Mass Changes a Gamble but Hardly Surprising
Australian Selectors have taken the unprecedented step of making six changes for the Test Match in Adelaide to the team that was comprehensively thrashed in Perth and Hobart. Australia has not made six changes to a single Test squad since way back 32 years ago in 1984 when Australia were getting pummelled by a West Indian side at the peak of their powers. Joe Burns, Callum Ferguson, Adam Voges, Peter Neville and Joe Mennie have all felt the selectors' wrath, with all losing their places. Nathan Lyon can possibly consider himself a lucky man with the luckless Steven O'Keefe ruled out through injury, leaving Lyon the chance to regain form after a nightmare last few games at Test and First Class Level. Whilst the changes represent potentially the start of the new era the pure amount of shuffling done means things could get worse before they get better in the short term. Whilst Australian selectors are to be applauded for being bold and brave in a few of their decisions it leaves Steve Smith with plenty on his plate coming to Adelaide. Lots of guys are going to be nervous and the tourists will sense an opportunity to go for the throat and claim an extremely rare whitewash on Australian soil.
Handscomb Selection a No Brainer
The elevation of Peter Handscomb to the Test squad was the least surprising of all the changes made by the Selection Panel. Coming off an imperious double hundred against a full strength NSW attack, Handscomb outlined his class and is a player at the top of his game right now. Having captained Australia A in the winter, Handscomb has been on the radar for some time. Handscomb was the third leading run scorer in the Sheffield Shield last season, so this selection is clearly a reward for performance over potential. Handscomb is considered the best player of spin in the country and, after a disastrous tour of Sri Lanka and with India on the horizon, it seems the perfect time to add this sort of player to Australia's middle order. Too often, of late, Australia has been bogged down by spinners unable to rotate the strike or release pressure by scoring in all areas of the ground against the turning ball. Handscomb also seems a pretty level headed and intelligent cricketer and, whilst the bluster for mongrel and aggression seems to blind many in Australian cricketing circles, intelligence and a adaptable game are qualities more associated with Handscomb.
Selectors Gamble on Maddinson over team mate Patterson
The Selectors have opted for style over substance here with a precocious yet unfulfilled talent in Nic Maddinson over NSW team mate Kurtis Patterson. I will be honest - I would have opted for Kurtis Patterson over Maddinson based on numbers and based on their batting suitability to Test cricket. Patterson has a first class average 5 clear runs higher than Maddinson at 42, and with 26 less First Class appearance than Maddinson, I would argue that average would increase another 5 points by the time he reached Maddinson's 59 games. I just feel Patterson has a more reliable and tighter game in varied conditions and calmer demeanour at the crease, however time will tell. In Maddinson the Australian Selectors have opted for more power and aggression from their middle order. A strong left-hand batsman that has batted in all positions in the Top 6 during his six year First Class Career, Maddinson debuted with a hundred as an 18 year old for NSW. Whilst he has not always hit the heights over the last six years, Maddinson has been in decent form this year, with a century against Victoria in the Matador Cup and a century against Queensland in the Blues Shield win in Brisbane. However, after 59 First Class games, Maddinson has the slightly underwhelming average of 37.65 for a player of his talent. It's a fair sample size, however you would suggest at just 24 years of age, his best batting years are well ahead of him, so you can understand the Selectors' decision to punt on him now. His handy left-arm spinners might have got him the nod against opponents for his spot - Kurtis Pattinson, Callum Ferguson and Joe Burns - especially given Australia have shelved their all-rounder policy and Nathan Lyons' recent struggles.
Renshaw A Bolt From The Blue
Matt Renshaw will become the youngest Australian Test debutant since Phillip Hughes when he opens the batting with David Warner at the Adelaide Oval later this week. As more likely and experienced candidates like Joe Burns and Cameron Bancroft fell by the way side, in the recent Shield Game Henshaw stepped up to seal his berth. Crucially, Renshaw comes in off the back of some great form having scored 108 and 50 in the recently completed Shield match against South Australia. Renshaw will even be 100 days younger than Ricky Ponting. I must admit to not knowing a lot about Renshaw, however he bares a striking resemblance visually to ex-Queensland and Australian great Matthew Hayden - a big strapping left-hand batsman, Renshaw. With plenty of flashy and high tempo players in Warner, Smith and now Maddinson, Australia needs a grinder and Renshaw is considered someone who can occupy the crease. With just twelve First Class matches to his name, he has already racked up 1000 runs, with half of those coming on a Gabba surface that can nip around more than any other in the country. To add to his resume, Renshaw is considered a more than handy slip fielder and can bowl some off-breaks. History says Australian only opt for twenty year olds that they might consider very special, however this is a desperately grim time for the national team and I don't think Renshaw should have any undue pressure on him.
Jury Out On Wade Recall
Matthew Wade has won back his Test wicket keeping position with Peter Neville demoted in his favour for the Adelaide Test. The decision signifies a significant change in philosophy from the Australian selectors to reward Wade's high class batting over Neville's extremely tidy glove work. Whilst I don't think Wade is quite good enough to justify some calls for him to play as a batsman alone, there is no doubt he is a very good Number 7 at Test match level. Already, with 2 centuries and a Test average of 34 and with 9 First Class hundreds at a tick under 40, Wade adds strength and depth to Australia's batting. Wade is a good player of spin and his ability to sweep and rotate strike would have been considered with a tour of India on the horizon. Neville, for whatever reason, went right into his shell as a Test batsman and struggled to rotate the strike. He can't have many complaints right now as despite his generally excellent glove work an average of 22 is not going to cut it with the bat, especially with a brittle middle order ahead of him. Also, I feel counting against Neville is he is a lot quieter than Wade. There is no doubt Wade has some mongrel in him and is a niggler on the cricket field. While I don't believe Australia's main problem right now is a lack of mongrel, you can bet your life Wade will be instructed to provide a bit of old fashioned hard nosed grunt out in the middle. The big question mark remains whether his keeping has significantly improved since 2013. Wade was substandard and particularly struggled against Nathan Lyon and, with India on the horizon, the Selectors must be comfortable that he has improved significantly in this area.
Grim Message For Callum Ferguson
It seems particularly harsh that the Selectors have done away with Callum Ferguson after just one Test. It is almost like they are admitting they made a blunder and are just prepared to move on leaving Ferguson in the cold. Whilst Ferguson could have done with some runs in the recent Shield game, I believe it is extremely harsh that he lost his place after one Test match. While scores of 1 and 3 signified a double failure in Hobart, he was hardly alone, and run out in one of his innings. I am not sure what sort of message they are sending here, however it's a ruthless call and Ferguson is unlikely to play Test cricket again in the near future. I feel the Selectors are going down a path where 32-year old debutants are not going to occur too frequently now, and whether that is right or wrong, it seemsthe youth policy might be in full swing. It sends an ominous warning to similarly aged batsmen around the country who might feel they have 4 or 5 good years left in them, that Australia appears to be going down a different path for now.
Reward For Chadd Sayers
You can't argue with Chadd Sayers' elevation to the Test squad. With a superb record of 186 First Class wickets at 24, Sayers has been one of the leading fast bowlers in Shield cricket for the past five years. With ability to bowl a nagging line and length and swing the ball late, Sayers has proved a handful, despite not having the pace or height of most Australian quicks of the last few years. Sayers has been in great form, claiming 17 scalps in the opening three Shield matches of the season. With a pink ball likely to offer some assistance on his home deck in Adelaide, it appears the perfect time for Sayers to make his debut. Sayers also has a very miserly economy rate of 2.66 at First Class level, which should allow Australia to use more explosive bowlers in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in shorter bursts, giving the attack a nice balance.