

  • Copernicus on May 21, 2009, 6:33 GMT

    Interesting point about forcing Katich into being an opener - Hussey was originally an opener that got moved down the order. Katich was shunted up....not sure why the selectors don't let them go back to their original positions. And as for Symonds/Watson, Symonds averaged about 15 with the bat for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield, whilst Watson was scoring heavily and consisitently. Hodge also had a great domestic season, so I think he can deservedly feel a little aggrieved at being left out in favour of McDonald.

  • L4zybugg3r on May 21, 2009, 6:08 GMT

    Yeah Krezja should be there imo as you need 20 wickets in order to win matches - or maybe the selectors don't intend to do that. It's kinda funny how Aus seems to care less and less about spinners and SA seems to be doing the opposite for a change with Paul Harris getting more games. I am glad tho that Symonds has not been given a chance as he has not shown form. Picking only six specialist batsmen does seem especially risky considering that a few of them haven't been in crash-hot form for a while. Even tho Watson should be taken on the tour imo as I think he might be a matchwinner, it's difficult to put allrounders in a test team as you're usually playing either a specialist batsmen or bowler short. Case in point Flintoff - yeah he had some good years but England have persisted far too long with him as he is not good enough to be in the side as either a batsmen or bowler - 2 5-fors and 5 100s in 75 tests. Personally I think that Flintoff has unbalanced the England team.

  • david_robbo on May 21, 2009, 5:57 GMT

    Hodge was unlucky when he was dropped right after scoring a double ton! This is nothing new, he will never be a regular member of the national side despite the fact he is better than at least 2 of the guys in the Ashes squad. I don't see how McDonald keeps being picked, but I would not replace him with Symonds in his current form. The best allrounder in Aus is Watson. As for Symonds and McDonlad they offer nothing that M Clarke or B Lee do, good with bat or ball and handy with the other. Symonds is a batsman who bowls a litlle but he isn't good enough to be a specialist batsman. Why cant we pick the best 6 bats and 4 bowlers and if a guy can cross over a little thats a bonous. Alrounders are only usefull if they can change a game bat or ball like Flintoff or Kallis.

  • shippa on May 21, 2009, 5:47 GMT

    I think the selectors have picked the best side available to combat Englands likely tactics. Flexibility is the key. Oz in the past 12 months have suffered against spin and reverse swing (Harris, Harbajhan, Afridi, Ajmal, Sharma, Khan). The poms will do their best to bring Swann into the game considering that he bowls well to lefties. He has a good arm ball. Expect good batting pitches that spin on day 4 or 5 with minimal grass. Remember they do not have to face Warney anymore. Fast bowling is our strength and England know it. McDonald's selection was imperative considering that he bowls a tight line and gets through overs quickly. Remember the over rate debacle in India. On wickets with a bit of life (eg Lords) play Clark instead of McDonald.

  • NeilCameron on May 21, 2009, 5:31 GMT

    I have little confidence in Australia's selectors either. The inclusion of Lee in the squad was due to what... his recent form? His record in England? In recent times the selectors have really begun stuffing things up. Unlike Christian Ryan I think that 4 fast/medium bowlers are better than 3 fast/mediums and a low-quality spinner. Where are all those youngsters who turned to Legspin back in the 1990s when Shane Warne was in his heyday? Did the ACB/CA set up any decent programs for developing quality spinners back in those days? I think not - otherwise we'd not only have a half-decent spinner in the touring squad, but also spin bowlers actually taking wickets in Sheffield Shield cricket (which, apart from Warne and Macgill appearing for their states, is a rare occurrence).

  • iamherenowfear on May 21, 2009, 5:14 GMT

    look, a spinner is picked to SPIN THE BALL and not worry abt being tonked. jason kreza took 7 on debut against a strong indian line-up and the selectors dont repose any confidence in him. all the talk coming from the old blighty has been to prepare raging turners to exploit aus's perceived weakness against spin. and the selectors still dont pick 2 good spinners ( casson and kreza)katich, clarke and north together dont constitute a half decent spinner.

  • 68704 on May 21, 2009, 4:43 GMT

    I am sure it is no fun being a selector anyway. Although I live in India I watch the Australians constantly, maybe more than some others and I feel that this piece is a "bit over the top" to put it mildly. Many of the 16 are guys who beat South Africa at their own game in their own country. Maybe Hodge could have got a look in , but he is hardly a 20 year old. I know the IPL is no indication but Lee and Johnson seems more potent tnan Johnson and Bollinger, surely. I think Symonds shoud stay with T2o and Watson can hold his place as a pure batsman. He plays straight, a rarity today in a day and age of sloggers. Unless Australia play really badly they should win by a canter. Who knows Pietersen may save his best for the old enemy.

  • P.K.Dhole. on May 21, 2009, 4:00 GMT

    The omission of Brad Hodge from the Ashes 2009 squad appears to be a shocker and definitely a very self-defeating measure given his prolific form in all forms of the game in recent times.Surely he merits a turn ahead of McDonald.A specialist backup batsman should have been an automatic choice for an Ashes series and who better to fill the role than Hodge?Well,Hilditch and company will be keeping their fingers and all their toes firmly crossed over the next few months.

  • Ozcricketwriter on May 21, 2009, 3:32 GMT

    The two greatest blunders that the Australian selectors have had in the post-McGrath/Warne/Gilchrist era have been A) Their preference for "keeper batsmen" instead of "keepers" and B) Their insistence in playing the best spinner instead of the best bowler full stop. We have gone through 6 spin bowlers, none of whom have done any good, and now we have Hauritz, a decidedly mediocre first class bowler, who, whenever he has put on Australian colours, has done amazingly well. Sure, he isn't Warne, but if we must have one, why not him? At least this is better than putting in 2 no-hopers like usual. As for Manou - like Haddin, he averages HALF the dismissals per match that Hartley does. Gilchrist, in comparison, averaged MORE than Hartley. Hartley is easily Australia's number 1 keeper. Not their number 1 batsman who can keep wicket, but their number 1 keeper. By a country mile. The sooner that we put in the best keeper, the better. Manou is miles behind too.

  • Shinboner on May 21, 2009, 3:24 GMT

    Surely Hodge should have been picked to bat at six. One of the biggest threats Australia will face is that posed by Swann to left handers. Having Hodge at six instead of the leftie North would be a better bet, not to mention he is a better batsman

  • the_fruit on May 21, 2009, 3:22 GMT

    I don't think Andrew McDonald is the Horn or anything like that. I mightn't even pick him in a test XI, but can't see people's problem with him being in the Squad. He's bowled well for Australia since being picked. Very tight, looked particularly threatening during the Sydney test. All you drop McDonald/pick Symonds whiners are nuts. McDonald's form for AUSTRALIA was much better than Symonds' form for QUEENSLAND, or even GOLD COAST. Think about it.

    Agree that Hodge is unlucky, although the player I'd have dropped for him is Hussey. Hussey's scored bugger all for months, meanwhile Hodge is carving up whoever's unlucky enough to bowl at him. And if the selectors don't want to pick Hodge, then I too have thought lots about picking Chris Rogers and going with him, Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Clarke and North. I'm not convinced by North yet, but he deserves to keep his spot after some decent form in South Africa.

  • jono454 on May 21, 2009, 3:06 GMT

    Even though I agree with much of what is put forward in this article, the way it has been articulated borders on disgraceful. Rather than showing any semblance of journalistic integrity the author seems like he has a personal gripe/agenda which he can't let go of. I understand the national cricket team an is an emotive subject for many, as it is for me, but please.

    Some of the rhetoric I dont agree with, especially the pot shot at Marcus North. How does an average in the mid 40's flatter a man with thousands of shield runs and a debut test century against the worlds premier bowling attack? None of whom he'd previously faced, on a difficult Johannesburg wicket he'd never played on before?

    Regardless of this article Australia will beat the pants off of England, simply cause they're a more talented side who have played test standard cricket recently. A simple comparison of Australia's key/form players up against England's shows the english lacking in every department.

  • redneck on May 21, 2009, 2:10 GMT

    say what you want about australia's weakness being spin, i think the weakest link at present is the selectors. they need to put stability in the australian test 11 as it gives the new faces in the side confidence to go out and play their natural game without the worry in the back of the mind about if they will even be in the side next test. hilditch's time is up replace him, his uming and aring at the press conference says more than what he actually said. i dont think austrailas spin delema will even be close to being resolved until australia tour the sub continent next where they can have haritz and krezja bowl off in spin friendly conditons. @zordrac manou eats hartley for breakfast he been in the shield comp longer than anyother state keeper and has always been known for his quick glove work. he also has many more notable preformances with the bat than hartley making him a far more brighter prospect should haddin be injured or even droped if his byes conceded dont remarkably improve

  • dwblurb on May 21, 2009, 1:32 GMT

    Oh dear. I thought cricinfo had dispensed with Ryan's services some time ago, but he's back. Really, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel with this fellow. The squad pretty much picked itself. There are a couple of people who could consider themselves unlucky, as there always are when a squad is picked. Brad Hodge is not one of them.

  • obstreperous on May 21, 2009, 1:28 GMT

    Did anyone notice that it was the Happy Hooker's birthday yesterday? Maybe that helps to explain his semi-coherent commentary at the press conference. Christian Ryan has ably argued this point previously. Basically it boils down to a view that all-rounders of true class are very rare and the current crop are just pretenders. If you agree with that view, then I think you can share much of Christian's assessment of the Ashes squad.

  • m0se on May 21, 2009, 1:12 GMT

    Symo wasn't picked because he's disruptive to the team. Australia are going for a long long tour and sourness is the camp is the biggest threat. If selection was just a mathematical formula whose input was solely the Cricinfo statistics page, then the above arguments would be valid. England won the ashes with Ashley Giles and Ian Bell - the final eleven doesn't have to be the best in their averages but the best as a team. Flintoff won the Ashes for England - Ponting or Johnson or any of the undroppables can do that for Australia, the rest are just support who need to work as best as team. Sweating over each and every selection is plain nonsense. Australia want a good team, not the eleven people with the best averages.

  • alexlt on May 21, 2009, 0:29 GMT

    This article is spot on, auwtralian sellection is ludacris. Why give hodge a contract if you refuse to pick him? And Kreja, 8-for on dubut but discarded permanently from then on. Also, do the sollectors think fergusson is just a one day option, he is young and has proved himself up to the challenge, pick him!

  • Gilly67 on May 20, 2009, 23:22 GMT

    Poor squad. We lost the ashes in 2005 because our batsmen couldn't play the swinging ball. Clarke will surely fail again, as will Katich. Where are the backup batsmen? Hodge has plundered runs year after year in English domestic cricket and would be a far better option than any of the "all rounders" in the squad.

    Brett Lee couldn't take a wicket in England when he was at the peak of his bowling career. What makes the selectors think he is an option now? If he starts the first test ahead of either Siddle or Hilfenhaus it is a disgraceful selection.

    It's no point talking about spinners, we don't have any. A pity MacGill and Hogg were in the same era as Warne.

    Note: If Haddin couldn't bat no team would let him pull on the gloves. He is a terrible keeper. His footwork is terrible and his hands are unreliable.

  • slugger1969 on May 20, 2009, 23:04 GMT

    I can see Brad Hodge as a very cranky 80 year old man, sitting on his verandah so dirty at the whole world. A poster of Hilditch and co. on his wall with many a dart in it. Fair dinkum, this guy scores runs for fun. The poms will be checking his ancestry to see if he has some British forebearer. If he does, they will pick him and he will score a mountain against us. Most of the squad picked itself I guess but I must agree with the writer on the Rogers/Katich comment.

  • MrKricket on May 20, 2009, 22:52 GMT

    It is all a bit odd - the bland XVI (with a few exceptions like Ponting, Hughes, Johnson and maybe Clarke) the rest of whom could be replaced by the following list of The Unlucky or The Unloved XI. Jacques, Rogers, Hodge, D Hussey, Ferguson, Symonds (yes maybe worth another try!), Ronchi, Voges, Bracken, Bollinger, Krejza. Not a bad line-up eh? Of those Hodge, Ferguson and Bollinger could be considered the most unlucky but any of the rest should get themselves to the Lancashire Leagues in case of a "Mike Whitney 1981" call-up. Still I reckon the current line-up could win 3-1 or 2-1 if they can bowl England out twice a few times.

  • jizzmaster on May 20, 2009, 22:04 GMT

    The selectors have been rubbish for a time now so it is no surprise that they have bungled the Ashes team. I always thought that the allrounder in a team could hold his position in the team as a a specialist batter or bowler. I remember not so long ago that we were laughing at england for selecting Ashley Giles for his allround prowess.

    Brett Lee has had 2 good seasons in his career and is not deserving of any loyalty (in tests, I will give him the one dayers). Hauritz is only picked because he doesnt get tonked (hardly a reason for making a team I would think).

    I thought Hilditch would hve picked Symonds after Ponting's comments so congratualtions there for getting that right.

    Australia still might win but it wont be through any depth in selection.

  • Devil.Reincarnated on May 20, 2009, 21:55 GMT

    I cant remember the last batsmen who scored a 200 and got dropped next match with an average of above 50. If they cant fit hodge into there setup for the last 5 years they have wasted a world class player. Moreover he can bowl the offies marcus north bowls and i am sure he is a better batsmen than him. Well i jus have to say Hodge move to someother country ;) (propably india) :P

  • Ozcricketwriter on May 20, 2009, 20:52 GMT

    First off - why 2 specialist keepers? Only reason I can think of is because Haddin is the worst specialist keeper Australia has picked since Wayne Philips (who was never a specialist keeper for his state even). Sadly, Manou isn't any better. H-A-R-T-L-E-Y. Best keeper in Australia by a country mile. Haddin isn't even 2nd. Or 3rd. Let alone Manou. If they had Hartley as Australia's keeper, there wouldn't have been a need for a 2nd one. Then we could have squeezed in a specialist batsman or 2. David Hussey and Brad Hodge spring to mind as the 2 most obvious. As for the abundance of all-rounders, well, they have all done well enough, so why not? North isn't really an all-rounder - he is a batsman who bowls a bit (like Lance Klusener). McDonald similarly is a bowler who bats a bit (like Shaun Pollock). And Watson is the one and only true all-rounder (like Jacques Kallis). South Africa did great with Klusener, Pollock and Kallis in the same side, so why can't Australia?

  • Stewtoo on May 20, 2009, 20:45 GMT

    I would have thought that judging Watson on his statistics alone (batting average of 19 in tests) at this stage isn't right. In the limited overs series he batted phenomonally, and not in the manner you would expect from a limited overs specialist, but posting big scores. It would seem that he has started to show some of the potential he has because he was trusted to be in the top 6 instead of not valuing his wicket by being placed at 7 or lower. What would be wrong with a team of Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Watson, Haddin, Johnson, Lee, Siddle and Clark? If spin is going to play a huge part in the game then let Katich and Clarke fill the role, they are as good as Hauritz so I don't see the advantage of having him in the team. Hell they are really just as good as Panesar/Swann, let alone the fact that they would then be backed by 5 good seamers.

  • Two_faced_Riddler on May 20, 2009, 20:09 GMT

    Hodge and Symonds instead of Watson and McDonald. Watson is not going to last more than a couple of innings-he has got mutated injury causing genes.

  • deathorats on May 20, 2009, 18:55 GMT

    The first thing I thought when I saw the squad was, hell - where's the extra batsman? I think McDonald's batting in the Cape Town Test was impressive, he's clearly better when he's hitting the ball instead of poking and prodding at it. His bowling is exactly the type that knocks good players over in England - niggly medium pacers. I won't shed a tear for Symonds, but McGain should have been given another chance, Hauritz simply doesn't cut it at Test level. Watson is good value for money, but only if he lasts the series. The real problem is Brad Hodge. He averages 55, has a double-hundred against South Africa, has just been handed a surprise central contract, and they don't bloody pick him! In a SIXTEEN-man squad with only six batsmen! Ridiculous. Although the thought strikes me that if a batter goes down, Manou could come in and keep wicket while Haddin could move to No. 6.

    And spot on about Chris Rogers, Ryan, I'd never even considered it.

  • mangocube6 on May 20, 2009, 18:38 GMT

    The key to judging the Aussie cricket squad is who deserves to not go? In the context of 1 of the very great turnarounds.. having lost their world champion status by losing at home to SA (forget ICC tables. It's about beating the world champs on their turf), a newish Australian side has the guts to do exactly the same only a month or two later to their victors. Amazing stuff.

    North, McDonald, Siddle, Hauritz and Hilfenhaus all have to go. Period. McDonald whingers? Look at how tight and pressure inducing is his bowling... a slower McGrath, tying them down. Earns his place for bowling alone. Not convinced? Look at his test stats. When his batting improves, all the better.

    Hauritz knockers? Dime a dozen. He's not Warne or McGill. Congrats on being so observant. Again, look at his figures.... they are very very good. Not exciting but effective. Handy bat too.

    Hodge is unlucky. Moreso from the past than now. Roy has no runs up. Simple. Watson is reserve batsman with current form.

  • Vidzegg on May 20, 2009, 18:20 GMT

    why can mcdonald get in and symonds can not is a mystery . . Difference in class is too obvious . Only explanation i could come up is that may be mcdonald has some good luck charm because australia have won all matches but one since he has come with his own performance steady at best why is chris rogers doomed for ever after one failure at perth against india . Why brad hodge is out of side when every person with the a little cricket sense can see his class and ability and need of the extra batsman i m very happy to see these blunders because i will support england in ashes .

  • webo on May 20, 2009, 17:55 GMT

    I definately agree with everything said about the batsmen. After having no all rounders to speak of we're now going crazy with them - abeit only moderate all rounders at that. Get Hodge in & McDonald out, Symonds in & Watson out.

  • kiruthikan on May 20, 2009, 16:27 GMT

    It's a shame that Bradly Hodge has played only 6 tests for Australia. Technique and Temprement wise Hodge is muche better than some of the other Aussies. Infact, only Ricky Ponting is better than him. Even in the IPL (although it is not the perfect yardstick to eveluate)...the ease with which Hodge accumulated his runs was amazing. Once again he misses Auusie selection for some strange reason known only to NSP

  • andya0619 on May 20, 2009, 15:53 GMT

    haha..the only thing of contention seems to be the spot reserved for andrew mcdonald instead of a specialist batsman like Brad Hodge. To think that Christian Ryan actually managed to whine out an entire article over that one point is all credit to his literary skills..another on of those articles that have too much gripe and very little substance!!

  • crackers134 on May 20, 2009, 13:36 GMT

    Strange squad, no reserve batsman, Brad Hodge the obvious choice, Hauritz is an excellent limited overs spinner but not up to it in first class/test cricket, McGain should have been picked, has been the dominant spinner in first class cricket in Australia the past two years, a much better bowler than he showed in South Africa, hope one poor performance doesnt ruin his test career. They got the fast bowlers right, as long as Lee and Clark are ranked 4 and 5 come the 1st test as Johnson, Hilfenhaus and Siddle deserve to start after their recent form in South Africa. Manou also deserves his spot as clearly the 2nd best keeper in Australia.

  • dyogesh on May 20, 2009, 13:11 GMT

    This madness to create an all-rounder out of anyone who can bat and bowl will hurt Australia. In India, the first three matches, the bowlers were White, Clark, Lee, Johnson and Watson. When the strike bowlers couldn't strike, White was cannon fodder. And when strike bowlers struck, white eased life for batsman. So White batted at 8 and didn't bowl more than a dozen overs. Hence, never pick someone because he can hit a few runs and bowl a few overs. Australia lost one series to Flintoff and are spoiling many more series by searching for one. Even england's balance is heavily affected by Flintoff 'cos when he doesn't fire (which has been for all but 3 years of his career), they end up playing a bowler or a batsman less. Australia have had enormous success with 6+4+1 combo and should stick to it instead of 5+4+1+1/2+1/2. Shane Watson averages 19+ as a batsman and 35+ as a bowler and actually he is neither. Symonds/Hodge are atleast proper batsman.

  • Sanj747 on May 20, 2009, 13:10 GMT

    This article is spot on. Why don't we see players like callum Ferguson sent on a tour like this to gain experience. Brad Hodge should be there. Hilditch and his group are confused. What a surprise that Symonds was left out. I bet Ponting is fuming.

  • Barnesy4444 on May 20, 2009, 13:10 GMT

    Thank You. My 12 Hughes, Katich, Ponting, M.Hussey, Clarke, Hodge, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Clark, Lee, Hauritz. Another 2 spare specialst batsmen and 2 bowlers make the 16. Manou should be playing County cricket and would be second keeper. I can't see any spot for McDonald, he bats at 10 and bowls 125km/h. Not test standard. Watson isn't a test number 6 and isn't one of our best 5 bowlers so doesn't get a spot.

  • popcorn on May 20, 2009, 13:06 GMT

    Christian Ryan, you've got your head in the wrong place. This is the BEST Australian Side - very balanced. I predict Australia will win 4 nil.

  • aussieaussie84 on May 20, 2009, 13:04 GMT

    the squad looks good to me. minus McDonald with Symonds instead. not sure what the selectors see in McDonald. I think that Marcus north should bat at 6 with Haddin, Lee and Johnson to follow.

  • Aubmic on May 20, 2009, 13:02 GMT

    I agree in part with this article. The first thnig I noticed with the squad was "where is the backup batsman?" I mean, if you bring a backup keeper in case one bloke gets injured, surely you need a backup batsman in case one of 6 blokes might get injured. I guess they figure watson will play at 6 and consider johnson an "allrounder" these days. Personally i would have gone with Hodge & left our Mcdonald.

    But I think they have got the bowling spot on. They went with the best quicks we have in the country, and with spinners its a bit of a case where they probably went "Well, we've gotta pick someone I guess". Hauritz is one of the luckiest cricketers alive to be playing test cricket at the moment, but the reality is any other spinner picked would just take his place as the luckiest cricketer alive, they are all rubbish.

  • Gizza on May 20, 2009, 12:39 GMT

    This is a good article but kinda only points out the obvious. I mean is Krejza really a better option than Hauritz? India smashed Australia in his debut match where he picked up 12 wickets (at a 30+ average). And can the likes of Hodge, Haddin, even Hughes etc. replace Hayden, Gilchrist and co.? Warne and McGrath are irreplaceable so perhaps the only way to get rid of the "madness" which you speak of is to bring them and the others out of their retirements so they can play the old enemy for one last time.

  • blacksnake on May 20, 2009, 12:39 GMT

    Well said Christian, Digger speak indeed. And can someone explain how a third of the squad seems to bat between 6 and 8? I suppose thats called options. Brad Hodge was needed as cover for Hussey and Clarke who will be tested in this series. To think the fall back position is Watson with a Test batting average of 19 after 4 years of promise. How Watson and McDonald can both be in the squad is hard to fathom. Or is McDonald at 6 and Watson at 8? No hang on North is at 6, Haddin is at 7, Mitch is at 8, Bing is at 9. So where does that leave Watson and McDonald? I'm confused and I bet Brad Hodge is over it.

  • Sekhar_S on May 20, 2009, 12:33 GMT

    Looks like Ryan is frustrated that his choice of players is not picked.Whether Watson should be played as batsman or bowler is upto Ricky Ponting to decide.He will most likely be a third seamer after Lee and Johnson.All you writers wrote off Australia in the 2006 Ashes and were forced to eat humble pie.Whether that happens this time too,we'll find out once the tournament gets underway.

    Kudos to Hilditch for bringing in a wonderful team although I find the decision to omit Symonds and ignore Hodge a bit harsh.

  • Andre2 on May 20, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    Absolutely brilliant ! And I agree too. I still do not understand why Rogers and Dave Hussey have been left out ! But at least any of the batsmen are injured for long, Australia could turn to Voges who is piling runs for Notts. Now let's see the English squad.

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  • Andre2 on May 20, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    Absolutely brilliant ! And I agree too. I still do not understand why Rogers and Dave Hussey have been left out ! But at least any of the batsmen are injured for long, Australia could turn to Voges who is piling runs for Notts. Now let's see the English squad.

  • Sekhar_S on May 20, 2009, 12:33 GMT

    Looks like Ryan is frustrated that his choice of players is not picked.Whether Watson should be played as batsman or bowler is upto Ricky Ponting to decide.He will most likely be a third seamer after Lee and Johnson.All you writers wrote off Australia in the 2006 Ashes and were forced to eat humble pie.Whether that happens this time too,we'll find out once the tournament gets underway.

    Kudos to Hilditch for bringing in a wonderful team although I find the decision to omit Symonds and ignore Hodge a bit harsh.

  • blacksnake on May 20, 2009, 12:39 GMT

    Well said Christian, Digger speak indeed. And can someone explain how a third of the squad seems to bat between 6 and 8? I suppose thats called options. Brad Hodge was needed as cover for Hussey and Clarke who will be tested in this series. To think the fall back position is Watson with a Test batting average of 19 after 4 years of promise. How Watson and McDonald can both be in the squad is hard to fathom. Or is McDonald at 6 and Watson at 8? No hang on North is at 6, Haddin is at 7, Mitch is at 8, Bing is at 9. So where does that leave Watson and McDonald? I'm confused and I bet Brad Hodge is over it.

  • Gizza on May 20, 2009, 12:39 GMT

    This is a good article but kinda only points out the obvious. I mean is Krejza really a better option than Hauritz? India smashed Australia in his debut match where he picked up 12 wickets (at a 30+ average). And can the likes of Hodge, Haddin, even Hughes etc. replace Hayden, Gilchrist and co.? Warne and McGrath are irreplaceable so perhaps the only way to get rid of the "madness" which you speak of is to bring them and the others out of their retirements so they can play the old enemy for one last time.

  • Aubmic on May 20, 2009, 13:02 GMT

    I agree in part with this article. The first thnig I noticed with the squad was "where is the backup batsman?" I mean, if you bring a backup keeper in case one bloke gets injured, surely you need a backup batsman in case one of 6 blokes might get injured. I guess they figure watson will play at 6 and consider johnson an "allrounder" these days. Personally i would have gone with Hodge & left our Mcdonald.

    But I think they have got the bowling spot on. They went with the best quicks we have in the country, and with spinners its a bit of a case where they probably went "Well, we've gotta pick someone I guess". Hauritz is one of the luckiest cricketers alive to be playing test cricket at the moment, but the reality is any other spinner picked would just take his place as the luckiest cricketer alive, they are all rubbish.

  • aussieaussie84 on May 20, 2009, 13:04 GMT

    the squad looks good to me. minus McDonald with Symonds instead. not sure what the selectors see in McDonald. I think that Marcus north should bat at 6 with Haddin, Lee and Johnson to follow.

  • popcorn on May 20, 2009, 13:06 GMT

    Christian Ryan, you've got your head in the wrong place. This is the BEST Australian Side - very balanced. I predict Australia will win 4 nil.

  • Barnesy4444 on May 20, 2009, 13:10 GMT

    Thank You. My 12 Hughes, Katich, Ponting, M.Hussey, Clarke, Hodge, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Clark, Lee, Hauritz. Another 2 spare specialst batsmen and 2 bowlers make the 16. Manou should be playing County cricket and would be second keeper. I can't see any spot for McDonald, he bats at 10 and bowls 125km/h. Not test standard. Watson isn't a test number 6 and isn't one of our best 5 bowlers so doesn't get a spot.

  • Sanj747 on May 20, 2009, 13:10 GMT

    This article is spot on. Why don't we see players like callum Ferguson sent on a tour like this to gain experience. Brad Hodge should be there. Hilditch and his group are confused. What a surprise that Symonds was left out. I bet Ponting is fuming.

  • dyogesh on May 20, 2009, 13:11 GMT

    This madness to create an all-rounder out of anyone who can bat and bowl will hurt Australia. In India, the first three matches, the bowlers were White, Clark, Lee, Johnson and Watson. When the strike bowlers couldn't strike, White was cannon fodder. And when strike bowlers struck, white eased life for batsman. So White batted at 8 and didn't bowl more than a dozen overs. Hence, never pick someone because he can hit a few runs and bowl a few overs. Australia lost one series to Flintoff and are spoiling many more series by searching for one. Even england's balance is heavily affected by Flintoff 'cos when he doesn't fire (which has been for all but 3 years of his career), they end up playing a bowler or a batsman less. Australia have had enormous success with 6+4+1 combo and should stick to it instead of 5+4+1+1/2+1/2. Shane Watson averages 19+ as a batsman and 35+ as a bowler and actually he is neither. Symonds/Hodge are atleast proper batsman.