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Australians With Tough Opening Decision To Make

A new era beckons for Australian cricket. The squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka will exclude Justin Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Whilst Warne and McGrath are irreplaceable, it seems clear that Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait will be fighting for the final seamers spot while Stuart MacGill looks likely to be the chosen spinner, with Brad Hogg keeping him honest. As for the opening position, nothing is certain. As usual, Australia have plenty of options to choose from with class players at their disposal but it seems the battle is between at most four men. Phil Jaques and Brad Hodge appear to be the favourites; both have Test experience, and both have weight of runs both home and abroad. Jaques has not set the world alight in his two Test appearances, while Hodge managed a double century against South Africa before being dropped. He has since forced himself into the one-day side, and, aside from getting himself into some difficulty on turning pitches in India, has looked the part. However, he has not played extensively as an opener, and in his recent most outing for Victoria, managed three runs in two innings at the top of the order, which was hardly a ringing endorsement for his selection, especially when Phil Jaques had hit 167 in the previous game. Langer, however, believes that Hodge is the man, "He is too good a player not to be playing test cricket," he told Melbourne Radio last week. “To make as many runs as he has at No. 3 in first-class cricket, he's obviously got the technique and the temperament to cope at any position." He may have a point: 15,091 runs at 47.90 with a high score of 302 not out (Jaques has 10,491 at 56.10 with 244) suggest Hodge is a man equipped with the necessary skills, and the ability to bat for long periods. Which is something Simon Katich, an outsider for a recall, demonstrated in the recent Pura Cup game, where he scored 306 for New South Wales against a full strength Queensland side which included Matthew Hayden, who hit 179. It would be a long shot to go with Katich, especially as he isn’t a specialist opener, at least not in Tests, but as the current run leader in the Pura Cup he could slot in to the middle order with Mike Hussey, who still opens for Western Australia and has done so for Australia in the past, partnering Hayden at the top of the order. Another man in good form is Tasmanian Michael Di Venuto. With 19,213 first-class runs and experience both at home and abroad, and with nine one-day internationals to his name he is an outside bet for a place after a fine season with Durham and an excellent start with Tasmania, where he scored 178 in their opening match. With Shane Watson, another man who has opened in one-day internationals and has been mooted as a Test possibility, currently out of the frame through injury, the Australians are spoilt for choice. Competition for places always presents selectors with a ‘nice’ problem, but when the decision is made, there will be some disappointed batsmen. A Cricket World poll held last month saw 33% of our users opt for Watson with Hussey and Hodge tied for second (24%) while Jaques came in third with 14%. Come November, we will see if our poll mirrors reality when the Australian selectors finally reveal their decision. John Pennington © Cricket World 2007