Is it really that time of year again already? It seems like just the other week we were taking the piss out of Jackson Bird’s haircut in the final to last season’s Sheffield Shield, but a new season is almost upon us. Indeed, after a happy winter of watching England’s Test team rip itself to pieces (with a little help from Amla and co along the way), the antipodean summer is just around the corner. And that means the Aussie Rules and Rugby Leagues fans are going back into hibernation and the cricket pitches uncovered for another scintillating season of domestic action that will be watched by absolutely nobody.
Which is actually a little unfair really, for this season’s fare seems set to be more rewarding than most. Not because of the evenness of the teams competing; here at 51allout we’re going to assume that the average fan couldn’t give a rats arse if the Budgewoi Budgie Smugglers or the Alice Spring Dingoes (formerly the Baby Snatchers) win the lot. If most Aussies don’t care then clearly no one else is going to be bothered either. Instead, this season promises to be interesting because of the, frankly, rubbish state of the Australian national teams at the moment. For the first time in a long time there are a wealth of openings available across all three national squads, and every second rate Aussie cricketer going is now just a good season away from an international debut.
So to spare our long suffering reader the pain of reading about the success or otherwise of a bunch of teams who you frankly couldn’t care less about (we’ll save that for the Big Bash), we’ll instead focus over the course of the coming season on those players who have a chance of forcing themselves into the plans of John Inverarity and the rest of the national selection group. Plus there will be the usual mocking of rubbish players and blatant Steve Smith worship that you can expect from this august website.
Players to watch: Steve Smith, Nic Maddinson, Kurtis Patterson, Peter Nevill
The greatest amusement on offer during the Australian off season came in watching the traffic queue develop at the exit to the New South Wales squad as soon as the transfer window opened. With the reforms instigated as a result of the Argus review meaning transfers between states were now far easier than before, it was a case of who could jump ship quickest for NSW. In the end Phil Hughes (South Australia), Usman Khawaja and Nathan Hauritz (both Queensland) departed, whilst Phil Jacques and Simon Katich announced their Australian retirement and Brett Lee, while declining to officially retire, suggested he would prefer not to be picked anyway.
Which means NSW are left with a team full of youngsters for this season. Which could be no bad thing considering the promise of some of them. Steve Smith, obviously, needs no introduction, but there is also the 20 year old opener Nic Maddinson, who was called up to the Australian training camp held on the eve of the tour of the UAE, suggesting he is already in selectors plans. Kurtis Patterson’s star has dipped slightly after an average U19 World Cup, but he’ll probably get plenty of opportunity to perform in a depleted NSW lineup. And finally there is ‘keeper Peter Nevill who, depending on what Brad Haddin does, may play as a specialist batsman and will be hoping for a recall to the Test team, where he was a reserve on the tour of the West Indies earlier this year.
And then there are players like Doug Bollinger, Trent Copeland, Moises Henriques and Brad Haddin filling out the squad. The less said the better there really.
Players to watch: Joe Burns, Ben Cutting, Alister McDermott, Chris Hartley
Last season’s champions barely limped over the line after a poor second half of the season where injuries and, bizarrely, the national call up of Peter Forrest robbed them of momentum. Forrest has been returned to state duties, officially stamped as ‘rubbish’, but enough quality remains in the Queensland lineup, particularly with the ball, to make them a genuine threat once again.
Ben Cutting and Alister McDermott are the clear threats with the new ball, and both have been on the fringes of national team selection for a while now without being able to break through. Joe Burns had an average tour of England during the off-season with Australia A, but will still be in the frame as an option to replace one of the ageing Australian middle order if he continues scoring runs this season. Whilst Chris Hartley will be hoping to remind people that it’s an advantage to have a ‘keeper around who can actually, you know, catch things, not just score runs. Although after his century in the Shield Final last season, it’s not as if he can’t do that too.
Otherwise players such as the aforementioned Forrest and Khawaja will be hoping to rebuild reputations this season. English fans will be wishing them all the success in the world in that endeavour.
Players to watch: Michael Klinger, Phil Hughes, Tom Cooper
Ever since Tasmania starting winning championships, South Australia have raced away as by far the most unfashionable team in the country. This year they have seemingly accepted their dismal fate, and decided to hand the captaincy to South African Johan Botha in a sign the state can’t produce a single player of note any more.
In fact it says a lot when their most promising talents this year are emigre New South Welshmen, Phil Hughes and Tom Cooper (who also claims Dutch citizenship on his mother’s side), and Victorian Michael Klinger. All three featured in the Australian A tour of England, albeit Phil Hughes only belatedly. It is Hughes who looks the closest to a national team callup, after annihilating all comers in the Friends Life competition recently. Although it remains to be seen whether or not the selectors think he is rehabilitated enough to be trusted in anything other than limited overs cricket.
As usual though, the talent is spread very thinly across the rest of the South Australian squad, and although they broke through with winning the national One Day competition last season, it’s doubtful there will be much of a flow on effect to their Shield performances.
Players to watch: George Bailey, Jackson Bird, Tim Paine
Last year’s runners up, Tasmania have been the real success story of recent years, building their team largely on castoffs from other states and reforming them into competent cricketers. With success has come the attention of the national selectors though, and players like Ben Hilfenhaus, Ed Cowan and Xavier Doherty (unfortunately) are now fixtures in national squads.
It remains to be seen if Tasmania can continue playing the same card that has led to their recent success, so whilst they wait for their next generation of abandoned cricketers to come through the ranks, they’ll be looking for contributions from proven performers to pull them through. At the head of the list is their captain George Bailey, who, unlike, Peter Forrest, didn’t completely fluff his lines over the antipodean winter, and can expect a Test cap sooner rather than later. Tim Paine is another who, unless he falls apart again in the near future (which, to be honest, is pretty likely), will be pushing Matthew Wade hard across all three formats. And finally there is Jackson Bird, who despite taking a bazillion wickets last season, is a long way from being part of the national selectors’ plans.
Oh, and old man Ponting will be there, kicking around and trying to remind everyone that he is still, in fact, alive.
Players to watch: Rob Quiney, David Hussey, Glenn Maxwell
Over the years Victorian cricket fans have made a habit of whining about how few of their fellow Victorians earn national team callups, compared to their more fortunate (and frankly more deserving) New South Welsh counterparts. Well, you hear much less bleating from south of the Murray these days. If anything, with the call ups to Matthew Wade, James Pattinson and Clint McKay, joining the likes of Peter Siddle in international cricket, Victorians are bemoaning the depleted state of their squad.
Considering that David Hussey looks likely to be the next player introduced into the Test team, that trend is set to continue. Glenn Maxwell is another who seems to have an international career ahead of him, with his batting so far proving far more effective than his right arm filth. Rob Quiney also has impressed as an opener in recent years, and although it’s difficult to see how he could force his way into the Test team any time soon, more runs this season could make things interesting.
And then there are others in the squad who are deserving of national team recognition, like Andrew McDonald, but who never get picked. Or players like Cameron White who should never be picked again. And finally there is a chance, an outside chance, Darren Pattinson could play for Victoria this season. Yes, things are really that bad.
Players to watch: Michael Beer, Nathan Coulter-Nile, William Bosisto, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Johnson
Western Australia have been pretty rubbish for the past few years in domestic cricket, and when you consider the advantage of having the WACA as a home ground it’s hard to understand why. A glance at the above list suggests an answer, with no real batting prospects to speak of. Aside from Michael Hussey and the now jettisoned Shaun Marsh, very few WA batsmen have made their mark on the international stage of late (although with Marsh it was for all the wrong reasons).
Batsmen such as Liam Davis and (more likely) Adam Voges are their best hope of setting a competitive total, although William Bosisto’s promising performance as U19 captain may provide another option. However Western Australia will mostly be hoping to run through sides with the ball, and they surely have the attack to consistently do that, even if Mitchell Johnson gets some game time.
Nathan Coulter-Nile is another promising fast bowler who was a late call up to the Australian A squad over the Australian winter, where he performed well. If Ashes hero Michael Beer continues to take wickets, his recall to the Test team during the tour of the West Indies might not prove an aberration. The fact that he possesses a genuine wrong ‘un (unlike pretty much any other Aussie spinner whose name isn’t Brad Hogg) stands in his favour. Then there are the Mitchells. If Mitchell Marsh can stay sober and injury free this should be a breakthrough season. We’re not brave enough to even hazard a guess how Mitchell Johnson will do this season.