Is George Bailey over the line for the Gabba?

Date: October 26, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

According to most pundits there appears to be only one spot up for grabs in Australia’s top six for the opening Ashes Test at the Gabba in a few weeks’ time.

Chris Rogers will open alongside a resurgent David Warner with Shane Watson at three, skipper Michael Clarke at four and Steve Smith at either five or six.

With the selectors and lead administrators at Cricket Australia starting to talk more about a ‘pick and stick’ policy there is a lot at stake for the man who gets the final nod to take his place in the team at Brisbane.

With the Ryobi Cup to conclude this Sunday the focus will switch to the opening round of Sheffield Shield fixtures which get underway next Wednesday.

As was the case leading into the last home Ashes series, CA has decided to move the naming of the squad for the first Test well forward with the made for media announcement to be made on 12 November – nine days before the Gabba encounter, and oddly, a day before the start of the third round of Shield fixtures.

Usman Khawaja will get two first-class matches to push his case for a recall – either both for Queensland in the Shield or one for his adopted state and the other at Hobart for Australia A against England which starts on 6 November.

Meanwhile, the two members of the current one-day squad on the sub-continent who are touted as possibilities for the final batting spot  – George Bailey and Phil Hughes – will miss the opening round of the Shield competition and will get just the one first-class outing ahead of the naming of the Test squad.

So, there you have it.

Entering the biggest home series on Australia’s cricket calendar the most number of first-class innings a batsman can hope to play is four ahead of the naming of the squad and in the case of those who are currently bedecked in coloured uniforms in India, weather permitting, they get just two first-class knocks.

So, that being said, has the sixth batting position realistically already been filled?

For mine, Bailey is a certainty to get the nod.

His form in the current one-day series has been of the highest order with scores of 85, 92no, 43 and 98.

Yes, I know it is only one-day cricket but that is all anyone has had the opportunity to play so far in the lead-up to the Ashes.

Hughes has opened during the series and produced innings of 47, 83, 22 and 11.

Adam Voges has had a poor series with his four innings to date seeing returns of 7, 11, 76no and 7, and with just one first-class match when he returns home it appears he is out of the running for a Test debut next month.

Then there’s Khawaja, who has been in consistent form for the Bulls in the Ryobi Cup with knocks of 12, 62, 66, 63, 31 and 88no in the round robin format.

He will get another chance to post a score in Sunday’s final at North Sydney Oval against The Blues.

Both Khawaja and Hughes have felt the revolving door with respect to Test selection.

Khawaja has played nine matches (377 runs at 25) since his debut in January 2011, never managing more than three in a row before being dropped.

Hughes has been in and out more times than a fiddler’s elbow.

Since making his debut at Johannesburg in February 2009 he has played 26 Tests (1535 runs at 33) and during that period has been dropped five times, the last being after the second Test at Lord’s in mid-July.

Whilst neither Khawaja nor Hughes has ever been accorded a run like Ed Cowan – who played 18 consecutive Tests for an average of 31 before being axed – they have both had chances to force the selectors’ hand but have failed to do so.

Khawaja may produce something outstanding in his two first-class matches prior to the Gabba squad being named but given the selectors’ proclivity to omit him so regularly it would appear that nothing short of twin centuries may get him over the line.

Again, it seems all roads are leading to Bailey.

There is no doubting his abilities at one-day international level – in 33 matches he has scored one century and eleven 50s and averaged 53 and he has done that in the main while captaining the side, often in hostile and challenging environments like India.

Out in the middle, with both bat and mind he has displayed the requisite calmness needed to succeed.

Unfortunately, his first-class record is not stellar with his 96 appearances to date resulting in a career average of 38, although he has scored 14 centuries.

His average took a big hit last summer when he had his poorest season in Shield ranks, averaging just 18, however the previous summer his 15 innings produced an average of 56.

There is no doubt that there is a dearth of batting talent in the country at the moment with very few players able to produce successive high-scoring seasons that scream for them to be given a chance.

That being said, and with the limited first-class window ahead of the Brisbane Test, it seems that Bailey is a lock for the last batting position and with Michael Clarke’s ongoing problems with his degenerative back condition the chance to embed Bailey in the Test middle order may have further medium term benefits.

If I was a selector I would leave Bailey out of the Australia A fixture on his home ground and instead have him play the Shield match at Brisbane that runs concurrent with that game, allowing him to reacquaint himself with the Gabba and also keep him away from the England attack until the first Test.

And if you need any further convincing, here’s the clincher.

In 1878, four years before the birth of the Ashes, an Australian touring team travelled to England and played a first-class match against the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s.

The Australian XI won by nine wickets.

One of the members of that victorious team was George Herbert Bailey, the great-great-grandfather of the current day George.

When you’re looking for omens to prevent the Poms from winning their fourth consecutive Ashes series you’ll clutch at anything.

But seriously, I think Bailey’s time has arrived.

Let’s just hope he takes to the Test arena with the same aplomb he has exhibited at limited-overs level.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 25 October 2013