So Australia lose the Ashes... And what have the selectors learned... Well not much it seems. The team is beaten by an England side which is certainly no more talented (and is probably less talented) and the selectors were widely and rightly criticised for making selection mistakes. In response a selection committee might say "I think we need to do something different here".
Yet Andrew Hilditch and his marvellous group of selectors announced that there was only one change for the forthcoming test against the West Indies - Stuart Clark out for Doug Bollinger. What!!! I must admit that good a player Stuart Clark has been and is, Doug Bollinger (who was unlucky to miss out on the Ashes squad) does deserve another chance. But really - is this all?
Realistically a wholesale change is not needed. But Mike Hussey has averaged only just over 30 for much of the past 18 months at test level, and only produced the occasional innings of substance. Marcus North has probably overtaken him in the pecking order, and I suggest that Hussey is lucky to be there. It is a pity Callum Ferguson injured his knee because he would have been an ideal replacement for Hussey. In the ODIs following the Ashes, he showed a rare calm at the batting crease and I think is set to have a long career when he has recovered. But just because he was next in line, and is now injured, does not mean that Hussey should stay.
Two superior options were available. Phillip Hughes, who was quite oddly dumped after the second Ashes test match (another questionable selection), could have returned at the top of the order and Watson could have gone to six. This option is appealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Hughes is going to have a very long future in the baggy green, and the Windies - who are not a great team - would have provided an opportunity for Hughes to consolidate a position in the team, and mentally prepare himself for his long future.
A second option would have been to keep Watson opening and include another batsmen. This would be a difficult choice as there are no outstanding candidates, but two options spring to mind. Shaun Marsh has performed at ODI level for Australia and looks quite a reasonable international player and is worth a run at test level to see if he can make the transition to Test level. George Bailey might be a left field choice, but has shown some promise as a player for Tasmania, and has the maturity for Test cricket, as evidenced by his selection as the Shield captain for the Apple Isle. But there is some suggestion he may not have the technical prowess for Test cricket. Indeed is his technique is at times questionable - but then Ricky Ponting's technique is not without some flaws. The key is working around and through the technical flaws, and the only way to know if Bailey is up to Test level is by selecting him.
I could have included David Hussey and Brad Hodge into this discussion, but I feel the baggy greens need to turn to youth. This is unfortunate for Hodge who has been the victim of this panel's whims, but sentiment must not play a role. The option of Marsh or Bailey has a positive - introduce a young player - and a negative - two makeshift openers in one team (Katich is remember a middle order player by trade). Personally, given Hughes is a long term prospect, I would choose option one.
Other than that the top order looks OK - even with Shane Watson who batted well enough to deserve a continued start. However, his bowling must improve otherwise he is open to pressure as an opener with Hughes breathing down his neck.
At wicketkeeper Haddin is OK - but if he performs as poorly as he did at points in the Ashes, the supremely calm and talented Tim Paine will heap much pressure on him. Paine's finger injury in India was untimely, but he probably wouldn't have forced out Haddin for this summer. However Haddin has been warned; there are challengers in the wings (and I haven't even mentioned Graham Manou).
The bowling attack is interesting. I think Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle are worth continuing with because they appear to have the skills (Johnson especially) and the heart (Siddle especially) for the battle. I like Siddle as a player and view him as a sort of fit Merv Hughes - he has that nasty streak and will run in all day. He will need to work on his economy rate, but is worth his spot.
Hilfenhaus is interesting. At times he was the best bowler for the Aussies; but at times looked anaemic. He is economical and has great control, but there were periods where he just looked like he wouldn't get anyone out. He also struggled with the old ball if it wasn't reverse swinging. In Australia he may well be found out. He has had some excellent Shield performances, but I suspect that may be his limit - Shield cricket. He probably earned his spot in the 12, but I suspect he won't be there much longer. Despite saying Bollinger earned another opportunity, I believe the same applies to him as to Hilfenhaus - solid Shield cricketer but probably not quite a Test cricketer. However there are few options at the moment for young pacemen. I would not consider Lee (injured anyway) or Stuart Clark because Australia must turn to youth. However over the next two years there are a few options on the horizon. Josh Hazlewood for NSW is an exciting prospect, though as yet he can't quite break into the NSW Shield side. He has a lot of similarities to Glenn McGrath. McGrath it must be remembered was selected after only a handful of first-class games back in 93. The selectors need to make some speculative judgments on youngsters as occured with McGrath, but I suspect that this panel will fail.
Spinners? Well Hauritz did acceptably in the Ashes, but is not a test quality spinner. Eventually Steven Smith of NSW will become Australia's leg spinner. But in the meantime the spinner needs to be able to take wickets - not just keep the runs down like Hauritz. Thus Jason Krezja should have been selected. He took 12-for on debut and yet after just one more test (at the spin unfriendly WACA) was dropped. Yes he may leak runs, but anyone who saw his dismissal of Hashim Amla at that WACA match last summer knows he has extreme talent.
So what would my XII be?
Katich, Hughes, Ponting, Clarke, North, Watson, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Krezja, Hilfenhaus, Bollinger (12th man).
But in the end the selectors keep Hussey and Hauritz and miss the point of the Ashes loss - that Australia HAD to move forward and change things. Not much change - just some. We shall see the next time we face India in India, England in England, or South Africa anywhere at test level, if this transition of no-change works... I suspect it won't. I hope it will.