Only days out from the marquee Test of the Australian summer, Trevor Hohns’ selection panel faces a pivotal decision over the careers of two young Australian’s. Following the resignation of Head selector Rod Marsh, in the aftermath of Australia’s horrors of Hobart, newly appointed interim Head selector Hohn’s and his panel, including Mark Waugh, Greg Chappell and coach Darren Lehmann, presided over the sweeping alterations to an Australian Test side seemingly free-falling into a stage of dramatic transition. Yet two pink ball tests later, and two resolute victories against an accomplished South African side on the verge of a three-nil whitewash, and a Pakistan side holding the world number one Test ranking as recently as the last English summer, and all despair in Australian cricket appears to have temporarily vanished.
The Australian cricket public has warmed to the selections of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, both youngsters demonstrating aptitude and determination with the bat to spend long periods of play at the crease. Yet it is the third of these debutants, 25 year old New South Welshman Nic Maddinson, from these most recent two Tests, which is the cause of much debate, and a dilemma, for the Australian selectors. With a debut score of 0 off 12 uncertain deliveries in Adelaide, followed by just 1 and 4 against the Pakistanis in Brisbane, many in Maddinson’s position would see their immediate future in the baggy green terminated. Just look to South Australian Callum Ferguson, batting in Maddinson’s position of number 6 in the recent Hobart disaster, run out and bounced out for scores of 1 and 3, his only Test opportunity appears to have flashed before the 32 year old’s eyes. Yet less than two days out from the Boxing Day Test, and Maddinson remains a strong chance to press his claims at the highest level, selected in the squad of 13 for a third chance in the baggy green.
The selectors have long seen promise in Maddinson, on their radar for numerous years, and making his Twenty-20 debut for the nation in 2013. The talented left hander was the controversial choice of Hohns’ new panel, picked ‘on talent’, rather than a glut of recent Sheffield Shield runs, with an average of only 32 over the past two seasons. Performances thus far indicate that Maddinson’s selection appears to have been that of a mistake, his hesitant defensive technique to the moving ball outside off-stump a matter of concern. Yet the selectors seem persistent in their choice, although a fit Shaun Marsh may have altered that choice.
However, the unlikely selection of West Australian Hilton Cartwright into the Australian Test squad of 13 for Boxing Day, has cast a new shadow of doubt over Maddinson’s place. Cartwright, the Zimbabwean born batting all-rounder of just 16 First Class matches, appears to be a reactionary choice as a result of Steve Smith’s comments in Brisbane. Following the arduous 145 Second Innings overs to achieve victory, wearing down pacemen Starc, Hazlewood and Bird, Smith stated a desire for another bowling option. This sentiment was supported by bowling Coach David Saker, who believed :
“Every side wants an all-rounder in your top six or seven batters, and that’s really important for us”.
– Australian bowling coach David Staker
With Mitch Marsh on the outer of the Test arena following repeatedly underwhelming performances, the selectors chose left of field for Cartwright, despite taking only 4 wickets in 5 matches at Sheffield Shield level this season. With a First Class bowling average over 40, surprisingly even larger than Maddinson’s scant First Class bowling record of 6 wickets at 36, this again appears to be a choice on promise over substance for the right-arm medium pacer. Although, Cartwright’s batting record somewhat suggests otherwise.
With over 400 runs, at an average of 68 in the 2015/16 Sheffield Shield season, backed up by three half centuries at the beginning of this season, Cartwright’s possible selection at number 6 is validated on recent form, unlike that of Maddinson. Cartwright, an aggressive right hander, known for his dynamic 360 degree play and foot-work against spin, as demonstrated by his century for Australia A against India A in September at Allan Border Field, represents an international trend of aggressive middle order all-rounders. This trend sees the likes of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali for England, Ravi Ashwin of India and Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh, cement themselves as vital cogs to their nations batting line-ups, in the bid for quick middle order runs to turn a game. Cartwright, in the selector’s eyes, may well be hoped to follow in this trend, with the belief that his bowling will improve over time.
Yet should the selectors be inclined to choose Cartwright over Maddinson, they may be seen to have back-flipped on Trevor Hohns’ public comments to “get behind these blokes”. It must be noted that Maddinson has been confronted with a series of difficult Test match circumstances to bat in. Notably, a fired up Kagiso Rabada and his searing yorker under the Adelaide lights, and the selfless pursuit of quick runs in the second innings of Brisbane, in the face of a looming declaration. For these reasons, the Australian selectors may deem it fair to offer one final opportunity to Maddinson, a player renowned for his aggressive, natural flair with the willow when in form. However, the state of the Melbourne drop-in pitch may alter the final decision.
Should, as expected, the pitch appear to offer little seam and bounce to the pacemen, with long batting inning’s expected, the back-up medium pace bowling potential of Cartwright would most likely tip selection in his favour for a fresh baggy green. This selection is all the more critical, only two matches out from a daunting 4 Test tour of World number 1 India in February, followed by next summers’ home Ashes series. A settled number 6 batsman, particularly one whom can ably assist with the ball, could have major bearing upon the impending success of this revitalised Australian Cricket Team. Whomever, be it Maddinson or Cartwright, is offered the late Christmas present of a Boxing Day Test spot, they will have a substantial opportunity to stake their claim as a crucial Australian middle order member on cricket’s biggest stage.