Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The future isn't so rosy: Australia's next batsmen

Although the first nation into the CB finals series and coming straight from a whitewash of India in the recent Test series, Australia has far from a settled lineup. Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey are the two oldest First Class cricketers in the nation, while the third was only recently sacked from the Australian team.  The youthful promise of Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja has tried the country's patience twice too often, while Shaun Marsh and Brad Haddin both endured form slumps which made Mark Taylor's 1996-97 look positively inspired.

With Marsh almost indubitably losing his spot for the tour to the West Indies, the quest begins for a true number 3 batsman.  That role is likely to at first go to Shane Watson, with perhaps Peter Forrest hijacking a spot on the tour bus with some good One Day International form.  Behind those two and the dubious credentials of Dan Christian, Australia simply doesn't have batsmen with the requisite body of First Class work pushing the national incumbents for selection.

How bad is Australia's batting talent drain?  The following chart displays how well Australia's batsmen have performed in First Class matches this season.  They are divided into four quadrants according to the mean age and First Class batting average.  Any First Class player with pretenses to batsmanship (ie. allrounders) are included.  Click on the chart to zoom in.

As you can see, very few young - or even average-aged - batsmen earned their keep, let alone a shot at the Australian team by virtue of their form.  That two of the best-performed young batsmen were wicket-keepers (Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill), stands as testament not only to their talent but to a relative dearth of "comers".

The graph becomes even more stark when narrowing it by appearances.  In the following chart, only players who played at least three Sheffield Shield/Test games were considered.  Based on form alone, we can suggest those players rising most above the average for their age are best placed to take over from the current older generation.  These include Forrest, Liam Davis, Tom Cooper - he of Netherlands' fame - and Christian.

 While Taylor (and Steve Waugh) so helpfully proved that form is hardly permanent, those players in the bottom right quadrant should be those most concerned.  It is a tried and tested premise of sport that fans and administrators alike - want one of two things: success, or hope for the future.  Based on this year's form, those in the bottom right quadrant are hardly likely to offer either.

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