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Australian selectors have finally shown a bit of enterprise in the naming of its 14 man tour party to South Africa later this month. The selectors have chosen three uncapped players and have persisted with a couple of players who have only just debuted within the past few months. Below is a breakdown of the touring squad and commentary on the more interesting selections.
Australian Test Squad to Tour South Africa: Feb – Mar 09
Ricky Ponting (c)
Michael Clarke (vc)
Brad Haddin (wk)
Hughes selection is a reward for a brilliant summer with the bat as opener for New South Wales. He is guaranteed to debut as the selectors opted to choose the one rather than two openers to South Africa, in addition to Simon Katich. At only 20 years of age, Hughes will be the youngest Australian debutant since Craig McDermott’s debut at age 19 in the 1984/85 series against the West Indies.
How will he fare? A tough tour to debut, however with battle hardened players like Katich, Ponting and Hussey around him, a perfect time to start. Don’t be surprised if he cracks a ton in one of the three tests.
At 29 years of age, Marcus North has finally been rewarded for years of consistency at first class level for his home state, Western Australia. Although selected as an all-rounder, North will fit into the test side as a genuine number 6 batsman who can bowl some useful off spin when required. In 125 first class games, North has scored close to 9000 runs @ 43.60 and taken 90 wickets @ 44.46.
How will he fare? Probably won’t play a test, but if he does, will be a better batsman than McDonald, Symonds or Watson but not as likely a wicket taker. If McDonald fails miserably in the first test, should be strongly considered. A good selection considering should another batsman fall injured, can fit into the side alongside McDonald and saves selecting a specialist batsman in the squad.
A surprise selection for the third test against South Africa at the SCG in January, McDonald impressed with the ball and has now earned a tour to South Africa. The selectors have persisted with him, which is a positive move that shows faith in the Victorian. Both he and North have been clearly aided by the absence of Symonds and Watson. In 46 first class games, McDonald has scored 2067 runs @ 37.58 and taken 104 wickets @ 29.05, an impressive combination.
How will he fare? Deserves to start in the first test and this tour will give a strong guide as to whether he will be a long term fixture in the squad. Needs to score some decent runs to prove he’s more than just a change bowler.
Called from the wilderness for the third test in Adelaide against the Kiwi’s as a replacement for the injured Jason Krejza, Hauritz ended the summer as the first choice spinner for the Aussies. His efforts, though not game changing, were certainly respectable. He became the lead spinner in the side when Krejza was omitted from the second test in Melbourne against South Africa as the selectors believed Hauritz was the more economical and consistent option.
How will he fare? Hauritz still remains a mystery as to where he fits within the Australian side. With Bryce McGain fit and picked in the squad, it is expected that Hauritz will once again make way for another spinner. It is unlikely the Aussies will need two specialist spinners within their XI. This will mean in the past 6 tests: Hauritz will have played a test, out for two tests, played two tests and then out again.
This is the second tour in which McGain has been selected to represent Australia, the first (India - 2008) saw McGain play not a single match due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and a few months on the sidelines. McGain only had the one opportunity to show selectors he was right to tour South Africa in last week’s Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, where he took 5/104 in the second innings, spinning Victoria to a nail-biting 25 run triumph.
How will he fare? Aged 36 and yet to play a test, McGain is considered as the answer to Australia’s spinning woes at test level and should play in the first test ahead of Hauritz.. He will face a stern test against a strong South African batting line up boasting several players in form. If Australia is to win a test or indeed the series, McGain needs to play a big part in the bowling department.
Bollinger is a natural selection for the touring party and was selected for the West Indies and Indian tours last year. He made his debut in the third test against South Africa and took two wickets in the second innings. A left arm seamer, it will be either he or Ben Hilfenhaus who takes the third fast bowling position within the lineup to join Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
How will he fare? Should play the first test. Bollinger is a fiery character and when on song can rip through an attack as he has done many a time for New South Wales. Needs to take wickets in the first test to have a successful series as he is a confidence player.
Hilfenhaus has long been a fringe selection in the Australian test lineup. He’s part of the current one day squad and has performed reasonably, but can’t seem to find a way to make it to the test XI. An excellent left arm swing bowler, should he be selected, will be exciting to watch.
How will he fare? Will compete with Bollinger for the third seamer position and will be the likely 12th man for the first test. Must perform in the opening tour game against South Africa A to have a chance of making his test debut.
Despite being a largely inexperienced playing group, the 14 man squad is a well balanced outfit. The standout selections are of Hughes and North who are the boldest picks. It certainly won’t be an easy tour for Australia and it is set to be the first tour in many years in which they start as the underdog.
In any case, we are set for yet another three tests of absorbing cricket between two arch rivals competing for the mantle of number one test nation in the world.
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