Australia announced their team for the fifth and final Test in the Ashes 2013 series and the all-rounder James Faulkner is poised to make his debut. Shrikant Shankar explains why Faulkner’s addition is a good move for Australia.
James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc will play the fifth Ashes 2013 Test at The Oval for Australia. Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird will make way for the duo as the tourists have nothing to lose. By bringing in Faulkner, Australia have utilised everyone except Matthew Wade during the series. The all-rounder will finally get a chance to don the Baggy Green and it isn’t a huge surprise. However, what was surprising was that it took the Australian team management four games to give him a run.
Faulkner has played all the four tour matches for Australia — taking eight wickets in six innings. His batting has also inspired confidence as he was dismissed only once during those games and scored 111 runs with a highest of 48. This shows that he is more than adept with the bat. With the series gone, Australia have nothing to lose and can test Faulkner’s all-round abilities. However, they would be eyeing a win to avoid the ignominy of being the first Australian side since 1977 to not win a single match in an Ashes series.
Faulkner will probably not lead the line for Australia, but coming in at first or second change, he could be very effective. The Aussies will probably start with Ryan Harris and Starc and then resort to Peter Siddle and Faulkner. They have two right-armers and two left-arm pacers. Starc is probably the quickest of the lot, but Faulkner provides more variety to the bowling attack. He can swing the ball both ways and has a very good slower ball, although he might not use it a lot in a Test match.
At the same time, Faulkner’s batting too could prove handy. He averages 30.31 in First-Class cricket and has notched eight half-centuries with a highest score of 89 — which came during the 2013 Sheffield Shield final for Tasmania against Queensland. His knocks of 46 and 89 coupled with four wickets helped Tasmania win the shield and earned Faulkner the man-of-the-match. In eight One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for Australia, he has taken 11 wickets. During the recent ICC Champions Trophy 2013, he scored 54 not out against England.
What is important is that Faulkner replaces Khawaja. The Pakistan-born left-hander is a top order batsman and has only scored a total of 114 runs in six innings. In Faulkner, Australia get a frontline bowler, who could take a few wickets and also a very capable lower-order batsman, who could score vital runs. Khawaja did not do much with the bat. So, a change was the need of the hour. It is important to test Faulkner’s temperament ahead of the return Ashes later this year.
Starc’s inclusion is surprising particularly because he vented his frustrations at being dropped twice during the ongoing Ashes. Although he hasn’t been in great form, Starc has picked up eight wickets in two matches and has also done his bit with the willow. Along with Faulkner, Starc will provide enough back-up to the batting line-up and most importantly take wickets. The axing may have been a little harsh on Bird, but Australia need the win and coach Darren Lehmann said that they are not afraid to make changes in the wake of their shocking capitulation during their run-chase in the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street.
Australia’s changes mean that they have not fielded the same eleven in any of the five Tests and have altered their batting order throughout. Michael Clarke said that Faulkner is a fighter and a competitor. Australia are in a battle and they will need every one of their eleven members to fight till the very end. Time for excuses is over and Australia get one last shot to get the psychological edge over England before the next five-match saga begins Down Under. If they lose at The Oval, Australia would have lost eight of their previous nine Test matches — which would be their worst sequence in 123 years. Australia would hope for the best at The Oval.
(Shrikant Shankarpreviously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)