The Investec Ashes 2013 August 19, 2013

Chaos in the Australian order

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Guessing at Australia's batting order from Test to Test has become as difficult as tipping the Big 6 on a day at the races. There are always one or two dead certs, perhaps even enough for a quadrella. But correctly predicting all six winners? Good luck with that. So it is again as the Australians prepare for their final match of this campaign at The Oval, where they might become the first Australian team in 35 years to lose four Tests in an Ashes series.

Chris Rogers will open, that much is clear. David Warner will presumably partner him. Michael Clarke will probably bat at No. 4, but who's to say he won't shuffle down or up a position. Shane Watson will slot in somewhere; he suffered a groin injury in the fourth Test but bowled unscathed in the nets at The Oval on Monday, albeit largely below full pace. Usman Khawaja is unlikely to hold his place at No. 3. Steven Smith is no certainty.

Phillip Hughes might be recalled, or he may not. Ed Cowan could be, though that is highly improbable. Matthew Wade is being considered by the selectors as a specialist batsman, which in some ways makes sense given his record of two centuries and three fifties from 12 Tests. The inclusion of Wade, perhaps at No. 6, is just one of many possible Australian team permutations for The Oval Test.

Wade was bowling alongside Watson in the nets on Monday, sending through his skiddy seamers at a much nippier pace than would be expected of a small gloveman. The national selector John Inverarity has made no secret of the fact that he likes "multi-skilled" cricketers, but including Wade as a non-keeping batsman who could send down the occasional over would be something different, even for him.

Australia have occasionally played two keepers alongside each other in one-day cricket - Haddin played nine ODIs as a specialist batsmen when Adam Gilchrist had the gloves, and five of Gilchrist's early one-dayers came when Ian Healy was keeping - but it is a rarity in Test cricket. Not since Tim Zoehrer kept and Wayne Phillips batted at No. 3 in Auckland in 1986 have Australia had two glovemen in the one Test team.

Ironically, if Wade does play it will leave James Faulkner as the only man from the 18-man Ashes squad not to play a Test on the tour - ironically, that is, because taking the tour matches into account, Faulkner has topped the batting averages having been dismissed only once for 111 runs. But his only real chance of playing at The Oval would have been had Watson struggled to bowl. The Australians need to see how Watson recovers on Tuesday but they are confident he will play.

Whatever the case, it seems certain that the batting order will change - again. Not since the first two Tests of the tour of India earlier this year have they used the same top six in the same order in consecutive Tests. Not surprisingly, during that same period Australia have lost seven of eight Tests, though whether the losses cause the flux in the batting order or vice-versa is much like the chicken-or-egg debate.

From Chennai to Chester-le-Street, every specialist batsman but Rogers and Khawaja - neither of whom were in the side in India - has moved positions at least once, perhaps more. Staying still has helped Rogers, who has averaged 43 on this Ashes tour, but not Khawaja, who has 114 runs at 19.

Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Ian Healy have all spoken out in the past couple of weeks about the need for Australia's selectors to show patience, to pick their best line-up and stick firm with it. In a losing outfit, that's easier said than done. Not to mention, how can they be sure of their best line-up if the players they choose fail to perform?

Whatever the case, if the team keeps losing and the batsmen keep failing, the order and the personnel will keep changing. Whether it's Wade, Smith, Khawaja or Hughes, this Test will be a chance for someone. Eventually at some point, someone somewhere will stand up. Somehow.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • critical_mass on August 21, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    i agree with coverdrive88. that is australia's biggest problem and it has been going on a long long time.

    their success of the past twenty years is probably to blame. but the heart of their problem is that they have a lot of talent that hasnt had the time to develop into the potential that it could be.

    the best they can do now is to drop haddin (and maybe even clark and rogers but that is a bit extreme) and start bleeding some young players.

    top of the list should be wade since he would probably be the next keeper. failure to do this would result in another batch of promising but under performing youngsters who will only get their experience when it is time for them too to retire.

  • ashlatchem on August 20, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    @ScottStevo. Watto doesn't generally see off the new ball. What he generally does is look amazing hit 3-6 crisp boundaries and get out for 30 off 30 LBW & then wastes a review. U want someone to see of the new ball Cowan is your man. Trouble is neither are good enough to be a test cricketer. However I got a plan. Watto has the talent & Ed's got the level-headedness so maybe just maybe if you could find a way to combine the 2 u might get 1 decent test cricketer. Albeit the science might not be quite there just yet & u might be left with some hideous, gangly, unco mutation who can barely swing a bat but I think it's safe to say(Even without having seen said mutation) that he would definitely be an upgrade. Just imagining Aussies now being all "Oh if only"! Pfft... Dream on if the mutant had any sense at all he would avoid (at all costs) playing for your team. But knowing how these things usually go he would probably wind up stuck in some novelty laden freak show. (Cough) (Cough) IPL...

  • ScottStevo on August 20, 2013, 12:45 GMT

    If Wade is included as a specilaist batsman I may stop watching. Granted that we're only selecting from the chosen squad, but seriously, Wade isn't anywhere near a top 6 batsman and to leave out either of Hughes, Cowan or Khawaja - or even Smith - for Wade is criminal. @Wefinishthis, How can you say Watson cannot face the new ball? Fair enough, he's not scored big from opener, but he generally sees out the new ball period - and of all our guys tried at opening has looked consistently the most comfortable. Also, we need Watson for balance to our side as the 5th bowler. And he's head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in this department as next is probably Henriques who is both a lot less capable with the bat and much less capable with the ball. V amusing re Starc and Pattinson in the top 6, though with some of the selections made on this tour it's not impossible. My Aus series top 7. Watson (or5), Warner, SMarsh, Clarke, Hughes (or1), Ferguson, Paine.

  • Wozza-CY on August 20, 2013, 11:51 GMT

    Yet another 'specialist batsman' from Oz with a first class average in the 30's. It's sad really. For all those suggesting Klinger, he averaged well below 30 in sheffield shield last year, as did Bailey & Voges...so how could they possibly get selected? Watson moving up & down & coming & going through injury is in part responsible for this ever-changing line up. So he has to go..... I fancy a portly Tasmanian number 3 again (not Boonie), Cosgrove! 8000 FC runs @ 43 doesn't seem like a bad option right now. Good hands in the slips & can bowl. Warner, Rogers, Cosgrove, Clarke, & (Smith, Kawahja, Hughes) fight it out for 5 & 6 to build experience for the coming years. Pick & Stick!

  • android_user on August 20, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    interesting article in the adelaide advertiser today asking why klinger does not bat three for Australia or does not at least play one form of the game be it tests odi or 20/20 because all in all he has been one of the most consistent cricketers each and every australian summer since moving to south Australia. he's been doing well in county cricket while captaining a developing side. would be a good choice to bat 3. I've been harping on about picking klinger since the 1st test finished. bring him in.

  • Dazako on August 20, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    @Troy Merritt, mate I wish you were a selector, your team is spot on wish Inverarity and co would read some of these posts sometimes. The viewing public has more of an idea than the selecrters sometimes.

  • Wefinishthis on August 20, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    'Pick and stick' would only be a good solution if a) the players picked deserved it based on shield and not ODI performances (ie not Watson), b) when they're 'stuck' with, there must be a limt of say no more than 30 matches, though I'd prefer about 15-20 matches and c) Apply to batsmen only - bowlers should only need about 10 matches max to prove they can perform. Wade is a no.7, nothing more, nothing less. Haddin is simply not a batsman at all and his keeping is not improving either. I'd be looking at dropping the walking wickets of Khawaja, Cowan, Watson and Haddin. None of them can face the new red ball and none of them can face decent spin. It makes me wonder why they're there at all. If this continues any longer, I'd bat Pattinson and Starc in the top 6. They couldn't do any worse than the current lot (barring Clarke, Rogers and Warner).

  • Eyepop on August 20, 2013, 6:41 GMT

    Australians need to show some faith and patience in their selections. One more test, stick it out. The team has shown a spark of potential, give them another chance and re-asses after the series. My 11 for the Oval are almost the same as the last test: Rogers, Warner, Khawaja, Clarke, Watson, Smith, Wade, Agar, Siddle, Harris, Bird.

  • dummy4fb on August 20, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    Australia still doesn't have a number 3 since the retirement of Ponting. Given that everyone who has been put into the spot has averaged around 25 the best of a poor bunch is Mr Consistency Cowan. His opening stands with Warner were pretty useful. He can't go on and make big scores but there is a role for him to occupy the crease, play super-cautiously to take the shine off the ball, and prevent a collapse.

    Given that Watson is still frustratingly an automatic selection the best team given the circumstances will be something like Rogers, Warner, Cowan, Clarke, Watson, Haddin, any three fast bowlers and Lyon with one lower middle order spot for most likely Smith now that Hughes has gone out of favour once again.

  • dummy4fb on August 20, 2013, 4:57 GMT

    Please tell me that Australia's batting cupboard isn't so bare that they are thinking of Matthew Wade as a batsman only? Come on, tell me I'm awake and not dreaming.

    Simon Katich, you have my sympathies.