Many habits emerge from highly obvious sources. Donald Trump, for instance, likes to threaten world leaders with total annihilation in an attempt to compensate for his crippling insecurity over his tiny
penis hands, whilst the alcoholism of 51allout contributors is brought on by the pressures of dealing with our ongoing critical and financial success. The origins of some other habits, however, are far more difficult to discern. Such as, for instance: why do the Australian selectors insist on trying to shoe-horn an all-rounder into every Test team they pick? As far as we can tell Australia hardly have a rich tradition of all-rounders. After Keith Miller and Richie Benaud we start to run out of ideas. Steve Waugh, till his back fell to pieces. Erm, Alan Davidson? Warwick Armstrong? God forgive us, Shane Watson? Yeah, the options start to take a real dip in quality really bloody quickly.
And yet Australia now seem wedded to the idea that they must include an all-rounder, even if a suitable candidate is not forthcoming. Whilst everyone remembers the ‘issues’ Mitch Marsh had attempting to transition to the Test arena, there have also been brief dalliances with Moises Henriques, Andrew McDonald, John Hastings and James Faulkner. At one point in time they even touted the credentials of Mitch Johnson as a legitimate all-rounder, whilst attempting to bat Matt Wade at number six. Suffice to say, that didn’t really work out.
Having a dedicated all-rounder made sense in a team which contained players like Ryan Harris, who were likely break in half at any moment. Although, knowing Harris, he’d probably still try and finish his spell regardless. However, that’s far less of an issue nowadays and the utility of an all-rounder is more difficult to understand. Glenn Maxwell, the incumbent, bowled just 14 overs across two Tests in Bangladesh. Hilton Cartwright, his most direct challenger, has a first class bowling average of 45. Neither seem to promise anything in the way of a bowling threat during a home Ashes series and would, at best, only offer a few overs here and there in the lead up to a session break.
Both players owe their candidature more to their batting prowess, although even here reservations exist. Maxwell has hardly set the Test scene alight and, despite his maiden century in India, still averages less than 30 in the format. Cartwright, meanwhile, despite averaging a tick over 50 in First-class cricket, has only played the two Tests and done nothing in either, whilst his ODI performances thus far have left a little to be desired. Putting it lightly. Given that this is the standard of competition for that coveted number six spot, we instead offer an alternative: bin the all-rounder concept entirely and pick an extra quick bowler instead, giving an attack of Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.
The numbers support such an approach. James Pattinson’s Test batting average is as good as Maxwell’s and his recent First-class form has been excellent. Starc’s Test batting average is only slightly less than Maxwell’s and whilst Cummins is the worst of the three, he is hardly a mug with the bat either. That gives three good batting options at numbers seven, eight and nine. Hazlewood and Lyon are less impressive, although there was that wonderful period during the 2013/4 Ashes where Lyon proved simply immovable at the crease. In return you gain an attack that looks capable of simply dismembering much of the English batting lineup. Between those five options there would be no respite for the tourists, no meaningless couple of overs from an indistinct trundler simply to pass the time. Frankly, it would be pretty awesome to see.
The rather large caveat here is that it would require the wicket-keeper to bat at six. In the days of yore that would have been less of a problem, but this is a team that currently contains Matt Wade. Which is a rather large problem in and of itself. Thus, our suggestion is predicated on the assumption that Australia will bin Wade before the Ashes and bring in a ‘keeper who can actually bat. And keep. A return to Peter Nevill seems the obvious choice, with Alex Carey another option. However our preferred option would be to see Peter Handscomb take the gloves, allowing Australia to play another specialist batsman at six.
The last time Australia tried such an approach, in the Mitchell Johnson example above, it failed miserably. But Johnson, much like Starc, was hardly a dependable bat. If he got a few away early he often went on with it. but if tied down at the crease he invariably threw his wicket away. The difference here is that Pattinson can actually bat properly. He possesses a forward defense, something Mitchell Marsh can still only dream about, and is capable of occupying the crease, averaging 34 in the last Sheffield Shield season and near 50 in County cricket. With Handscomb taking the gloves, an extra specialist batsman at six might help alleviate the collapsing problem the Australian lineup has suffered of late. Although consulting a witch doctor would probably be of more use there at this stage. But with both Pattinson and Cummins being dependable batsmen, and Starc capable of pretty much anything, the tail is not nearly as long as it might first appear.
In any case, with Starc, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Cummings bowling on invariably fast bouncy pitches, how many will Australia need to chase anyway?