Selectors must make the right choice
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Selectors must make the right choice

Is Australia completely rehabilitated following the stunning loss to England in last year?s Ashes series? Asks Ian Chappell.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 15:38 IST

Is Australia completely rehabilitated following the stunning loss to England in last year’s Ashes series?

At first glance, comprehensive victories over a hapless World XI and the West Indies, plus a battling win over South Africa in the Tests and eventually overcoming Sri Lanka in the one-day final series would appear to be conclusive proof that Australia is fully rehabilitated. However, reality is, they still have a number of questions that need answering before they attempt to extract revenge from the Englishmen later this year.

The selectors have put themselves in a position where they are in danger of not having the best batting line-up at the Gabba next November. If Brad Hodge were to play a couple of solid knocks in South Africa to go with the double century he already has against the Proteas, he could still be in the top six, ahead of both Michael Clarke and Damien Martyn. If that is the case it will be to England’s advantage.

Hodge is a good player but he has a weakness against genuine pace around off-stump and his predominately front-foot technique leaves him vulnerable under Australian conditions. Considering the bounce of Steve Harmison and swing at genuine pace of Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones, England has the ideal attack to exploit this weakness.

While both Clarke and Martyn struggled last year in England they are more likely to dominate bowlers of that class than Hodge. Despite Andrew Symonds' versatility and dynamic stroke play he is still not a proven Test batsman. He has to be considered a batsman who can bowl a bit, rather than a genuine all-rounder, and the question is whether he can command a place in the top six against the class of bowling England is likely to put forward.

The answer is, probably -- more than Hodge, and less than Clarke or Martyn. If he can prove in South Africa that he can hold a place as a batsman then Symonds and Adam Gilchrist will be a match for any middle-order heroics that Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen provide for England.

Then there are questions surrounding the Australian attack. In a summer where Glenn McGrath has been both below his best and unavailable, Brett Lee's emergence as a top class bowler has camouflaged the fact that no new quickies have been unearthed.

Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Michael Lewis and Brett Dorey have all been tried, but none has produced the type of consistently good bowling that would make the selectors forget young Shaun Tait. While the explosive Tait has languished with a shoulder injury none of the other fast bowlers has forged ahead.

Bracken is good in conditions that favour swing, but too often in Tests he resorts to containment as his prime consideration. There has also been no further progress in the never-ending search for an all-rounder. Shane Watson's injury resulted in opportunities opening up for Symonds but he is not the answer against top-class opposition and Cameron White is still treading water as a spin bowling option who can bat.

The one pleasant surprise has been in spin. Dan Cullen has been impressive but for an injury. And this unfortunate injury has provided opportunities to leg-spinner Cullen Bailey. His form has been so impressive there is now optimism that in the post Shane Warne period Stuart MacGill won't be on his own in the battle to bamboozle.

There are many options for the selectors and they had better take the right ones or England will have the advantage heading to the Gabba in November. In the last few years the Australian selectors have had it relatively easy and the team has often won despite their blunders. Now that England has improved the danger is Australia could fail to regain the Ashes because of the selectors.

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 15:29 IST