Team selection: Pros and cons before the Australian team management

Skipper Michael Clarke (right) and coach Mickey Arthur have some thinking to do ahead of the third Test at Mohali © Getty Images

By Adrian Meredith

Australia have lost the first two Tests, at Chennai and Hyderabad respectively, and are down 0-2 in the four-Test series.

The following article discusses the pros and cons of each option that are available before Australia:

Idea #1: Play two specialist spinners + part timer Glenn Maxwell

Why it seems a good idea: It worked for England (Graeme Swann + Monty Panesar + Samit Patel, the part timer) who turned a 0-1 deficit into a 2-1 series victory largely on the basis of this. Australia have Nathan Lyon, like Swann, a right-arm off-spinner; Xavier Doherty, a left-arm spinner like Panesar; and Glenn Maxwell, a part-timer like Patel.
Why it’s a bad idea: Swann averages sub-30 in Test cricket and has been ranked No 1 as a bowler, while Lyon averages over 30 and has never been in the top 20. Panesar averages just over 30 in Test and First-Class cricket and at different times has been one of the best spinners in the world, while Doherty doesn’t really have any Test experience and is nowhere near Panesar’s level.

Maxwell might be better than Patel, but Doherty and Lyon are not in the same league as Swann and Panesar. One should also not forget that Australian fast bowlers have done a lot better than spinners in India in recent times. While Swann took most of the wickets for England in the first Test, Lyon has struggled. There is really no comparison between the two.

Idea #2: Play four fast bowlers

Why it’s a good idea: Australia’s top 20 bowlers are all fast bowlers. They have Jackson Bird, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris who all average either under 20 or just over 20 in Test cricket — not to mention Doug Bollinger who is not in contention despite a similar record. Mitchell Starc may not have the First-Class or Test record, but he has been phenomenal at both One-Day International (ODI) and T20 level and in some Tests has been virtually unplayable. Mitchell Johnson, until recently, was the best bowler in the world and has come back into form. Australia pacers do well in India.

Why it’s a bad idea: No Australian team has played four fast bowlers in India, so there is nothing to prove that it’s a good idea. While spinners tend not to do very well, having three fast bowlers/one spinner can at least add that variety. Additionally, of Australia’s four best fast bowler, only Pattinson is available; Bird broke down during the ongoing tour, while Harris and Cummins are recovering from injuries. Starc and Johnson are available, but who is the fourth bowler going to be? Siddle? But Siddle has an appalling record in India. It might work but if they all have to bowl three over spells like Pattinson had in the 1st Test, then there would be way too many relaxed periods for the Indian batsmen for it to work.

Idea #3: Play the in-form players

Why it’s a good idea: That would mean a line-up of Ed Cowan, Dave Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson & Xavier Doherty.

Why it’s a bad idea: Dropping Phillip Hughes would mean that Australia have just three full-time batsmen (Cowan, Warner and Clarke) and three all-rounders (Watson, Maxwell and Henriques). That would be too many all-rounders. While Hughes has been the worst batsman on either side this series, many want him retained just for his potential. And while Usman Khawaja has been horrid in the warm-up matches, some want him in the side because he was born in the subcontinent — Pakistan. Lyon is out of form, but has a comparatively better overall record to Doherty. Siddle has been a huge disappointment in India, and makes a case for either Johnson or Starc to take his place.

Idea #4: Go with a traditional line-up
Why it’s a good idea: Six batsmen/one wicket-keeper/three pacemen/one spinner is Australia’s traditional line-up. That would mean: Cowan, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Hughes, Khawaja, Wade, Johnson, Starc, Pattinson and Doherty. This is the kind of line- up that has worked in all conditions all around the world. While Henriques has impressed with the bat, his bowling has been ineffective thus far on the tour. While Maxwell took four wickets, he didn’t look too impressive taking them. Doherty, in comparison, may have only managed three, but he was denied at least four wickets — chances missed by fielders or because of umpiring errors. He was a far better bowler than his figures suggested.

Why it’s a bad idea: The problem is that both Hughes and Khawaja are horribly out of form and, while Maxwell and Henriques aren’t adding a whole lot with their bowling, their batting is still better than that offered by Hughes or Khawaja.

Idea #5: Go with the best averages
Why it’s a good idea: Of the current squad, it’d mean: Cowan, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Hughes, Henriques, Wade, Johnson, Siddle, Pattinson and Starc. While Hughes is in horrible form, his average is slightly better than Khawaja’s. Starc’s record is slightly better than Nathan Lyon’s.
Why it’s a bad idea: Form and ability in these conditions are different to raw averages. Some players like Siddle have a good record from playing lots of easy series, while others like Khawaja have had it tough.

Idea #6: Go with those who have performed in this series
Why it’s a good idea: After two Tests, the series is gone. So why not keep the good ones and discard the bad? This would leave Australia with: Cowan, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Henriques, Maxwell, Wade, Johnson, Pattinson, Lyon, Doherty. Hughes has done absolutely nothing this series, while Watson hasn’t been magnificent, he has nonetheless been better than Khawaja. Siddle didn’t take many and Starc didn’t taken any. Johnson thus should get a shot. Doherty’s overall average might be 70-plus, but he still took three wickets at an average in the 40s, which is better than Lyon’s.
Why it’s a bad idea: The problem is that Starc did nothing wrong — he was simply asked to bowl around the wicket. Lyon didn’t bowl well at all, but he got the wickets. Ditto for Maxwell. It’d also mean a pretty weak looking batting line-up.
Idea #7: Give experience to the youngsters
Why it’s a good idea: The series is over, so why not give a few young guys a shot? This would mean: Warner, Cowan, Khawaja, Clarke, Henriques, Maxwell, Wade, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon, Doherty. While Hughes is actually quite young, he is quite experienced now so needs to be rested if we are looking at inexperienced players. A few youngsters might step up and maybe even gain something from the experience.
Why it’s a bad idea: Youngsters gain a lot from experience, but it has been shown over time that putting them in just for the sake of experience, when they don’t deserve it, can actually hurt them. They should earn it first.
 So which option is best? Can Australia win a Test on this tour?
(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)