The last time we sat down to do one of these was way back in last April, just before the start of the English Ashes. This was in a time when ‘Homework Gate’ was still a recent memory. When Mickey Arthur still coached the team. When Mitchell Johnson was regarded as a joke. When David Warner was widely regarded as little more than a T20 slogger. Ditto Steve Smith. When Ryan Harris was considered to be made of biscuits, and for him to play more than two Tests in a row a physical impossibility. When the selectors still seemed to think Matt Wade was a better ‘keeper than Brad Haddin. And if not, deserving of a spot in the team on his batting alone. When nobody knew who Ashton Agar was. When Shane Watson was considered as little more than a waste of space….oh. Not everything has changed then it seems.
Quite a lot else has changed in the interim; it’s probably fair to say the last year has been one of the most remarkable in Australian cricketing history. It’s an upheaval that’s not really very well reflected in our Test ladder, but where there once was chaos, with Michael Clarke the only player universally regarded as being worthy of a spot (but even then most people thought he should be stripped of the captaincy….), there is now a solid core of ten players. Granted by the time we next come to do this ladder some of those may well have fallen by the wayside, but it’s still a remarkable accomplishment nonetheless.
0 (-) – Darren Lehmann: We thought we would just throw him in at the top because without him Australia would still be getting kicked around by all and sundry. It’s pretty incredible the impact one person can have really.
1 (1) – Michael Clarke: Still clearly number one, although the gap between him and the rest has narrowed a great deal. Would still be top of the pile even without his century in the last Test in South Africa simply by dint of the fact he is clearly the best captain going round in Test cricket these days.
2 (2) – David Warner: Was number two last time round simply owing to the lack of better options. Now clearly the second most important person in the team. Which ought to make people really, really, nervous, as its only a matter of when, not if, he does something really stupid again.
3 (17) – Mitchell Johnson: For any other team we imagine Mitch would be sitting pretty in number one spot. But run scorers are more precious than wicket takers for Australia right now. The big question for Australia is whether or not Mitch can be replaced.
4 (16) – Brad Haddin: When he retires it won’t be so much his runs that will be missed as his keeping. Was almost faultless in the Ashes, and much the same against South Africa.
5 (15) – Chris Rogers: As soon as he stops scoring runs he will be quickly shuffled off into retirement, but while he keeps scoring consistently he is indispensable.
6 (11) – Steven Peter Devereux Smith: Even we didn’t quite see that coming. We knew Devereux was good, but we didn’t know he was good enough to hit four centuries in seven Tests. Has now scored runs in India, England and South Africa. Not a bad start to his career really.
7 (7) – Nathan Lyon: His position remains the same here but he has finally entrenched himself within the Australian setup. Is now a vital part of the team, and episodes like ‘Agar-gate’ at the start of the English tour seem to be finally behind him. And Michael Hussey seems to have foreseen all of this happening. The smart arse.
8 (14) – Ryan Harris: Surely he has to retire soon? Even if only because repeated references to the pieces of bone floating around in his knee make us feel nauseous.
9 (5) – Peter Siddle: Being dropped for the final South African Test doesn’t mean he is now completely on the outer, but does suggest the chasing pack is getting closer. Probably needs to find another high profile bunny, now that Kevin Pietersen is gone, to secure his place.
10 (10) – Shane Watson: *Sigh* He just isn’t going to go away is he? To be fair, Watson has never looked this peripheral to Australia’s plans. The revelation he simply won’t be picked if he can’t bowl raises the prospect that he is now seen as dispensable, rather than an integral part of the squad. At least, we hope it does.
11 (-) – Alex Doolan: Has convinced precisely nobody that he is a genuine Test number 3, but the selectors seem prepared to give him as much time as possible to grow into the role. At least he’s done better than Rob Quiney did.
12 (19) – James Faulkner: Perhaps the one regret from the past few months is that Faulkner hasn’t been given another opportunity to cement a role in the team. Undoubtedly the man to replace Watson, but could be kept waiting another year or so yet.
13 (6) – Phil Hughes: Although he has been dropped from the Test team and fallen down our ladder, Hughes’ stock has, paradoxically, probably never been higher. He is now nearly universally regarded as the next man in, largely as a consequence of scoring a heap of runs in Shield cricket. A spell in county cricket would further improve his chances enormously, but really the only question is where he will bat when he inevitably comes back into the team. With Rogers looking solid and the selectors taking a punt on Doolan, opportunities look limited at the moment.
14 (4) – James Pattinson: Didn’t play a single First Class game between the Lords Test and his recall for the third Test of the South African tour. Which suggests he is definitely in the selectors’ plans. Will keep Siddle on his toes, but is mainly seen as a long term replacement for Harris.
15 (-) – Shaun Marsh: No clue here. Even a century on his return to Test cricket failed to convince most that he really belongs at this level. Will probably linger on the periphery for a while yet, but may need to rely on injuries (in Clarke’s case) or suspensions (in Warner’s) to get another chance.
16 (13) – Jackson Bird: Like Pattinson, hasn’t played any First Class cricket since returning from England injured. His lack of raw pace counts against him, and he’ll probably be resigned to waiting for either Siddle to go completely off the boil, or a greentop that compels Australia to play four quicks.
17 (8) – Mitchell Starc: That other Mitch in Australian cricket. Dropped down in the pecking order owing to injuries and lack of First Class cricket. Probably has about 18 months to get his fitness in order and to figure out how to bowl with the red ball as he does with the white.
18 (24) – George Bailey: Rises ever so slightly up the ladder, but really his time has probably already come and gone. If so, he will always have that over against James Anderson at the WACA.
19 (3) – Matt Wade: We suspect even the selectors don’t have a clue as to who the second choice ‘keeper is. When last we did this list Wade was being talked of as a potential vice-captain. He is now nowhere to be seen. And long may it continue.
20 (18) – Moises Henriques: That he was part of the South African touring squad suggests the selectors see something in him. That he seems to have not even been considered for selection when Watson was injured for the first two Tests is less promising. Will probably drift off into obscurity once again when Faulkner returns.
21 (12) – Usman Khawaja: Nothing reflects the lingering doubts as to the depth of Australia’s batting stocks as does Khawaja’s place on this list. We suspect even his mum doubts that he’s cut out for this Test cricket stuff. But there is literally nobody else out there right now.
22 (20) – Glenn Maxwell: Something of a revelation over the past year or so. Maxwell has actually turned into a somewhat useful cricketer. Mostly on the back of finally scoring some runs (his spin bowling is still largely useless). The sort of confident, aggressive cricketer you can see Lehmann turning to whenever a backup spinner is needed.
23 (-) – Cameron White: Another who has completely turned his fortunes around by actually scoring some runs in domestic cricket. A bit like Devereux, except that his batting isn’t as good while his bowling is bit more reliable. Another strong domestic season will have him in contention for a gig in time for the next Ashes series.
24(23) – Adam Voges: That he was dropped from the ODI team suggests the selectors are not exactly the greatest admirers, but is currently scoring bucket loads of runs in Shield cricket. A steady hand who could fill a hole down the order in event of a crisis.
25 (27) – Patrick Cummins: He lives! Well, he played a few Big Bash games anyway, and survived to tell the tale. If he successfully manages to get through some longer format stuff a recall won’t be too far away. Note the ‘if’.
26 (29) – Stephen O’Keefe: At the time of writing sitting pretty at the top of the Shield wicket takers list. If ever Australia want to play a second genuine spinner alongside Lyon, O’Keefe really ought to be their first port of call. They’ll probably just go for some flavour of the month leggie instead though.
27 (-) – Tim Paine: We are just guessing here (not that we haven’t been for all the other selections…). Our prediction is that the selectors hope Brad Haddin plays till he is 60, rendering the back-up ‘keeper spot irrelevant. If that doesn’t come to pass, Paine will come into contention. We guess.
28 (-) – Chadd Sayers: Takes lots of wickets in Shield cricket, but has too many people ahead of him in the queue at the moment. We can think of literally nothing else to say about him really.
29 (21) – Fawad Ahmed: Ah well, the dream was good while it lasted. Theoretically Ahmed is still the best wrist spinner in the land. Realistically the selectors have probably already started looking for the ‘Next Big Thing’. They may already have found it in James Muirhead.
30 (9) – Ed Cowan: Just sneaks in, mostly because we kinda feel sorry for him. His name will now most likely become synonymous with the failures of the Mickey Arthur period. Not entirely unfairly either.