Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sixty-Six Sigma: Tasmania

Ben Roberts with Matthew Wood

The Tasmanians were rightfully Champions of the 2010-11's Sheffield Shield. They are a mix of some great home-grown talent along with long being the home away from home for cricketers from other states.

Openers: Ed Cowan and Nick Kruger

Ed Cowan is one of those recruits, the former New South Welshman bringing determination as an opening batsman along with a passion and enthusiasm for the game to Tasmania. His personal results in 2010/11 were slightly below his career numbers, but having a determined player at the top of the order serves any team well. When first seeing Cowan bat at NSW training, noted judge Greg Matthews suggested his technique had 5000 Test runs in it; Test representation is unlikely, but doesn't take away from the fact he's got a very compact game.

Nick Kruger has been around the first class scene in Australia for a while. Like Cowan he was born in NSW but played his cricket first for Queensland before moving south to Tasmania. His five matches for Tasmania saw him average 52 in 2010/11 and finally start to make a play for more consistent first class selection.

Number Three: Ricky Ponting

You would think that Ponting is owed an extended run in his home state's team at the position in the order he most covets -simply because he's one of Australia's greatest ever batsman. But there is a great risk that Ponting, having already fallen on his sword as Australian captain, may withdraw further from the national team and therefore be required to justify his place for Tasmania.

When "Punter" thrusts on the Baggy Green, he'll be replaced by Alex Doolan, a twenty-five year old local pro who bats quite well. Unfortunately that's about as much as we can say for him, for almost anyone who replaces Ricky Thomas Ponting can only be said to bat "quite well".

Middle Order: George Bailey & Mark Cosgrove

George Bailey could be the most popular cricketer in Australia not to represent his country. Perhaps it's his ruddy good charm, maybe it's a name that sounds like it's better suited for rugger at Eton and maybe because he's accepted his fate as the new Siddons, doomed to make runs, captain his state and not trouble Chappell, Hilditch et al. He also captains well.

Yes we can make many a humorous quip about Mark Cosgrove's waistline and his alleged desire to live in a rookery while at the Australian Cricket Academy. But like his rotund brethren, the man can bat. Jamie Cox may have pleaded with the Taswegians to ignore the overtures of Cosgrove when he was dumped from South Australia, but Cosgrove now has a Shield title and the honour of having made a key contribution with the bat averaging 53.

All-Rounder: Luke Butterworth

Being the leading wicket taker for Tasmania with 45 (at 17.5 runs apiece) in 2010/11 coupled with 381 runs at 34 was reason enough for Luke Butterworth to be selected on the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe during the winter. Butterworth was a key member of the Shield winning team and is on the cusp of higher duties, at the least in the limited overs format.

Wicket-keeper: Tim Paine

Tim Paine has been ready and waiting for the departure of Brad Haddin for some time so he can take over the Australian Test team. Unlike Haddin, Paine has a level head and a trustworthy demeanour when batting and wicketkeeping. His 2010/11 was derailed by injury, but it would not surprise anyone (and would raise many spirits) if he was to take over full time as Australia's wicketkeeper by summers end. Tim Triffitt is his backup.

Spinner: Xavier Doherty

Xavier Doherty was unfairly maligned due to the ridiculous decision to call him up for Test duty last season. He was criticised for being what he is - a left-arm slow bowler who doesn't spin it but who can restrict runs in the one-day format.

Krezja bowls to Phil Hughes:
Of course nobody would ever turn down that chance - not even Darren Pattinson. The cricketing world turned on him somewhat despite it being plain he was not ready for it - (or likely ever would be). This uproar overshadowed his solid form for Tasmania in multiple formats of the game, including first-class matches. After his unceremonious exclusion from the Australian team, he returned 22 wickets at 28 in 8 2010-11 fixtures.

In times where two spinners are needed - like when they tour the subcontinent, for example - Jason Krezja will play. Expect to see quite a bit of both players, one as the defence and the other as the aggressor. Matt in particular would love to see Krezja brought back into the Australian squad.

Pacemen: Ben Hilfenhaus, James Faulkner, and Adam Mahar

We all know that Ben Hilfenhaus can bowl, and do it well. He has produced spells of swing bowling that have had some of the best batsmen in the world struggling to lay bat on a swinging ball. But his difficulty is that rarely does he look as though he wants to bowl. Served well at home by the regularly overcast conditions in Hobart, cometh the day where he's required to perform in other conditions he has often been found wanting.

He's the greatest corollary in Australian cricket at the present time: we understand that Mitchell Johnson can be great, but with his action/headspace, one understands he will occasionally be great and sometimes be just awful. Hilfenhaus seems to have everything in his favour (good head on shoulders, great action, moves the ball, height, bounce, pace - you name it) yet "boasts" a Test average of 35. He should be the pacemen on whom "Pup" Clarke can rely upon most, yet will struggle to play much Test cricket this year unless his form drastically improves.

Both James Faulkner and Adam Mahar played in the Shield final for Tasmania and took 36 and 37 wickets respectively in 2010/11. Mahar will be 30 early this season and is a late bloomer, but providing value to the Tasmanians and Australian cricket in general. Faulkner is only 21 with many top level cricket years ahead. Look for him in Australian ODI colours soon, probably replacing Moises Henriques.

Who's locked in?

Everyone except Doherty. Doherty is perhaps the number one spinning option but has the more attacking option of Jason Krejza on his tail; places may come down to form or the unlikely event of Australian selection.

What's disappointing?

Tasmania are the oldest squad in the competition - by a good two years or so. Only Faulkner and Paine can be said to be young-ish (Paine's twenty-six!) and while that experience has served the Tigers well, they could well go back to the well and sign backup younger players through a loan system.

Who's next up - or alternatively, who's loan bait?

Doolan (RHB), of course, but he'll play the majority of games as Ponting represents his country. All-rounder Evan Gulbis (RHB, RM) took 4/8 in a Limited Overs match last week while fast man Jeremy Smith has played for Australia at junior level, though his early top-flight experiences haven't been necessarily pleasant.

Lead photo courtesy: 

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