## The Future of Australias Attack Russell Degnan

Australia's bowling stocks are not unusually low, but the turnover has been. Players who would normally have been picked years ago have been kept out by the solidity of Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee, MacGill and Kasprowicz. This will change sooner rather than later, and probably in the next two years. Here is how I see it. The good news for Australia is that there do seem to be some good players available in the near and long term. The question is how to manage the transition.

The incumbents:

Warne remains a genuine competitor, and I hope he stays till he's 40, but unfortunately for everyone except opposition batsmen, he also might not. Retirement looms ever closer.

McGrath is probably gone. Even when he comes back, if he comes back, it won't be for long. The Ashes at most. Then to replace the irreplacable.

Lee is the current spearhead, but not so long ago he was dropped for form. Form, that since then has had one good series (away to South Africa) against quality (with due respect to the Windies) opposition (albeit with 12 of 17 wickets against tail-enders). The good news is his economy rate is dropping, but he needs to stay on it. An average in the low 30s won't be good enough.

Kasprowicz showed nothing of particular worth against South Africa. In a young bowler you might persist, but his age (34) tells against him, and he should be dropped sooner rather than later.

Clark had the best debut by a bowler in a long time, and looked pretty solid doing it. He is almost 31 though and a first-class average near 30 makes him, at best, a two-year stop gap, and at worst, a one series wonder.

MacGill is another on the wrong side of 35, can't field and can't bat. He might be tempted to play till Warne retires, but a successor he isn't. Australia needs another spinner, and getting someone in to learn from the current master should be the strategy.

The pace prospects:

Bracken was unlucky to get dropped, given his recent record and first-class form. But the selectors picked Clark right, even if Kaspa was wrong. On the right side of 30, he should be playing.

Gillespie for me, unlike most commentators, is not finished. Not quite 31, he has at least three seasons in him, and remains the best line-and-length bowler Australia has after McGrath. It will be the Australian teams' loss if he spends his last days knocking over Shield sides for not many.

Tait has injured himself again, but frankly doesn't need to be playing Tests for a couple of years if we can avoid it. As Lee is finally learning, accuracy counts at the top level and Tait needs some before he plays again.

Johnson is another young player with big raps on him. Performed well in the Shield final but averaged 30 over the season. Like Tait, remains more of a prospect than an option.

Hopes has the advantage of being an all-rounder and the disadvantage of noone being sure of what. Needs to do one thing really well before he'll get a Test look-in.

Watson is a better prospect than Hopes. Still young, but unfortunately more of a batsman than a bowler. A reasonable bet if Australia plays two spinners, but not otherwise.

Dorey seems to have an alright record given his limited experience. His one-dayer experience was a let-down, but he will probably be back.

Griffith isn't mentioned much, but was the highest wicket-taker in the Shield this season. Seven five-fors in 30 matches speaks well of him, although, like Dorey, he'll be 30 in a couple of seasons.

And the spin prospects:

Cullen is very young and a spinner. Both rare commodities. Picked for Bangladesh, but struggled this season. Probably a decade from his best cricket.

White, as the only young leg-spinner around, must consider himself a chance, but like Watson, his batting is stronger than his bowling. Might come on, but lacks the unnatural spin or drift a top-class spinner would have.

With Symonds or Clarke in the side Australia has no need for a second spinner except on real turners (if Watson or Hopes were picked then this would depend on the venue). With that in mind, Warne is a certainty for as long as he plays, with MacGill as no more than backup. For those odd tests though, I'm inclined to go with Cullen, to give him a chance in favourable conditions, and because in three or four years he is likely to be our only real spin option.

The pace bowling lineup needs balance above all -- something lacking in the last Ashes debacle. If three bowlers are to be picked, then two need to be capable of bowling tight lines, to support Warne, each other and the more attacking third option. For the next two years, this means picking two of McGrath, Gillespie, Clark, and Bracken. For preference, one of the first two, and one of the second; although Gillespie is closer in age to the others I fear injury has taken a greater toll on his body. If three of them are unavailable then Johnson, Dorey or Griffith.

The attacking comes from Lee, who like the other hs probably four years in him at most. If form or injury intervenes then Johnson, then Tait. Lee is so smooth, injuries are rare, but Tait seems to be plagued by them, which means the likely long-term option is Johnson.

Form and injuries are variable, class remains unjudged, but some rough predictions can be made for the next two series that count. Likely substitutes for injury/form/retirement in (parenthesese), less likely backups in [brackets].

Ashes 2006-07
Too near now to predict the team will change much. Based on the South African performance, probably a reasonable lineup. More than anything there are players who can restrict and frustrate England's free scorers.
McGrath (Gillespie), Lee, Clark (Bracken), Warne [Cullen, Johnson]

Ashes 2009
Far enough away that its hard to predict, but not so far that names noone has heard of yet will emerge, unless they are genuine superstars. McGrath will be gone for sure, Gillespie and Clark almost certainly as well. Warne we can hope, but it might be in vain; perhaps he'll want 1000 wickets. Lee will be 33 by then as well, but should be there. I mark Tait down because I fear he'll never be accurate enough to survive at test level, but unless Dorey or Watson improve markedly he is the most likely successor to Lee. Note, however, the possibility that we'll have three left-armers, and none of last year's team.
Lee (Tait), Johnson (Watson), Bracken (Dorey), Warne (Cullen) [Griffith, White]

Update: I wrote this before the team to play Bangladesh was selected, and therefore before Australia's decision to pick five bowlers. I think this policy is a grave mistake. Bowlers may win games, but batsmen lose them. The advantage of having a fifth bolwer doesn't come near offsetting the extra runs of a sixth bat. And not just in raw averages. Batsmen rarely score their average, it is a skewed distribution with a few scores at the high end and lots of low ones. The more of them you have, the closer the team will get to its expected value -- ie. the more stable your totals will be and the less likely a collapse for not many will put you out of the game.

Idle Summers 9th April, 2006 11:04:50   [#]