Australia cricket coach Darren Lehmann has the same message for out-of-favour all-rounders Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner: ‘consistency is key’.
The trio may have felt hard done by on Tuesday when little-known 24-year-old Hilton Cartwright was drafted into the Boxing Day Test squad ahead of them.
Cartwright, the son of a Zimbabwean tobacco farmer, has played just 16 first-class matches for Western Australia, but offers an option with both bat and ball for an Australian side that nervously won the first Test against Pakistan by 40 runs, despite setting the tourists a mammoth 490-run victory target.
His surprise selection doubled as a message to Marsh, Maxwell and Faulkner – that flash-in-the-pan performances aren’t enough to get back in the Test fold.
“Mitchell is a fine young player and man,” Lehmann told The New Daily on Wednesday.
“He needs runs, but he’s not out of the reckoning at all. He’s been a bit up and down with his form, though, and that’s the challenge for him. We need him to be more consistent with bat and ball.
“We’re talking about all all-rounders and James [Faulkner] is one of them. He got his first 100 in a while in the Sheffield Shield the other week and that was good.
“He needs to keep scoring runs and he knows that. We know he can bowl, and bowl tight lines for us. But he needs to be more consistent as well.
“Glenn will get his chance somewhere [this summer]. We want him to play well with the [Melbourne] Stars to start with and then the one-day internationals come around. I’m sure he’ll get his chance.”
Australia’s lack of an all-rounder was obvious in Brisbane, and it’s Cartwright’s batting that has brought him into contention for the national team, Lehmann said.
Cartwright averages 44.50 with the bat in 23 first-class innings, and no batsman who scored over 250 runs in last year’s Sheffield Shield had a better 2016 average than his 68.16.
“He’s a bright prospect. He’s performed well for WA with the bat and can bowl some overs,” Lehmann said.
“We’ve got him in the squad as an option. We bowled nearly 150 overs in Brisbane [in the fourth innings] and we might have to look at another bowling option [in Melbourne].”
Cartwright’s Test debut seems likely to depend on the condition of pace trio Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird, who all “seem okay”, according to Lehmann.
If he is to feature at the MCG, he would be the sixth Test debutant of the Australian summer, following in the footsteps of Callum Ferguson, Joe Mennie, Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson.
While the South Australian pair of Mennie and Ferguson lasted just one match – when South Africa thrashed Australia by an innings at Hobart in November – the other three have slotted into Australia’s top six.
And Lehmann says they have re-energised the Test side, which now has just two players – Bird and David Warner – 30 or older.
“It’s been an exciting time,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a challenge for us to learn about them, and for them to learn about us. But they have been great fun and given the dressing room a new buzz.
“Their music is a bit different, though. I wouldn’t even know what they are listening to.”
Lehmann is particularly excited by the performances of Peter Handscomb.
The 25-year-old scored a century in Brisbane and will head to the MCG hoping to become the first Victorian-born batsman since Graham Yallop in 1983 to score a century in the Boxing Day Test (Chris Rogers, who played for Victoria but was born in New South Wales and raised in Western Australia, achieved the feat in 2014).
“He’s done real well. He looks calm at the crease,” Lehmann said.
“He’s played a lot of first-class cricket, and done well in it. He has deserved his opportunity.
“His game looks suited to Test cricket and I’m looking forward to watching him progress at that level.”
Handscomb, particularly adept at playing spin bowling, looms as a key figure for Australia in the upcoming four-Test tour of India in February and March, despite his inexperience.
Lehmann admits to keeping one eye on England’s recent tour of India, which ended in a 4-0 series defeat despite some impressive batting performances.
“I thought England have played quite well at times,” he said.
“But the challenge over there is playing well for long periods. That’s facing us and the pressure they put you on from their spinners, particularly on day four and five, is a tough ask.
“It will be a big task but it’s a great challenge for us. Everyone is pretty good at home … the real challenge is winning away from home and it’s facing us.”
He says the Boxing Day Test is “the best time of year” and that things “will be different with the red ball” in Melbourne.
A nation hopes he is right.
Darren Lehmann was promoting his new book, Coach, published by Penguin Random House Australia. You can purchase it here.