By SB Tang
- Ricky Ponting (Captain): The only batsman in the world who can legitimately challenge Sachin Tendulkar’s claim to the title of Greatest One-Day Batsman Ever. The man’s racked up over 13,000 runs at an average of 42.60 and a strike rate of 80.55, with 29 centuries. He’s playing in his fourth consecutive World Cup and has yet to play in an Australian team which failed to make the final. As captain, he has never lost a World Cup match. One of the few strong emotions motivating me to watch the World Cup is a desire to see Australia win so that Ponting’s able to retire gracefully on a high — being fondly remembered as one of Australia’s greatest batsmen since Bradman and a captain who won three consecutive World Cups without dropping a single game, rather than the man who lost three Ashes series and tried to bowl out Panesar and Anderson at Cardiff with Marcus North’s offies.
- Michael Clarke (Vice-Captain): Yes, he’s endured a rough trot recently with the bat in all forms of the game. Yes, his metro ways and stage-managed approach to his professional career seem to have provoked a severe response from a fairly large segment of the Australian population and safely anonymous members of the Australian cricket community. Yes, his one-day international strike rate has declined over the last few years, but it’s still a very healthy 77.96, with an average of 44.19. This compares favourably with the most successful one-day anchor-style batsman of the last two decades — Jacques Kallis averages 45.36 at a strike rate of 72.73. Nope, Clarke’s recent one-day form is not nearly as bad as some would have you believe — many of his low strike-rate innings have come when he’s dug in in difficult batting conditions, when the rest of the batting order has collapsed, to build a platform for an eventual Australian victory (for example, the 2009 one-day series in England) and he’s been guilty of getting out cheaply on flat pitches when quick, easy runs have been on offer to boost his strike rate. Moreover, the presence of Tim Paine at the top of the order when Haddin was out injured led to a duplication of functions at the top of the order as both Paine (one-day international strike rate: 68.73) and Clarke tried to play the same anchor role. The result often was that Clarke would feel pressured to depart from his natural game in order to up the scoring rate and get out (typically, in ugly fashion) in the process. With Haddin back, this should no longer be a problem. The bottom line is that Clarke’s still very well-suited to playing the anchor role at the top of the order and he should be opening to complement Watson’s more aggressive approach with Haddin coming in down the order with a licence to smash it.
- Cameron White (Unofficial Deputy Vice-Captain): Has never fulfilled his early promise as a Kumble-style top-spinner. Tried to change his natural game (never a good idea) by remodelling his bowling action to become a more conventional leg-spinner. Gave up after about a season and went back to his natural action but his bowling’s never recovered. Fortunately, his batting and his captaincy for Victoria have more than made up for his regression as a bowler. Finally started to transfer his outstanding domestic batting form to the international arena when given a chance at the top of the order in the 2009 one-day series in England. Has been one of Australia’s most consistent batsmen at one-day international and T20I level ever since and was rewarded with the captaincy of the T20I side. Had a surprisingly subdued, but not disastrous, home summer in one-day international colours in the lead-up to the World Cup — in 10 matches against England and Sri Lanka, he only averaged 27.00 at a strike rate of 68.78, well below his career average of 36.87 at a strike rate of 81.86.
- David Hussey: Tremendous natural ball striker with an outstanding domestic record, but has never performed consistently at international level, not even in T20Is where, believe it or not, brother Mike has a better strike rate. Recalled unexpectedly to the Australian one-day squad for the home series against England preceding the World Cup despite a mediocre one-day international record against Test-playing nations (an average in the mid-20s batting predominantly at number 4) and a mediocre domestic one-day record this summer. However, in this case, there is a method to the selectors’ madness because Hussey Junior has really been picked as an all-rounder. His economical offies have proven highly effective at domestic one-day and T20I level and should be handy on the sub-continent. Also, there’s no doubting his sheer ability with the bat — although, at 33 years of age, it’s about time he delivered on that promise at international level. In the same position as Symonds was going into the 2003 World Cup — on the basis of his performances to date at international level, very lucky to be on the plane. But, hopefully, like Symonds in 2003, he’ll repay the selectors’ faith and finally showcase his effortless ball-striking power on the international stage.
- Mike Hussey: Unlucky to be withdrawn from the initial 15 man squad. A victim of circumstances — with Ponting and Steve Smith also carrying knocks leading into the tournament, his hamstring injury was deemed too much of a risk. Even throughout his prolonged form drought in the Test arena (happily, now a distant memory after a superlative Ashes series), his one-day form never wavered. A consummate one-day finisher. Cool, calm and consistent. Can clear the fences and/or work the ones and twos. Lightning runner between the wickets. Michael Bevan with substantially upgraded boundary-hitting abilities and a superior strike rate. Entitled to feel aggrieved by the selectors’ decision to withdraw him from the initial 15-man squad as this decision departed from the precedent set in 2003 when the selectors retained an injured Symonds in the World Cup squad and allowed him to work his way back to full fitness for the knock-out rounds. Hussey is now back in the squad courtesy of an injury to Doug Bollinger.
- Callum Ferguson: Last minute injury replacement for Mike Hussey. Probably would not have been picked if Shaun Marsh had been fit. Despite having an unremarkable first-class record, Ferguson’s one-day international record is impressive — he averages 44.00 at a strike rate of 85.60. Looks unlikely to get a game with the selectors preferring the hitting power of White, the finishing skills of Mike Hussey and/or the all-round flexibility offered by Hussey Junior.
- Brett Lee: The leader of Australia’s three-pronged brute force pace attack. A string of injuries forced him to retire from Test cricket. Showed real guts to work his way back to full fitness for this World Cup. Despite being 34 years of age, he hasn’t lost much, if any, pace and, in his later years, has added greater guile to his raw pace. Looks fit and motivated for this World Cup after missing the 2007 World Cup through an injury on the eve of the tournament. His one-day international record is phenomenal: 338 wickets in 195 matches at an average of 23.10 and an economy rate of 4.73. Handy lower-order hitter with the bat too. A second World Cup victory would be a fitting swansong for a great servant of Australian cricket.
- Mitchell Johnson: The shorter forms of the game leave less scope for his famously bipolar form to manifest itself. Also seems more comfortable in one-day colours than in the baggy green because, with Lee and Tait in the one-day bowling line-up, the wicket-taking burden is spread more evenly and there is less pressure on him to lead the attack. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that his one-day international economy rate is only 4.90. Throw in a batting strike rate of 94.53 and you’ve got a quality one-day bowling all-rounder.
- Shaun Tait: Australia’s most potent wicket-taking weapon in the post-Warne-McGrath era. Earned his first baggy green by nearly killing Justin Langer in the nets in the lead-up to the Trent Bridge Test in 2005. When fit, Tait is so lethal that Hayden candidly admitted in his autobiography that he refused to face him in the nets. Unfortunately, he isn’t fit nearly as often as he or the selectors would like. Controversially retired from first-class and Test cricket to prolong his career in the shorter forms of the game. He’d be an automatic pick for the Test side if fit and available — Ponting even excitedly said so in the lead-up to the Ashes. Unfortunately, he’s shown no interest in making himself available for Test selection again. Like most Australian cricket fans, I find it hard to comprehend that someone with the ability to play Test cricket for Australia would not want to do so. That being said, I appreciate that, in the modern game, it’s asking a lot to ask a young, injury-prone, 20-something year old professional to potentially jeopardise his career and his livelihood for the honour of representing his country at Test level. Rod Marsh took a dim view of Tait’s decision to make himself unavailable for Test selection: “I cannot believe a man doesn’t want to play for his country. It’s hard work – and that’s why he doesn’t want to do it. Twenty years from now no-one will remember who Shaun Tait was. We’ve become too professional – we’ve got to get back to basics.” Hayden did note in his autobiography that Tait’s cardio fitness is surprisingly poor which means that he gets puffed after a couple of overs. Although a bowler can’t always do much about muscular or bone injuries, one would think that cardio fitness is something easily remedied by hitting the gym. So, is Tait a lazy coward or a sensible young professional? Only he himself knows the answer to that question. What we do know is that, when fit, he’s one of the most potent wicket-takers in the world.
- Jason Krejza: Even three weeks before the tournament started, if you’d put 10 bucks on him to be in Australia’s World Cup squad, much less the XI, you’d be a very wealthy dilettante by now. Krejza was not named in Australia’s preliminary 30-man World Cup squad, had never played a one-day international, had not played a Test match since December 2008 and his Tasmanian team-mate Xavier Doherty was firmly entrenched as Nathan Hauritz’s deputy in the Australian one-day set-up. In the blink of an eye, both Hauritz and Doherty went down injured and Krejza was called up to Australia’s one-day side for the home series against England. An aggressive, wicket-taking off-spinner who loves to toss the ball up, Krejza has improved his batting (he bats as high as 7 for Tasmania’s T20 side) and successfully developed a doosra since being dropped from Australia’s Test team for leaking too many runs.
- Shane Watson: When first promoted to the one-day team as a hugely-hyped all-rounder in the early 2000s, Watson’s classical batting technique meant that he struggled to hit over the top and his bowling had neither variety nor pace. Then spent most the decade being cut down by bowling injuries. Showed real character to fight his way back to full fitness and is now one of the first names on the team sheet in all three forms of the game. Has improved his hitting ability so much that it’s had an adverse effect on his ability to capitalise on starts in Test innings. Successfully remodelled his bowling action — his new side-on action not only allows him to swing the ball, but made career-threatening injuries, previously a weekly occurrence for Watson, a thing of the past. Improved his bowling variations and has had success bowling in sub-continental conditions in the IPL. Weaknesses: afraid of Welsh ghosts.
- Steve Smith: Steve Waugh called him “one of the most exciting players in Australian cricket in 20 years.” Like Phil Hughes, Smith’s copped a lot of stick for his unorthodox batting technique which, at times, makes him look more like a flailing lumberjack than a composed international batsman. My two cents is that a young batsman’s natural technique (which, incidentally, has brought him a healthy first-class average of 42.11, which is far superior to that possessed by classical technicians such as Callum Ferguson) should not be substantially tampered with. However, in the Test arena at least, Smith could tweak his shot selection by leaving ambitious shots such as his half-front-foot cleave through mid-wicket (he really should name that) at the bottom of the kit bag, in the same way that Steve Waugh ditched the hook and pull shots. This is less of an issue in one-dayers where his current batting role, as a lower-order hitter, suits his aggressive temperament. An aggressive leggie who’s not afraid to toss the ball up even when he’s being attacked. Bowled well at the World T20 last year.
- John Hastings: A New South Welshman by birth and upbringing, Hastings moved south to Victoria to improve his chances of playing first-class cricket as his NSW contemporary, Moises Henriques, was (and arguably still is) rated the finest all-round prospect in the land. It’s proven to be a wise move as Hastings has now narrowly moved ahead of Henriques in the international pecking order. Despite having only a handful of games’ experience at international level, Hastings has been picked to fill the medium pace bowler/lower order hitter role which James Hopes competently performed in between World Cups. Pretty harsh on Hopes who hasn’t really done anything wrong — a bowling economy rate of 4.53 and a batting strike rate of 93.71 at one-day international level compares favourably with the likes of Jacques Kallis (a bowling economy rate of 4.82 and a batting strike rate of 72.72), Yusuf Pathan (a bowling economy rate of 5.64 and a batting strike rate of 115.29) and Tim Bresnan (a bowling economy rate of 5.33 and a batting strike rate of 95.74). Nonetheless, Hastings has been an excellent player for Victoria and has earned his place in the squad with his intelligent bowling variations and muscular lower order hitting.
- Brad Haddin: Dutifully served a 7 year apprenticeship to Gilchrist but now finds his place under scrutiny after the recent emergence of Tim Paine. A lovely timer of the ball but can be incredibly frustrating to watch as he has a tendency to throw his wicket away when well-set. As the insightful teenager seated behind us at last year’s Boxing Day Test put it: “Haddin just can’t help himself”. Even Ponting, a captain normally loathe to criticise his own players in public, scolded Haddin for this annoying habit just before the World Cup. Must be glad that Australia’s selectors are no longer as ruthless as they were back in 1993–94 when a 23 year old Damien Martyn played one reckless shot against South Africa and got banished to the Test wilderness for 6 years. My two cents is that Haddin has little margin for error in his performances as a batsman because he certainly can’t command a place in the side as a keeper. He managed to fumble three stumping chances in one one-dayer against England a few months ago. I watched Haddin keep at Lord’s in an Ashes Test in 2009 and Tim Paine keep there in a Test against Pakistan a year later — if the gulf in their respective keeping performances could be corporealised, cartographers could finally justify their continued existence as a profession by devising a new word for it.
- Tim Paine: An aesthetically pleasing, technically correct batsman who possesses a surprisingly mediocre first-class (average: 31.03) and one-day international record (an average of 30.41 at an anaemic strike rate of 68.73, playing mostly as an opener) but, equally, a surprisingly good T20 record (strike rate: 145.27). Since stepping up to the national side, he has impressed everyone with his faultless keeping, demonstrating textbook footwork and velvet hands. He has the technique, temperament and ball-striking ability to be a quality top order batsman at both Test and one-day international level and he will be looking to churn out the runs in the next few years to crank up the growing pressure on Haddin.
It’s a well-balanced squad in a tournament where the top 7 or 8 sides are fairly evenly matched and, thanks to the ICC’s patented Guaranteed-Not-To-Eliminate-India tournament format, all those teams are guaranteed a place in the quarters. Once there, it’s just three wins to the trophy. We have as good a chance as any of the other top 7 or 8 teams (yes, I’m including the West Indies and New Zealand) — we’ve got a strong batting line-up (like the great South African Choke-Dogs of the ‘90s and noughties, we now bat all the way down to 10), an aggressive wicket-taking bowling attack, a good fielding unit and a captain whose tactical limitations are largely nullified by the one-day format. I can’t contain my excitement.
I couldn’t sign off without at least one minor quibble so here it is — in the absence of the retired Nathan Bracken, we could have gone for Hilfenhaus instead of Hastings, Ferguson, David Hussey or even one of the keepers. Hilfenhaus’s one-day international stats aren’t crash hot but his swing-bowling suits sub-continental conditions, offers a different tact to the brute force of the other pacemen and he was our best bowler on the recent tour of India. And don’t forget who our best bowler was in the last World Cup held on the sub-continent — Damien Fleming — and Hilfenhaus is the closest thing we have now to Fleming. Our bowling plan “A” — express pace plus multiple spinners — is a good one but if that doesn’t work, it’s difficult to see where plan “B” is going to come from. If we cast our minds back to last year’s football World Cup, Dunga, Brazil’s manager did something similar, placing all his creative eggs in the basket labelled “Kaka”, leaving the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato, Adriano and Diego at home — and look how that turned out.