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Are Australia having a funny turn?

Posted in England in Australia 2010-11

Xavier Doherty

Xavier Doherty has become Australia's 'best' spinner despite an average of 48

Timing, they say, is everything - especially so in cricket.

Much like their batsmen of late, Australia displayed precious little of it in announcing the squad for the first Ashes Test this morning.

Within a matter of hours England had put the finishing touches to their most impressive performance of the tour, sweeping to a thoroughly comprehensive win over Australia A with almost a session to spare.

A second victory in three one-sided tour games for England, or Nathan Hauritz’s exclusion from the Australia Test party - there is little doubt which will have more bearing on the Ashes.

Australians are becoming increasingly preoccupied by the threat posed by England, and the manner in which Andrew Strauss and company disposed of theoretically the second best team in the country will have been noted well beyond the Bellerive Oval.

Even the unashamedly partisan Channel 9 commentators - former Test cricketers one and all - were purring over England’s display. “If this is the second-string attack, the other guys must be pretty good”, was the gist of it.

As absurd as it may sound for a nation of the most fiercely competitive people imaginable, it may be less painful for Australians to praise England rather than dwell on matters closer to home. Hunky dory it ain’t.

The major talking point today was Hauritz’s omission from the final 13 for Brisbane - hardly hold-the-front-page material, you might think. But the fact that Xavier Doherty is now deemed the best spinner in Australia should raise an eyebrow.

The last time England toured Australia they had to contend with Shane Warne, widely regarded as the greatest spinner of all time. This winter Australia are pinning their slow-bowling hopes on a man who averages 48 in first-class cricket. And not with the bat.

Xavier Doherty

Doherty's statistics do not compare favourably with Shane Warne, Graeme Swann - or even part-timer Michael Clarke

There has even been a modicum of sympathy for the treatment of Hauritz, who as recently as two Tests ago was, according to captain Ricky Ponting, a certainty to play at the Gabba. Indecision is rife. It is all very un-Australian.

Naming a bloated 17-man Ashes squad 10 days before the first Test appeared misjudged. Andrew Hilditch’s comments that day veered closer to the ridiculous.

“We think the side is playing very well at the moment,” the chairman of the national selection panel said. Australia have won one of their last eight games in all forms of the game.

“We were pretty pleased with the way it went in India.” Australia lost both Tests and the only one-day international that escaped the rain.

It is inconceivable that Doherty will not make his Test debut in Brisbane, and the sentiments in this article have been expressed in the firm knowledge that I run the risk of ending up with egg on my face - or at least the keyboard - should he spin Australia to victory.

Doherty has enjoyed a productive domestic season for Tasmania (Ponting’s state, for the conspiracy theorists), and he showed an immediate liking for international cricket when he took 4-46 on his one-day debut against Sri Lanka earlier this month.

His recent success has been built around varying his pace and flight, and he also appears to possess a smart cricket brain.

Statistically, however, he is no better than Michael Clarke, whose first-class wickets cost 46.78 apiece.

As for the comparison with Graeme Swann, even Hilditch would struggle to put a positive spin on that.