It has been reported in the News Limited press, who have been uncannily correct in their prediction of changes to the Australian team this tour (is Malcolm Conn actually a selector?), that there will be at least two changes to the Australian team for the 5th test at the Oval with Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird to be left out.
I have been overt previously in other posts on this blog and will say it again: I firmly believe that Australia should make as limited as possible changes to the team for this test match and, in particular, should not be tinkering further with the batting line-up. That said, given Malcolm Conn’s uncanny knack for getting this stuff right, it looks certain that wishes of fans like me will be left unsated and thus it is important to look at who might be wearing the baggy green come the toss of coin at the Oval.
Thus, of the players in the squad at the moment who ought be the replacements for Khawaja and Bird?
The batters who can come are: Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and Matthew Wade. The favourite, he is the darling of the News Limited press after all, is Phil Hughes. To be honest though, despite that sarcastic assessment, Hughes has been the form batter for Australia in first class matches played on tour with 436 runs at an average of 62 with 5 fifties. If a change is to be made, on form, Hughes must be the man to come in. Of the other contenders: Wade has played only 1 first class game on tour and that, of itself, must count him out of the selection frame whilst Cowan would appear to be on the outer with the NSP never to return despite a solid performance in the first class games on tour.
The bowling stakes come down to a race in two between James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc. I have already written at length about why James Faulkner ought be selected. I concede that this would be a selection based on potential rather than form given that in the 3 first class games he has played on tour he has taken only 7 wickets at an average of 32. Starc, form wise, is the clear selection option given that in his 4 first class games on tour he has taken 16 wickets at an average of a shade under 21. In test matches he has played on tour he performed admirably despite being dropped twice with 8 wickets at an average of 27. He has been punished it would seem for being erratic at times and not being able to create pressure on the English batters.
On the basis of the foregoing:
1. If Khawaja is to be dropped then I think it is clear that Phil Hughes will return. I disagree with that move but if it is happening then one must accept same and move on.
2. On the bowling front, form suggests Starc will be selected however I think that would be a narrow minded mistake given the opportunity to give Faulkner a game ought, frankly, be irresistible.
If changes are going to be made, which I am against, then is dropping Khawaja and Bird the only changes that should be made? I think that there are some other changes, given that change seems to be happening, that could also be made. For example, on form can anyone convince me that Steve Smith is in any better form with the willow than Khawaja? Aside from an early half century in the first test and 89 in partnership with the captain in the 3rd test he has not passed 20 in six other innings. If there was another batsman in the squad, given Cowan is on the outer and Wade’s lack of cricket, would he survive the rearrangement of deck chairs seemingly being undertaken by the NSP? I, frankly, doubt it.
Given Brad Haddin’s poor form with the willow (170 runs at 25 in the test matches) it is surprising that there is not more pressure on his position in the team (given Australia’s fascination with batting wicket keepers) but, again, that may have more to do with Matthew Wade’s lack of first class cricket on tour than anything else. It must be said though that aside from a couple of mishaps at Lords Haddin has been in fine form with the gloves and thus making a change would solely be for batting reasons and they are, in my view, the wrong reasons to be changing a wicketkeeper.
On the bowling side, and I know I am beating a dead horse here, is it time for Peter Siddle to have a rest? Since his 5/50 in the first innings of the first test at Trent Bridge, which most unbiased fans would say was more luck than good bowling, Siddle has taken 12 wickets in 7 innings at an average of 33. At Chester-le-Street he struggled and looked like he was spent as early as the English first innings. If changes are being made then I would suggest that Siddle be rested and Faulkner be selected in his place (if Starc is coming in for Bird).
England lead the series 3-0 and will be desperate to complete 4-0 victory at the Oval. Australia will be desperate to finish the series with a win and with that in mind I advocate as few changes as possible. If I got my way, the team for the final test would be:
Rogers, Warner, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Faulkner, Siddle, Harris, Lyon
If more changes are to made, as suggested by Malcolm Conn, then I would go further than just dropping Khawaja and Bird. Steve Smith can count himself lucky there is not another batsman on tour and I would rest Siddle. My preferred team in that context would be:
Rogers, Warner, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Faulkner, Starc, Harris, Lyon
It will be very interesting to see what the Australian selectors will do. Obviously the avoidance of more knee jerk reactions to Australia’s current form would be preferred but that does not seem to be an option the NSP is alive to.
Only 2 days till the final test of this, frankly, terrible tour for Australia begins. The final day of the test, whichever one it is, can not come soon enough for Australian fans.
Postscript: Before those who have questioned my keenness to see David Warner not in the team, I am alive to the contradiction the foregoing presents. I remain firmly of the view that he, and Australian cricket, would be better served by him spending a full season in the Sheffield Shield. I do not believe he should be in the test team but it is obvious that he is in there to stay at the moment so for present purposes I am not going to seek to push my view any further.