Former Australia Test great Michael Hussey believes all-rounder Hilton Cartwright will fill the number six batting berth for the start of the Magellan Ashes Series next week, but has urged national selectors to seriously consider the recent form of his ex-national and state teammate, Shaun Marsh.
The National Selection Panel will convene later today to finalise Australia’s squad for the first two Tests against England in Brisbane and Adelaide – to be announced on Friday - and they are expected to reserve the right to make additions to that squad for the day-night Test at Adelaide Oval if required.
Appearing on The Unplayable Podcast prior to Western Australia opener Cameron Bancroft posting a double-century in the JLT Sheffield Shield match against South Australia yesterday, Hussey backed opener Matthew Renshaw to retain his place in the Test XI but was torn between naming Cartwright and Marsh.
The 42-year-old, who was a key member of Ricky Ponting’s team that completed a 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia 11 years ago, also believes that while former keeper Peter Nevill was harshly dealt with when dropped last summer, it would be a similarly cruel call to remove Matthew Wade for the start of the upcoming England campaign.
Hussey said it was vital the selectors picked the best-credentialled, in-form players to maximise the prospects of a first-up win at the Gabba, and exclude considerations such as fears a bowler might breakdown later in the series due to heavy workloads.
“I don’t like to look too far ahead,” Hussey said.
“If we lose the first two or three Test matches by resting a guy here, or not quite playing our best team because we’re worried about one guy getting through - let’s pick our best possible team to win the first Test and then the second Test, then the third.
“Then you don’t have to worry about the fourth of the fifth Test as much.
“You can’t be picking teams worried that ‘he might break down in Test number three if he doesn’t have an extra five overs off’.
“I don’t think that’s how you should go about picking teams – you just have to pick the best available team at the time and if we do have injuries along the way, then so be it.”
It’s that need to field the foremost six batters, four bowlers and keeper that has Hussey debating the respective merits of Test newcomer Cartwright and veteran batter Shaun Marsh for the number six role that selectors have identified as being up for grabs.
Hussey, who averaged 51.52 across his 79 Tests and 59.27 in Ashes contests, believes Cartwright’s first-class record supports his retention in the starting XI but nagging doubts over the reliability of Australia’s top-order batting sees him leaning towards the solidity that Marsh would offer at number six.
“If you look at the last couple of years, Hilton Cartwright has the best record on paper in first class cricket (and) he can actually help out with the ball as well,” Hussey said.
“So I think the selectors might go down that path and that could be a pretty good option.
“If it was completely up to me … and who I think is the best batsmen and obviously is playing well, it’s Shaun Marsh.
“His record is pretty good in the last year or two in first-class cricket, and I think he’s probably the one that is the quality player out of all those guys (candidates for the number six berth).
“There are other things to consider that cause a lot of discussion, like his age (Marsh is 34, Cartwright is 25), injury (history), and can he contribute with the ball?
“So they’re things you can argue about, but for me I want to shore up the batting as best we can.”
Hussey believes the selectors should also retain Wade in the keeping job, even though he has posted a solitary half-century from 16 innings since recalled to the Test line-up a year ago, and has averaged just 7.6 in his first five batting efforts in this summer’s Sheffield Shield.
But having described the selectors’ omission of Wade’s Test predecessor Nevill as “premature” when Nevill was axed in the wake of Australia’s disastrous loss to South Africa in Hobart a year ago, Hussey claims they must show some faith in Wade if was deemed to be the answer last November.
“I thought they (selectors) were a little bit premature in dropping Peter Nevill, I thought he was the best keeper at the time so I didn’t agree with that selection choice,” Hussey said.
“But now that they’ve made that choice and bought in Matthew Wade, I think they should stick with the incumbent, show him a bit of faith and a bit of belief in him and hope that he can return that with his keeping and also by making some runs as well.”
Hussey also likened the scenario facing Queensland opener Renshaw, who like Wade was elevated to Test ranks in the aftermath of the series loss to South Africa, to the one in which he found himself leading into the 2010-11 Ashes summer in Australia.
In three Sheffield Shield matches leading into the first Test starting on November 23, 21-year-old Renshaw has scored 70 runs at an average of 11.67 while fellow opener Bancroft (425 runs at 141.67) has been the dominant batter of the Shield summer to date.
Hussey found himself the target of intense pre-Ashes scrutiny as to whether he should retain his place in Australia’s Test XI in late 2010, and that debate intensified when he returned three consecutive single-figure scores (including two ducks) in Shield games prior to the first Test and claimed he “kept finding crazy ways to get out”.
However, he struck form with a century in the final Shield match before the opening Test at the Gabba and claimed that by the time the Australia squad assembled for the Ashes he felt a huge sense of relief at having retained his place, which enabled him to take a more relaxed approach to his batting.
An outlook that saw him to post a career-high 195 in Australia’s first innings of that Ashes campaign.
“I’ve probably been in his (Renshaw’s) shoes before at the start of the summer, and you have to remember he’s still a young guy and still starting off his international career,” Hussey said.
“He’s probably desperate to be involved in this Ashes series, and desperate to do well.
“So sometimes coming into it, you have these three Sheffield shield games before the summer starts and you’re almost thinking a little bit far ahead with the Ashes.
“He’s got to relax a bit and get that first score under his belt … and then he can relax and just go away and play.
“But you can get a bit caught up in the hype, so desperate to do well, and sometimes the harder you try the worse you go.
“I just get the feeling he needs go out there and relax a little bit, and play his way and hopefully the runs will come.”
Hussey’s first Test XI: David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Hilton Cartwright, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, 12th man – Shaun Marsh (or Jackson Bird if an extra pace option is required)
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
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Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
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Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21