At the top of the order, I think the most established and promising pair of Australian openers are David Warner and Ed Cowan. They complement each other well, forming a good combination of attack and defence. However, both have faced question marks over ther places in the side, with Warner’s composure and Cowan’s talent called into question. But David Warner is the only unretired Australian batsman to have shown any kind of Test form recently, which is reflected by his Test average of 42 in the seventeen matches he’s played in the last fourteen months. Cowan is a calmer quantity, and his calm, bookish demeanour could be one of the few resilient points in a fragile batting line-up.
There is only one batsman in the Australian setup who has a guaranteed Test berth, and that is skipper Michael Clarke. He is a very different player to the one that was dominated by the English quicks in Australia two years ago, and has become a colossus at number five. With him having been forced up the order for the remainder of the India tour, we will see if he squares up at his preferred number five or somewhere higher up, where he has averaged less than 25 in the past. Aside from him there are many candidates with equally tenuous claims for places. My favourite three would be:
Usman Khawaja has scored only one half-century in his six Tests so far, but has a classy, effortless demeanour at the crease and has a good record in a promotion-winning Derbyshire side in County cricket. He would slot in at number three for me, a position currently occupied by Phillip Hughes who has battled with technical trouble against both pace and spin, and England’s team features world class exponents of both. Indeed, I would use Hughes as more of a one-day batsman.
The only place left in my batting line-up is number four, and my team needs some leadership. I could have gone with David Hussey, but given the former’s poor Shield form my choice here would have to be George Bailey. The Tasmanian seems to be being groomed as the heir apparent to Michael Clarke, and has led both the Twenty20 and ODI teams. In ODIs he has scored runs for Australia in crisis situations, and would probably be in the unusual position of a débutant vice-captain. Not that early leadership is new to him, having led his country on his Twenty20 debut.
Behind the stumps is the third of my débutants, Chris Hartley. Hartley has been a vital cog for Queensland for sometimes, and is known across Australia for his impeccable glovework. Try finding me a Queensland scorecard where he concedes a bye – it might be a long search. He also scores fighting runs down the order and has been in consistent form this past season.
With the two incumbent spinners being Nathan Lyon, who has fallen out of favour with the powers that be, and completely non-Test Xavier Doherty, I think there’s a place for yet more names to be added to the list of Spinners Since Shane. Either Ashton Agar or Steve O’Keefe would slot into the side at number eight. The part-Sri Lankan Agar has been startling for Western Australia, and has represented Australia at Under-19 level and in a First Class warm-up game. If he had not been sent home from the tour to play from his state, he would almost certainly have been included for the upcoming Test. O’Keefe, meanwhile, has represented Australia in the very shortest format, but his real success has been found in Shield cricket. He is one of very few Australian spinners to average under thirty with the ball. Both are left-arm spinners, and could exploit Kevin Pietersen’s weakness against such bowlers.
I may be over-stocking on seamers, but with Australian form of fast bowling injuries, I would include six quick bowlers in my squad. However, if there’s one thing that the Australians do not lack, it is seam bowling talent, and all six names are arguably world class bowlers. The three that would make my XI would be Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson. These three quicks all have immense star quality. Pattinson has averaged just 22 with the ball in his nine Tests so farm and has impressed the world with his extreme pace and nagging accuracy. Peter Siddle is known as a true trier, but he is more than that. The longer he has stayed in the Australian set-up, the more of a thinking bowler he has become. With 39 Tests to his name, he is also more than twice as experienced as anyone else in the starting XI except his skipper. Finally, left arm swing from Mitchell Starc will complement the two right arm quicks very well indeed.
Here is my eleven, with their Test caps in brackets:
David Warner (17), Ed Cowan (15), Usman Khawaja (6), George Bailey (0), Michael Clarke (91), Joe Burns (0), Chris Hartley (0), Steve O’Keefe (0), Mitchell Starc (8), Peter Siddle (39), James Pattinson (9)