The Ashes 2013-14 November 12, 2013

Bailey, the safe choice

One-day form does not make George Bailey certain of Test success, but a decade of solid state cricket means he is a viable Ashes campaigner.
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When George Bailey made his Twenty20 international debut last year, plenty of cricket observers wondered if he was good enough. Turned out he was. When he joined the ODI side later in the year, the question was asked again: is he really up to it? Turned out he really was. Now, with a baggy green within reach, the same query over his quality will be applied to Test cricket. It is impossible to predict whether he will adapt again, but hard to argue against him deserving the chance.

Perhaps Bailey is just one of those players who will never convince his doubters. And of course, it is easy to point to his awful Sheffield Shield record last summer as a reason not to pick him for an Ashes campaign. He scored 256 runs at 18.28; his Tasmania team-mate Alex Doolan made 715 at 42.05. Naturally, that does not mean Doolan is twice as good as him. One bad season does not make Bailey a dud - duds don't score 14 first-class hundreds, as Bailey has. Or average 58.08 in a Shield season, as Bailey did the previous summer.

On the contrary, by choosing a 31-year-old with a decade of first-class experience, a man who has already raised his game to international standard, a calm influence around the one-day side, the selectors have made the safest choice they could. Perhaps it says something about the state of Australian batting that a man who hasn't scored a first-class hundred in 18 matches can be considered a safe choice, but there are no Martin Loves anymore, no Brad Hodges piling up thousand-run seasons.

In the absence of any such stand-outs, a solid cricketing character with a sturdy career record and runs in the past month fits the selection criteria. The 478 runs he made at 95.60 in India last month is the highest tally ever by an Australian in a bilateral one-day series. He is equal third on the ICC's one-day batting rankings. One-day form does not always translate to Test output, and flat tracks in India are far from Australian Test pitches, but runs are runs.

Some critics - Ian Chappell among them - would argue that James Anderson and his colleagues will expose Bailey's weaknesses in the longer format. Chappell recently wrote that Bailey was "restricted through the cover region, can be stifled by good spinners and is troubled by well-directed short-pitched bowling. His moderate first-class record and those limitations are not a good template for a Test batsman."

"From what we've seen, the higher the level he plays the better cricket he responds to. From that point of view we're excited about him having his first crack"
Australia vice-captain Brad Haddin on George Bailey

He argued that a better option would be to include an allrounder at No. 6 or 7, either James Faulkner or Moises Henriques. It may yet happen, for Faulkner has been chosen in the 12-man squad and if Shane Watson's hamstring injury limits his bowling, an extra seam option might be preferred to another specialist batsman. But it is difficult to see a Brad Haddin-James Faulkner combination at Nos. 6 and 7 being a viable solution for an Australian outfit in need of greater batting stability.

Notably, since the retirement of Australia's middle-order buttress Michael Hussey, the team has not won a single Test. Bailey is no Michael Hussey, but nobody on the Australian first-class scene is. Doolan might consider himself unlucky to miss out, and he is a classy batsman but he has only six hundreds from 49 first-class games. His time will still come. An Ashes opener is not the time to blood a batsman still honing his game.

Bailey might have flaws, but he is an experienced batsman who knows his game and can handle pressure. If he is used at No. 6, he should provide a measure of steadiness that is all the more important when the top order collapses, as it habitually does a few times per series. It is in those situations that first-class experience counts.

"He deserves his crack at this level," the vice-captain, Haddin, said. "He's an experienced guy. He's been around state cricket now for a good part of 10 years. I don't think he'll get overawed by the occasion. And from what we've seen, the higher the level he plays the better cricket he responds to. From that point of view we're excited about him having his first crack."

The coach, Darren Lehmann, echoed the theme: "The pleasing thing from my point of view is he's quite calm. It is going to get heated at some stage during the summer and hopefully he's going to hold us in good stead."

Being cool under pressure isn't enough, of course. Rob Quiney was described as having similar traits when he was called up against South Africa last summer. He did not manage to reach double figures in two Tests, and was gone. Bailey might fail as well. If he does, it will test the resolve of John Inverarity's selection panel. Do they pick and stick, or pick and flick?

"I'm as excited as anyone to find out how I measure up," Bailey said. "At this age you probably only get one crack at it. There's no point going out there and trying to bat like anyone else or be a cricketer that you're not. This will be my one chance so I'll give it all I've got."

And by the end of the summer, Bailey - and his critics - will know once and for all if he's really, really good enough.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricketfanwrites on November 14, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    I hope it works. This is the same CA selection committee that pick David Hussey for the India tour (tests) because they deemed that he was too old. I have nothing against the selection of Bailey given his recent form in the short formats. Having said that, what message is CA sending to Doolan and others.

  • stormy16 on November 14, 2013, 13:00 GMT

    I would have gone for Doolan but Aus of late are convinced the way forward is experienced hands (Haddin, Rogers) in the current side. Baily is calm and experienced and kind of 'grew' on you after the initial George who? It may work out and as Baily says this is probably a once in lifetime shot for him. I would have rather opted for even Khawaja (where is Marsh) than an older player. After all what has Baily done to get the nod ahead of Kawaja in the longer version? Yes he was awesome in India but I think we agree that is not the basis of his selection. Interesting move and we all await the first test.

  • dummy4fb on November 14, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    @HOMEBREW : The attitude of the selectors seems to be that Cameron White has 'had his chance', which is unfair. All his best cricket against international teams has been up the order (when he replaced an injured Ponting during an Ashes ODI series he briefly shot to the ICC top ten from batting at #3) but he's been pretty consistently consigned to bat at 7 in ODIs and T20s and had trouble with the need to rush his scores. I think he got four tests but they were all as a specialist spinner, batting at 8 which is a criminal waste of his talents. If Watson can't bowl, White should be number 3. But it looks like it will never happen.

  • TEST_CRICKET_ONLY on November 14, 2013, 1:46 GMT

    Another error by the selectors - he is simply not good enough for test cricket.

  • dummy4fb on November 14, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    The best bats last summer were Ricky Ponting, Phil Hughes, Brad Haddin, Chris Rogers and Alex Doolan. With Mark Cosgrove and Usman Khawaja and a host of others like Cameron White behind them.

    They got Haddin and Rogers back, good on them. But Phil Hughes has once again had his career stop started after another go round. Mark Cosgrove is about as close to selection as Steve O'Keefe, in other words might as well try to move to England and get citizenship.

    Khawaja and Ed Cowan have had a pretty reasonable crack at proving themselves adequete test players, I don't think people should rate Khawaja as highly as they do personally and I don't think we can claim these two players have been hard done by.

    Personally I'd prefer to see Warner at 6 and Cosgrove and Doolan at 2 and 3. Bailey's ODI form should never have even been a consideration in my opinion.

  • ToneMalone on November 13, 2013, 22:49 GMT

    Good to see Bailey getting his chance. As Haddin said, he seems to be one of those players who rises to meet the standard of opposition - I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with a better average in Tests than in state FC cricket. And at this stage, if Australia can find a level-headed, team man who averages 40ish at no 5-6, it'd be a step in the right direction. The only problem for Bailey is that, if Watson isn't fit to bowl, this may all be moot. You'd then need Faulkner in the side, if nothing else to ensure Ryan Harris isn't overworked - especially if the Mitch experiment fails. So ... hoping Watson can bowl, and look forward to seeing how Bailey goes.

  • ScottStevo on November 13, 2013, 19:49 GMT

    @dungerbob, probably or not! Hope he does as he's going to play every test no matter what, so we'll need him to score runs. What's needed from him is to stop getting 40,50,60 and go on and make tons. Also, he needs to tighten up when the ball is moving. Once he gets going though, his strokes are unorthodox and conventional field places won't cut it. Be interesting to see how Cook would adapt if he did go, as you say, super nova! I like the look of that middle order though...

  • latecut_04 on November 13, 2013, 11:39 GMT

    @F-your comparison of Bailey with Hussey is interesting.Although there is no way he can match 'Mr.Cricket' in terms of talent couple of interesting observations.When Hussey got selected many people who knsaw hil play were asking 'why did he have to wait till 30 to be selected'.Now upon Bailey's selection many are asking 'why should a 31 year old without a strong FC record be selected'.When Huss retired at 37 whole world asked 'WHY'.Will Bailey make people ask that all important WHY after 6 years OR 60 days.The answer will define him as test cricketer.

  • dunger.bob on November 13, 2013, 5:33 GMT

    I like the idea of Clarke, Smith and Bailey in the middle order. Three much maligned cricketers but all 3 capable of doing a very good job. .. Prediction. Watch Smith open up like one of those big telescope things. He's going to nail himself some serious runs in this series. Wobbly technique or not, he's going to explode like a super nova and be the difference. Or not.

  • smudgeon on November 13, 2013, 1:02 GMT

    Sir_Francis - the difference (well, one of) between Chris Rogers and David Hussey is that Rogers made runs leading up to his selection. Only a minor difference, though, probably not important. Meety - welcome back, chap...you've been missed.