First Test Squad Observations

BY BOZZA

The newspapers don’t reflect it, filled as they are with stories of AFL Clubs celebrating or commiserating their fixture for a football season still five months away, but on Thursday Australia’s summer of cricket commences at the WACA. The First Test of a mouth-watering three Test Series between Australia and South Africa kicks off a season in which four countries visit and take on the Aussies across all three formats of the game.

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After disastrous winter tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa, Chairman of Selectors Rod Marsh, announced on Friday a relatively unsurprising squad of 12 to take on the Proteas. Jon Holland and Moises Henriques making way from the 11 humbled by Sri Lanka, replaced by Usman Khawaja, Peter Siddle and Joe Mennie.

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Like many, The Sportress has been critical of Marsh and his selection panel in the recent past. Like any Australian Test Team, we acknowledge that there are plenty of questions raised by the 12 announced but, for the most part, welcome the predictability of this squad’s selection.

The bravest and, by extension the most discussed, decision was the selection of South Australia’s quick Mennie. This columnist was pleasantly surprised by the selectors move here, not because his fifty-one 2015/16 Shield Wickets at a miserly 21.22 runs each didn’t warrant consideration but because I wasn’t certain the National Selection Panel (NSP) knew there still was a Sheffield Shield competition.

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Marsh described Mennie’s ascension as a “just reward for effort”, however most consternation came from the reasoning behind him beating out Jackson Bird for the position. “Probably the thing that cost him (Bird) was his batting,” he said. “As you’re probably well aware we’ve got to get runs at the bottom of the order as well.”

Foxsports.com.au described the statement as the ‘Marsh logic that would have ended McGrath’s career’ spawning a twitter thread #marshlogic.

While many of the tweets were genuinely funny, they kind of miss the point that Marsh was using batting as a tiebreak rather than the sole selection criteria. The 2015/16 Shield Season saw Bird capture 40 wickets at, a cigarette paper thin margin better average than Mennie of, 19.50. With the bat his 80 runs at 7.29 was way inferior to Mennie’s 229 at 13.29. Numbers aren’t everything but, and I feel dirty for saying this, the NSP’s logic is actually sound here.

The recall of Usman Khawaja, despite his recent ‘scape goat’ comments, was the right call. That said one could argue it is just the correction of an earlier wrong. The decision to drop Khawaja in favour of Moises Henriques in Sri Lanka defied logic. The talented number three was one of our best performed batsmen last summer and as a result had finally locked down the number three position. So hard fought for, it shouldn’t have been lost on the back of two tests, and especially not in favour of a man with a first-class average of 31.

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The only other position of contention was that of David Warner’s opening partner, seemingly won by Shaun Marsh from Joe Burns. Marsh replaced the talented Queenslander in controversial circumstances during the Sri Lankan tour.

Taking his opportunity with both hands, Marsh registered a big century and partnership with Captain Steve Smith in difficult conditions.

Although the beneficiary of perhaps a few more chances than he had earnt, Marsh’s performances in Sri Lanka, after a massive 182 in his previous Test and a Test average of 47.84 in the period from January 2015, warranted a run at the Test openers position.

The left-hander should be afforded better treatment than Burns received in Sri Lanka, not for any reason other than everybody should receive better treatment than Burns received, but he has received a lot of credits and it is time he delivered on the NSP’s infatuation with him. With younger men like Burns and Cameron Bancroft, among others, banging down the door behind him, Marsh’s position should only be as secure as his performances make it.

The experiment that is Mitchell Marsh, as an all-rounder batting six, continues. The NSP Chair indicated though that it was the panel’s view it was time for the promising youngster to deliver. “He got fifty in his last Test innings in Sri Lanka and has been batting beautifully” Rod Marsh effused, but also added, “That’s the thing that’s really annoying at the moment about Mitch, he’s hitting the ball as well as anyone when he’s played for Australia. He’s hit the ball beautifully but he just hasn’t got a big score, he needs to get a Test hundred.”

It was also heartening to hear that the NSP had strong views on Victoria’s petty exclusion of Glenn Maxwell from the Sheffield Shield’s first round. After denying the enigmatic all-rounder a release to play for NSW, the Bushrangers couldn’t find room for him in their XI to take on Tasmania. In an indication of him remaining in National Selectors thoughts, the NSP and Cricket Australia, in no uncertain terms, informed Victoria that they should feel obligated to select Maxwell whenever he is available.

So, we all now eagerly wait for Thursday and the Proteas. The Aussies head into a challenging summer of Test Cricket with a Test Squad seemingly selected with some purpose and direction in mind. While there are some players outside the squad staking claims, the hope of this correspondent is that selectors show some faith in the selected players. Australian Cricket has always placed a value on incumbency and that confidence in the player is, in most circumstances, rewarded with their best performances.


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