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Batting woes an Ashes concern for Australia
So worried are Australia's selectors by the lack of batting quality available to them for this year's dual Ashes assignments that the seasoned duo of Chris Rogers and Adam Voges are being seriously considered for Test squad duty.
The national selector John Inverarity mentioned both Rogers, 35, and Voges, 33, as possible Ashes tourists while speaking at some length about Australia's widespread batting problems as he announced the list of centrally contracted players for 2013-14. Only six specialist batsmen were granted contracts among the 20 players chosen, leaving Inverarity's panel plenty of scope to choose batsmen from outside the list when they name an Ashes squad of 17.
Rogers and Voges both have the advantage of considerable batting experience in England, the former an especially prolific performer during northern summers. Rogers, who played his only Test match in 2008, has compiled 9,230 first-class runs at an average of 53.97 in England with 28 centuries, the vast majority made at the top of the order against the moving ball.
Voges' record is not quite as imposing, but his 2736 runs at 45.60 with four centuries for Nottinghamshire have added lustre when it is considered that the club's home ground, Trent Bridge, is where the first Test of the Ashes series will be played. Never chosen in a Test XI, Voges made a composed ODI century at the MCG earlier this year.
Inverarity said Rogers "has been and will be in discussions", and mentioned Voges alongside Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Alex Doolan as other batting contenders among the group who did not receive a CA contract. Overall, however, Inverarity maintained a disappointed if not quite bewildered tone at the problems of Australian batting, exposed as they were by a series of horrid displays in India.
"We do not have the batting depth in Australian cricket now that we enjoyed 15 years ago. We just don't. That's something that cricket in Australia really needs to address and we need to get more batsmen making runs prolifically," Inverarity said. "We thirst for players who do really well across all formats.
"That's a concern for Australian cricket, as we've said consistently in recent times. We are looking for consistent, prolific run-scorers in all forms of cricket. Those players to whom it doesn't matter whether it's white ball, red ball, Twenty20, whatever it is, they go out and they churn out the runs.
"There has been an absence of that in recent years in club cricket, domestic interstate cricket, and international cricket, and that needs to be a real focus of coaching and development in Australia. It's just got to be done, it needs to be done. That involves technique but mindset as well. That's what we need."
Australia's increasingly jumbled schedule of different formats both at junior and domestic levels has been a major bother for the selectors. Australia's limited-overs captain George Bailey made only one first-class half-century all summer, a famine largely attributable to a season in which he jumped ceaselessly from first-class to one-day to T20 and back again.
Inverarity cited the example of Doolan, who was the dominant domestic batsman in the early part of the season, peaking with an attractive century for Australia A against the South Africans at the SCG, but then spent much of the December-January period as a fringe player for the Melbourne Renegades in the BBL. Perhaps not surprisingly, he struggled to regain his earlier touch when the Sheffield Shield resumed.
Khawaja's case provides further cause for disquiet. His place as a reserve batsman for the national team kept him out of numerous Shield engagements for Queensland including the final. Whether or not Khawaja should have played Tests over that time is a matter for the selectors, but the schedule left them with precious little evidence on which to choose him.
"He worked very hard in India and did well, and he will be well prepared," Inverarity said. "He's strongly in contention for the Ashes, but it is a concern [the lack of first-class matches]. It's certainly not an ideal preparation, him not playing more red-ball cricket."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here