Australia's spin cycle claims another victim
Australia's selectors have burned another spinner and given two more a chance to feel the heat. Nathan Hauritz's sacking has left Xavier Doherty feeling as buoyant and fortunate as Hauritz did with his catapult two years ago. Doherty will be the ninth Test spin experiment since Shane Warne retired in 2007 and the No.8 Steven Smith is also in the 13-man squad for Thursday's first Ashes Test.
Hauritz has been the most successful of those on trial, with 58 wickets at 36.22 in 16 matches, performing a role without delivering regular victories. The emergence of Doherty, a 27-year-old only recently entrenched in Tasmania's Sheffield Shield team, has forced a late change to the selectors' long-held plans. If Australia pick a specialist spinner at the Gabba it will be Doherty wearing his new cap.
When Hauritz was told to play for New South Wales at the Gabba instead of stay with Australia's limited-overs team at the end of October the chairman Andrew Hilditch said: "This is seen as the best preparation for Nathan ahead of a very busy summer." Two weeks later Hilditch praised Hauritz for having an "extremely good" record in Australia over the past 12 months. Today he said: "He can consider himself unlucky." He certainly can.
The start of the season hasn't been anywhere near as busy as Hilditch promised Hauritz, who has delivered only 58.4 overs in five games. In his first Shield fixture he was given 12 balls and in this week's bowl-off with Doherty he rolled his arm over six times in three days.
Doherty picked up two wickets in 21 overs for Tasmania while Jason Krejza, the side's other offspinner, was handed 10 overs. The clinching moment for Ricky Ponting, if he hadn't already been swayed by his Tasmanian team-mate, was Doherty's bowled-around-the-legs of Simon Katich.
Having stuck with Hauritz through times of trouble and moderate success, the selectors have let him go for the series they had been preparing him for. Marcus North and Michael Hussey were retained to keep faith in the year-old plan, but Doherty comes in on a left-arm hunch. A steady Test bowler has been replaced by a modest first-class operator. The use-and-abuse spin cycle continues.
The time for alterations was before the tour of India, giving new players two Tests to get comfortable, but the selectors' hands stayed steady until the shakes of the past week. It has been a spooky time with the main men spluttering all over the country while England's preparations purr. Still, one debutant for such an important encounter is better than the two or three threatened by Monday's bulging 17-man squad.
After the double failures of Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson in Hobart no batting changes were necessary despite the unconvincing nature of the incumbent line-up. Succeeding in the days before a side is named is the most pressure a young player can have away from a Test match, and Khawaja and Ferguson missed out two weeks in a row. At least Hussey and North know how to succeed, justifying another chance. Given all the circumstances, the side is almost the right one.
However, the treatment of Hauritz continues the trend of spinners being treated poorly after Warne's exit. Only Brad Hogg, the second of the eight replacements, has left in a happy mood. Unlike Stuart MacGill, Beau Casson, Cameron White, Krejza, Bryce McGain and now Hauritz.
Smith is the only other one of the group who remains in favour, but he is not yet good enough as a batsman to be in the top six, as displayed by his first-ball dismissal to Chris Tremlett in Hobart today, when he left an offcutter heading for his stumps. He is not ready as a specialist bowler either. A gifted player, he could develop into an all-round genius, but at the moment his selection as a bits-and-pieces man for such an important series is strange. So was White's elevation in India two years ago.
Hauritz is disappointed and Doherty and Smith are ecstatic. The fresh pair need to know those feelings haven't lasted long for Australia's spinners over the past four years. Steve O'Keefe, the in-form Australia A left-arm orthodox, could be next to join the queue.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo