The Ashes 2013 May 23, 2013

Taylor calls for Watson to be Ashes opener


Mark Taylor believes restoring Shane Watson to the opening position and shifting David Warner down to No.5 or 6 could be the formula Australia need to post challenging totals on the upcoming Ashes tour. The Australians are preparing to depart for England this weekend ahead of the Champions Trophy and Ashes campaign and after their disastrous series in India in February and March, there remain plenty of questions about the make-up of their batting line-up.

Chief among those is how to structure the top order given that the squad includes five potential opening batsmen: Watson, Warner, Ed Cowan, Chris Rogers and Phillip Hughes. Cowan and Warner are the incumbent openers but neither man has made himself untouchable and the inclusion of the veteran state and county batsman Rogers, who has nearly 20,000 first-class runs to his name, has raised the possibility of a shake-up to the top three.

There is also the matter of how to get the best out of Watson, who in the past two years has averaged 24.11 in Tests while batting anywhere from the opening position to No.5. Overall, Watson's average as a Test opener is a more robust 43.06 and Taylor, the former Test captain and opener who will be covering part of the Ashes as a commentator, believes the warm-up matches in Somerset and Worcestershire before the first Test will be telling.

"I think what they'll do is they'll use the first couple of county games to decide who is going to open the batting," Taylor told Radio Sport National. "I think Chris Rogers is right in the frame to open the batting. If I was a selector I would be looking at having Shane Watson as an opener as well. Shane Watson to me has been struggling now for 18 months or maybe two years. I think one of the reasons he's struggling is he's not really sure where he should play.

"If you look at his record, he plays his best opening the batting. Every time he bats down at four, five or six and tries to be a bowler also, he doesn't bat anywhere near as well as he should. That really hurts Australia because he is one of Australia's best batsmen. I would be thinking very seriously about playing Shane Watson where he plays the best, which is opening the batting.

"I think he's going to open with Warner, or he's going to open with Cowan or Rogers. The problem with opening with Warner is then you haven't really got the explosive player to play down the order at five or six. I wouldn't be surprised if they open with Watson and someone like Cowan or Rogers - I think they'll be vying for one spot, I don't think both of them can play, they're too similar in the way they play - and I think Dave Warner is a chance of batting down the order, he may bat at five or six."

Although Cowan and Warner have been together at the top of the order for 18 months, the possibility of a change has rekindled memories of the 1993 Ashes tour, when Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater were competing to become Taylor's new opening partner. Slater averaged 80.60 in the five first-class tour matches before the first Test compared to Hayden's 35.85 and made the Test spot his own. Taylor believes a similar battle could take place this year.

"I think they are going to be absolute trial games for the Australian side," he said of the tour matches. "They won't be just there for a bit of match practice. I think they'll be trying to work out what is the best order for this Australian side. I think Shane Watson creates the biggest question mark for the Australian side because I think on his day he is behind Michael Clarke as our best player, but Australia have to get the most out of him in this series.

"He's no longer the vice-captain of the side so he really only has to worry about batting, bowling and fielding. That's probably not a bad thing. I reckon the Australian hierarchy might me saying that to him, just get out there and particularly make some runs. I think Australia have got the quicks to get some wickets to win Test matches.

"Even though Shane Watson's bowling certainly is handy, it's not what they need mostly out of him. They need runs out of Shane Watson. They need probably two players to make 500 runs in this series and I think Shane Watson can do that job. But I'm not sure he can do it batting at four or five or six when he's also bowling."

Brad Haddin is likely to slot in at No.7, although he could also play in the top six, and his reinstatement as wicketkeeper and vice-captain at the age of 35 has raised questions about the lack of leadership options behind Clarke. Taylor said he believed all sports were struggling to develop leaders in the modern era, given the individual focus that players these days inclined towards.

"I'm not sure [the Test captaincy] has the same lustre these days because the money is so good in the game regardless," he said. "Players are more focused on themselves and playing for their future, playing as a career. I think sometimes they don't look at leadership like they used to 10 or 15 years ago."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Brady on May 30, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    The problem with Watson is discipline - he simply doesn't have the willpower to construct a test match innings. Look at his dismissals in India recently, don't take my word. Now, you can forgive guys like Hughes this trait because he is young and with proper mentoring he may grow out of this habit. Clarke was the same way too. It's interesting that Watson (with all the skills and no discipline) suffers the reverse problem from Cowan who is all discipline and no skills. Both should be left out of the squad in my opinion - we need hundreds not 30's.

  • stuart on May 28, 2013, 19:20 GMT

    Having read the comments on here do you want us to just give the Ashes to you now and save time.i mean this must be the greatest Aussie team to these shores since Bradmans unbeatables. I mean it is scarey that we can play a team who have beaten all comers recently. By the way what was the score in India.I know England beat them but you lot must of demolished them given all the talent that you have?

    let us know where you want the Ashes left as the NHS is really busy and we don't want to have to patch up your fast attack too often

  • Richard on May 28, 2013, 14:39 GMT

    @ KeithMillersHair - Thanks for your comment: No, I said one all-rounder - select one from exhaustive the list of players Shane Watson is keeping out of the team with a poor average of under 35 and can't bowl. "/" = "or". Also, picking recently retired players is simply illustrating how poor our current batch of batsmen are, and that we did not learn from past transition. It is a massive issue and it has not been publically discussed enough by the media imho. Ponting is not as 'shot' as Malcolm Conn would like everyone to think he is, in fact he was the most prolific batsman for the domestic Sheffield Shield as I'm sure you're aware. Cop that Malcolm. Not saying he'd star in England now, he probably wouldn't, but all he'd have to do is turn up because the current batch of Test batsmen, Clarke aside, are no better than B class, arguably below that, and certainly no better than Brad Hodge and Jaimie Siddons et al. who were run machines and missed out. Tribunal anyone $$$?

  • Andrew on May 28, 2013, 12:57 GMT

    Interesting, from some of the comments posted here, England may as well not turn up and are being written off. Not the wisest move in the world

  • Scott on May 28, 2013, 11:57 GMT

    Is it any coincidence that Watsons form slump coincided with his movement from opener to middle order batsman? Think not...If Watson doesn't open, he shouldn't play. Rogers shouldn't even be in the squad (complete joke) and Cowan finds ways of getting out straight after a wicket to put us in trouble when he's supposed to be a "solid" guy...Think Watson and Warner at the top with Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke. 6 is tough as we didn't bring enough specialist batsmen with us so either Cowan or Rogers has to play. As Rogers is the man for whatever we need him to be, he should be 6, then haddin and bowlers...Anyone suggesting Wade anywhere near the side without the gloves on needs their head examined as he's nowhere near good enough with the bat alone (nor with the gloves for that matter...)

  • stephen on May 28, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    A decent Squad for Australia, pause zzzzzzz, bowling wise ;-) Good, promising and mainly young bowling attack with the addition of Sir R. Harris. The Batting is where Australia will ulti 'mate' ly fail. Flat-tracker dudes like Hughes, Watson and Warner will not enjoy the swing of the Englishmen.

  • Jerome on May 27, 2013, 7:10 GMT

    Warner should be dropped from the test team and the selectors should pick someone who they believe would be the future of Australian cricket. The problem with Watson though is he does not go on and get the big scores. This is what a team needs from their opening pair. This takes the pressure off the others. This is what the great Aussie teams always had. A good platform.....

  • Brenton on May 26, 2013, 15:23 GMT

    I agree with the best captain since Border. We need runs, not bowlers. Ponting used Watson best, open the batting and bowling as a partnership breaker only. Watson should open with Rogers or Cowan, Hughes 3, Clarke 4, Warner 5, Khawaja 6, Haddin 7.

  • Brendan on May 26, 2013, 12:16 GMT

    This is how the team should line up; 1. Watson 2. Cowan 3. Hughes 4. Rogers 5. Clarke (c) 6. Warner 7. Haddin (wk/vc) 8. Pattinson 9. Siddle 10. Harris 11. Lyon I really wish that they had of picked O'keefe or Agar and Steve Smith

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    I would pick Cowan and rogers to bat first and have khwaja @3, hughes @4,clarke@5, watson@6,haddin@7,pattisnson@8,Starc@9,Bird@10 and lyon@11