A few months ago, partly due to some reworking of points weightings that no one completely understood, Australia regained the number one test spot. The position was held all too briefly but at the time, it was celebrated heartily by the fans. It was seen as well-deserved and a return to the natural order of things.
The truth is, though, that the current Australia side is an ageing one that somehow managed to consolidate just long enough to take back the Ashes and pose South Africa a challenge. However successful it may have, the side in question was patched together at best and, as another test series begins, one must wonder just how long Australia can continue with the side as it is.
If we look over the team that won the Ashes, it was populated by men whose international careers are closer to the end than the beginning. Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson were two players many thought, just a year or so ago, would never wear the baggy green again. Chris Rogers wore it once or twice years back and was then swiftly forgotten about. Even when he was selected for the 2013 Ashes squad, it was assumed it was only because he knew English conditions well and, as Middlesex’s captain, was conveniently already in the country. There were a few raised eyebrows when he was selected again for the home series.
At 33 years of age, captain Michael Clarke is not exactly ready for a retirement home, but carrying a degenerative back condition means it’s only a matter of time before he hangs up his bat. All eyes are on Steve Smith, who has surprised a few people with his transformation into a mature and cool headed player, as a potential replacement skipper and Clarke has recently pointed the finger at Mitchell Marsh as a future captain - but who are we to see in the squad?
At first glance, it doesn’t look promising. The two biggest performers in the state game are veterans Marcus North and Michael Klinger, neither of who looks likely to make a Haddin-esque comeback. Look a bit closer, however, and there is talent out there just waiting for its chance.
After bursting onto the Shield scene in the 2010/11 with a with a superb debut performance for Queensland, Joe Burns was often talked about as a future test player. Two years, an English county season and a Big Bash League title later, the tone is changing somewhat. His form in T20 cricket and his ability to remain calm at the crease mean he is well suited to the shorter form of cricket, but his Sheffield Shield figures are just as solid, if less explosive. Intelligent, level headed and packed with batting strength and ability, Burns has the potential to mature into a calm top order batter for Australia.
A name that should be familiar to followers of the IPL, Queenslander Chris Lynn announced his Shield arrival by making 139 against Western Australia in his second match. The following season he made a career best 172 against Victoria. Since then his shorter format performances have probably overpowered his four day ability somewhat, but his first class figures are still solid. The 24 year old has a lot of strength and could be useful in Australia’s middle order.
With no first class cricket to his name, Jordan Silk was pulled in as a substitute fielder in a test against Sri Lanka at his home ground at Hobart. Showing the fielding ability that Tasmania have since come to value greatly, Silk took a catch off Nathan Lyon to remove Nuwan Kulasekara. That is the extent of his test career to date, but this is one young man that is bound to have more chances in the future.
The 22 year old Bradman Cricketer of the year for 2014 is a patient top order batter with superb first class figures to date. In just his second first class match, against Queensland in 2013, he made a century and helped Tasmania reach the Shield final. He then took another century as Tasmania won the final. These performances earned him a call up to the Australia A squad that toured England in the winter of 2013.
Silk has already worked with Darren Lehman and faced some of Australia’s best bowlers in the net. His ability to perform under pressure has impressed many and he was even rumoured to be in contention for selection for the home Ashes series. Jordan Silk: that’s a name you don’t want to forget.
Chairman of Selectors Rod Marsh has made no bones about his country’s need to improve with the bat, stating quite plainly that for an international side with the facilities they have available it is simply not good enough. He is right: many of the Ashes tests were won on bowling successes and English failures, but it’s still important to also look to the future.
Mitchell Johnson has had a changeable career that one feels could flip back to Barmy-army-chant-worthy any minute, and Ryan Harris struggles to stay in one piece. Peter Siddle is not exactly in the first flush of youth and James Pattinson is a talented young man but can’t do it all on his own. Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins and James Faulkner are names you have probably already come across, but don’t forget them in a hurry because they could become test regulars in the future.
Another name to watch is that of 22 year old Sean Abbott. A recent recipient of the Steve Waugh medal, the NSW Sheffield Shield player of the season, Abbott took 27 wickets across nine matches in the 13/14 season, placing him as the third highest wicket taker for his state. He was also the leading wicket taker in the Ryobi one day cup. Actually an all rounder, Abbott is very capable of adding important runs down the order as well.
After the post Warne spinner drought, Australia may have finally found one that has the goods in Nathan Lyon, but the future still needs considering. The 22 year old Adam Zampa started his career with New South Wales but has since replaced Nathan Lyon in the South Australia squad. Zampa impressed quickly because of his variety, confidence and calm demeanour. With only eight first class matches to his name so far, Zampa already has a decent tally of 22 wickets. If he can continue in that vein, we may see more of him in the years to come.
Although Rod Marsh has indicated that he is not convinced Australia needs a keeper who can bat, he is in the enviable position of being able to say that. His stocks of upcoming keepers are all quite handy with the willow. Haddin, Matt Wade and Tim Paine, following on from the Gilchrist tradition, all proved very able with a bat and the future looks just as bright.
Chris Hartley is Queensland’s star keeper and he certainly has the skills to raise the selectors’ eyebrows, but he has let himself down by being born a couple of years too early. At 31, Hartley has more than likely missed his chance in favour of Wade and Haddin. Ryan Carters, on the other hand, is just 23. The man who dons the gloves for New South Wales when Haddin is off on international duties, Hartley is vaunted as much for his batting successes as anything else.
Like Carters, 22 year old West Australian Sam Whiteman has spent time playing as a specialist batsman, rather than wearing the gloves, and he didn’t disappoint. When he was finally given his chance behind the stumps for his state, though, Whiteman showed that he has plenty of potential as a keeper. In the recent summer, he made 56 dismissals across all three competitions with 44 of them coming in the Sheffield Shield. What Whiteman lacks for in experience, he more than makes up for in skill. He could very well be Australia’s keeper when Paine and Wade have had their day.
A name that most will have already heard is that of bowling all rounder James Faulkner. Described by selector John Inverarity as a player who “gets things done” and by Michael Clarke as a tough player, Faulkner seems to have the mental goods needed by a test regular. He has so far appeared in just the one test, but is already a well established member of the ODI side. The 24 year old was a part of the Tasmania side that won the Sheffield Shield in 2013. He has the ability to turn the ball both ways and slip in the odd deceptive slower ball, as well as add runs in the lower middle order.
Another contender for the spot is Mitchell Marsh. Marsh seems to have been around Australian cricket for so long, it’s easy to forget he is just 22. Viewed as some as being all style and no substance, Marsh has gone up and down in form for some years since he was given his Shield cap for Western Australia at just 17 years of age. Like Faulkner, he can prop up the middle with his solid batting but it’s his nippy pace bowling that could really have an effect. There’s a lot of bowling talent around Australia right now, so Marsh might have to fight for a spot, but his history in the game means he should be tough enough mentally should he get his chance.
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