SA tour: Oz’s No 6 pickle
Cape Town – All of the Australian team, pundits and public are notably bullish again after their 5-0 Ashes thrashing of England ... but No 1-ranked South Africa are fully aware of where their weakest spot still lies.
The Baggy Greens may have regained the urn by a wider margin than just about anyone would have dreamed ahead of the recent series Down Under, yet their quest to upset the Proteas in their own backyard in February and early March still features certain elements not yet firing suitably to make such a scenario hugely feasible.
Central to the ongoing shortcomings is the No 6 batting slot, where George Bailey, who played all five Ashes Tests – his maiden appearances for his country in the five-day format -- registered just one half-century as he averaged a mere 26.14.
Little wonder that when shrewd critic and former Test batsman for both nations, Kepler Wessels
, spoke to Sport24 a few days ago he said: “There are still some holes in their batting ... and (especially) Bailey at No 6.”
The situation has been echoed more recently by Brydon Coverdale of www.espncricinfo.com
, who wrote on Thursday: “Bailey is the only member of Australia’s unchanged XI throughout the Ashes whose Test position could be considered in danger ahead of next month’s tour of South Africa, and there is no Sheffield Shield cricket for him to regain form before the trip.
“In the lead-up to the Ashes in Australia, the selectors made it clear that one-day form on October’s tour of India would be considered in picking the Test squad and Bailey’s remarkable ODI efforts in India earned him the No 6 place for the (first) Gabba Test.
“Bailey made batting contributions through the series, including 53 in Adelaide and 46 in Sydney, but his average ... reflected his status as the weakest link in the top seven.
“Alex Doolan joined the Test squad in Sydney but was overlooked as the selectors opted for another unchanged side, but what they do with the No 6 position in South Africa looms as the major selection decision.”
Bailey, 31, is vice-captain and a staple part of Australia’s one-day international side – they are about to play England in that format – and sports a glowing average of 54.96 from 35 ODIs, although none of those appearances have yet been against the Proteas.
If Doolan is next possible cab off the No 6 rank for the Baggy Greens, South Africa should also not be too afraid in advance of what the uncapped right-hander, 28, has to offer: he averages a modest 37.92 from 53 first-class matches.
Ironically Tasmanian-born, like chief rival Bailey, Doolan does have one handy feather in his cap: his highest score yet (161 not out) came against the very Proteas – Dale Steyn
and Vernon Philander
among the attack – for Australia A at the SCG, just ahead of the first Test of the 2012/13 Test series between the countries.
That said, South Africa were still coached by Gary Kirsten
at the time (they later won the series 1-0) and he was an unapologetic believer in key players preserving their best intensity levels for Tests themselves.
In a similar situation to South Africa, where the Ram Slam T20 Challenge is in full swing and stays that way until Australia arrive, Australian domestic cricket is dominated by the T20 Big Bash League until their three-Test tour – offering the respective selection panels no first-class yardsticks in assessing candidates.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing