The Investec Ashes 2013

Chaos in the Australian order

Brydon Coverdale in London

August 19, 2013

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Matthew Wade is hoping to be in contention for a batting place in the third Test, Hove, July 25, 2013
It's possible that Matthew Wade will play as a specialist batsman © Getty Images

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

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Posted by 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.

Posted by 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...

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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 & 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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).

Posted by 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2013, 4:09 GMT)

Before the start of this series,I had no idea what the battig order would be. I still don't, and I don't believe that anyone does. Rogers and Harris aside, I don't think anyones stock has risen. I still believe that the openers should have been left alone. While rarely going on with it, they were consistently making an opening stand of 50+.

Rogers should be at three. Not his natural position, but he has the grit to make it in that position. He is better suited than Cowan and Hughes, and Khawaja just isn't cutting it for whatever reason.

Four to Six... Well... Clarke plus pick two more. Smith could potentially be a long term number six if he is in the right environment to develop. That means someone at bit more mature at four or five. I'd like to see Bailey or Voges in the middle order, If either has a good start to the shield season, I'd bring one of them in.

Warner, Cowan/Hughes, Rogers, Clarke, Bailey/Voges, Smith?

Posted by shwet14 on (August 20, 2013, 3:55 GMT)

While looking at the musical chairs being played out in the name of batting order, I cannot but wonder what has happened to the First Class structure in Australia. We in India always said, too many first class teams dilute the Quality of Cricket. That's why Ranji trophy structure was changed few years ago into Elite Group and Plate Group. We felt Aus system is best because only few first class teams exist. So only the best of the grade / club/ age group level cricketers rise to 1st class and then to test class. Aussie greats proudly used to say- our 1st class structure ensures the players are ready when they graduate to test level. Seems they were wrong. Selectors have a grouse with Hodge, they never gave opportunity to callum ferguson who was playing well a couple of seasons ago and someone like Klinger is always overlooked. They keep on rotating between Khawaja,Hughes, Smith, Watson. Why not try Quiney again? He was more likely to fail against Styen, Morkel, Philander than succeed.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2013, 3:42 GMT)

there's a few philosophies in conflict right now. reward form and punish poor form - Hughes in and Khawaja and Watson arguably out (watson's excellent 68 might save him). Versus giving everyone in the squad a go seeing as it's a dead rubber - Wade and Faulkner in. Versus viewing this as a rehearsal for our summer - Khawaja stays and Hughes in as well, Smith to 7 and play 2 quicks and Lyon (and Watson). Versus avoiding 4-0... Cowan. Yuk! Versus picking and sticking - but when does the merry go round stop and start.

It's a mess the selectors made when they picked Rogers at 35 and dropped Hughes after 1 bad test, 1 test after he played arguably his best innings. And persevered with Watson as his form and confidence deserted him, on the spurious bowling grounds - code for we haven't really picked the right attack.

Let them earn their money. I reckon they'd be happy, however, if Watson was ruled out through injury.

PS terrible news about Cummins. the Poms will keep the Ashes now, sadly.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2013, 3:11 GMT)

How can they be sure of their best line-up if the players they choose fail to perform? Well, a start would be to send the alternative batsmen back to first class cricket in the summer, rather than having them continually sitting in the dressing room as they have done with Khawaja in the past. You cannot expect guys to make runs if they are not playing cricket.

Posted by MinusZero on (August 20, 2013, 2:35 GMT)

Watson should not be selected period. Tour stats of 2 wickets at 78.5 and 216 runs at 27 dont yell "select me!". This should be Watsons last tour. The team is carrying him! Why doesnt he get told to go back to state cricket like Cowan and Hughes?? He has been inadequate for over two years! These selectors are so frustrating. Interestingly, in the last two years Australia have played 18 tests for 6 wins, 8 losses and 4 draws with Watson in the side and 10 tests for 6 wins, 2 losses and 2 draws when he isnt in the side. Further proof that he is holding them back with poor performances?

Posted by mike_b on (August 19, 2013, 23:55 GMT)

The selectors picked 5 batsman (Warner Rogers,Hughes,Cowan & Watson)who want to bat in the top 2 & three batsman(Clarke, Khawaja & Smith)who want to bat in the next 4 spots!Now,of course they have to make middle order bats out of blokes who'd rather be elsewhere.How stupid is that?The only time you should select high order bats at no.6 is when the team is very strong.As when Ponting started off at no.6 in the 1990s.Martyn & Clarke did the same.Smith looks a natural no.6 to me-he can come in against spin & he can vary his batting pace.If you pick Hughes then he MUST play in the top 3, he just isn't a middle order bat.Warner likewise.Watson must play because of his bowling which is just so valuable.The quality of our fifth bowler is the one place where we have a decided advantage over England.Watson isn't a regular century scorer(which the top 4 MUST be)but his 68 in the last game was a great allrounder's dig.So for me - Warner, Rogers,Hughes,Clarke,Watson,Smith,Haddin, then the bowlers.

Posted by Antir on (August 19, 2013, 23:16 GMT)

For batting, Rogers and Warner, Hughes and Clarke, Smith and Wade, Faulkner and Haddin is what we should stick with but this is wishful thinking. It is just a matter of time before there is another Watson injury, especially when he is injured right now. And even if he is not injured then another drama will happen around him soon enough. Good test cricketers learn and adapt. Australia needs the attitude and application of players who are willing to listen and fight. Talent is not enough. Warner may be young and dumb but he will learn. Hughes has proven he is determined to change and fight and the same goes for Smith. Wade should just become a batsman and let someone else keep wicket, he appears to have a great attitude and is well liked. Let's look at the temperament of our cricketers more than their awesomeness.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2013, 21:40 GMT)

Why is it that the only factor that determines whether Watson plays is his fitness? He simply isn't performing with the bat at test level. Since 2011-01-01 his average is only 25.7, and he hasn't scored a hundred. Drop him. One thing to be certain of in Australia's top six batsmen is that Watson is not one of them.

Posted by popcorn on (August 19, 2013, 21:16 GMT)

Mitchell Starc has put it succintly and brilliantly.He said," it is difficult to deliver consistency when you play one game and you're dropped".Are the Selectors listening?

Posted by popcorn on (August 19, 2013, 21:06 GMT)

This CHIP CHOP is having a demoralizng effect on our batsmen. Why can't the Selectors and Coach stick to one batting order for at least 3 Tests? Rogers, Cowan, Khawaja, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Haddin.

Posted by jlw74 on (August 19, 2013, 20:59 GMT)

The chopping and changing looks certain to continue. Khawaja looks gone and who knows what the plans are with Hughes. Oddly enough Wade at 6 doesn't sound too stupid given what has been with the bat at least not the worst start to a career with two test centuries already, the last of which came batting at 6. The big problem is there is NOBODY who is really banging down the door come the series in Australia. Some commenters are pleading for D Hussey and George Bailey and on their form in shield cricket last season that just simply is not going to happen and nor should it. It is also time to move past the Katich for re selection debate also as thats never going to happen either. These guys are the best we have at the moment and they need to be persevered with. The new Shield season will give blokes an opportunity to press for selection but if they throw up the numbers they did last year very few would warrant a look in. Silk, Maddinson, Burns, Bailey, Voges etc have a lot to do yet.

Posted by 2MikeGattings on (August 19, 2013, 20:38 GMT)

I can't see Smith getting dropped, Hughes in for Khawaja at 3 seems the most likely change. And then spin the bottle to see whether Starc gets picked.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2013, 20:28 GMT)

They should give Wade a go. 12 tests, and he already has as many hundreds as that walking lbw they call Watson

Posted by Rahulbose on (August 19, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

They can just play musical chairs to decide the order, as it is the bottom 5 seem more consistent that the top 6.

Posted by Jeremy303 on (August 19, 2013, 16:55 GMT)

Whatever happens at the Oval, it will require a stand-out performance by the fringe batsmen to claim a spot in the home Ashes series.

I'd give Khawaja one last chance, although he would need a century (or two) at the Oval to keep his spot for the home Ashes series. If he gets dropped, lets hope he is given the entire Shield season to try and regain some form. The same goes for Hughes.

But in truth, I think at least two new batsmen should be introduced for the home Ashes series - unscarred by the horror run the test team is in.

Bring in Mark Cosgrove at 3 and Sam Robson at 5 (or vise versa) for the home series.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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