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February 24, 2009
David Boon, the selector travelling with Australia's squad in South Africa, believes his panel must show faith in a core group of players during Australia's rebuilding phase. Boon and his fellow selectors have a few key decisions to make ahead of Thursday's first Test in Johannesburg, with the make-up of the attack the major issue at a venue that traditionally suits the fast men.
Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger both bowled well in the tour match but unless Australia use a four-man pace attack one is likely to miss out, while a call also needs to be made on the squad's spin stocks. Whatever the selectors come up with, Boon wants the four-man selection panel to show the same sort of backing that he and his fellow players received during the mid 1980s, when a rebuilding phase led to the discovery of stars like Steve Waugh and Craig McDermott.
"The selectors back then were fantastic," Boon said in Johannesburg. "When we went through that period they said, 'right we can't keep chopping and changing.' They basically picked 16 or 18 guys and had them in their minds and for the next three or four years we all played and we knew if we missed we weren't going to be flicked.
"It gave Billy [McDermott] the chance to improve as a young 19-year-old bowler, Steve was very up and down through those formative years, but they stuck with him because everybody knew there was talent there. We stuck together and I think we are going to do the same here. I firmly believe we have young players who are going to step up to the mark and do really well as long as we are patient."
His comments came as Australia built up to the Wanderers match, which will be the 15th Test in a row in which they have failed to field the same side in consecutive Tests. Boon said it was not a venue where spin was likely to play a major role although he felt Bryce McGain's struggles in Potchefstroom, where he took 2 for 126 from 19 overs, should not be held against him.
"I don't think you can take one performance into account," Boon said. "You look at the balance of the team and how we want to approach this game. We've seen in our domestic cricket that he's a really fine bowler and on that sort of wicket he might have looked a bit ordinary. It didn't move too far off the straight and narrow for him and the guy [Imran Tahir] who bowled for them as well, our guys played him pretty easily so I wouldn't take too much out of that."
However, Boon was impressed by the efforts of the part-time offspinner Marcus North, who collected a career-best 6 for 69 in the second innings when McGain was off the field with a stomach bug. It will be difficult for the selectors to leave North out of the first Test after a performance that also included two half-centuries, but they need to decide if he is capable of being a frontline spin option or simply a backup.
"He's handy, we've known that for a long time," Boon said. "He does a role and he does it well and I thought that even though they were being aggressive he landed it well so they didn't get away with it. As we saw with a lot of batters, clearing the pickets wasn't hard and he made it hard and took those wickets plus a couple of legit ones."
If North plays at No. 6, it's difficult to see where Andrew McDonald could squeeze into the side despite being the incumbent from the Sydney Test. The selectors are unlikely to name a starting XI until Wednesday.
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