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The Ashes: Who are the contenders to replace Michael Clarke?

The Roar logo The Roar 08-08-2015 Ronan O'Connell
Michael Clarke of Australia looks on from the change rooms during day two of the 4th Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia. © Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Michael Clarke of Australia looks on from the change rooms during day two of the 4th Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia.

Last week I wrote Michael Clarke likely would be spared the axe because the selectors would fear losing too many experienced players from the Test team at once. Then the skipper played by far the worst stroke on the lowest day I’ve witnessed for an Australian Test team in this fourth Ashes Test.

Suddenly, all bets are off. The visitors are spiralling towards a humiliating loss, not just of this Test but of the series and with it, the Ashes.

Clarke has been arguably Australia’s least valuable player this series, with only fellow middle-order batsman Adam Voges challenging him for that horrific honour.

As The Roar’s enraged editor Patrick Effeney pointed out, Clarke’s defence of his airy, atrocious stroke as a “live by the sword, die by the sword” situation was pure shite.

Although, to be fair to Clarke, his defence has become so leaky against quality quick bowling the past two years that lustily launching his blade was probably no worse an option.

At 34 years old, with the back of a 134-year-old, Clarke looks shot as a Test batsman.

His breezy attitude about his role in this catastrophic Test may be enough to push the selectors to make a major change.

Given they have a readymade skipper in Steve Smith the only question they need ask themselves is, “Who would replace Clarke the batsman?”

Here are the leading contenders (in no particular order):

Michael Klinger

Western Australia, 35

9683 first-class runs at 39, including 25 centuries

Klinger is the smoky. Despite being older than Clarke, and just nine months younger than Voges, he has suddenly been vaulted into calculations.

The main reason the selectors may hesitate to drop Clarke is the same reason they could pick Klinger if they axe the skipper – because they’ll be worried about the side being left too inexperienced. With former vice captains Brad Haddin and Shane Watson dropped, Ryan Harris retired and Chris Rogers set to join him, omitting Clarke would leave the team littered with rookies. This could see the selectors look for an experienced batsman to take on a middle order role.

Klinger’s Western Australia teammate Voges was selected to add steel to the Australian middle order and failed, which may hurt Klinger’s chances. But, if the selectors do look for a short-term fix, Klinger would be a perfect fit at four. Outside of Rogers, no current Australian batsman grafts for their runs in a more reliable and old-fashioned manner than Klinger.

Currently he is in good form for Gloucestershire in county cricket, with five hundreds across all formats this season.

Chris Lynn

Queensland, 25

2340 runs at 46, including five centuries

Lynn has been in the minds of the selectors for many years, having first been earmarked for higher honours as a 20-year-old. He was selected for the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe in 2011, but had to withdraw because of a finger injury, opening the door for Matthew Wade to be called up.

A prodigy, Lynn was only 19 when he earned his first Shield cap in the 2009-10 season and in his second match made what was described at the time by cricinfo.com as a “chanceless” innings of 116 against Western Australia.

Lynn’s career has been stalled by injuries but his solid temperament and wide range of strokes make him a decent middle-order option for Australia.

Joe Burns

Queensland, 25

3807 first-class runs at an average 41, including eight centuries

Burns also is in the race to replace veteran opener Rogers when he retires at the end of the Ashes. Such is his versatility – he has batted anywhere from one to six for Queensland and debuted at six in Tests – that he will also be strongly considered for a middle-order berth.

In an effort to further hone his game he spent a large part of this English summer with Middlesex, but struggled averaging just 29 from seven county games. He has, however, been the standout young batsman in the Sheffield Shield the past two seasons, creaming 1357 runs at 50.

Usman Khawaja

Queensland, 28

5558 runs at 40, including 13 centuries

Khawaja has made his comeback from injury on the current Australia A tour of India after missing most of last summer’s Shield competition. That injury was poor timing for the elegant left-hander, who had just put himself in the spotlight with a prolific domestic 50-over campaign. His 2013-14 Shield campaign also had been impressive, with 551 runs at 50.

Khawaja is as gifted as any Australian batsman outside the Test side, but he has patently struggled with nerves in his truncated Test career, playing with hard hands and lead feet, negative attributes which are absent from his game at the domestic level.

Callum Ferguson

South Australia, 30

6141 runs at 39, including 13 centuries

Six years ago a Test career appeared a formality for Ferguson. Prodigiously talented and possessed of a complete range of strokes, he made a scintillating start to his international career, compiling 547 runs at 61 in his first 18 ODIs. But the consistency he showed in coloured clothing never transferred to long-form cricket. His first-class average hovered in the mid-30s despite being based on the most batsman-friendly ground in the nation at Adelaide.

Finally, over the past two seasons, he has become a reliable runmaker, with 565 runs at 56 in 2013-14 followed by 836 runs at 52 last year. He is now back on the selectors’ radars as a member of the Australia A tour of India, during which he made 56 in his one first-class innings.

Marcus Stoinis

Victoria, 25

1372 runs at 39, with one century

It remains to be seen whether Stoinis is viewed by the Australian selectors as a genuine batting option or merely as a potential all-rounder. He has demonstrated on the current Australia A tour of India that his medium pacers can be frugal and effective, but it is his batting which won him selection for Victoria and then vaulted him on to the fringes of the Australian set up.

Batting in the top three for Victoria last season, Stoinis made 785 runs at 49. There was no hundred among that haul but he did register nine half-centuries from just 17 innings to underline his consistency.

Stoinis is a good prospect but is the least likely of this group to make an imminent Test debut.

Peter Handscomb

Victoria, 24

2349 runs at 35, including four centuries

Since ditching the gloves to concentrate on his batting, Handscomb has been piling up runs. An uncomplicated strokemaker who bats in the middle order for Victoria, he scored 647 runs at 54 last Shield season, including three centuries from nine games.

He had a mixed time for Australia A in their two four-day games against India A, making a crucial 91 first up, before following that with consecutive ducks.

Like Stoinis, he appears one for the future rather than the present.

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