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Incumbents on Notice as Selectors Take New Approach

16 November 2010.

At first sight it will seem that the selectors have lost the plot. Certainly they have invited ridicule. Over the years Australia has considered 16 players sufficient to cover an entire tour of England. Now 17 are required for a single match to be staged just up the road. But it’s not as simple as that.

Injuries and form slumps offer a partial explanation for the inflated squad. Experienced selectors were forced to show their hand a week earlier than necessary. Rightly they refused to do so. The size of the squad is an act of silent protest.

Doubtless, player and public were bemused by the absurd function and the size of the party. Presumably the Poms are chortling into their Earl Grey. Australian cricket has been admired for the clarity of its thinking and the extent of its planning. Suddenly it seemed chaotic. At one stage it seemed that all 66 Shield players were to be included, and possibly Richie Benaud as well.

Xavier Doherty

Tasmanian Cricketer Xavier Doherty – NSW v Tasmania, Hurstville Oval. Saturday 29 November 2008.
Photo ©: NAPARAZZI, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yet it is just to detect and discern some semblance of logic in the madness. Evidently the panel was not prepared to commit itself before it was ready. Certainly it was not willing to be rushed by a bunch of marketers. Admittedly it overdid it by including three spinners but the strategy is sound and all and sundry have been offered an insight into its thinking. After all it is Australia’s team, not Cricket Australia’s.

In truth the squad – though it’s more like a battalion – named yesterday does not matter a hoot. Only 11 can take the field at the Gabba. Most likely the predictable 12 will be sent to Brisbane with a bowler to be omitted on the first morning. In the absence of a collapse from an established player or an irresistible surge from a contender that was always likely.

Still the announcement was not without interest. Xavier Doherty was the most unexpected of the nominees. He has caught the eye this season as a bright cricketer and steady improver. With every passing year he gains confidence and nowadays Tasmania trust him in times of trouble. Variation of pace is his main asset. Not that he has much chance of playing at the Gabba. The selectors were thinking about the campaign, not the first battle.

Doherty can press his case in the forthcoming Shield match at the SCG starting tomorrow. He can pit himself against a powerful batting order. Nathan Hauritz will play as well, and his duels with Ricky Ponting will be part of the subplot. What sort of field will he set? Can he trouble the champion batsman? Ponting will be determined to play a long innings and to demonstrate that he is in command of all aspects of his game.

All the batsmen need to hone their skills against spin. Graeme Swann awaits. Most of them are unwilling to use their feet against spin. Some routinely misjudge length and fall lbw. If that continues the Ashes are lost.

Steven Smith is a good cricketer but he’s learning his trade and so far has not shone enough with bat or ball to earn a baggy green. Some experts regard Queensland’s Cameron Boyce as a better leggie. Doubtless the selectors are keen to encourage both of them.

Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson have been plucked from the pack of aspiring and accomplished batsmen. With Michael Clarke and Simon Katich nursing injuries they are on standby. It’s encouraging for them and a slap in the face for more experienced batsmen, such as David Hussey and Andrew McDonald. Perhaps the era of replacing 35-year-olds with 29-year-olds has passed.

Khawaja is averaging 85 this season and previously had made his mark, so his nomination was earned the hard way. Although he did not score heavily against Victoria he looked organised and composed. As a player, he is intelligent and not inhibited and likely to make the most of his ability.

Now it’s up to the incumbents to show they can still get the job done. Past achievements mean they get first crack at the Poms. Most of them have superb records and deserve the opportunity. But they have been put on notice.

This article was written for The Age.
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