Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sixty-Six Sigma: Western Australia

Ben Roberts with Matthew Wood

Openers: Shaun Marsh and Wes Robinson

His selection and immediate success in the Australian test team speak for themselves, but Shaun Marsh enjoyed a strong Sheffield Shield season despite being available for only four matches. He averaged 59 with one ton in his 414 runs. Chances are he won't be available for much Shield cricket this summer with higher duties calling but he is of course WA's number one opening batsman.

Wes Robinson was a late starter, having been selected at almost 28 years of age to debut back in 2008. Now nearly 31, it is unlikely that he will push to be selected by the national teams and faces competition from Liam Davis to open with Marsh and/or 19-year old phenom Marcus Harris. Robinson protects the middle order, but does so at an almost glacial pace.

Number Three: Marcus North

Converted opener North is likely to feature at three for the Warriors this term in the absence of a true lynchpin. Both North and Adam Voges have skirted (North more successfully) the fringes of the Australian teams, offer dibbly-dobbly off-breaks to relieve the fast men into the Doctor, and will have to compensate for the loss of Luke Pomersbach, who's taken the year off for mental health reasons. Travis Birt could also enter the equation here.

Middle Order: Michael Hussey and Adam Voges

One keeps on keeping on in the Australian XI. The other was given his marching orders and can focus on leading WA back to the top of the first-class game. When we doubt him, Hussey almost always speaks for himself - he clean swept the MOTM awards in Sri Lanka and picked up the series title as well. He won't play much though, so Birt or Mitch Marsh are likely to bat here.

Voges' reputation behoves better performances than those he's delivered. Once the power-hitting no. 4 of the future, he's now lucky to retain his place amidst youngsters like Marsh the Younger, Birt, Tom Beaton and Cameron Bancroft. He and North are nearly interchangeable - they average around 42 in First Class cricket, are 32 years of age. Where North's strength is as a leader (surprise, surprise, Australia fans!).

Voges is a respectable bowling average of 34. He's still in WA's top eleven, but only just. Leadership can buy a cricketer more time - think of Mark Taylor's horror run - so expect Voges to struggle for his spot before his captain does.

All-Rounder: Mitchell Marsh

By the age of nineteen, Geoff's younger son has become a bit of a great white hope in Australian cricket. Now, he represents his country, albeit in T20 colours. The hope is premised more on what he does in those coloured clothes as despite a maiden first-class century in 2010/11, he didn't do a whole lot either with bat or ball. Look closely at him this year, Australia, he could still be playing in 2028 or so.

Wicket-keeper: Luke Ronchi, but only just.

Like a number of players in the WA squad, he's been tried and discarded by the Australian team. Ronchi is hard-hitting bat whose form and technique has rather deserted him in recent seasons. Understudy Michael Johnson didn't do a whole lot in his two chances last season, but started the recent first class game against Tasmania.

Spinner: Michael Beer

Until last season, no-one had ever heard of Beer. That was until Shane Warne happened to mention his name and Andrew Hilditch took notice*. A full season (10 matches) for WA had the St. Kilda graduate (see where Shane got the name from?) take 21 wickets at a high average of 46. What stood out about Beer, despite no better than average figures, was his willingness to attack, give the ball flight and create doubt in the batsmen's mind.

Pacemen: Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, and Ryan Duffield

I question the ongoing permanence of Mitchell Johnson in the Australian test team, but he remains the leader of his adopted state's fast bowling attack. Despite myriad frustrations with him, we still know that he can turn on an amazing show when he's got his mind right. The Doctor only helps him, as his remarkable 9/82 in last year's Ashes proves.

Coulter-Nile and Duffield are youngsters who delivered exceptional numbers in 2010/11. Coulter-Nile's 21 wickets at 22 in four matches and Duffield's 33 wickets at 23 in seven matches pushed the 31 year old Michael Hogan out of the side. Coulter-Nile has been in particular singled out for high praise from coach Mickey Arthur, who suggests he's the only player in his team "locked in" for future Australian caps.

Who's locked in?

The pace attack is strong, and given its youth is unlikely to shift except for higher honours or injury. The same can be said for Shaun Marsh and Michael Hussey. Mitch Marsh must play, as must Beer - should he not displace Nathan Lyon for an Aussie spot.

What's disappointing?

The failure of Luke Pomersbach to come through as a truly top-end talent is sad for multiple reasons - not least his continuing battle with mental health issues. Mitchell Johnson's Australia tenure isn't over yet, but neither is it on as solid a footing as pre-Ashes.

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

Nathan Rimmington backs up the pace attack with Michael Hogan. Young batsmen Tom Beaton and Cameron Bancroft will be the next picked, while both Ronchi and Michael Johnson could cement the keeper's position with a good season.

* For the purposes of politeness, we have refrained from including our usual explosive swearing when he who shall not be named was, in fact, named.

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