Currently the batting order contains Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Hughes, Clarke, Smith and Haddin, as well as (more significantly) the tail. The batsmen have been disgraceful in this Test. Shane Watson has shown the same technical flaw that England exploited with ease last time out, and which has made him the most-LBW batsman in Test history. Khawaja's shot in the first innings was terrible, although he showed some composure in his second effort. Phillip Hughes must feel deeply confused about where, exactly, the selectors see him batting. The skipper has seemed mortal this series, although he could disprove such a statement by belting a double-ton next time out. Smith still looks technically flawed, and has barely a run since his half-century. Brad Haddin has been ill-disciplined, considering that he was brought in to be a responsible leader, although he played well in the second innings of the first Test.
But looking at the Ashes squad, who are the options to replace any of them? Matt Wade? His fallibility against spin will make Graeme Swann very pleased to see his name on the team-sheet. Ed Cowan? He's just been dropped. David Warner? He's not even on the same continent, and wouldn't exactly bring disciplined batsmanship. Even the fringe batsmen in county cricket aren't exactly swimming in runs. Those Australians who are are the ones who have either been disregarded by the selectors or who have turned their backs on their homelands.
Joe Burns is one Australian prospect who has been short of runs.
150 runs @ 21.42
783 runs @ 66.08
218 runs @ 22.71
768 runs @ 54.85
263 runs @ 37.57
874 runs @ 72.83
214 runs @ 30.57
986 runs @ 70.42
790 runs @ 65.83
91 runs @ 45.50
478 runs @ 43.45
92 runs @ 23.00
493 runs @ 123.25
408 runs @ 34.00
Has stated intention to play for England.
Has been told he will never play for Australia again.
Has stated intention to play for England.
In current Ashes squad.
In current Ashes squad.
Has retired from Test and first-class cricket.
Has retired from all Australian cricket.
Veterans like Katich and Klinger, though, haven't been able to stop scoring runs.
Yesterday, while listening to Test Match Special, I was struck by a comment from Jim Maxwell that Michael Clarke would likely retire at the end of the return series this winter. This certainly makes sense, what with his chronic back problem and the fact that he has previously stated that he has no intention of playing on in the style of Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting. How on Earth could the batting order, struggling already, make do without their one really world-class component?
The first place to look is at the top of the order. Chris Rogers, at 35, will likely be eased out of the side after these Ashes series, while Shane Watson continues to have question marks thrown at his technique by good bowlers. Who would replace them though? Ed Cowan, the player that everyone loves to drop, seems to be closest to Rogers in temperament, and may be able to serve the team for up to five years. He isn't the most talented Test cricketer, and averages only in the low 30s, but he scored an excellent 136 against the best bowling attack in the world. He can't be that bad. Nic Maddinson seems to be the next opener off the production line. More in the Matthew Hayden mould, the 21-year-old left-hander suddenly averages close to 40 in first-class cricket, owing much to two explosive hundreds against an Irish fringe team and Gloucestershire for Australia 'A'.
Then we have the all-important spots at three and four. However bad his shot was in the first innings, Usman Khawaja is talented and young enough to make a go of Test cricket. He made his second Test fifty yesterday, in his seventh Test, and already aged 26, he will have to start reaching three figures as soon as possible. Number four is an equally tricky spot to fill. A number four has to be a gifted run-maker, capable of big innings. There is a surprising dearth of this kind of batsman in Australia at the minute. The two best men for this spot would likely be either Adam Voges or George Bailey. Voges has made a success of the shorter formats of the game in his Australian career so far, and boasts a first-class average of 40, but he will be 34 by the end of the Ashes, and hardly the long term solution that the side needs. Alternatively, Bailey, who would probably come into the side as skipper, has scored hardly any first-class runs in the last twelve months, either in the Shield or the Championship.
With neither of that pair looking overly viable, there's the option of finally letting Cameron White test himself over five days with the bat. He will have only just turned 30 by then, but the selectors don't seem to think he even warrants an 'A' team place. There is also the risky option of slinging a young player in at four and telling them that they've got ten Tests to prove themselves, that they won't just get dropped for a couple of bad scores. Quite how you define "young" is questionable, but if we go with a definition of under-30, then the options are the promising but un-proven Joe Burns; the talented but controversial Luke Pomersbach; "one-day specialist" Callum Ferguson, and Tasmania's anchor man Alex Doolan. Out of all these batsmen, I would probably plump for Cameron White, simply for his experience.
The middle order, I believe, should contain Phillip Hughes. He's been messed around somewhat by the selectors, seemingly batting in a different position every Test match. I think he could be a perfect number five or six, like in the first innings of the first Test, if it wasn't for his little spin problem. Still, I think he deserves a chance. The other middle-order batsman could be any one of two or three names. Steve Smith is the present incumbent, and seems to be doing a passable job of working around a distinctly average technique to grind out some runs. Four fifties in nine Tests and an average of 29 aren't exactly world-beating though, and it would be between him and that list of young players I mentioned earlier for the number six spot.
Finally, the gloves. I personally don't want to see any more of Brad Haddin than I absolutely have to, so I would like to see him replaced by someone younger. Possibly Tim Paine, finally back from all manner of hand injuries, or possibly Australia's best gloveman Chris Hartley. I would probably edge towards Hartley, but the Australian selectors would pick Tim Paine 100 times out of 100.
Phillip Hughes would be the ideal middle order bat if he can work out his game against spin.
1001 runs @ 31.28 in 18 Tests
331 runs @ 30.09 in 7 Tests
146 runs @ 29.20 in 4 Tests
1535 runs @ 32.65 in 23 Tests
493 runs @ 29.00 in 9 Tests
287 runs @ 35.87 in 4 Tests
In addition, one of these players would likely have to be the captain of the side. Would it be Cameron White, who has an established reputation as a leader, but just four Test matches to his name? Or Ed Cowan who was dropped from the side just this week? Or someone else entirely? The only thing I think we can be quite sure of for now is that David Warner won't be the Australian skipper in the foreseeable future. I think every Australian will be hoping wholeheartedly that Michael Clarke can continue playing Test cricket until old age.