With only 30 days to go, cricket.com.au will look at the contenders for the top six, under the assumption the five incumbents (Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke and Smith) retain their place in the line-up.
Part one takes a look at the men playing white-ball cricket, from the ODI series in India to the Ryobi One-Day Cup.
Case for: Bailey has been THE ODI batsman for Australia this year. He’s amassed 840 runs at 60 with a strike-rate of 95.67, including 220 runs at 110 in the current series in India. Bailey has also captained the limited-overs teams in the absence of Michael Clarke, adding another string to his long bow.
Case against: His one-day form has been outstanding, his four-day form not so much. The Tasmanian skipper averaged 18.28 in last season’s Bupa Sheffield Shield, with a career average of 38.29. International performance cannot be ignored, but neither can track history.
Case for: Finch, like Bailey, is enjoying his best year against the white ball. He blasted England for 156 in the T20I match in Southampton, and then made light work of Scotland for 148 in an ODI. He’s looked more and more comfortable each time he’s at the crease for Australia.
Case against: Again, like Bailey, Finch’s form in the creams has been poor. Four games for Victoria yielded 68 runs at 11.33, forcing his omission from the Shield side. If Finch is to take that next step a couple of hundreds against the red ball could be all it takes.
Case for: Despite his detractors, Phil Hughes knows how to make runs. South Australia’s highest run-scorer in Shield cricket last year, with two centuries, Hughes has also found touch in India with two decent innings in the first three games.
Case against: Since his breathtaking second Test against South Africa, Hughes hasn’t been able to hold on to his position in the Test XI. Already dropped three times in 26 Tests, his career against England reads seven matches at 19.75.
Case for: In arguably the best touch of his career, Klinger has looked to take on the bowling with urgency this season and it’s paid dividends, leading the Ryobi Cup run-scorers list. Boasting 14 years of first-class experience, a wise head could be what is needed this summer.
Case against: His form in one-day cricket has been excellent over the years, but his first-class numbers don’t do his talent justice. Klinger’s four-day form evaporated last summer, averaging only 19.41 in nine matches. His County record was just the opposite, 1,105 runs at 52.61, but that Ashes is already over.
Case for: The former Australian T20 captain looks to be back to his devastating best, posting five fifties from as many games in the Ryobi Cup. At 30, White has been playing first-class cricket for over ten years and 131 matches, captaining a majority of those games. His head is still, his feet are moving and he’s back commanding the crease.
Case against: White has been pigeonholed as a limited-overs specialist basically since his test axing in 2008. Technique and temperament have been his main criticisms, but his Shield average of 36.42 last summer betters three of the four above.
Case for: Khawaja has played four Ashes Tests now; three in the last series where he showed his class in the second innings at Lord’s. Four half-centuries in six Ryobi Cup matches at 64.40 has returned him to the form we’re used to - the last two fifties primed with authority.
Case against: Some would say Khawaja has had his chance – nine Tests with a top score of 65. He was the Bulls leading run-scorer last season from only six matches, begging the question when will he breakthrough at the highest level?
Case for: No one doubts Shaun Marsh’s talent. A century on debut batting at three teased Australian fans of Ricky Ponting’s replacement. At his best his balance and power match the best in the world as his recent century in the Ryobi Cup showed.
Case against: Injury, off-field troubles and form swings have freckled his career. His four Tests against India two summers ago produced 16 runs batting at first drop, the second lowest aggregate for a top six batsmen in Test history. His best makes him an automatic selection. Let’s see if he can get back there.
Case for: Wade is one of the few batsmen to score a Test ton this year. He started out with the bat only to find talent with the gloves. Twelve Tests with two centuries, a first-class average just under 40 and current form in the Ryobi Cup, where he’s averaging a neat 50, wouldn’t see Wade look out of place as a specialist batsman.
Case against: Is Wade the long-term answer? His numbers stack up with the rest of the contenders, but can he produce the output required as top six player? It would be a gamble of sorts.
Who do you think will bat in the top six come the first Test? Leave your line-up in the comments below.
About the Writer
Sam Ferris is a writer for cricket.com.au, having started his career in 2011 as a Big Bash League correspondent with Cricket Australia. His passion for the longer versions of the sport drew him to the cricket.com.au team in 2013-14, where he has continued to monitor both the domestic scene and the national sides closely.