Today's blog features Matthew Wood of Balanced Sports and Ben Roberts, local cricket icon, of Melbourne in Australia.
That the Australian Test XI is aging is no secret. At 35 years old, Ricky Ponting leads a side facing their own cricketing mortality – Simon Katich and Mike Hussey are likewise 35 and Brad Haddin 31. Even the “Great Hope for the Future” Michael Clarke is rising 30.
As we say a fond final farewell to the Golden Generation of Australian cricket born between 1965 and 1980 to enter the future, Matthew Wood and Ben Roberts sit down over a drink (with significant geographic difficulty) and name the XI who will line up in Brisbane for the first Ashes Test 2014-15.
Matt: So, the openers. After a series of sterling performances, I'm quite confident in installing Shane Watson as one opener. Really, since Mark Taylor's early days I don't think we've seen such a consistent opener even if his ability to convert scores into big scores is still a little under question. All of Hayden, Langer and Slater were all "feast or famine", especially in their latter days and I think that having someone who can be relied upon at the top is important. By this stage he'll be one of the veterans of the squad at 33 and probably his medium-pace bowling will have succumbed to age and infirmity a la Steve Waugh but he'll still be very valuable experience-wise. I feel dirty for saying so, but he is my roughie to captain the squad - if Pup Clarke can't handle it, he's probably the next-best bet. Partnering him is Phil Hughes, the crazy-eyed Northerner. There's no question his footwork isn't of the same quality of his eyes - how could they be, have you seen Phil Hughes' eyes? They're enormous, like two giant plates - but I'm confident by age 25 he will have worked out some of the slight flaws in his technique and is six years younger than the next best candidate in Shaun Marsh.
Ben: My dirty little secret is out now – after many years of imploring him to improve and not breakdown - I am a Shane Watson fan. His batting has become top class, and he provides the benefit of being an above average seamer, which for a part timer means that he is an exceptional asset to have in the squad. I don’t reckon bowling 10 overs a Test will cause undue problems (fingers currently crossed). I cannot agree with Matt’s assessment of Watson as a potential captain, just like no Richmond Aussie Rules fan could give Matthew Richardson the captaincy, and England football fan would give Wayne Rooney the armband.
I struggled to make a selection between Shaun Marsh and Phil Hughes to partner Watson. Marsh I believe is a more complete batsman, whereas Hughes does have flaws despite immense natural talent. My great hope is that the previous 12 months and in the period until Katich retires he is grabbed by the throat and told to work on his technique. Assuming this happens I am going put Hughes in the second opening slot.
Matt: At number three, I've plumped purely and simply for potential – Mitch Marsh of WA and of the Deccan Chargers. He wins out over Calum Ferguson because in Marsh there's the chance to be great – really great – and I think Ferguson could end up going down the Marcus North (and unfortunately Mike Hussey) road of “serviceable”. At number four comes the likely captain, “Pup” Clarke who also is the Grand Old Man of the squad at 33. He's shown enough dedication to turn his batting from exciting and full of flair to boring and staid. I think as Australia transitions into a younger team his game will have moved full circle from Julien Wiener to Allan Border, but probably without Border's consistency.
Ben: I have been a bit clever with my choice of number three, done a “reverse Katich/Langer”, shifting an opener down the order. I really believe that Shaun Marsh is a complete batsman and has a great technique for a defensive game as well as the ability to ‘cut loose’ given the occasion. He may never be one of the greats but I reckon he could serve the side well at three.
Usman Khawaja is a genuine superstar in the making. From the numbers he has put up early in his First Class career he has a hunger for runs, big runs (Prime Ponting-esque big runs). In 2014-2015 he will be coming into his prime. Usman gets my nod for the number 4 slot.
Matt: At five I've gone for Cameron White. At 31 he'll be in his prime and there's a convincing-but-flawed argument that he's the best batsman outside the national team at present and has been cursed by the disdain of Ponting and the fanfare that accompanied his straight-breaks onto the First-Class scene. He's another roughie to captain the side should Clarke fail as he's done so for Victoria since he was 20.
At six I've gone for Ferguson. As I said earlier he's serviceable and has the talent, application and technique to average 45 for his career – which is more than Mark Waugh averaged – and he's very good in the field. Hopefully his Test debut isn't far off.
Ben: Michael Clarke currently holds the number 5 position in the Australian side. Unfortunately I am not confident in his long term ability and the number 6 may be better with him shepherding the tailenders. By this time the ‘Pup’ may be heading for the vet’s needle! (Zoe - my unofficial sub-editor, professional life coach and dog - has just walked away at disgust to this last comment).
The man who should be in the Australian side in the 2010-11 series is Callum Ferguson from SA. I am heartened that his recent knee surgery didn’t have him drop into the abyss and he has been quickly recalled to the national setup. He will be at 5 in 2014-2015.
Matt: Never having been a big fan of Brad Haddin, in my role as sole national selector he's been dropped for inconsistency behind the stumps and too many brain-farts while at the crease. Tim Paine is probably the safest player in the team for mine as his recent performances for Australia have shown. He's gritty with the bat and has very safe hands, a real 'keeper and not a converted batsman a la Haddin or Mike Veletta.
Ben: The keeping position in my opinion is easy. Based on current performance Tim Paine deserves to continue in the role, and he is my choice as captain. This will raise eye-brows, even more when it is known that it was the Herald-Sun who first drew my attention to the possibility, But Paine has a good head on his shoulders. He bats above the shoulders well and his keeping is of high standard all day. He is my captain to take over from Ponting.
Matt: Nathan Hauritz now is unfortunately the best spin bowler in Australia. What that says about a country who's always had one quality turner is galling, but I don't see the other spinners (Steve Smith and John Holland particularly) being able to challenge him as a tweaker. Haury gets the no. 8 slot for mine.
Ben: I have pleaded on a number of forums and to pretty much who will listen to me that Australia needs to pick Steven Smith soon, and pick him as a full time spinner. Yes I know he can bat, but we cannot afford to lose someone of his immense talent and potential as a legspinner in favour of churning out a mediocre batting all-rounder. Assuming the Australian selectors do the right thing he comes in at eight, I know it is a big assumption.
Matt: Given that my number 8 is Nathan Hauritz, you can assume two things about my numbers 9, 10 and 11. First, they're rubbish with the willow, and secondly there's no room for Mitchell Johnson. “Zoolander” may be a strike bowler but I can't abide a striker who consistently outside the right-hander's off-peg angling to first slip. He'll also be 33 and though he's very fit, that's about the age that injuries begin to seriously slow down a bowler's pace – which given his lack of control, Mitch can't really afford.
Peter Siddle, who has disproved the above theory by being ruined by injuries since age 21. Fast, aggressive and generally accurate, he's probably going to be the spearhead of the Aussie attack by 2014 and will have taken over Hussey's “Underneath the Southern Cross” duties and the long-vacated role of Chief Sledger.
The other two bowlers are youngsters, like Marsh, picked solely on potential. Peter George has just made his Test debut and with his height if he can replicate even 75% of Glenn McGrath's accuracy then you've got a pretty fair fast bowler. He'll be 27 and should take Doug Bollinger's spot in the near future.
The future of Australian strike bowling is James Pattinson. The young Victorian is fast, moves the ball both ways and after only four First-Class matches sports an average less than 30. Moises Henriques (may my bones rot for jumping on the bandwagon), Alister McDermott, Josh Hazelwood and Mitch Staac are those that miss out.
Ben: Well I am also going for a three pronged pace attack. Mitchell Johnson will be older, but he has been selected and rewarded over his career thus far as much for his attractiveness to women than the odd great spell he delivers. So there is a fair chance he will hold his spot. Anyone who believes that he deserved the man of the match over Simon Katich against New Zealand in Brisbane in 2008 has rocks in their head.
Peter Siddle is another great love of mine. In my view he is a great competitor and workhorse bowler who epitomises everything good about competitive cricket. Such a bowler is needed to complement Johnson.
My final selection is the young NSW bowler Josh Hazelwood. Johnson will have lost a yard of pace and Siddle will be the stock bowler, we need someone with a bit of fire and who causes difficulty for the batsman. He is sending the pill down rapidly from 196cm. My apologies go to a number of players for this final slot.
Matt: My twelfth man is another bowling all-rounder in Jon Holland of Victoria. He's shown enough with bat and ball to say that he's probably the equal of Steve Smith in ability, if not in hair-colour and to paraphrase, all states were created equal amongst the Commonwealth, but some states were created more equal than others. Khawaja would be first batsman selected in event of injury of loss of form.
Ben: I am slightly disappointed that I was not able to select further players from my home state of Victoria, but the Vic’s seem to have great depth and team building potential without the standouts. NSW seems to be the spot for standout cricketers, and QLD the complete opposite, remembering Johnson has crossed to WA, with no current banana benders looking remotely likely of becoming a great.
All that's left now is just to wait and see. The summer of 2014-15 shapes up as an exciting time for Aussie cricket fans with some fresh faces on the scene. In fact the more we both have thought about the future, the more depressed we've become about Messrs Hussey, North, and Katich continuing through the 2010-11 ashes series.
Note from Editor: The authors of this article would like to make the Australian selectors aware that they will continue to be available for Australian selection in 2014-15. Indeed they will remain available until then time when the lure of wearing the whites on a lawn bowling green followed by a cheap beer or a carafe of house white becomes too strong to resist. Matt brings a ‘windmill’ bowling action akin to a bizarre hybrid of to the great New Zealander Ewan Chatfield and the less-great South African Paul Adams; Ben modestly describes himself as a multi talented cricketer in the mould of Keith Miller.
They are both available for positions as selectors as well.