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Alex Doolan’s inclusion for South African tour provides Australia opportunity to groom permanent No 3

Alex Doolan was impressive against South Africa in a tour match during the 2012-13 series for Australia A © Getty Images
Alex Doolan was impressive against South Africa in a tour match during the 2012-13 series for Australia A © Getty Images

Ever since Ricky Ponting relinquished the coveted No 3 spot in the Test batting line-up, the Australians have been in search of an appropriate candidate who can fill in the big shoes. But so far, their search hasn’t yielded them the desired result with many of their experiments failing. Shane Watson’s performance in the 2013-14 Ashes was indeed a welcome move, but Australia need solutions that last long. Alex Doolan’s inclusion for the tour of South Africa provides them yet another opportunity. Devarchit Varma explains…

Alex Doolan has finally toppled his Tasmanian captain George Bailey from the Australian Test team. While this feat would mean a lot to the 28-year-old Doolan who hails from the same vicinity as of Ricky Ponting’s, it would mean a lot more to the recovering Australian side. They now seem to be getting back to the winning ways, carving their own niche, a new image. But there are still areas for improvement. The biggest challenge probably is to replace the ageing players in a gradual process.

Ponting’s retirement in November 2012 left Australia without a quality No 3 batsman. Although for the last year and a half of his career, Ponting batting mostly at No 4, he was always a No 3 batsman for the best part of his career. The next line of players who were tried and tested to replace the batting great failed so miserably that none of them are in the national reckoning right now. Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes are nowhere close to the team selection and Shaun Marsh’s ordinary run in the longest format of the game, combined with injuries has done his future no good. His selection for the South African tour is yet another opportunity for the left-handed batsman.

Doolan’s selection in the national side was on the cards ever since he impressed against the South Africans in a warm-up game during their tour in 2012-13. His call up as a back-up batsman for the final Ashes 2013-14 Test at Sydney was a welcome move by the Australians, and by naming him in their squad for next month’s South African tour, they have not only strengthened their batting firepower, but also given the hopes of finding a quality No 3 batsman for a longer run one more lifeline.

Doolan may not be having the magical numbers in domestic cricket that some of his predecessors had when they were selected and neither is he a raw young talent who is thrown into the pool of international cricket very early. Doolan, who is 28-years old, admits that he is maturing and has his fair share of troubles — the biggest one being adjusting to the multiple formats of the game, which many of the current international cricketers find tough to tackle. He has a batting average of just around 38, way below 50, a benchmark that was set when his idol and mentor Ponting came into the side.

Doolan needs to be nurtured carefully. This is where Cricket Australia (CA), the team management, the selection committee, captain Michael Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann come into play. Doolan has already admitted that like many other international cricketers he finds it tough to switch between different formats and with age being on his side, it would be better if he gets the opportunities where he really fits in.

Doolan not only enjoys the support of the National Selection Panel (NSP) chairman John Inverarity, but in Michael di Venuto, the Australian batting coach, who has seen his progress since a long time with Tasmania. Australia must take this opportunity to give the Doolan-di Venuto pair a longer run.

Shane Watson did a fine job at No 3 in the 2013-14 Ashes, but he has his own share of problems, fitness being the biggest. Looking at the 32-year-old’s past record and the time he has stayed off the field due to injuries, it will be wise for Australia to start grooming Doolan as the new No 3.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)

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