Recently, Steve Smith impressed us all batting in the number three berth in an ODI series. Social networking sites, relieved to come across news that wasn’t designed to make Kevin Pietersen money, briefly buzzed with discussions about how much Smith has grown and how good he is compared to the fresh faced young man who came into the test side as a spinner in 2010.
The following day, Michael Clarke announced that Shane Watson would appear at number three for the Australians in the upcoming world cup.
While the announcement is bound to have met with little surprise from some quarters, and even delight from a few lost souls, many people will no doubt be confused at this apparent determination by Clarke and the selectors to keep Watson at the top of the order despite the likes of Smith proving their worth time and again.
There is something about Shane Watson that we don’t like. His ODI figures are decent, but is “decent” enough? He’s been a consistently good player, without being great. He seems to flit publicly between wanting to open, wanting to bat lower down the order and wanting to focus on his bowling. He comes across as arrogant and sulky, he is susceptible to getting out lbw but seems unwilling to work on it and has on occasion said things to the press that have made Australians shake their heads in disbelief.
And all of this is before mentioning his claims to be more in tune with the world since becoming a father. Cringe.
Watson is currently working to regain his fitness after a calf injury that has kept him out of the Pakistan series, and there lies yet another issue - he has a tendency to get injured every time someone so much as stares at him too long. So what if, heaven forbid, Watson isn’t fit for the world cup in February? What if Australia has to manage without the baby face that inevitably appears every time that finger goes up? Would they cope?
In short: yes. And below are five good reasons why. Below are five players who could be better than Watson in the number three spot.
1. The controversial choice:
The only player on the list that divides supporters as much as Watson himself, Phil Hughes continually hovers on the edge of the ODI side despite his impressive performances in the domestic sphere. The boy from a banana plantation has developed an unorthodox style of batting that is far from pretty, but includes a large range of strokes and manages to get runs time and again. At just 25, he seems to have been in the game forever but the truth is that his international career should only just be beginning. Forget his younger appearances and let’s look at the Phil Hughes that is now. A prolific run scorer for both NSW and South Australia, not to mention that double century for Australia A in July. Hughes must be due another chance.
2. The slightly out there choice:
He’s never worn a first team shirt for Australia but after a successful couple of years at both ends of the world, maybe it’s the time for Michael Klinger. The right hander opened for Gloucesterhire in 2014’s Royal London One-day cup until his season was cut short by injury after 7 matches. He was the side’s leading run scorer and finished his shortened competition with an average of 57. In Australian domestic One-day competitions, Klinger is currently the third highest run maker and has an average of just under 43 across his fourteen years of playing. At 34, he probably isn’t an option for the long-term future, but his experience could be valuable as a short term stand in.
3. The one who’s been growing steadily:
A young Queenslander who exploded onto the T20 scene for Brisbane a couple of years ago, Joe Burns has since been developing steadily into a mature player particularly in limited overs cricket. The youthful exuberance and impatience has since cooled and it surely is only a matter of time before he wears the green and gold and maybe even a baggy green cap. Currently a part of the Queensland side that has held the one-day cup for two years, Burns continually displays his batting skill and is fast becoming a staple in the Queensland steup.
4. The new boy, who might just be worth looking at:
Matt Short is only 18, but lack of experience might be all that’s going against him. His recent last minute call up for Victoria in the Matador One-day cup showed us a steady young man with explosive capabilities. He was pushed down the order due to his late inclusion, but Short is usually a top order batter – one who can bring some spin when required, at that - and we have seen some promise in other competitions. Opening for the Australia in the 2014 under 19 world cup, he got two half centuries and in a youth ODI against New Zealand in 2013, he made 73 off 60 balls with 12 fours in the mix. The only question here is whether Australia would dare to try such a newbie in the World Cup.
5. And finally, the obvious choice:
While it’s true that Steve Smith can bat anywhere, and that is one of his many strengths, his performances against Pakistan in the recent ODI whitewash surely show that he is a good prospect at the top of the order. Smith made 190 runs at an average of over 63 in the three match series and his calm manner in all situations means he is an ideal number 3. There’s more to him than just one series, too. He has a long record of quality performance in domestic cricket and has anyone missed his recent transformation from freckle faced spin kid to mature, steady and intelligent test batter? There seems to be little that Steve Smith can’t do and he’s already proven he can do this – so, if it ain’t broke and all that …?