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Who should open the batting for Australia?

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00 PM
Source: SportsFan
Author: Dominic Brock

After a fairly successful home summer and a disastrous tour of India, Australia's lineup for the first Ashes Test in July remains a mystery.

While the Australians have an embarrassment of riches in the bowling – with any combination of Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc forming a formidable pace attack alongside spinner Nathan Lyon – the batting order continues to cause headaches for selectors.

Skipper Michael Clarke and his deputy Brad Haddin are just about the only certainties in the top seven. David Warner and Shane Watson are both massive talents but are not in the best form (either on and off the field) while Ed Cowan is yet to convince his doubters and Usman Khawaja is yet to win over the Cricket Australia hierarchy.

There will be at least four changes to the team that lost the final Test in India, with Haddin replacing Wade as wicketkeeper and Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Johnson all failing to make the Ashes squad.

The real confusion lies at the top of the order. Warner and Cowan have done a solid job in the past couple of seasons but with three other specialist openers in the Ashes squad they're not short of competition.

One observer who believes both Warner and Cowan could lose their opening spots for the first Test is former Australian opener and captain Mark Taylor.

"I think Chris Rogers is right in the frame to open the batting," Taylor told Radio Sport National.

"If I was a selector I would be looking at having Shane Watson as an opener as well.

"If you look at [Watson's] record, he plays his best opening the batting. Every time he bats down at four, five or six and tries to be a bowler also, he doesn't bat anywhere near as well as he should. That really hurts Australia because he is one of Australia's best batsmen. I would be thinking very seriously about playing Shane Watson where he plays the best, which is opening the batting.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they open with Watson and someone like Cowan or Rogers – I think they'll be vying for one spot, I don't think both of them can play, they're too similar in the way they play – and I think Dave Warner is a chance of batting down the order, he may bat at five or six."

The statistics are on Taylor's side, with Watson having averaged 43.06 with the bat as a Test opener but only 24.11 in the past two years after being shifted down the order. That move was made in a bid to keep the all-rounder fresher for bowling, but Taylor argues that runs will be harder to come by than wickets for the Australians.

"Even though Shane Watson's bowling certainly is handy, it's not what they need mostly out of him. They need runs out of Shane Watson," Taylor said.

"They need probably two players to make 500 runs in this series and I think Shane Watson can do that job. But I'm not sure he can do it batting at four or five or six when he's also bowling."

If Watson was to open, where would that leave the rest of the lineup? Phil Hughes has seemingly made the No.3 position his own, but he has struggled against the swing of England's bowlers in the past. Khawaja is also a top-order specialist, more suited to batting at first drop than at number six, but hasn't played a Test since 2011. Clarke has scored a mountain of runs batting at five, but has been pressured to move up the order in order to solidify the batting lineup.

Throwing his name into the ring has been dumped wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who says he'll vie for a position as a specialist middle-order batsman.

And just how well would Warner handle a role as far down as six after playing his entire first-class career as an opener? If Watson struggles in the middle order, there's every chance Warner would as well.

The Australians play two warm-up matches before the first Test at Trent Bridge, against Somerset and Worcestershire, which loom as genuine selection trials for both the batsmen and bowlers.

Here is a possible first Test lineup, if selectors were to follow Taylor's advice:
Watson, Rogers/Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Warner, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Harris/Bird/Starc, Lyon.

Can that batting order withstand an England pace attack that skittled New Zealand for 68 last week?

Australia may be able to match England's bowling strength, but the performances of the batsmen is likely to decide the 2013 Ashes.

Whiat lineup would you select for the first Ashes Test? Let us know in the comments.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Follow SportsFan on Twitter: @sportsfan_live

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