John Inverarity cannot say why Australia's batting stocks are so thin in 2012, when in the past the country could boast as many as 10 batsmen outside the national team with legitimate claims to a place. But what Inverarity, Australia's national selector, is sure of, is that David Hussey, George Bailey, and Peter Forrest are the most capable batsmen outside the Test XI, and he has resolved to give them the best chances of exposure to England ahead of next year's Ashes series.
The absence of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey from the ODI team facing England in five matches has given Australia's batting a slightly anaemic look, the full-blooded strokeplay and intelligence of the two older men replaced by less certain displays from Hussey, Bailey and Forrest. Opinions in Australian cricket on whether these three are indeed the best batsmen outside the Test side are decidedly mixed, but Inverarity spoke of them with assurance.
"They're the best we've got," Inverarity said. "We made a decision six months ago that if through lack of form or retirement or injury there was a place in the team, we don't want these blokes making their international debuts at Lord's in a Test match, so we've got them going. They've tasted, they've toured, they know the guys, and they're familiar.
"When you select, you do the best you can, given the material you've got, and of all the players I speak to, whether they're in or not in, if they've been dropped, I'm in the habit of saying things like 'we're on your side, we want you to go out and prosper, to do as well as you can, we want lots of people knocking down the door'. We want the players to know we want them to do well, but in the end at this particular point of history, there are not as many prolific run scorers outside the Test team.
"Whether it's a cyclic thing or people going into other sports or the influence of T20 and people concentrating on hitting it over extra cover instead of straight, I don't know. But if you look at the 20-26 age group, we'd love to see more prolific players there."
Others to have tasted international cricket in recent times and not gone on to consistent success include Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh. Inverarity looked to that trio among the next tier, and also made mention of Chris Rogers, the Middlesex and Victoria batsman, who played one Test in 2008 and is one of few players still playing to live up to the "prolific" tag, having reached 50 first-class centuries this summer.
"Phillip Hughes is doing very well at Worcester. It would be unwise to rush him back in but I think he'll come again," Inverarity said. "Usman Khawaja's over here with Derbyshire, which is great, they're playing T20 at the moment, which is not really his game, but it's good for him to be here for a season in wet and seaming conditions.
"Chris Rogers made 173 at Lord's recently and Shaun might come again if he gets his game settled. But the three we've invested opportunity in the last few months are Forrest, Bailey and David Hussey."
An advocate of cricketers who seek to widen their horizons as young men, Inverarity spoke approvingly of the moves Hughes and Khawaja have made to leave New South Wales. "I'm a great believer in when you get to the top of your mark to bowl, and when you've got one foot each side of the batting crease you're on your own," he said. "So you need to grow up as a young man, you need to develop independence, resilience, your own initiative, I think moving away from your support structures and having to stand on your own two feet enhances that sort of thing."
He was also dismissive of the ageist argument against the retention of Ponting and Michael Hussey, pointing out that fitness and health levels had greatly improved over time. "I don't see why age is relevant," Inverarity said. "If you compare now a 37-year-old with a 37-year-old of 25 years ago, in terms of the way they look after themselves, it is very different. Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting are so fit, healthy and hungry, there's nobody fitter than they are. If they're hungry, playing well and they're fit, why do we leave them out?"