Almanac Cricket: My Australian XI for the First Test

 

“The Cricketer”
by Kate Birrell

 

Injuries have massively disrupted Australia’s preparations for the opening Test against India in Adelaide, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have options. With the health of Will Pucvoski leaving him in doubt to make his Test debut, here is the XI I think should be picked for the First Test.

 

  1. Will Pucovski (or Marcus Harris if Pucovski is injured)

Up until last week it was a no brainer. Pucovski is so highly touted that he has been in the mix for a baggy green for numerous summers. But after peeling off consecutive double tons in the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield, the noise surrounding the young Victorian rose to a crescendo. His stroke play all around the ground is impeccable, while his patience and temperament give him the mental skills required to score against a strong Indian attack. The only question mark hangs over his health – if this recent concussion rules him out, then Marcus Harris has to step in to replace him.

 

Behind Pucovski, his Victorian opening partner has been equally impressive so far in 2020/21. He has the game to step in and replace David Warner, while his limited experience at Test level may weigh in his favour. Due to numerous injuries plaguing openers, only Shaun Marsh could be considered as another opening option, unless Australia want to turn Matt Wade into a makeshift opener (which could go disastrously wrong).

 

  1. Joe Burns

Burns can consider himself incredibly fortunate. If Warner was fit, Burns should have been forced out by Pucovski’s hot start to the summer. Just a couple of years ago Matt Renshaw, a younger and more enticing long-term option, was dropped from the Test side due to a lean Sheffield Shield run to start the season. If Renshaw was treated that way, selectors would’ve had to follow suit for the older Burns. But Warner’s groin injury means Burns should get the first chance to solidify his spot before Warner comes back in.

 

  1. Marnus Labuschagne

A no-brainer here. Despite an up-and-down start to the summer, Labuschagne is the emerging golden child of Australian Test cricket. His breakthrough summer last year was incredible; now, he has the intense challenge of replicating such a feat against the best all-round bowling attack in world cricket. If Marnus can handle Bumrah and Sharma as well as negating Ashwin and Jadeja, he can confirm he really is a class above most other Test batsmen.

 

  1. Steve Smith

Smith’s hot ODI form is hopefully a sign of things to come in this Test series. Despite struggling against Neil Wagner last summer, Smith has come out firing in 2020/21. His two centuries in the one-day series showed his ability to shift tempos when required, while also proving how well he handles India’s bowling line-up. If Smith has ‘found his hands’ for good this summer, watch out India.

 

  1. Travis Head

Last summer gave Head the impetus to jump above Matt Wade in the middle-order power rankings. After some solid half-centuries early in the series, Head reached his potential in the Boxing Day Test with a superb century. He has already been handed some leadership opportunities which could perhaps be a signal of things to come for the mature South Australian. With the competition for batting spots heating up, Head must fire early to keep his place ahead of Wade.

 

  1. Cameron Green

Up until last week Green was probably going to be unfortunate to miss due to Wade’s track record. But his excellent past 18 months in the Sheffield Shield, coupled with his unbeaten ton against India last week for Australia A, means he should be given a chance at Test level.

 

There are many arguments suggesting Green is too young and may not be ready, but consider other stars of the Test arena. Ben Stokes was thrown into the fire against Australia in 2013/14 and managed to survive. If Green is really going to be one of our great all-rounders, giving him his chance when he deserves it is the best we can do for him. Think of Australian batting greats like Ricky Ponting – he was given a chance early and produced one of the great Test careers. Green’s bowling may be restricted due to his numerous back injuries, but he offers more for Australia than Wade in both this series and the future summers.

 

  1. Tim Paine (Captain and wicketkeeper)

Paine’s role in this side is understated yet vitally important. Paine may not be the best keeper-batsman in the world, but he is very solid with the gloves and a handy bat. His leadership is where he shines – after resurrecting us from the dark ball tampering days, he should be given license to continue playing as Test skipper until he decides to hang up the gloves. It’s a big summer for Paine; my eye is on his batting, where I believe he can contribute more often with lower-order runs.

 

  1. James Pattinson

It’s a toss-up between Starc and Pattinson, but Patto has my vote. His return to Test level last summer in place of the injured Hazlewood was superb. He has the X-factor ability to take hauls of wickets and claim prized scalps. Pattinson looks to be confident and fit, while Starc’s recent limited overs form suggests a lack of confidence. Starc offers plenty as a left-armer, but Pattinson’s swing and pace gives him the nod ahead of Starc in Adelaide.

 

  1. Pat Cummins

An easy selection. Cummins is a star and can, hopefully, continue to thwart the Indians. He should now be well-rested and ready to remove Kohli and Pujara on a regular basis. With Starc out, he should also be given new ball duties to prove he is the world’s most versatile pace bowler.

 

  1. Nathan Lyon

Lyon has a massive summer ahead. But every Australian series is important for our greatest off-spinner, who often shoulders the spin bowling role completely on his own. Lyon looks primed and ready to tie down India all summer long. Hopefully he starts off well in Adelaide and continues to trouble India throughout the rest of the series.

 

  1. Josh Hazlewood

Cummins may be the most skilled pace bowler in the world but, in my eyes, Hazlewood is the best. His new ball bowling is tight and breathtaking; with Cummins he could create a formidable opening duo that gains early wickets all summer long. Now looking fit after his hamstring concerns last year, Hazlewood’s skillset means Starc, despite a great summer last year, has to sit out the opening Test.

 

There it is. Starc or Wade can be 12th man, as both are unlucky to miss. There are some harsh calls, but these tight selections show a nation that is gaining more depth in Test level cricketers – a superb sign for this series and the future.

 

Let me know what you think on my side.

 

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Comments

  1. Well argued, Sean. My hope is that this is a summer for the selectors to look forward with the next Ashes series in mind. So let’s go with Pucovski (health issues permitting) and Green rather than looking back or looking to hold the line with the likes of the Marsh brothers and Wade. The latter are more than useful but not the future. As a Queenslander, I have a soft spot for Burns who still has several summers ahead of him but he’ll need to take his chance immediately if he makes the cut for next week. Harris would be next in line. The Pattinson/Starc issue is a tough one. If only Pattinson can stay injury free! What price Swepson at some stage during the summer? Let’s see how it all unfolds.

  2. You make some interesting points, Sean.
    The openers: the Warner injury and Puc concussion have really thrown the cat amongst the pigeons. But even with these issues, there is no way in the world that Burns can play – unless he makes runs in Sydney this weekend. He is fortunate to be getting this chance. Expecting him to get runs in Adelaide is a fool’s errand. Harris must play in Adelaide – was the best of the bats for AusA behind Green, and has Shield form also. People forget that Harris was Australia’s top run scorer when India visited two seasons ago.
    Wade: I am no fan of Wade, but it would be harsh to move him on. Green is exciting, and I want him in, but not at all costs. Maybe Wade should have been selected to open in the AusA match this weekend?
    Bowling: Agree that either Pattinson or Neser should be selected ahead of Starc, whose summer has been terrible thus far. Remember, Starc’s Shield form was poor well before his wallopings in the white-ball games.

  3. Walking into “bouncers” has to have damaged Pucovski mentally if not physically. Duty of care not to pick him until he can demonstrate recovery at Sheffield Shield level. Brain damage/dementia rage stories this week out of UK rugby union are truly scary.
    Obvious talent but time for sport to drop the macho shit.

  4. Good argument Sean. A lot can change in a week or so.
    Considering-
    Injuries (Warner, Pucowski)
    Form (Burns,Green)
    There was a reasonable case not to break up the Warner/Burns partnership but now Warner is out. The Puc/Harris partnership has served Victoria well in the first few Shield games and Harris did OK at number 3 in the Australia A match. It is a worry that Will keeps getting hit and his long-term health needs to be the priority as Peter said. He will face fiercer bowling than India currently serve up. If he sees a familiar face in Harris up the other end we could see Shield form translate into Test form.
    Even if Burns makes runs in the pink ball game should he get the nod? I would say no. He had two chances in the tour game and Pucowski won the “bat-off”. There is some rich batting talent around the country eg Maddinson, Usman yet Burns cant buy a run at the moment.

    Given selectors are loathe to mess with the status quo i feel Wade will be picked ahead of Green.

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