By Adrian Meredith
The National Selection Panel has named their 13-man team for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne against India: Michael Clarke (captain), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Daniel Christian, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon
Michael Clarke, David Warner, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon pick themselves. They are all in such great form that you'd be a fool to consider dropping any one of them. Sure, Siddle is only in mediocre form at Test level, but he has a role to play of an experienced leader of the bowling attack.
Michael Hussey was never going to be dropped. While he had two bad Tests against New Zealand in a low-scoring series, the fact is that in the earlier series he was in great form. He was a simple choice to pick.
Like Hussey, Brad Haddin was also a simple choice. While Matthew Wade is in better form and should be in the Test team, there is an unwritten policy not to drop the wicket-keeper unless he is absolutely appalling. And Haddin is barely hanging by a thread to avoid that label. Now that he has been picked for the first Test, Haddin is likely to be there for the whole series, regardless of how badly he performs.
Dan Christian was going to be picked once Shane Watson was ruled out through injury. Australia is used to having that fifth bowling option. While Christian won't be opening the batting, won't score as quickly and doesn't bowl big bouncers or yorkers, he can perform a role similar to Watson, and is also very reliable.
Shaun Marsh, until recently, was deemed unfit. If he is fit, he will play. If not, Ed Cowan will be his replacement in all probability. Cowan has been in good form since moving to Tasmania three years ago and has averaged over 50 in the past three years. While he was at New South Wales, his average was in the 20s. Cowan is not a big time player and can't handle the pressure. He couldn't handle it at New South Wales, where he was considered a one-day specialist. Like Usman Khawaja, a Test berth is too early for him.
Ricky Ponting is very lucky to make this squad. He is so horribly out of form that he is now only playing purely on reputation. Khawaja, who he was competing against, has proven that he can't handle Test match pressure. Things would be different if Australia had a big-scoring batsman waiting in the wings, but the reality is that the only ones who are, like David Hussey, are too old, and others with potential, like Dan Harris or Ed Cowan, still don't have that weight of runs to demand selection. Of course, Simon Katich does and if he were in this squad, as he should be by right, then Ponting wouldn't be. But such are the politics of the game that Ponting gets one last chance to prove that he is still useful. If he fails in this series, it will be his last. And once Shane Watson comes back (or Marsh if he is ruled out in the first Test), Ponting is the one likely to make way for him.
Mitchell Starc is very lucky to be in this squad after performing very poorly in the recent series. He looked out of his depth in the Test arena and shouldn't have been in consideration. It is a nice thought that one day he may be good enough for Test level, but the reality is that right now he isn't. Yes, it was worth a gamble to see if he could make it, but its time now to cut the cord and wait until he can make it. At the back of their minds, the selectors may be thinking "what if", as in "what if” he can do what Trent Copeland, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson did? Of course, Copeland is actually available, so I wonder why he wasn't in the squad instead of Starc.
Ben Hilfenhaus is an interesting choice as the one fighting with Starc for the final spot. Hilfenhaus was in form some 12 months ago, but since then his form has dipped dramatically. He has done okay in his last few matches, but still averages a touch over 30 in first-class matches this season - hardly earth-shattering numbers. Even still, he is doing better than Starc so is likely to get the nod ahead of him. Surely Doug Bollinger or Copeland were better options though - or Clint McKay or John Hastings. Even still, Hilfenhaus can do a job as he is very steady and is likely to get the nod ahead of the unpredictable Starc.
Likely XI: David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Dan Christian, Brad Haddin, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon.
I would have had Copeland instead of Hilfenhaus, or if they wanted a left-hander, then Bollinger. I would have liked to see Simon Katich instead of Ponting as well as Matthew Wade ahead of Brad Haddin. But it is nonetheless the right squad for the political climate, given the dynamics of the team.
The decision to dump Phillip Hughes was the right one. It should have happened a long time earlier. Indeed, he should never have been recalled for the Ashes last year. He is out of form and his technique has been found out. It’s time for him to redevelop his technique, like David Warner. We should have picked another player instead, like Daniel Harris or Ed Cowan. But that was a remnant of the old selection regime and perhaps the unwillingness to dump him was simply the old adage that is harder to be dropped from the Australian team than to make it.
I was also happy to see the bold step of dumping Khawaja. A lot of people are complaining that he is a new player and needs to be given more time, but realistically he has had a fair run of it and hasn't produced; he is yet to get a Test century and averages well under 40. While I don't think that Cowan is ready, I think it was right to include him in the squad. I was also pleased to see them give Starc notice by including Hilfenhaus - and I hope that he plays too. Watson probably was fit to play as a batsman but, given how many times he has broken down mid match to cost Australia the match, and given that Christian can perform his role, I agree with leaving him out.
All in all, a great choice and kudos to the selectors for picking this team. It’s now up to the players to perform and do Australia proud.
(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)