After a number of controversial omissions from Australia's Test squad for next month's two-match series against Pakistan, Cricket Australia (CA) has detailed the statistical rationale behind its decision-making processes for selection of batsmen for the UAE Tour.
The omissions of Glenn Maxwell, Joe Burns and Peter Handscomb were the major talking points in the 15-man squad as uncapped trio Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head all earned call-ups.
As Australia look to conquer Asia for the first time since 2011 under new coach Justin Langer and amid a period of cultural change within the men's side, CA's statistical documents, shared with cricket.com.au, reveal a key focus on:
- The concentration required to score hundreds: Langer has already been repetitive in his message to the top batsmen around the country – score more hundreds. In all formats, in all conditions.
- The importance of 30-plus scores: Identified as a key metric as CA looks to solve the issue of collapses, which have marred previous tours to Asia
- Performance under pressure: Considered in the context of the Australia A first-class series against India A, in which a number of the players selected in the Test squad produced impressive performances
Cricket.com.au has explored CA's rationale on a relevant player-by-player basis, while also presenting the counterviews.
NB: All statistics encompass the past two years
BATSMEN The new faces selected
CA's rationale: Finch gets a big tick in the 'percentage of scores over 30' metric being used as a method to prevent collapses in Asia; across all formats at domestic and international level, only Steve Smith (50.49 per cent) betters the Victorian's mark of 50.37 per cent. In 135 innings, he has passed 30 on 68 occasions. When those numbers are narrowed to first-class cricket only, Finch (56.25 per cent) is again second to Smith (57.14 per cent), with 18 scores above 30 from 32 innings (two hundreds). The right-hander has also been in tremendous touch in white-ball cricket throughout 2018, averaging 64.15 while striking at 180.45 across 30 T20 innings, and having scored three hundreds in eight ODI innings. The 31-year-old has 28 hundreds in his first-class, List A and T20 career combined, and at a pinch, could also do a job as a back-up wicketkeeper or off-spinning option.
The counterview: While he averages 38.56 from 16 ODI innings (five fifties, one hundred), Finch has never played a first-class match in Asia. His return of two hundreds and seven fifties from 18 first-class matches across the past two years might also be considered less impressive than that of the man he ousted, Burns, who has made four hundreds and seven fifties from 19 first-class matches (two Tests).
CA's rationale: Labuschagne performed credibly 'under pressure' for Australia A in the first-class opener against India A, making 60 and 37 as a late replacement for an injured Matt Renshaw. In the first innings, he arrived at the crease with the score at 4-90 after Australia A had lost 4-12, and proceeded to put on a partnership of 114 with Usman Khawaja. Second time around, he shared a 50-run stand with Head, steadying the ship after the tourists had lost 3-39. The 24-year-old, who has four first-class hundreds to his name, was also the second-highest run-scorer in last summer's Sheffield Shield, while his '30-plus percentage' in all formats is 40.32 – 13th in the country and ahead of Maxwell (37.74 per cent, putting him 22nd nationwide). He is also a part-time leg-spinning option, and as his two run-outs in the 'A' series in India highlighted, a superb fielder; a factor considered particularly important as the probable 'extra' batsman (and sub fielder) in the UAE.
The counterview: Labuschagne's selection has not been widely criticised, though the timing of the Test squad announcement was perhaps a touch fortuitous for the right-hander, whose pair in Australia A's second first-class match against India A could not have factored into selectors' calculations.
CA's rationale: Head falls behind only Smith and Finch in the 30-plus percentage metric, having reached 30 in 55.81 per cent of his first-class innings in the past two years (47.62 per cent overall). A century as captain of Australia A in the 50-over quadrangular series in India last month, and returns of 4, 87, 68 and 47 in the India-based first-class matches earned him a big tick in the 'performance under pressure' metric. The fact he has already scored 14 hundreds across all formats at the age of 24 is also deemed important. Head is another who presents an option with the ball, as a reliable part-time off-spinner.
The counterview: The selection of Head has not been met with resistance, though critics of the Maxwell and Handscomb omissions would likely point to the Victorians' experience in Test cricket in Asia as elevating them above their middle-order rival.
Those omitted (incumbents from South Africa Test squad)
CA's rationale: Maxwell's '30-plus percentage' return in all formats is 37.74 – 22nd among Australian batsmen. That figures drops to 36.67 percent (11 times from 30 innings, including four Tests) in first-class cricket only. Head coach Justin Langer added that Maxwell's failure to make more hundreds had also cost him his place; despite being five years older than Head, he has one fewer century (13) than the South Australian across all formats.
The counterview: Maxwell and Shaun Marsh are the only current (and eligible) Australians to have scored a Test century in Asia, with the Victorian's maiden ton coming under intense pressure in the crucial third Test in Ranchi last year, against the likes of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The right-hander is regarded by many as one of the country's best players of spin, and has scored the same number of first-class hundreds (two) as Finch and Labuschagne in the past two years. He is also a part-time off-spin option and considered one of the world's top fielders. If selectors weren't convinced by his numbers, it is surprising he was he not given an opportunity to push his case in the Australia A series in India – though that of course would have cost another batsman his place on the tour.
CA's rationale: While Handscomb's '30-plus percentage' return (40.38) in all formats is marginally higher than Labuschagne's (40.32), the right-hander has struggled for form of late and his scores of 2, 2, 0, 8 and 8 for Australia A in the one-day and first-class matches across the past month did not present the compelling case the selectors were hoping for.
The counterview: Handscomb top scored for Australia A in their final innings yesterday with a patient 56 over more than three hours on a day four pitch in Bengaluru. The right-hander also has two outstanding innings in Asia last year (a match-saving 72no against India, and a match-shaping 82 against Bangladesh in Chittagong) to further push his case, as well as a Test batting average of 43.63. Interestingly, his '30-plus percentage' score in first-class cricket (43.10) is superior to Labuschagne's (41.46). On the flipside, his lack of recent runs as he undergoes some technical changes would doubtless have given selectors pause for thought.
CA's rationale: Burns comes in at 17th nationwide in the '30-plus percentage' metric in all formats, fractionally below Handscomb and Labuschagne at 39.73 per cent. The right-hander averages 19 from six first-class innings in Asia.
The counterview: Burns was in super touch for Queensland last summer and would bring experience to a Test batting group sorely lacking exactly that. His first-class '30-plus percentage' metric (42.5) is ahead of Labuschagne's (41.46), while he has averaged 42.74 from 19 first-class matches in the past two years, with four hundreds – twice as many as Finch, Labuschagne and Head. As with Maxwell, it seems strange Burns was not given a chance to push his case in India with Australia A, though again, it would have had to come at the expense of another batsman.
Qantas Tour of the UAE
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Sep 29 - Oct 2: Tour match v Pak A, Dubai
Oct 7-11: First Test, Dubai
Oct 16-20: Second Test, Abu Dhabi