Australia must hold firm with top order for third Test

Date: July 30, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

After tantalising at Trent Bridge and being swept aside at Lord’s, Australia must now focus on the third Test at Old Trafford, starting on Thursday.

After back-to-back Tests the tourists’ batsmen have had a chance to try and find some form in a three-day outing against Sussex at Hove.

On a benign pitch, many of Australia’s top-order got the chance to spend some time in the middle against a modest bowling attack, with the exception being left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.

After winning toss and batting, Phil Hughes (84) and Ed Cowan (66) – both back in their customary opening position – rattled off a first innings opening stand of 150 in 35 overs.

Usman Khawaja made 40 before tellingly falling to the spin of Panesar while Steve Smith pocketed a confidence boosting unbeaten 102.

Matthew Wade – floated by coach Darren Lehmann prior to the match as a possibility to play as a specialist batsman at Manchester – cruelled his chances of a recall with a sixth ball duck.

All-rounder James Faulkner made a solid 48.

Interestingly, skipper Michael Clarke (series average 25.5), Shane Watson (27.2) and Chris Rogers (22.2) were non-starters against Sussex.

Meanwhile, down at Pretoria the exiled David Warner smashed 193 off 226 balls for Australia A against South Africa A.

It would have been an enormous relief for the pugnacious left-hander who will be hoping that that knock will be enough to convince the selectors he is ready to return to Test ranks.

It is worth noting however, that Glenn Maxwell made 155no off 186 balls in Australia A’s first innings of five declared for 474, an innings amassed at a rate of 4.4 runs per over.

In reply, the home side closed at a whopping 7-614 with Dean Elgar making 268 and wicket-keeper Thami Tsolekile 159 at number seven.

It’s safe to say it was a good batting pitch!

In the second innings Warner followed up with 33 and found himself once again in the headlines following several heated verbal exchanges with Tsolekile.

So what is there to make from Warner’s effort and should it earn him an immediate recall?

Like all batsmen he will have personally gained significant confidence from his prolonged time in the middle and it was something he desperately needed.

Prior to the match at Pretoria his previous efforts had been anything but encouraging – in Australia A’s first tour match, a three-day fixture against a Zimbabwean XI, he made just six and 11.

In the three innings he played in England prior to being banished following his early morning indiscretion he had scored a pair of ducks in Champions Trophy warm-up fixtures against West Indies and India and nine in his only tournament innings against England.

He is returning to England and will meet up with the squad in Manchester shortly before the third Test.

In a radio interview on Saturday former Test batsman Michael Hussey said it was a big ask for Warner to fly between continents and be ready to perform at his best on Thursday.

The other question is just whose place would Warner take if he was to be selected and where would he bat in the order?

It would be a tough assignment for Warner to open the batting although I expect that the opening pair – Shane Watson and Chris Rogers – will get another chance.

Watson carries enormous scrutiny with him every time he walks out to bat and this series to date has done little to alleviate that, although despite modest returns he has the highest aggregate among Australia’s top seven and has also outscored Jonathon Trott, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen.

His bowling, whilst having claimed only wicket across the first two Tests, has been steady and economical and does give his skipper a containing option at one end.

Having recalled Rogers from the international wilderness at the age of 35 he is likely to get one final shot at it.

Usman Khawaja (14 and 54) struggled against Graeme Swann in particular at Lord’s but he will definitely hold his spot.

Phil Hughes suffered twin failures in the second Test, scoring one in each innings, on the back of an unbeaten 81 and a duck at Trent Bridge.

For mine he is the most vulnerable when it comes to Warner’s possible recall although I just feel that like Rogers he will be given one more opportunity but a modest return will see him jettisoned again.

Michael Clarke selects himself but he is under significant pressure to perform.

The stark contrast between his Test batting average at home (64.9) and abroad (41.1) continues to be a problem for such a talented batsman entering his 95th Test.

Steve Smith is lucky that his bowling has proved effective for he has struggled with the bat with just 32 runs in the opening two Tests but his unbeaten century will have him feeling a little better.

He picked up 4-83 across both innings at Lord’s and that is likely to see him retain his place especially given England has added Panesar to its squad providing the home side with the option to play two spinners at the usually slow-bowler friendly Old Trafford.

Vice-captain Brad Haddin will maintain his place at seven although his ‘keeping has been far from impressive.

So, for mine, I would take in the same top seven for Old Trafford.

There will have to be at least one change in the bowling ranks with the James Pattinson ruled out of the remainder of the series with a stress fracture in his back.

Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris with five-wicket hauls at Trent Bridge and Lord’s respectively are walk-up starts.

Pattinson’s position will be filled by either Mitchell Starc or Jackson Bird.

Starc gave way to Harris after the first Test and following Pattinson’s injury the match at Sussex became pretty much a head-to-head contest with Bird for the third quick’s position.

In the Sussex first innings of seven declared for 368, Starc returned figures of 18-4-43-2 and Bird 20-6-62-2.

Bird’s wickets removed both openers and had the county side teetering at 2-24.

His performances in England this northern summer have once again been impressive with his matches thus far for both Australia and Australia A netting nine wickets at 25.

His first two Tests – against Sri Lanka at Melbourne and Sydney last summer – were top shelf with 11 wickets at 16.2.

He is tall and bowls very much stump-to-stump in the Glenn McGrath mould, a handy commodity on most English pitches.

At 26 years of age, he has a remarkable career first-class record – 107 wickets at 19.99.

He certainly deserves the opportunity to fill the absence left by Pattinson’s injury.

That just leaves the spinner’s position.

Ashton Agar was thrown the role for the first two Tests and while his batting – 130 runs at 32 – has been valuable, the 19-year-old’s bowling has lacked impact with a series return of 2-248.

Against Sussex he returned figures of 14-1-66-1 while his co-spinner Nathan Lyon picked up 1-99 off 26 overs.

Agar has shown that he will develop into a reliable Test player but at this stage he needs to develop his bowling talents at State level.

Lyon should be recalled for Old Trafford with Smith to provide the back-up spin.

So that’s my XI – Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Bird and Lyon.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 29 July 2013