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Why Australia need James Faulkner the bowler more than the finisher

James Faulkner © Getty Images
Australia should look at James Faulkner as a quality pacer with gifted batting abilities © Getty Images

By R Vishal

The stage is Perth, Western Australia and Australia was playing lowly West Indies in a five match series in to kick off 2013. Tidy bowling from the visitors had reduced the Aussies to 98 for six and in walked a Tasmanian; steely eyed, confident and ready to support the well set George Bailey at the other end.

One couldn’t help but wonder why he was promoted ahead of Mitchell Johnson, whose abilities with the bat are very impressive for a lower order batsman but James Peter Faulkner was determined to give as much of the strike to Bailey, who went to score a hundred and Faulkner didn’t do too bad for his first knock, scoring a painstaking 39 of 67 balls, immediately cementing his reputation as a tail-ender who could stick around if the team needed him to.

Buoyed by his stellar performances in Indian Premier League (IPL) 6, Faulkner went from strength to strength in the latter albeit with his batting; something that puzzled the Australian team management. A gritty half-century in a losing cause against England in the ICC Champions Trophy earned him the tour to India for a five match One Day International (ODI) series.

This series will be remembered by the Australian fans for the birth of Faulkner, the destructive lower order batsman. From a seemingly improbable position, Faulkner’s brutal assault on Ishant Sharma and his phenomenal ton in Bangalore, yet again while chasing affirmed his place as a lower order player to reckon with.

After pulling a rabbit out of the hat yet again in the first one-dayer against England, clearing the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) with ease and playing with just the number 11, while having to chase down more than 50 runs, the 23 year-old has become the latest blue eyed boy of Australian cricket with many calls for Faulkner being promoted up the order.

This sort of a catch-22 situation has cropped up with many a lower order batsman in the past. Australian think-tank, however, should refrain from moulding Faulkner into anything more than a quality pacer with gifted batting abilities.

With Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle tearing England to smithereens in the Ashes whitewash, the bowling department of Australia suddenly looks like the most venomous pace battery in the world. But out of the three, Siddle will be in the team for few more years to come and as to how long Johnson’s brilliance would carry on is anybody’s guess and Harris will continue to soldier on before his crocked knee runs out of steam.

Young turks such as Pat Cummins and James Pattinson have been also been sidelined by several injury layoffs in their fledgling carrier and an uncertainty remains over the duo’s endurance levels.

Faulkner’s door now is wide open and he should focus on improving his bowling abilities and leave the batting to the enigmatic lower order bunch to sort out. With Australia having set their sights on winning back the ICC World Cup on home soil nest year, Faulkner would be licking his lips in excitement to cement a place in the starting lineup.

Even then, promotion up the order, with the team management going by the age old adage that the big hitting lower order batman who can score invaluable runs can give teams quick runs at the start has often backfired.

In Australia’s upcoming tour of South Africa, along with Shaun Marsh and newbie Alex Doolan, Faulkner is discussed as a possible Number 4 batsman in Tests.

However hard it is, for all their quick-fix solutions, persisting with a quality Test ‘batsman’ should be the norm. Faulkner should rise as a pacer more than his ‘Iceman’ like wizardry with the bat.

(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian School of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)

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