IT’S a race-in-four for the final batting place for Australia’s forthcoming tour of South Africa beginning late next month. KEN PIESSE reports:
GLENN Maxwell should be enjoying lay down misère status approaching Australia’s next Test series starting in South Africa on February 22. The leading batsman in Sheffield Shield cricket, with almost 600 runs at 73.75, Maxwell has benefited with the extra responsibility of batting at No.3 for long-time Shield champions Victoria.
His career-best 278 against NSW at North Sydney came a week too late to force his way into the Test top six in Brisbane.
And with Big Bash League cricket dominating throughout January, Maxwell and the fellow batting contenders for the 15th and final touring place may not have another opportunity to impress before the selectors’ next major deliberation.
Given his shock omission from Australia’s current ODI squad, Maxwell is no certainty to join fellow Victorian Peter Handscomb as the second batting reserve in South Africa.
Traditionally the Australians take 14 players (2005-06 and 2008-09) or a maximum of 15 players (2011-12 and 2013-14) to South Africa for the Test component.
Precluding injury, all 11 who played in Sydney are likely to maintain their places next month in South Africa.
And the three in the squad for the Sydney Test, Handscomb, Ashton Agar and Jackson Bird should also be automatic selections.
In years gone by a second wicketkeeper would always be named, but that is unnecessary given the limited schedule and the presence of two wicketkeepers among the back-ups in Cam Bancroft and Handscomb.
That leaves just one available place for a reserve batsman. By the stats it’s a race-in-four between Maxwell, South Australian pair Callum Ferguson and Travis Head and the Queenslander Joe Burns.
Burns, 28, is the most experienced with 13 Tests to his credit (Maxwell has just seven) and he remains among the most in-form of the contenders with back-to-back 100s for Queensland including a career-best 202 not out in December in Cairns.
He is the most versatile of the four, being able to bat capably anywhere in the top six.
Australia’s captain Steve Smith will want the best-balanced squad, with two extra batsmen and bowlers.
Does he want Maxwell? Maybe not.
Is Burns regarded as a better team player in the rooms? Maybe.
Would a younger “project” player be included ahead of Burns, Maxwell and co? Perhaps.
But as long as the selectors name the best 15 cricketers in the country, there can be no grounds for complaint.
AUSTRALIA IN SOUTH AFRICA SINCE 2006
Series Played Win Loss
2013-14 3 2 1
2011-12 2 1 1
2008-09 3 2 1
2005-06 3 3 0
THE RACE FOR THE LAST PLACE: SHEFFIELD SHIELD RUNS 2017-18
|Glenn Maxwell (Vic)||590||73.75||278|
|Callum Ferguson (SA)||541||60.11||182*|
|Joe Burns (Qld)||514||57.11||202*|
|Travis Head (SA)||421||42.10||132|
|22-24 Feb 2018:||Tour match - SA Invitation XI v Australia, Benoni|
|01-05 Mar:||1st Test, Durban|
|09-13 Mar:||2nd Test, Port Elizabeth|
|22-26 Mar:||3rd Test, Cape Town|
|30 Mar-3 Apr:||4th Test, Johannesburg|
Author: Ken Piesse
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au