Can Mitchell Marsh emulate the successes of Ben Stokes?

While both hard-hitting allrounders are of a similar age – Stokes’ international career has taken off spectacularly in recent times. Marsh meanwhile remains, for now, a project player.

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Mitchell Marsh celebrates his maiden international hundred against India last month.

Mitchell Marsh will struggle to remember a better day than Saturday 6th February 2016. It began with news of a gigantic cheque arriving from the IPL, involved a tidy bowling spell of 2-30, and concluded with an unbeaten series-levelling knock of 69.

Whilst Marsh watched on at the non-strikers end as big John Hastings hit the winning runs in Wellington, I instead found myself 5,258 kms away observing another game of cricket. A far simpler encounter between two WACA: 1st Grade sides at the picturesque Stevens Reserve ground in South Fremantle, Western Australia.

The first day skirmish between Fremantle District CC and Perth CC, played under the unrelenting WA sun, seemed a world away from the Chappell-Hadlee duel at the ‘Cake Tin’, even if it did include a pair of highly impressive youngsters in Tom Abell and Jhye Richardson.

So what’s the link you may ask?

Well, Fremantle is where it had all began for the Perth-born Marsh. The international recognition and IPL paycheque (Marsh was bought by new franchise Pune Rising Supergiants in Saturday’s auction IPL for INR 4 crores – around $1 million AUD) are both just rewards for an upbringing that began, like many Australian cricketers before him, in Grade cricket.

While a busy international schedule has contrived to restrict Marsh to just two Grade appearances for Freo this summer (the last of which was in early December) and accumulated in him contributing just eight runs, he remains a player still highly regarded among his contemporaries at the club.

After making his First Grade bow in 2006/07, Marsh lived up to his enormous potential two summers later when, as a 17-year-old, he made 208 from 171-deliveries when batting at number five against Gosnells. A week later he became the youngest Australian to play in the country’s domestic one-day competition, debuting for Western Australia against South Australia at Bunbury.

Such lofty heights were followed with more success in the U19’s – where he captained the side to World Cup success in New Zealand in 2010. Among his compatriots in that side were current limited-overs teammates Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa.

Whilst Marsh was ascending through the ranks in Australian cricket, at the other end of the planet Ashes rivals England were unearthing a promising allrounder of their own.

Like Marsh, Ben Stokes also played in the 2010 U19 World Cup – impressing with a century against India in the process. The similarities run much deeper than that too. Both men were initially introduced into the international game via the limited overs route, with Stokes’ ODI debut preceding that of Marsh’s by just two months in August 2011.

They also both made their Test bows in trying circumstances. Stokes in the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14 and Marsh a year later as Australia were demolished 2-0 by Pakistan in the UAE.

While they share several comparisons, what currently sets them apart is the impact that Stokes has already had in Test cricket. With 23 Tests to his name, the Englishman has contributed three centuries (including a double), Marsh, on the other hand has just one fifty across his 13 matches – an 87 in his second Test at Abu Dhabi.

Up until securing his maiden century in his 44th international appearance (an unbeaten 102 off 84 deliveries against India at the SCG), Marsh had encountered a difficult summer with the bat.

Unable to pass fifty before that joyous occasion at the SCG, he spent most of the summer in the dressing room nursing pad-rash after the top five all scored a glut of runs in series against New Zealand and the West Indies. His 88 runs across five Tests owed as much to a lack of opportunity than to any particularly poor form.

Even so he’s spent the summer keeping the wolves at bay as both the tabloids and social media alike took turns to jump on his back – something which Shane Watson had himself once become accustomed to.

So desperate to get his premier allrounder some time in the middle, captain Steve Smith contrived to promote Marsh up the order in both the rain affected new year Test in Sydney and the fourth ODI against India in Canberra.

Twice promoted to bat at number three, he endured relatively subdued knocks of 21 off 63 (against the West Indies) and a 42-ball 33 (against India), stalling the earlier progress of the openers on both occasions. Only later in the ODI series did Smith’s plan come to fruition when Marsh ended his four-year wait for an international ton.

Were it not for his bowling – once seen as his weaker suit – he could well have found himself out of the side. After initial doubts over his ability to hold up an end, his bowling has come on leaps and bounds in both control and pace. This has allowed Smith to use both Mitchell’s (Johnson and Starc), along with James Pattinson, to attack in short bursts.

With both Johnson and Starc absent for the duration of the West Indies series, Marsh eventually found himself as the side’s enforcer. Regularly clocking up speeds in excess of 140kph during the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, he finished the match with career-best figures of 4-61.

After initially taking four matches and seven innings to take his first Test wicket, Marsh’s record of 21 wickets at 31.61 are a solid return for essentially a fourth seamer. That 12 of those wickets have come in his six matches this summer shows of the hard work he’s put in with bowling coach Craig McDermott.

Marsh’s upturn in fortunes have occurred at a time when Stokes is rightfully being showered in appraisals. Coming off the back of a breakthrough series in South Africa, Stokes’ stock has never been higher. Australians across the land must be left wondering if their own 24-year-old allrounder can develop into such an attacking match winner.

The Man-of-the-series performance against the formerly number-one ranked South African’s bookended a year in which Stokes has played an enterprising part in a new beginning for English cricket.

He finished the series second to only Hashim Amla on the run scoring charts with 411 runs at 58.71 and fourth on the wickets tally with 12 victims at 29.16. His thunderous innings of 258 at Cape Town was brutality and insouciance at its very best.

Despite Stokes taking a little while to find his feet at the international level (he made three successive ducks against India in his second series in 2014) his Test performances in the past year have been highly impressive. Sitting alongside the Cape Town 258 are the 92 & 101 he made against New Zealand at Lords and the second innings 6-36 against Australia at Trent Bridge – both in the past twelve months.

On the surface combined Test batting (33.73) and bowling (38.07) averages hardly suggest a pathway to greatness for Stokes. But similar to both Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff before him, it’s his ability to stand up and be counted that marks the redhead out as a dangerous customer in all forms of the game.

His inclusion adds much needed balance to an England side, not only ensuring Alastair Cook can play five bowlers, but also allowing Moeen Ali (a man with 14 first-class hundreds to his name) to bat at number eight. Rod Marsh and his selection committee will hope Marsh can soon fulfil a similar role for Australia.

While Marsh has a poor batting average of 24.64 throughout the 21 times he’s walked to the middle in Test cricket, it must be noted that at times, he’s been asked to perform a selfless act when batting with a declaration looming.

Despite his often infuriating ability to throw his wicket away when well set, Australia must resist the urge to drop Marsh down to number seven and bat keeper Peter Nevill ahead of him. Such theories were muted at the conclusion of November’s day/night Test in Adelaide – where Nevill scored an accomplished first-innings 66 in trying conditions. Thankfully for Marsh’s development those ideas were soon quickly forgotten.

After started out as a number six, Stokes was briefly shifted down to number seven during England’s tour of the Caribbean last spring. The move, aided by a strong desire to promote Moeen up the order, only truly resulted in Stokes adopting a reckless attitude to batting.

“If you pick someone to bat in a certain place they’ll bat that way” – words of former Durham teammate Stephen Harmison on describing Stokes’ demotion in the order last year.

Fortunately for Stokes’ development as a batsman, the dismissal of coach Peter Moores – following that disastrous series in the West Indies – abetted his return up the order. The decision to reinstate him at six – made by then interim-coach Paul Farbrace – has since being vindicated with the Left-hander excelling under on the added responsibility.

For Marsh the forthcoming two-Test series in New Zealand looms as a potentially defining one. With the ball expected to swing and seam as it did in England last winter, Trent Boult and co are sure to demand a thorough test of his defensive technique. A technique previously found wanting in such conditions.

With the ball, he also has a huge role to play for skipper Smith. With Starc still out injured and doubts over the short term fitness of both Pattinson and Peter Siddle, expect Marsh to bowl his fair share of tough overs.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about both Stokes and Marsh. In an era when allrounders in Test cricket are often portrayed as something that closely resembles gold dust, having one equipped to bat in a positive manner at number six, whilst also being able to bowl 140kph-plus as a fourth-change seamer, is invaluable.

Could next year’s Ashes campaign be a battle of the allrounders?

World Cup ecstasy to Ashes agony

Australian cricket review 2015

The highs of March’s World Cup glory were replaced by the lows of August’s Ashes failure, amid a year that witnessed a spate of returns and farewells.

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It was a year of farewells and new beginnings in Australian cricket. Triumph, heartbreak, legacy, retirement and groundbreaking – were all key words used during another rollercoaster year in Australia’s favourite summer sport.

Figures alone suggest that Australia has had a good 2015. They lost just three of their 13 Tests and three of their 19 ODIs, but of course figures only tell half of the tale.

On the surface the year concluded as it had begun – with captain marvel Steve Smith scoring a customary Test hundred whilst leading Australia to yet another dominate home series victory. However, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that 2015 was a year in which the landscape changed across Australian cricket.

A new captain, vice-captain, wicketkeeper, spearhead quick, opening batsman, allrounder and chairman were just a few changes to occur over the past twelve months.

November saw Cricket Australia break new ground when the Adelaide Oval played host to cricket’s first ever day/night Test match. The three-wicket victory over New Zealand was by most accounts a resounding success with a grand total of 123,736 people attending the first three days of play.

On the field, deputising for the injured incumbent Test captain Michael Clarke, Smith had begun the year making 117 and 71 against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground – He concluded it with scores of 134* and 70* against the West Indies at the MCG – this time as permanent chief in commander.

Clarke’s demise conspired to be painful and rapid; Smith’s rise conspicuous and fruitful. Much like when Ricky Ponting reached the end of the road as captain in 2011, the changing of the guard was evident as it played out amongst the public spotlight of an Ashes campaign.

Unlike Ponting, Clarke wasn’t about to continue any further in the side. He would go on to announce his retirement from international cricket in an interview with old ally Shane Warne during the third morning of the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.

The timing of the decision came as no surprise. Amid a huge slump in form – in which his six 2015 Tests had brought just 196 runs at 21.77, and coupled with the strain of multiple injuries and the ongoing raw emotions over the death of Phillip Hughes last November, Clarke no longer had anything left to give.

His retirement would headline a host of farewells throughout the year. Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson all walked away from the international game, while Shane Watson chose to step aside from the Test arena.

Going into 2015, Australia had their eyes solely on two main prizes. A home World Cup victory and an away Ashes triumph. The first of which they had never achieved, the second hadn’t been ticked off for fourteen unthinkable years.

With the World Cup secured after an exhilarating seven-wicket victory over co-hosts New Zealand at the MCG in late March, perhaps also expecting Ashes success was too greedy.

The World Cup success was systematically built around a strong pace bowling unit, of which Mitchell Starc was the ultimate ringleader. The left-armer claimed a joint tournament-high 22 wickets at just 10.18. Alongside Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, he combined to obliterate all fellow challengers.

While the side that claimed the ODI silverware were a well drilled and balanced outfit in home conditions, the squad that arrived as favourites on English soil in June were overconfident, creaky and long in the tooth.

Once again found out by the seaming and swinging ball, a problem that has handicapped touring Australian sides for some years now, their brittle top and middle order were frequently lambs to the slaughter. Entering the green-top-abattoirs of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, the tourists simply had no answers when confronted with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and co. wielding shiny new Dukes balls in helpful conditions.

Truth be told, much like the English side that travelled down under in 2013-14, this was an Ashes series too far for an ageing Australian squad with ten players over the age of 30 – four of whom were 35 or older.

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The Trent Bridge scoreboard says it all. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Given the pre-series nickname Dad’s Army, Clarke and his men played down the concerns of age, instead deciding to focus on the experience they had in their ranks. But once the series got underway it became clear many wouldn’t make it beyond its conclusion in late August.

After Harris pulled up lame during a pre-Ashes tour match at Chelmsford, it began a procession of untimely blows for the tourists. Selection blunders, personal issues and significant loss of form all contributed as the problems mounted, eventually reaching their summit on that frightful first morning in Nottingham.

The casualties provided by a failed Ashes campaign, led to more selection dilemmas. But only after a proposed two-Test tour of Bangladesh was cancelled on security grounds in October, did we begin to see the makeup of the new Test side – now under the fulltime stewardship of Smith.

Joe Burns, selected ahead of the younger Cameron Bancroft, has averaged 47.88 with two hundreds since being named as Rogers’ successor in early November. While Usman Khawaja shrugged off nine months of knee ligament rehabilitation to finally nail down the number three berth. Either side of a hamstring injury, the left-hander scored 504 runs at 126.00, including three consecutive hundreds.

Although there’s no denying that much greater challenges (than home series against New Zealand and the West Indies) await next year, the batting order already has a more balanced feel to it. That Shaun Marsh was dropped for the Boxing Day Test despite scoring 182 in his previous innings at Hobart shows that competition for places is strong.

The fast bowling stocks remain a slight concern. Despite the retirements of Harris and Johnson, the depth is still relatively broad; keeping men on the park is the real concern. Cummins, Starc and Nathan Coulter-Nile are all currently sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Alongside the flourishing comebacks of Burns and Khawaja, the return of James Pattinson – absent from the World Cup and Ashes campaigns with various back injuries – is a significant positive heading into 2016.

Away from the field, David Peever, a former managing director at mining giant Rio Tinto, took over as Cricket Australia chairman following Wally Edwards departure from the role in October. After four years in the position Edwards’ legacy will no doubt be his role in the so-called ‘Big Three’, he leaves CA in a sound financial predicament.

September saw substantial news regarding the future of international cricket in Perth. From 2018 onwards all limited overs cricket and Test matches against England, India and South Africa will be moved from the WACA to a new 60,000-seater stadium in Burswood. The move saw plenty of opposition with former Test great Dennis Lillee among the masses in stating his displeasure at the move.

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A lit up Adelaide Oval plays host to the inaugural day/night Test match in November. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

High point: World Cup glory

When over 93,000 people packed into the MCG to witness a showdown between the tournaments two hosts, they expected a close game.

After a thrilling group stage match in Auckland a month earlier New Zealand, led by the effervescent Brendon McCullum, went into their first World Cup final on the crest of a wave. But Starc soon changed all that when he dismissed McCullum in the first over.

New Zealand could only limp to 183. Solid top order contributions from David Warner, Smith and Clarke saw Australia ease home in the 34th over to claim an unprecedented fifth World Cup crown.

Low point: 60 all out at Trent Bridge.

Going into that treacherous first morning at Trent Bridge, the Ashes were still on the precipice. Just 18.3 overs later and the English were essentially clutching the urn.

The insouciant way in which the Australian’s went about batting against Stuart Broad was simply dumbfounding. Sure, every edge went to hand and Ben Stokes, in particular, pulled off a world class grab in the slips, but Australia’s porous defence against the moving ball led to plenty of questions being asked.

An innings and 78-run defeat followed. The Ashes were handed over and with them Clarke handed over his resignation.

New kid on the block: Josh Hazlewood.

Since making his debut last December, Hazlewood has been an almost ever present (he missed just the fifth Ashes Test) in the Test side, taking 60 wickets at 24.13.

Despite struggling to control the amount of swing and seam on offer in English conditions, the 24-year-old impressed in both the West Indies and in home conditions.

With Johnson retired and Starc injured, Hazlewood stood up to be counted during the day/night Test in Adelaide last month. His match figures 9-136 were his career best and led to man-of-the-match honours.

Like with all young fast bowlers, its important he’s given adequate rest after playing a key role in recent series wins over New Zealand and the West Indies.

Fading Star: Michael Clarke

While six ageing players have retired this year, the decline of Michael Clarke is perhaps the greatest. He started the year not only still mourning the loss of Hughes, but also battling back and hamstring complaints and never fully recovered to find either his best form, or enthusiasm for the game.

The World Cup Final knock of 74 was his only innings of note before poor tours of the Caribbean and United Kingdom led to his inevitable retirement.

He left the game with 17,112 international runs spread across 115 Tests, 245 ODIs and 34 T20Is.

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2015 saw Richie Benaud sign off for one last time. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Farewell to: Richie Benaud & Arthur Morris

Benaud passed away in April at his Coogee home after a short battle with skin cancer. He was 84. A pioneer of cricket broadcasting later in life, Richie will also be fondly remembered as a deep thinking captain and superb legbreak bowler.

He played 63 Tests between 1952-1964 and finished his career with three centuries and 248 wickets.

Australian summers will not be the same without his distinctive voice being heard in the Channel Nine commentary box. Richie touched the lives of many – this author included.

Morris, a fellow Australian Cricket Hall of Famer, died in August aged 93. He made his name as a tremendous left-handed opening batsman, starting out at the conclusion of the Second World War.

He shot to fame as part of Don Bradman’s famous invinclibles Ashes tour of 1948 – where he topped the run scoring charts with 696 runs at 87.00. One of the last living players from that tour (Only Neil Harvey remains) he finished his career in 1955 having played 46 Tests in the Baggy Green.

What 2016 holds?

Like with any year, Australia’s progress will be judged on their away success. More to the point their ability to play the swinging and spinning ball in alien conditions.

A two-Test tour of New Zealand in February should be a measure of how much they have learnt from their mistakes against the moving ball in England, while a series in Sri Lanka later in the year will gauge where they are at regarding the spinning ball, a fundamental problem during recent tours on the subcontinent.

The ICC World Twenty20, set to be hosted by India in March, will offer further insight into whether Aaron Finch’s side can click as a unit after previous disappointment in the only format Australia has yet to win a global tournament in.

The home summer concludes the year when both South Africa and Pakistan head down under, with discussions already underway to stage at least one day/night Test.

 

How deep are Australia’s fast bowling stocks?

The retirement of Mitchell Johnson and foot injury sustained to Mitchell Starc has again led to the question, how deep is Australia’s fast bowling depth?

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Photo Credit: Cricket Australia/Getty Images.

We keep getting told how much fast bowling depth there is in Australia. We’re told that they could field as many as twenty different seamers and still remain competitive in international cricket – but are the fast bowling stocks quite as strong as they once were?

This year’s retirements to former spearhead’s Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson has taken away not just experience (100 Tests) and quality (426 wickets), but it’s also significantly weakened the depth in fast bowling across the country. Throw in the metatarsal injury sustained by Mitchell Starc during the recent Test against New Zealand, along with a host of injuries currently facing other potential candidates, and it begins to become a cause for concern.

The injury picked up by Starc during the first innings in Adelaide is as much, if not more, frustrating for the selectors than the timing of Johnson’s retirement following the previous Test in Perth. Starc had this summer, started to become the Test bowler his rich promise has previously suggested he was capable of becoming. In outbowling fellow left-armer Johnson during his, at times, rapid spells at the Gabba and the WACA, he had taken over as the bowling attack’s spearhead and was bowling better than ever before injury prematurely ended his home summer with 13 wickets at 23.23.

Starc, 25, is now targeting the tour of New Zealand in February as a realistic return date. The prolonged rest should, at least, allow him to freshen up after a tough year battling a recurring ankle problem.

All the signs currently point towards James Pattinson replacing Starc for next week’s first Test against the West Indies in Hobart. But, while, on the surface the bowling depth looks exciting and plentiful, scratch a little deeper and the cracks begin to appear.

Quite literally, you could find cracks or fractures or strains, as it appears more young Australian quick bowlers are currently gracing the treatment table instead of the firing on the field.

Producing the fast bowlers has been the easy part for Australia, keeping them injury-free hasn’t. In the past few years most of their young quicks have become even more susceptible to injury than an Arsenal footballer.

With the squad for next week’s first Test due to be announced on Tuesday morning, it will be interesting to see who stands where in the fast-bowling cartel. Certainly plenty of mulling over awaits Rod Marsh and his fellow selectors Darren Lehmann, Mark Waugh and Trevor Hohns.

If there’s one thing that we already know it’s that Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle will be taking up two, of the expected three, fast bowling berths set to be available alongside Nathan Lyon and allrounder Mitchell Marsh.

Hazlewood, 24, produced the goods when it mattered most for Australia at the Adelaide Oval. His innings (6-70) and match (9-136) figures were both career best’s, but it was the way in which he took over as the leader of the attack in the absence of Johnson and Starc that really highlighted his value to the current setup. However, on the downside, his workload (He bowled 119 overs during the series) is already being questioned just three Tests into the summer, this follows on from a hectic year since he debuted against India last December.

Unable to get into the Australian side just a few months ago (not forgetting the Victoria side during the Matador Cup), Siddle, 31, is fast becoming a valuable commodity among the bowling stocks. His ability to retain pressure is a quality not withstanding many of his counterparts and Hazlewood could do well to buy his mate a beer after he contributed heavily in earning the New South Welshman many of his nine wickets.

Despite complaining of a slightly sore back during the match, in which he claimed his 200th Test victim, Siddle should be deemed fit enough to face the Hobart Test. But alongside the aforementioned duo and a fit again Starc, how far does the bowling depth stretch in Australia? Here’s a look at the likely next in line.

 

James Pattinson (Age 25) Tests: 13 (51 wickets at 27.07)

His Test record is solid, his injury record less so. Since playing his last Test match in South Africa back in March 2014, a host of injuries have limited him to just four first-class matches for Victoria.

Among those setbacks were two serious back injuries sustained within the space of 10 months following the 2013 Ashes in England. Deterred by back complains and determined to correct his action, from front to side-on, he in turn injured his hamstring.

But injuries are nothing new for Pattinson. In November 2012, a year after making his Test debut, he suffered a rib injury so severe that, for a while, he was unable to breathe properly.

Despite all of this, he has fought his way back this summer, with the new action in tow. He has Impressed enough in both the Matador Cup and Sheffield Shield, to receive another opportunity in the wake of Johnson’s retirement.

 

Nathan Coulter-Nile (28)

Coulter-Nile could soon become just the second “double-barrelled” name to represent Australia in Test cricket since Chuck Fleetwood-Smith was handed Baggy Green number 153 in 1935.

Despite averaging a solid 28.97 with the ball across his 35 first-class fixtures, he’s only been used as a limited overs specialist for his country thus far, impressing in a smattering of ODI appearances. However, like most before him, he has suffered his fair share of injuries.

Plagued mainly by hamstring injures over the past couple of years, it’s in fact a shoulder injury which has kept him out of any Shield cricket so far this summer. He has also recently suffered the raff of the match referee – missing Western Australia’s latest fixture for his troubles – this indiscipline could cost him a place in the squad for Hobart next week.

 

Jackson Bird (28) Tests: 3 (13 wickets at 23.30)

Despite playing his last Test during the 2013 Ashes tour of England, Bird, unsurprisingly another man who has regularly struggled with injuries, could be set to benefit from the misfortune of others and gain a place in next week’s squad.

Rumours are suggesting that Bird’s previous Test experience and solid recent form could give him the nod ahead of Coulter-Nile as he seeks to revive his fledgling international career.

This summer tally of 18 wickets at 24.77, including a timely 5-69 against South Australia this week, his first five-wicket haul in 18 months, have certainly reminded the selectors of his worth as a third seamer. Recent English experience, where he took 19 wickets at 39.73 during an injury-marred spell for Hampshire this winter, could also count in his favour.

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Jackson Bird in Sheffield Shield action for Tasmania. Photo Credit: ESPNcricinfo/Getty Images

Pat Cummins (22) Tests: 1 (7 wickets at 16.71)  

It’s easy to forget that Cummins is still only 22-years-old. Four years after taking 7-117 during a man-of-the-match winning debut in Johannesburg, he’s yet to play another Test.

That his crooked body has allowed him to play just eight first-class matches in his near five-year long career tells its own story. Currently back in rehabilitation with an early stage lumbar bone stress fracture sustained during a rare period on the park in England, he is expected to miss the entire summer.

But like Pattinson, who incidentally debuted a Test later, missing a home summer is nothing new for the youngster. He hasn’t played a Sheffield Shield match since suffering a stress fracture in the final back in March 2011.

Since then the injuries have stacked up. Soon after his Test debut, he suffered a stress fracture of the foot, before another back stress fracture put pay to his 2012 summer. After initially recovering from that injury, it again flared up during an A tour of South Africa in August 2013.

However, after contributing to the World Cup success in March, it seemed he had finally turned a corner, before the back finally gave in once more. He may well have to follow Pattinson’s suit and change his action before it all becomes too late.

 

James Faulkner (25) Tests: 1 (6 wickets at 16.33)

A limited-overs regular, Faulkner was called into the squad to tour Bangladesh after the injury to Cummins, but with that tour postponed he hasn’t yet had chance to add to his one Test appearance, earned more than two years ago. A none-too-serious toe injury, relating to a knee complaint, kept him out of Tasmania’s recent Shield fixture but a quick return is expected.

An allrounder in many senses, he has impressive first-class bowling (179 wickets at 23.97) and batting (2202 runs at 31.01) figures. Like Bird, he also gained valuable overseas experience with Lancashire over the winter.

Should Mitchell Marsh continue to blow hot and cold as the Test allrounder then expect him to challenge Moises Henriques for the a place in the side. Without Johnson and Starc, his left arm option could add variety to the current predominantly right-armed attack.

 

Jason Behrendorff (25)

Like Coulter-Nile, left-armer Behrendorff is another member of the strong current Western Australia fast-bowling cartel. But like his state teammate he has also struggled with injuries so far this summer, restricting his Shield appearances to just two.

A contributor across all formats, he currently averages 25.22 with the ball in first-class cricket, and has recently gained the backing of former Australian players Dirk Nannes and Michael Slater – who both believe he is a serious contender for one of the vacant Test berths.

After a strong start to last summer, his bowling was brought to an abrupt and premature end when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the right side of his lower back, whilst playing for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash in early February.

When back to full-fitness he will certainly remain on the periphery of national honours as shown by his selections for both the Prime Minister’s and Cricket Australia XI’s recently.

With Starc out injured, expect a limited over call up once India arrive in January – at the very least.

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Jason Behrendorff has erned high praise in recent months. Photo Credit: ESPNcricinfo/Getty Images.

Andrew Fekete (30)

The 30-year-old was called up from the relatively unknown for October’s subsequently postponed tour of Bangladesh, leading to many newspapers running the headline: “Who the Fek is he?”

Good question. His call up for that tour was on the back of a stellar Sheffield Shield season for Tasmania last summer – where he finished with 34 wickets at 24. He followed this up with an impressive showing during the A tour of India over the winter.

After the disappointment of not boarding a plane to Bangladesh, his form has tailed away dramatically. Despite a steady Matador Cup, his early season Shield form has underwhelmed massively. Dropped after two poor performances, he was lucky to earn a recallafter Faulkner went down injured last week. Unfortunatly he again underperformed, going at well over five-an-over during his 4-151 in South Australia’s massive 7-600d.

Although picked for the Bangladesh tour as a subcontinent specialist, he was never a realist contender for a Test berth in home conditions. With younger and quicker men seemingly ahead of him, it appears his dreams of a Baggy Green could well be fading into obscurity.

Also worthy of a mention: Gurinder Sandhu (New South Wales), Chadd Sayers (South Australia), Scott Boland (Victoria). 

Day/Night Test cricket – A step into the unknown

After three years of trails, tribulations, debates and suspicion, the inaugural Day/Night Test match is now just a matter of hours away from taking place at the Adelaide Oval.

In this piece I look at the five burning questions facing the match.

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Image Credit: Getty Images

 

Will the pink ball hold up for 80 overs?

After a “Cricket Australia and Kookaburra nightmare” occurred during last month’s Prime Minister’s XI fixture at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, the longevity of the pink ball appeared a serious cause for concern.

Many doubts were raised during that 50-over fixture, none more so than when the pink ball appeared to lose its lacquer and colour very quickly – turning it from pink to a greenish colour – long before the end of the allotted 50-overs.

Such deterioration was largely blamed on the abrasive Manuka Oval wicket and outfield, which took large pieces of lacquer off the ball when it was either bowled into the pitch or thrown into the wicketkeeper on the bounce. Measures to counter such issues have since been put into place.

To compensate for this Damian Hough, the Adelaide Oval’s chief curator, is working closely with the Cricket Australia hierarchy to maintain that the wicket for Friday’s fixture is set to include an extra couple of millimetres of grass than what would usually be prescribed for a Test match at the venue.

Hough’s will also be creating a smaller square than usual too – with just two wickets either side of the main strip. This, further coupled with a lush green outfield, should ensure that the ball keeps its shape and colour throughout the innings, albeit nullifying any possible reverse swing in the same instance.

This concept was trailed and found largely successful during the recent Adelaide Oval day/night Sheffield Shield fixture between South Australia and New South Wales, allying many of the fears first raised in Canberra a month ago.

Likewise, ball manufacturers Kookaburra have spent the best part of three years researching and developing the pink ball to ensure it resembles the similar mannerisms of its red counterpart.

 

Will the pink ball make for good cricket?

Victorian seamer John Hastings didn’t seem to think so after his side’s recent day/night Shield fixture with Queensland at the MCG.

The former Australian bowler dismissed the pink ball as being conclusive to a “boring brand of cricket”, with his main concerns being over the lack of hardness, movement or swing once the ball had reached the 15-over mark.

Hastings, no neophyte to the pink ball format, has suggested that changing the ball after 50-55 overs instead of the mandatory 80-over mark, which is currently in place in Test cricket, would allow captains to engage in more attacking field placings instead of asking their bowlers to bowl to straight fields.

With a lack of conventional swing available after the ball starts to soften during the 15-20 over mark, it’s difficult to imagine a way in which the quick bowlers will succeed during the afternoon session at least. With the lack of reverse-swing also a factor once the ball softens, it could lead to a period of attritional cricket – where both run scoring and wicket taking becomes predominantly difficult.

However, curator Hough has this week allied those fears by suggesting the added grass on the wicket will allow for an entertaining battle between bat and ball – something that can’t be said for the wickets on offer at the Gabba and the WACA in recent weeks.

Worn out pink ball
How will the Pink Ball hold up to the rigures of Test cricket? (Image Credit: Getty Images)

 

Do the twilight and evening periods give the bowlers an unfair advantage?

Like ODI cricket with the white ball, its pink equivalent has been known to swing more under the lights.

As well as swinging more once the daylight subsides and the floodlights take over – the pink ball, notably a discoloured pink ball, can also be difficult to pick up for both batsmen and fieldsmen once the sun begins to set.

This has raised debate over whether the ball will favour the quick bowlers much more in the second and third sessions, than it would do in the afternoon session. Early suggestions are that it almost certainly will – especially judging by the recent round of day/night Shield matches.

This issue was raised at the Adelaide Oval earlier this month. When Australian captain Steven Smith, at the time skippering NSW, made an interesting declaration on the first evening, he perhaps set a precedent for future captains in this new format.

Once Smith and David Warner were dismissed after a century-stand for the second wicket, it began a collapse as NSW lost eight wickets for 90 runs during the twilight and evening period. With just one wicket remaining Smith had seen enough and declared with the chance to have a bowl at South Australia, in the few remaining overs of the day, simply too good to refuse.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood duly delivered for their captain, leaving the home side precariously placed overnight at 3-3.

Faced with a similar situation, expect other captains to follow suit in the search for late evening wickets. It could well give a whole new meaning to the term “nightwatchman”.

 

Will the pink ball favour spin too?

It was once perceived that the pink ball would hinder spin bowling during a Test match, but recent statistics have suggested to the contrary.

NSW left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe has excelled during his three day/night Shield matches at the Adelaide Oval – so much so that he has been added to the squad for the inaugural Test.

In three matches at the venue O’Keefe has taken 18 wickets, including 5-89 and 6-70 in his first day/night fixture there two years ago. And although Australia are likely to favour Nathan Lyon and three seamers, his inclusion at least gives the selectors further options heading into the unknown on a wicket that Hough believes will take “some spin” due to its “coarse and thatchy grass covering”.

Another area which can benefit the spin bowlers is the green seam-stitching on the pink ball. On the surface it seems irrelevant what colour the stitching is, but the issue was this week raised by Smith who insisted that he had particular difficulty in picking up the green seam on the spinning ball whilst facing South Australian part-timer Travis Head during a recent Shield match.

Sheffield Shield - Redbacks v Blues: Day 1
The Adelaide Oval is set to host it’s fourth and most important Day/Night match. (Image Credit: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

 

Will it attract more fans to the ground and on television?

The early indications are that ticket sales have been good and a crowd of around 40,000 is expected for the first couple of days. If as expected a crowd of around 40,000 does indeed turn up, then it would surpass the first day totals for the two most recent Ashes matches at the ground in both 2010 and 2013.

The match is not just attracting the locals either, around 60% of the non-member ticket sales have been to fans from interstate or overseas – leading to global interest and intrigue over the new concept.

Certainly the introduction of “After work” or “Twilight” tickets have added another dimension to the fan’s cricket experience in the local area. The tickets to be priced at $20 for adults and $10 for children – will allow access into the ground from 4pm onwards, meaning that fans can attend play for the final two sessions of the day at a discounted rate.

Such concepts are sure to engage the public interest with both workers and school children being offered the chance to still see their hero’s after a busy day elsewhere.

For television and more specifically Channel 9, the plan to host the match in Adelaide works perfectly as the network hope to capture primetime viewers in the highly populated Eastern states, similar to the way a Perth Test match would do so.