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December 30, 2013
Graeme Swann would probably like Alex Doolan, for nobody could accuse Doolan of being up his own backside. The former Tasmania coach Tim Coyle has always believed in him. So has Michael di Venuto, once the state's batting mentor and now part of the national setup. But it wasn't until Doolan was told by Ricky Ponting that he was good enough to play for Australia that he really believed in himself.
Like Ponting, Doolan is a classy No.3 from Launceston. Like Ponting, cricket runs in Doolan's family; Ponting's uncle Greg Campbell played four Tests, Doolan's father Bruce was a wicketkeeper-batsman for Tasmania. Like Ponting, Doolan is a cricket bat nerd, constantly picking up and inspecting the bats of his team-mates in the change rooms. There the comparisons must end, for, at 28, Doolan has only six first-class hundreds and an average of 37.92.
But the No.3 Test position filled by Ponting for a decade could be occupied later this week at the SCG by Doolan, after he was named in Australia's 14-man squad for the Ashes finale. It was last summer when Ponting spent much of the season playing for Tasmania that Doolan really started to develop, and two century partnerships with Ponting were high points in his season, along with his unbeaten 161 for Australia A against the touring South Africans.
"He led by example. He didn't necessarily tell me how I had to go about it," Doolan said of Ponting after being called up for the Sydney Test. "He just tried to instill the belief in me and made sure I believed I was a good player and that I could do it and not be satisfied with anything I'd done. If you got a hundred, to make sure the next time you batted you were looking to get a hundred again.
"There's a difference between belonging and wanting to dominate and contribute every game. I've probably felt I belonged at the level for a while but probably had been happy just belonging and not wanting to be one of the best players in the competition. That's one of the differences for me, that I actually, after having chats with Ricky, wanted to play for Australia.
"It hadn't really been a goal or an ambition of mine … an ambition it was, but I hadn't set goals in place to play for Australia. And that's the difference, once he spoke to me and told me he thought I was good enough to do it, that's what I wanted to do."
Doolan finished the summer with 876 first-class runs at 51.52 and was mentioned by national selector John Inverarity as one of four players considered to replace the newly retired Ponting for the home series against Sri Lanka, along with Phillip Hughes, Rob Quiney and Usman Khawaja. The role went to Hughes, and Khawaja has since then had opportunities and failed to grasp them, and now it could be Doolan's turn.
"He's a fine young batsman Alex Doolan who over the last year and a half has really started to believe that he is a good player," di Venuto, who has seen plenty of Doolan as Tasmania's batting coach and now the national batting coach, said. "He benefitted greatly last year from having Ricky Ponting around at Tasmania quite a bit and learnt a lot from just being up the other end from him.
"He was involved in quite a few partnerships with Ricky throughout the year. He actually matched it with him a few times and that's where he really got his belief that he is actually a very good player. He has had another good start to the season with Tasmania. He scored a very impressive hundred in a run chase against NSW. Michael Clarke was playing in that game and he said it was an outstanding innings. He deserves his spot."
However, Doolan's overall output has been down this year compared to last summer, and he has 432 first-class runs this season at 38.36. He sits 17th on the Sheffield Shield run tally this summer, well behind Hughes, who must have been a strong contender to come in for the Sydney Test if Shane Watson's groin problem rules him out.
One of Doolan's greatest challenges has been to ensure the Twenty20 format does not affect his red-ball form; a fortnight ago he conceded that had been the case last summer when he played for the Melbourne Renegades. Doolan said he would play for the Renegades against the Brisbane Heat in Melbourne on Monday night before joining the Test squad in Sydney, and he hoped he would be able to adjust back to long-form cricket.
"You've got to keep yourself prepared and ready, as much as you can," Doolan said. "It's a long [Ashes] series and you never know with form slumps or injuries. But my focus because we've had such a hectic start to the Big Bash with the Renegades, basically travel, play, train, travel, play, train, it's been hard to focus on the Test cricket but it's always in the back of your mind, I think."
Doolan's chances of playing in Sydney will most likely rest on Watson's ability to bowl after picking up a groin injury on the first day of the Melbourne Test. Watson batted and made a valuable contribution in Australia's victory but appeared hampered by his groin problem while bowling and fielding in the second innings.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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