Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sixty-Six Sigma: New South Wales

Ben Roberts and Matthew Wood

Openers: Phil Hughes and Nick Maddinson

Dislodging the Australian past in Simon Katich and Phil Jacques was not easy, yet both youngsters look likely to have exciting Australian futures. If Katich opens, he deserves this position as he could well still be in Australia's top dozen most effective cricketers.

Maddinson is still only 19 years old, and has flown under the radar with colleagues like Khawaja, Hughes and Warner taking more spotlight. In seven matches last year he averaged just under 40 and struck two centuries. With such depth of talent in NSW it's easy to take a gamble on a player but Maddinson is a talent.

Hughes torments us as fans of Australia, but deep in our hardened hearts, below all the frustrations we know he can do it. Although not an exceptional season in 2010/11 he still scored 628 runs at 41. A prolonged stay in first class ranks would help the young man but is unlikely in this fast paced world of cricket.

When - if - Hughes receives a national call-up, he'll be replaced by Katich or David Warner, who broke into the Sheffield Shield team on the back of some enormous scores in the 'Futures League' under-23 competition last season. In three matches for NSW he compiled 275 runs at 45 with a century that gave hope he could indeed put what is a great eye and timing to use in longer formats.

Number Three: Usman Khawaja

The loudest cheer for an Australian cricketer in season 2010/11 was heard at the SCG in the final Test, yet Usman Khawaja merely walked off the ground in his first Test match having scored only 30-odd. But it was not the innings in particular, nor the match that was cheered, it was that finally some hope had been injected into a flagging Australian side that brought all to their feet.

Khawaja has the makings of the country's premier batsman, having the best technique and head for the job. His stints with Derbyshire and Australia A over the winter before the Sri Lanka tour were not characterised with success, but he knows how to bat and should return better than ever.

Middle Order: Simon Katich and Michael Clarke

Katich could be this generation's version of Steve Waugh - a player who has pared down his game again and again so as to make himself difficult to get out. His shuffle across his stumps should belie this, but yet he is rarely caught in front. He started as a wristy West Aussie, made his Test debut as such in 2001 and will finish his career alongside Bill Lawry as great left-handed, run-accumulating barnacles. Even though he's 36, it's likely he deserves a spot in NSW, if not Australia and shows no sign of retiring any time soon.

Australian captain Clarke recently scored a long-awaited century in national colours while in Sri Lanka. In between that and the one 18 months before in New Zealand, there had been many ground out fifties but nothing more. He is reinventing himself with the increased responsibility as more of an Border-type, gritty batsman and has eschewed the natural flair he entered public opinion with. To carry the comparisons perhaps a little too far, Clarke began as Walters and will end as Border, perhaps a function of the necessity of him of batting too high in the order.

All-Rounder: Shane Watson

Though it goes against everything we may have believed three years ago, Australia's best cricketer for almost two years has been Mr Furlong, Shane Watson. There is little point in discussing the national opener more than simply he is put in at number six rather than higher in the batting order to give the bloke a break!

When Clarke and Watson are away playing for Australia, a combination of Ben Rohrer, Moises Henriques and Steve Smith will take their places. It's likely Smith will play for Australia at some stage, but Henriques, despite big raps from a young age is likely to remain a First Class player only.

Wicket-keeper: Brad Haddin

Although Haddin's status as no. 1 'keeper for the national team is shaky, he's still without question the best 'keeper in New South Wales and could decimate Shield attacks with a Warner-like eye until he turns 40. His form is waning both with the bat and the gloves, and he's not a commanding presence like Ian Healy or even the more perfunctory Adam Gilchrist.

Young Victorian convert Peter Nevill deputises for Haddin and the gap in quality is a self-evident truth in simply looking at the pair. Nevill is functional, Haddin has the gifts but not the concentration or technique.

Spinner: Steve O'Keeffe

You know the philosophical questions that are designed to open the mind? Like 'what is the sound of one hand clapping'? Here is a new one: If Kevin Pietersen has a perceived weakness against left arm finger spinners, and Steve O'Keeffe is a left arm finger spinner and captures his wicket in the lead up tour match, why was Xavier Doherty selected? My mind is opened wide, yet I am not one jot more enlightened!

O'Keeffe is a genuine top-class spinner. He has been branded with the Mark of Hilditch Cain, apparently stamped on his forehead with "higher honours - limited overs only". It is suggested that the new panel review his shield statistics from last season (5 matches, 22 wickets at 20) and comment. These stats, let alone solid batting and a good leadership (he captained them in their last Shield match against Victoria) NSW's spinning position is his in front of pseudo-spinners Smith and Beau Casson.

Pacemen: Patrick Cummins, Doug Bollinger, and Trent Copeland

Doug the rug gets some leeway despite a poor season in 2010/11. He is a damaging bowler when 100% fit and still worth a look in the national setup.

Copeland is exciting because he is different. For too long Australia has been developing the tearaway bowlers in the hope of unearthing another Brett Lee, seeming uncaring that Lee's First Class and Test stats are embarrassing when compared to those of Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath. Copeland is a quality bowler who knows his limitations and plays within himself. He attacks by playing good cricket in the mould of Stuart Clark and McGrath and fully deserved his call up to the Australian team after 2010/11.

Cummins beats out Henriques, Mitch Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Mark Cameron for the third paceman's role and may beat out Bollinger for Test duties. It's likely that two of these three will for the foreseeable future be playing Test cricket or injured, so a depth of fast bowling promise is both needed and available. In fact, in two years, the Australian fast bowling lineup could conceivably all come from New South Wales.

Who's locked in?

The greatest threat to New South Wales' players is not likely to be a lack of talent but of Australian recognition. For so long it was tacitly (until the advent of David Hookes) suggested that an Australian cap was presented alongside a New South Wales cap. Though some of those New South Welshman may not have deserved their calls-up (*cough* Anthony Stuart *cough*), there is little doubt that New South Wales has the greatest reserves of natural cricketing talent in Australia.

What's disappointing?

The the following players are available but not selected:

Phil Jacques, Rohrer, Nathan Hauritz, Smith, Nevill, Henriques, Starc, Cameron, Hazelwood, Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Casson, Burt Cockley and Brett Lee. Batsman Peter Forrest saw the writing on the wall took his leave moved to Queensland for this season.

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

Of the fourteen names listed above, nine have played for Australia and though it's heavy with bowlers, would compete against most shield squads. New South Wales could farm out plenty of their players to get games in a loan system.

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