Ponting has faded into the distance, Hussey is long gone and Katich will never wear the baggy green again. Three men with grit and courage have been lost, their successive exits leaving Australia with a middle order that is brittle at the best of times. George Bailey has the disposition to solidify the batting lineup of the test squad, however the Tasmanian captain is in dire need of first class runs heading into a Sheffield Shield season that could define him as a player – he must pay for his test cap in centuries.
The Australian long format lineup has been repeatedly rocked by a chop-and-change selection policy that undervalues temperament and weight of runs. Embattled left-handers Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes are unable to withstand the maintained pressure of test cricket, consistently unable to rotate the strike and limply succumbing to persistent off-stump attacks. Khawaja has never looked remotely comfortable on the grand stage, managing just two fifties in his nine matches. Hughes has three centuries from 26 tests, however two of the three came in his second outing in Durban in 2009. He has drifted in and out of the test squad since, most famously being shepherded from the world-class South African bowlers by the hapless Bob Quiney. It was a low-point of Australian test selection – Quiney was mercilessly thrown to the wolves in an attempt to preserve the mentally fragile Hughes. He and Khawaja have consistently failed at test level and it has lead to a growing sense of public distrust in the ailing pair.
Bailey brings that trust to any team that he plays in. It is a reflection of his character and ability that he will play exactly as the situation demands. There is no better example than his maiden one-day international century, an innings that was as memorable as it was vital to an Australian victory. After the West Indies made quick inroads on a bouncy WACA pitch, the score sat at 4/56. Bailey set about restoring pride to an innings that was collapsing around his ears. Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell departed cheaply before Bailey dominated a 100-run partnership with James Faulkner to lift Australia from 6/98 to 7/198. He saved his finest exploits for the final overs of the innings, hitting a six off a Kemar Roach full toss to bring up his ton then tearing a disbelieving Dwayne Bravo apart after regaining strike in the final over. He cleared the rope four times in his last six deliveries in a fearsome display of power hitting.
What was most striking about Bailey’s century was the composure in which he compiled his runs. He adapts to the situation perfectly and plays intelligent cricket. It would be misguided to select test players on the basis of ODI performance, however some characteristics apply across all formats of the game. Bailey does not flinch in face of danger. The hostilities of international cricket may weigh on the minds of his younger counterparts, but he is unaffected. This mental fortitude makes a natural leader of Bailey, part of the reasoning he was plucked from relative obscurity to captain a new-look Australia in T20 cricket on his international debut.
Having averaged a measly 18.28 in his 2012-13 Shield campaign, the spotlight is on Bailey. His stellar performances for Australia have not gone unnoticed, however without runs on the board, his first class form would suggest that it would be unwise for Bailey to play test cricket. One summer century will give him a chance; two will all but assure him of a slot batting at five for Australia. He is the right man to fill the void and needs to give head selector John Inverarity a signal that he is ready. Bailey needs to force his way into the Australian side where his presence would provide the stability the team so desperately craves. The pressure rests squarely on his shoulders leading into a summer of Shield cricket that could reshape his career. Perhaps that is exactly how he likes it.
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