James Faulkner has a fine First-Class record to his name © Getty Images
By Adrian Meredith
Australian all-rounder, James Faulkner played only one Test in England at Oval. Unfortunately, he sat on the sidelines for the reaming part of the Ashes series. As he sat on the sidelines, a slew of specialist batsmen failed. Faulkner though, showed his class by arguably turning out to be the best player for Australia in the final Test at Oval. In the Australian leg of the Ashes, he missed out every single game, as George Bailey was preferred. But, with Bailey not even in the squad to play South Africa, was a fully fit Faulkner going to play?
The fact is that if Faulkner wasn’t going to play, then him breaking down with injury isn’t a concern. Moises Henriques, his replacement, is therefore not going to play either. No big deal.
However, Alex Doolan has been picked to replace Bailey as a batsman. They have similar First-Class records, but there is a sense that Doolan is a big game player, as seen by how well he did in Australia A games. There is a hope by selectors that come the Test matches; he will play above his average. Michael Clarke, remember, had a pretty ordinary First-Class record too, before he played his first Test. Even now, Clarke’s First-Class record, if you don’t count his Test match performances is still ordinary. Clarke is a big game player. Perhaps Doolan is too.
On the other hand, Shaun Marsh was seen as the spare batsman, in case Doolan didn’t work out. Marsh himself was hinted at being a big game player too, and was, at least until he had a shocking loss in form.
But now Phil Hughes is being seen as the spare batsman, after Marsh was injured. And Hughes is far from being a big game player. Hughes, largely scores runs against weak teams. First-Class level bowlers can’t get him out, but fine international bowlers have no problem in outfoxing him. His technique has been exposed by bowlers from England, India and New Zealand. But not South Africa. And perhaps they won’t. Hughes has generally feasted on their bowlers before. Perhaps he will do it again. But more likely, South Africa would have learnt from their mistakes.
The above scenarios show the importance of Faulkner. In case, Doolan won’t turn into a big game player and South Africa’s bowlers have figured out Hughes’s technique. Then Faulkner would have come into the equation.
Faulkner is a mighty good bowler, and him being suggested as not Test quality is a myth. His First-Class record is superb and his Test record, from just one game reads as six wickets at an average of 16, which is pretty good as well. His Test batting average of 21 is pretty decent though, it has to be said that we are thinking of just one Test here. And in addition, his First-Class record suggests that he is no fluke.
Actually, Faulkner could have thrived in South Africa. The selectors would have been down to deciding one out of him or Doolan for the first Test. Yes, Faulkner would make the batting weaker, but the bowling would look stronger on paper. It would change the balance of the team. But Australian think-tank would have seriously considered him as an option.
Henriques does not have the record of Faulkner. While Faulkner is consistently good, Henriques is terrible most of the times. He does well on that odd occasion. In India, he had a decent debut Test, but then lost his way. This is mirrored in his domestic games too.
There is no question that Faulkner is a better player than Henriques. Faulkner has fans galore, who believe he is a fine player. He won matches for Australia from nowhere in India and in Australia, albeit at the One-Day International (ODI) level. Henriques compared to it hasn’t been up to the mark.
Had the selectors wanted a similar replacement for Faulkner, they should have picked Luke Butterworth, a similar bowler to Faulkner, who also plays for Tasmania. Just because Butterworth doesn’t play in the Big Bash League (BBL) they have perhaps decided on not considering him. But Butterworth is still better than Henriques.
So, now Australia are left in a situation, where Phil Hughes can’t be risked and the same can be said about Henriques. It means Doolan has to play every Test.
In the bowling stakes, of course Australia have James Pattinson, who should be the country’s best bowler, but at the moment is yet to return to top form. There is Jackson Bird as a second back up bowler. One of those two will play, if Australia want to go for an all out pace attack, or if there is an injury.
Faulkner’s absence has in many ways ruined Australia’s preparation. Is the writer opining that Australia can’t win? Almost. Now, the hunch on Doolan has to pay off or else Australia can be in trouble. There is no longer any Plan B.
(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)