Bailey, the safe choice
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."
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