Another article from ‘The Australian’. He might eventually get his own name on his work, fingers crossed.
It would be fair to say that Mickey Arthur has had a fairly easy introduction into the life of Australian Cricket coach. An early hiccup against New Zealand has been quickly forgotten following the abject humiliation handed out to the touring Indians and Mickey can now be seen most days with a slightly dazed grin on his face, tweeting about the weather, and offering up the occasional perplexing comment to the media. Such as that he believes Brad Haddin has a future in Test cricket.
One particular pearl of wisdom provided by Mickey earlier in the season was how much he likes all-rounders. As in he *really* likes them. Mickey’s reasoning for his infatuation was that an all-rounder essentially provided an extra player in the team through their versatility. He went on to state he would like to see a genuine all-rounder in the Test team in the near future.
There is nothing necessarily incorrect about Mickey’s statements, and Australian cricket in particular has embraced all-rounders in its Test team over the years, from genuine greats such as Keith Miller and Doug Walters, to Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson. The problem arises, however, when you play an all-rounder of less than stellar ability. Then, instead of gaining an extra bowler and batsmen, you end up with a player who cannot be trusted with the ball, and who simply doesn’t score enough runs.
So in an attempt to humour Mickey, who will most probably get his way in shoehorning an all-rounder into the next Ashes squad somewhere, we will look over who are the likeliest candidates at this stage.
If Watson’s fitness could be guaranteed, this article would be even less relevant than it currently is (a shocking idea, we know). After seemingly overcoming the endless series of injuries that blighted his early career, Watson emerged in the period between 2008 and 2010 as probably the finest cricketer in the country. He then promptly fell apart again after the second Test against South Africa last year.
Watson will return to the Test fold once fit, but in what role it remains to be seen. Even if his bowling duties were necessarily sharply curtailed he would still warrant selection on the basis of his batting alone. Although there continues to be a great deal of argument over where, exactly, his best position in the batting lineup lies, that is probably a debate for another article. In simple terms, if Watson is fit, he is in the team. The question is, even if he is fit enough to play, whether he can contribute with the ball to the same extent that he has in the past.
This summer Christian has taken up the position in the Australian Test side formerly held by such luminaries as Brad Hogg, Michael Kasprowicz and Andy Bichel; that of perennial twelfth man. Christian’s inclusion in the squad in the first place raised a few eyebrows, principally because he is really not very good. His record in the Sheffield Shield this summer may be impressive, averaging nearly 60, but his career first class batting average is closer to 30.
In Christian’s favour is his continued involvement in the Australian limited overs teams and his outstanding fielding. His bowling, whilst reasonably quick, is ultimately little more than serviceable, again as his first class average of 35 testifies. His inclusion in the squad this summer suggests that Mickey sees something in Christian that, frankly, we’re personally baffled to identify. It’s not that Christian is a poor cricketer, but rather that neither his bowling or batting seems to be of a sufficient quality to warrant his selection on either alone. But then again, what do we know. We still think Trent Copeland would make a fine Test cricketer.
The curse that has recently struck down both Geoff Marsh (sacked by Sri Lanka) and Shaun Marsh (completely forgotten how to bat), has now laid low another member of the hexed Marsh clan, with Mitchell out for at least six months with a back injury. Although Mitchell was unlikely to feature in the Australian tour of the West Indies in March, it’s put the brakes on a dramatic rise in fortunes for the youngest member of the clan. At twenty years of age, Mitchell Marsh is officially the ‘next big thing’ in Australian cricket.
Marsh’s definite strength is his bowling and he already has 26 wickets at an average of 25 in domestic first class cricket. His batting record is less impressive, but as he showed during the Big Bash, where he averaged 46, he certainly has the potential to improve. At this stage, whilst Marsh certainly possesses the potential to play Test cricket, it remains to be seen whether he’ll will follow Watson down the path of constant injury issues, or if he can actually withstand the rigours of modern cricket. At this stage it’s looking like the former.
Faulkner is another player, like Marsh, who has made his name in the recently completed Big Bash competition, where his performances earned him a call-up to the national T20 squad. At twenty-one years of age and with a first class batting average of 30, and bowling average of 25, the Tasmanian appears to be Mitchell Marsh’s long term competition for the Test all-rounder spot. At the moment he would lose out to the West Australian on ability, but may get his opportunity if, crucially, he can stay in the one piece for longer than a few minutes at a time.
Steve Smith represents not only the finest young cricketer of his generation, but possesses all the skills required to mark himself as truly one of the games greats. With devastatingly accurate leg spin, considered lower order batting and perhaps the sharpest fielding seen since the days of Jonty Rhodes, it baffles belief why Steve is not only a member of the current Australian Test team, but an integral one at that.
After being introduced to the limitless potential Steve displayed in a losing cause last summer, this author is keenly aware of the hope amongst the vast majority of English cricket fans, as reflected by the opinions held here within 51allout, that Steve will play a key role in Australia’s 2013 Ashes campaign. Such an attitude, clearly at odds with their own hopes of retaining possession of the urn, can only speak of their deep appreciation of the sport and their enjoyment of the skills the precociously talented New South Welshman brings to the game.
Despite being unfairly dropped from the Test squad, back in the dark days when Andrew Hilditch ruled with an iron fist, we hope the new selection panel quickly realises the gem of a player they have in Smith and our English friends get their wish of seeing him once again in the baggy green.
The recent thrashing of India has, in a way, raised more questions than it answered. Since about the day three of the Melbourne Test the tourists gave every indication they would rather be anywhere other than a tour of Australia, and their subsequent performances only confirmed this suspicion. The strong performance of the Australian Test team, therefore, does not necessarily reflect a settled squad. As the previous articles on both the spinning and wicket-keeping positions indicate, it is in reality far from it.
Unlike in those articles, however, one standout candidate in this case does exist, namely Shane Watson. As his recent continuing injury troubles indicate, however, he is by no means assured of full fitness ahead of the next Ashes tour. The selectors may be inclined towards easing Watson back into international cricket in order to better manage his workload, but the haste with which he was returned to the ODI setup suggests otherwise, and the prospect of another complete breakdown in the future seems highly probable.
Which then leaves the door open for another candidate to force his way into the 2013 touring squad. The above list represents (in this author’s opinion) the most likely candidates for this position (and Steve Smith). But there also remains the possibility of the selectors picking a capable but unfashionable player (Andrew McDonald), or a fashionable but incapable player (Moises Henriques) to fill out the squad instead.
This far out from the next Ashes series (less than 18 months now) it’s difficult to see who will be the lucky recipient of a fully paid holiday of England and the opportunity to run new bats out to David Warner. But the most promising candidate at the moment, by far, is Mitchell Marsh. Importantly, Marsh also possesses one of the most important qualities necessary for a promising Australian cricketer: a stupid haircut.
With Cricket Australia announcing its intention to select effectively a ‘B’ team for the three Test series against Sri Lanka next summer, they have the perfect opportunity to showcase one of the most exciting young cricketers in the country. Or they could just pick Dan Christian.