1. Michael Hussey
2. Phil Jacques
3. Ricky Ponting (capt)
4. Damien Martyn
5. Michael Clarke
6. Adam Gilchrist (wkt)
7. Andrew Symonds
8. James Hopes
9. Brad Hogg
10. Brett Lee
11. Glen McGrath
12th man Stuart Clark
One can tell the World Cup is around the corner as our one-day international side is going through yet another ‘rebuilding’ phase. It seems to happen 12 to 18 months before every World Cup.
I have been watching cricket for nearly 20-years and have seen this rebuilding phase occur in the past. Until recently I could always see what the selectors where trying to achieve; the building of a balanced side which combined youth with experience, and our past record at the World Cup shows that the selectors have, by and large, managed to get it right.
That is until recently. I have to admit that, as the situation currently stands, I have absolutely no idea what the selectors are trying achieve, nor can I identify any sort of coherent guiding philosophy. They seem to be throwing darts in the dark and hoping that some of them hit the board.
The dropping of Matthew Hayden from the one side is understandable. A protracted form slump at test level was only overcome after Hayden ‘re-invented’ his batting style, going from aggressive dominator of bowling attacks to an ‘accumulator’. It is apparent that this style of batting was seen as unsuitable for an opening one-day international batsman.
However, his replacement, Simon Katich is an unusual choice. Hayden averaged 40.11 with a Strike Rate of 75.91. Katich averages 30.00 with a Strike Rate of 75.06. If aggression and dominance is what the selectors are looking for from their opening pair then the answer does not lie with Simon Katich.
A far better alternative would be Phil Jacques, who made a chanceless 94 on debut, the highest score of any Australian batsman debuting in a one-day international. An unorthodox batsman, capable of inventive stroke play Phil possesses the aggression and shot selection required to establish rapid and large run platforms for the middle order to exploit.
Our other current opening batsman is Damien Martyn. A classical and elegant player Damien Martyn is, in my opinion, not suited to be an opener. Martyn was elevated to the number 2 position after a brutal 96 of 56 opening in a 20/20 match against South Africa. His masterful performance in this match was deceptive as the bowling styles and philosophies employed in a 20/20 match bear no relation to what one can expect in a 50 over one day international. Therefore strong performances opening in a 20/20 match should not be used to predict someone’s performance in the slightly longer version of the game.
Martyn is much more suited to his previous number 4 batting position where his footwork and ease against spin bowling would see him exploit the medium pace and spin bowling that is inevitably encountered in the 20 to 30 over period when number 4 batsman traditionally come into bat.
Partnering Phil Jacques should be Michael Hussey. Hussey is currently seen – and being used – as Australia’s new Michael Bevan, a role which sells Hussey short (no disrespect intended to Michael Bevan). Hussey is a classic and complete batsman, equally at home against spin, swing and fast, short-pitched bowling. He currently possesses both a monumental average of 104.14 and an equally impressive Strike Rate of 94.80. A Jacques/Hussey opening partnership would provide those rapid and large run platforms the selectors are looking for.
No change is required at number 3. Ricky Ponting, despite questions over his captaincy from some quarters, is, I believe, the man who can lead Australia to a record 3rd world cup. Currently perceived as the best batsman currently playing in both forms of the game, Ricky can take a game away from any team should the mood so take him. He does come at the ball too hard early on in his innings but once set he can destroy bowling attacks. A little patience until he has established himself at the crease is all he needs to become to complete batsman.
With Damien Martyn returning to his number 4 position I would like to turn my attention to the number 5 and 6 batting position currently held by Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke respectively.
I personally find Andrew Symonds to be one of the most frustrating players currently on the international scene. Not unlike Shahid Afridi, Symonds is the sort of batsman who can totally and utterly destroy a bowling attack. When on song one can almost imagine the opposition bowlers engaging in a quick game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissor’ to determine who the next unfortunately soul should be to give Symonds some more batting practice.
Yet, what makes him so frustrating is that like Afridi, Symonds seems to be unsure as to where exactly this talent comes from and how to call upon it when it is needed. As such I find him too unpredictable to remain at number 5. I would instead bring him in at number 7 where he can feast on tired or inexperienced bowlers during the death.
Instead I would elevate Michael Clarke to number 5 and let him make that position his home. Michael Clarke is definitely one of the new breed of one-day batsman. Quick, fit and inventive he can adapt both his batting style and his mentality depending on the situation. Should he come in after the openers and top order have scored 200+ at 6 an over he has the shot selection to maintain such a run rate. However, should he come in when Australia is five for very little he also has the patience and speed to steal quick singles and re-establish the momentum that may have been lost. This, coupled with the ability to bowl some more than handy left arm leg spin gives his captain plenty of options.
People have probably been wondering, ‘where the hell is Gilchrist’, well here he is, coming it at number 6. Adam Gilchrist has been one half of Australia’s one-day opening partnership for over 200 games yet age is visibly and inevitably taking his. At 34 (turning 35 in November 06) Gilchrist is beginning to show the signs of being unable to deal with the workload of an opening wicketkeeper batsman. If he is to remain a fixture in Australia’s one-day side and if he is to represent us as a wicketkeeper in the 2007 World Cup then a move down the order will be essential.
Frankly I cannot see a problem with Adam coming in at number 6. As stated earlier, a number 6 batsman rationally comes into the game at the 30 to 35 over mark. A period where part time spin and medium pace bowlers are used in order to maintain the oppositions over-rate and to break up a batsman’s concentration through varied pace and movement. I doubt this will pose too much of a problem for Gilchrist who currently possesses a strike rate of over 95 and a well known appetite for part time bowlers. However, more importantly, coming in at number 6 will give him time to recover from his wicket keeping duties should Australia be batting second.
At number 8 we have what seems to be the answer to the question “Where is the next Ian Harvey”. Despite never scoring a half-century or taking 4 wickets in a match Ian Harvey’s contribution to Australian limited overs cricket was invaluable. A phenomenal fielder, powerful batsman and bowler of the best slower ball in the business Ian’s departure left a large hole in Australia’s lower order, a hole that James Hopes can hopefully fill.
Combining intelligent and innovative batting with bowling in the low to mid 130km/h, James has shown that he has the potential of bowling first change or at the death. The only thing lacking seems to be a genuine slower ball but I doubt this is more than a phone call to ‘The Freak’ away.
At number 9 I would cement Brad Hogg as a starting member of our ODI XI. This insistence of using him as a super-sub simply makes no sense as far as I am concerned. Despite their talents Symonds and Clarke are part time spinners at the best of times and to rely on them to provide the variation in our bowling attack is bound to fail more often than it will succeed. With uncertainty clouding Shane Warne’s return to the limited overs fold and a hesitancy over using Stuart MacGill due to his perceived weakness in batting Brad Hogg is the only tried and tested alternative we have to carry to teams slow bowling duties. This coupled with more than reasonable batting talents gives the team a dedicated spinner and ensures that the tail can wag at least until number 9.
Some may argue this point, believing that Victorian captain Cameron White would be a better alternative, however I strongly disagree. Whilst arguably being the better batsman, White is definitely not the better bowler and that is the fundamental quality we are looking for. Bowling primarily top and over spin White seems to struggle getting any turn off the pitch and as such ends up bowling 100km/h darts which any batsman soon learns to despatch to the boundary as fast as possible.
Coming in at number 10 I would elect to have Brett Lee. His World Cup record is simply stunning with 22 wickets at 17.91. Whilst sometimes wayward he is a strike bowler and should be used as such. When on song and comfortable with his rhythm he can be unplayable, as the 219 opposition batsman he has sent back to the shed at a rate of 1 ever 28 runs can attest.
Finally to round of what I see as the ideal team to take to the 2007 World Cup I would have Mr Metronome himself. Look up ‘line and length’ in any cricket lexicon and all they will have is a picture of Glenn D McGrath. Capable of either frustrating or boring a batsman to death – depending on your point of view – Glenn will be the foundation upon which Australia’s bowling attack will build itself on. Having taking 45 wickets at 20.78 during the 1996, 1999 and 2003 World Cup I am sure Glenn will be hungry for more before he finally decides to hang up his rather large boots soon thereafter.
However, this is not the end. I cannot leave out Stuart Clark who has already impressed many despite playing only 5 matches for the Australian ODI side. In those 5 matches he has shown that he is a worthy successor or even partner for Glenn McGrath, bowling the same nagging, economical line and length. So well has he bowled that he has already taken 10 wickets at 21.90, wickets including such talents as Kevin Pieterson and Nathan Astle (twice).