SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Despite the weeks of debate about the make-up of the Australia team for next week’s first Ashes test, captain Michael Clarke is of the opinion that 11 of the 12 players are “no-brainer” selections.
Clarke is no longer a selector but feels the current form of his team mates means the squad announced in Brisbane today for the Gabba test will largely pick itself.
“I think there is no doubt there is more stability in our teams (and) I would imagine the majority of the players have picked themselves,” he told reporters at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) yesterday.
“The exciting thing about where we are at right now, whether it be batters or bowlers, individual players have stepped up and performed.
“We are in a good place,” he added. “I believe if they are going to pick 12 players I think 11 of them are no brainers, we are looking at probably one selection, one spot to work out what our first 11, first 12 is going to be for test number one at the Gabba.”
Of the 11 players who lined up against England in the drawn final test of the first Ashes series of the year at the Oval in August, only quick bowler Mitchell Starc is definitely unavailable for Brisbane.
The talented but erratic Mitchell Johnson is expected to come in for his fellow left-armer in the pace unit, joining the fit-again Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle.
Spinner Nathan Lyon looks destined to approach every test with a question mark over his head but seems to have done enough to retain his place ahead of former refugee Fawad Ahmed, who has largely failed to justify Cricket Australia’s efforts to fast-track his citizenship.
With Jackson Bird and James Pattinson also out of the reckoning through injury, Ben Hilfenhaus and Ben Cutting will be at the head of the queue if the selectors name a fourth seamer.
Openers Chris Rogers and David Warner have been among the runs in domestic cricket and the latter has clearly been forgiven for a string of disciplinary issues this year.
“Davey is going great, he’s as fit and as strong as I’ve seen him, he’s in a great spot on and off the field, what more can he do?” Clarke, Warner’s captain at New South Wales, said.
“He’s scored four hundreds in a month, you can’t push any harder for selection as a batsman.”
Australia are confident Shane Watson will be able to bat at number three despite the hamstring injury he sustained at the end of the one-day tour of India but whether he will be able to bowl too could have implications further down the order.
Clarke has shaken off his own back problem and will resume his position at number four in the batting order with Steve Smith’s unbeaten 138 at the Oval and century for New South Wales last week keeping him safe at number five.
With vice captain Brad Haddin safe behind the stumps, most of the conjecture has surrounded the sixth batsmen with 31-year-old George Bailey being heavily touted for a test debut.
Bailey shone as captain in the recent one-day series in India, which Clarke skipped to rest his back, and can rack up runs quickly once he gets his eye in.
His state team mate Alex Doolan is a younger option with plenty of supporters, while a third Tasmanian, all-rounder James Faulkner offers a solid left-arm bowling option in addition to his batting prowess.
Having taken six English wickets, including those of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, on his test debut at the Oval, Faulkner’s bowling could swing the decision his way if Watson is unable to contribute in that department.
Australia are facing the humiliation of a fourth successive Ashes defeat over the next two months with tests in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney following the Brisbane opener.
With his focus entirely on the Australia team, Clarke has not spent any time looking at the opposition.
“I’m really excited about where we sit as a team. I haven’t looked at England at all,” he said. “I haven’t watched a ball they have bowled on this tour so far.
“I’ve been focused on performing … and talking to all my team mates, making sure they are all fully fit and feeling good about the summer and now we will start to make sure our minds are ready for the first test.”