Marcus North's always been a favourite of mine. I always thought he was the one all rounder who was picked and actually overachieved. I don't remember him doing much with the ball, and an average of 35, whilst not looking so bad these days, might not have been enough for him to stay in the Test side, but 5 centuries, 4 half centuries from 35 innings compares very favourably to many players who have come into the side since his departure nearly three years ago. His bowling didn't do much for anyone much like Steve Smith's or Cameron White's, but I always thought his five centuries were an outstanding start to what might have been a very promising Test career.
At age 34, if Sheffield Shield form were the only determining factor and there was no such thing as an incumbent, after three matches Marcus North would be the first player picked as he continues a remarkable rejuvenation this season. Okay, it was a drop in road, but you can only get the runs when the pitch presents itself to you, nobody has sympathy for batsmen who fail on easy wickets, and scores of 110 and 84* in his new role as opener were only overshadowed by the superlative inspiring 204 by the second player picked for the 1st Test here in alternate universe world, Phil Hughes.
Dave Warner and Chris Rogers centuries last week will guarantee their places as the incumbent openers carrying on from the last Ashes test. Of course John Inverarity had already picked them months ago anyway so it doesn't really matter what they or anyone else did as he so helpfully pointed out before the beginning of the Shield season. Rob Quiney has also moved to opener and continued his strong form from the Ryobi Cup and seems to be once again someone moving towards consideration.
Down in Tassie, Ed Cowan keeps getting starts but his day seems to have passed unless he can string together some actual centuries at some point. Mark Cosgrove missed the first match, before scoring 84 and three failures in the last two weeks, while newcomer Jordan Silk continues to excite with his third century coming in his seventh first class fixture.
Nic Maddinson, guaranteed 20/20 specialist and next Dave Warner got a couple of half centuries at the hectic clip you'd expect. His form in 20/20 will all but assure him of a Test cap going by the selectors policy of picking primarily from limited over international form.
The #3 spot goes to Alex Doolan with Shane Watson not getting any games in. Tremendous match winning century against the NSW bowling lineup last week should have and apparently did catch the eyes of selectors. Obviously Michael Clarke gets in despite only the one half century, let's not be too silly with this, and Steve Smith stroked another century and is a perfectly good pick at #5 and right up there with the top bats again. Enthusiasm surrounds Steve Smith's form and maturity lately, he's taken his somewhat surprising selection in India and run with it, unlike Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja, he's taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to him and is probably the player causing the most optimism about the future of Australia's batting and perhaps even captaincy stocks for the next decade.
The #6 position will be George Bailey, despite his four failures so far this season and his much talked about very average season last year. Bailey, on first class form alone, would barely make an Australia B side at the moment, but his composure and form at international level, plus his leadership skills have got him in so we'll see how he does. It will be hard not to be very doubtful of Australia's chances this summer if Cricket Australia's inclination to ignoring first class form finds us looking for yet another new number 6 after two or three matches.
That's the real problem with picking an out of form first class batsman for his first Test, how soon can they drop him if he doesn't perform? Usman Khawaja, who also didn't have a great summer last year yet somehow found his way into the Test side in England, and was widely considered to be one of George Bailey's top rivals for the #6 spot, was given three test matches in England before being axed. He's failed to carry his excellent Ryobi Cup form into the Shield too incidentally but we shouldn't be surprised if he bounces back into contention for Sydney if George Bailey continues to not find any form.
But that's three whole Ashes tests we now have to carry a player who seems to have done nothing in first class cricket of late to earn selection. On Shield form alone, Chris Lynn would seem to be the guy to beat, as Cameron White's exciting run of half centuries wound down with a few flops. Chris Lynn scored 104 and 61* against England a couple of weeks ago and followed up with 81 and 72* against Tassie before failing in both innings against Queensland. At 23 and with an average of 43 he's looking the goods.
Brad Haddin managed a not out 50, but I won't get into any debate about who should be wicketkeeper, Chris Lynn's teammate Chris Hartley is averaging more, but I have literally no opinion on who is the better gloveman going around and Haddin is the vice captain of the Test side so we know he's in anyway.
As for the bowlers, Cricket Australia could almost be investigated for match fixing following the utterly preposterous situation at Bellerive where Ben Hilfenhaus, despite not being in the Ashes squad for the first test, Sam Rainbird, coming off of a 6fer the match before, and best bowler Luke Butterworth were all mysteriously rested for their match against Victoria. Not to mention the simply amazing admission from James Faulkner that while he had been allowed to play the match, that CA had demanded a limitation be placed on the amount of overs he bowled.
The really jaw dropping part of it was that Faulkner revealed that his physical workload wasn't the issue, but more a mental one.
Let that sink in for a second. Tassie required to drop their two best bowlers and take it easy on their third best bowler in Faulkner, and a player dropped after taking his career best figures in the previous match. What the hell is going on here? Are CA even interested in marketing this Sheffield Shield stuff at all? We've already been told that the first test team was picked before the season started which I'm still trying to get my head around, not to mention the repeated lesson we've learned that limited over form is more likely to get you picked anyway, now we've got this Faulkner situation.
I can only imagine that James Faulkner was thought to be at some risk of a nervous breakdown if his workload was too high. Not a physical concern???? Wha? And again, what kind of competitive sports league is this where the top brass can all but guarantee a victory to one side by ordering the other side to not play their best players? Nathan Lyon wasn't considered to be any risk of self harming though and was allowed to play for NSW where he finally picked up stats comparable to his apparently completely off the radar teammate Steve O'Keefe.
Anyway, enough of that, Steve O'Keefe once again clearly the lead spinner option as he always is, averaging 23 to Fawad Ahmed's 30 and Nathan Lyon's usual 35. Ahmed however has the only bag, picking up a 6fer. Doug Bollinger restated his case in what might not be so much an unlikely cause given the mental and physical brittleness of our bowlers at the moment. Ben Hilfenhaus, not that he ever lost form, probably surprised a few people when he was acknowledged as still being in the running for a test return this summer by CA, and Mitchell Johnson's actually back in the side after seemingly being done for a year ago.
Cameron Boyce and South African Johan Botha sit atop the wicket taking leaderboard at the moment, with the former continuing to be expensive and the latter, well, actually is he even eligible?
And with that bit of utterly unresearched laziness, I will sign off. Obviously Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle deserve their spots, as does Chris Rogers who despite being overshadowed somewhat by Marcus North and Phil Hughes, still hit an 88 and a century so he's good to go.
Random thoughts and wrap up next week!