My Australian XI for the Gabba

Date: November 11, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

For reasons perhaps best known to Cricket Australia’s marketing department, the squad for the opening Ashes Test will be named this Tuesday – nine days prior to the Gabba match getting underway and a day before the commencement of the third round of Sheffield Shield fixtures.

So in effect, all players have placed their credentials before the selectors with changes after Tuesday only as a result of injury.

And speaking of injury, the one big question mark remains over Shane Watson, although he is expected to recover from a low-grade hamstring strain incurred during Australia’s last one-dayer at Bangalore week.

To begin with, let’s assume he is a starter and as such he will slot in at number three where he made a Test-best 176 in Australia’s last Test at The Oval in September – a knock that ended a 47-innings century drought.

Given his injury is to his leg, if he is declared fit enough to sprint between the wickets while batting, he is likely to be able to bowl as well, a commodity ideally needed for team balance.

The fact that he will not play in this week’s Shield encounter means he will arrive in Brisbane with no immediate exposure to a red ball in match conditions – not an ideal preparation.

If fit, ahead of him in the order will be Chris Rogers and David Warner who have both shown that they are in excellent touch.

Rogers completed a fine match double for Victoria against New South Wales yesterday with innings of 88 and 117.

Once again his cool head and experience will be sorely required at the top of the order.

In the same match, Warner peeled off rapid fire innings of 104 (87) and 51no (45) on the back of a dominant Ryobi Cup campaign, which included three centuries, the best of which was 197, also against the Vics.

Skipper Michael Clarke has dispelled fears that his degenerative back complaint would rule him out of the first Test.

Likely to bat at number four, he and the selectors will be hoping that his input with the willow sets the tone for Australia’s batting throughout the series.

He has turned out for both the Blues’ first two Shield encounters for returns of 88, 7 and 43.

Steve Smith, like Watson, is coming off a century at The Oval however in his case it was a breakthrough innings, his maiden Test hundred.

After four half-centuries in the Ryobi Cup he has continued to impress in Shield ranks with scores of 42, 63 and 107 through the first two rounds.

As was the case in England, he is likely to be called upon to roll out some of his leggies.

The number six slot has been the subject of intense debate in the lead-up to the opening Test.

For mine, I think it will go to national one-day and T20 skipper, George Bailey.

Given his commitments leading the ODI team in India – where he scored 478 runs at 95.6 – he has played just the one Shield match for scores of 34 and 41 against Queensland.

He will be disappointed that he didn’t convert those starts into three-figure scores but I think he is a near certainty to make his Test debut at Brisbane.

He has displayed a cool head at international limited-overs level, and despite a poor Shield season last year, he seems the most likely candidate.

Brad Haddin will be the number seven – in his 50th Test – coming off a world-record 29 dismissals in the last Ashes series.

His batting efforts were modest in England with just 206 runs at 22.9 and at 36 years of age another lean series with the blade may open the door for a resurgent Tim Paine, who has been mentioned by NSP chairman John Inverarity recently as being well and truly back in the mix.

Now to the fast bowlers, who I think will be Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris.

Johnson (205 Test wickets in 51 matches) is coming off good performances of late in England and India where he tickled 150km/h quite regularly, although more importantly, he bowled with far greater control – a combination that should see him recalled to the team.

His Shield performance for the Warriors against the Redbacks at the WACA Ground this past week produced figures of 2-74 and 3-88 – along with five dropped catches off his bowling.

His pace will be used to intimidate the England batsmen and he has the opportunity to upset the mindset of some of them, especially the lower order.

Siddle, who will turn 29 during the first Test, has been solid, if not spectacular, in his two Shield outings this season with 1-28, 2-39, 2-66 and 0-29 against NSW and WA.

He proved a valuable ally to Harris in England with 17 wickets at 31.6.

Harris though was the standout with the ball for Australia during the last Ashes series with 24 scalps at 19.6 after missing the first Test, giving him a world-class career record of 71 wickets at 22.3 in 16 Tests and a strike rate of 46.2.

He has proved to be a nemesis for England with his seven Tests to date resulting in 35 wickets at 21.4.

He is deceptively sharp with the ball seemingly skidding onto the batsman and his line is usually impeccable hence his good economy rate.

A fit Harris throughout the summer is imperative to the country’s hopes.

Nathan Lyon seems to be a lock for the spinning role with no other candidates presently threatening his status as the nation’s number one spinner.

Having been dropped and recalled during Australia’s last two Test series he will be hoping that his form secures a five-Test run against England this summer.

He picked up nine wickets at 33.7 in the last three Ashes Tests in England and to date has 85 wickets at 33.2 in 25 matches, respectable figures for an Australian offie.

In his two Shield matches this season he has taken 7-284 off 110 overs.

With Siddle, Harris, Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus all being rested from this week’s Shield matches it appears that the Tasmanian will be named in the 12.

Almost a forgotten man in some fans’ eyes, a ground like the Gabba suits a swing bowler like Hilfenhaus perfectly.

He missed the majority of last summer through injury but he is a proven Test bowler with 99 wickets at 28.5 in 27 matches.

I don’t see him capturing his 100th wicket at Brisbane as I feel he will carry the drinks.

Now, what if Watson is ruled out through injury?

There are two options to replace him – an all-rounder or a specialist batsman.

James Faulkner is the only choice if the selectors want an all-rounder and his debut Test at The Oval last start was impressive – figures of 4-51 and 2-47 alongside innings of 23 and 22.

His first-class bowling figures are outstanding with his 138 wickets coming at just 22.6.

But his batting average is 30.0 and he has not been able to turn any of his eight half-centuries into a three-figure score.

Given it was the batting that caused most of Australia’s woes in England I think a specialist batsman would be the best option if Watson misses out – even though it will increase the bowlers’ workloads although Watson is likely to be fit anyway for the second Test.

Given Clarke’s reluctance to move up to number three and the fact that Bailey never bats that high at Shield level, the choice for me would be Alex Doolan.

Whilst his overall first-class record is not stellar – he averages 39.2 – he has averaged 56 in his last 12 first-class matches including scores of 56 and 132 in Tasmania’s first Shield match of the season.

It is also worth noting that he made an unbeaten 166 last summer for Australia A against the touring South African outfit that fielded Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

Usman Khawaja’s stellar form in the Ryobi Cup has not been carried over to first-class ranks with his two innings this season producing just 8 and 3, putting him behind the eight ball.

So, there you have it.

My 12 for Brisbane – if Watson is available – is Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Bailey, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Hilfenhaus (12th man)

And if Watson is ruled out, Doolan comes in.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 10 November 2013