Small margins could decide tight Ashes tussle

Although Australia start as favourites, expect a tight Ashes series as both teams line up with obvious flaws in their armouries. 

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And so, the Ashes are again upon us. Four years have flown by since Mitchell Johnson ripped through the visiting Englishmen like a knife through butter as the hosts recorded their second 5-0 whitewash in three home Ashes encounters.

This time around Johnson will be watching on his couch at home – two years into International retirement – However, for England other threats remain. None more so that Johnson’s predecessor, Mitchell Starc.

Starc has started the Sheffield Shield season in red hot form. His figures – 2-46, 8-73, 4-56, 3-41 – suggest that he’s at the top of his game and with two hat-tricks in his previous match against Western Australia, there could be plenty of sleepless nights in the England camp.

With that being said, this could be a much closer Ashes tussle than most had previously expected. For there are obvious weaknesses in each side heading into the series opener in Brisbane on Thursday.

Australia, although boasting a fine and well balanced bowling unit, have deep concerns over their middle-order batting composition. Despite the heroics of Johnson four years ago, it was the continuous late-order bailing out by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin which helped Australia regain the urn. Haddin’s 493 runs were second only to David Warner in the series as he regularly dispirited the English when they’d often broken the back of the Aussie batting.

This time around it’s the contentious recalling of 32-year-old gloveman Tim Paine that has led to several questions being asked down under. Paine, who last played Test cricket over seven years ago, has kept wicket for Tasmania only three times in the past two years after a serious finger injury and hasn’t made a first-class century since 2006. Averaging just 20.40 in his last two years of first-class cricket, his recall has come hugely out of the blue despite the continuing failures of previous incumbents Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade.

At number six, Shaun Marsh’s inclusion had led to more contention. Marsh has been chosen ahead of Glenn Maxwell due to his recent form and experience according to head selector Trevor Hohns. His inclusion at number six means that Australia will go into the first Test with just four bowlers in Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.

Instead of including an allrounder at number six they’ll be banking on by selecting inform batsmen Marsh and Cameron Bancroft to compliment Warner, Steven Smith, Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb they’ll score enough runs to allow the three quicks plenty of time to rest.

And the three quicks will certainly need enough rest. Starc has played only two first-class matches since being diagnosed with a foot stress injury in March, while Hazlewood injured a side during the most recent Test series in Bangladesh and has played just once since. Cummins, meanwhile, has a studied history of breakdowns since making his debut six years ago.

Keeping the trio fit and firing for five successive Tests remains key to Australia’s chances, especially as immediate backup options James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile have already been ruled out of contention leaving Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers as the next in line.

England have could have worries in the bowling department too. Their over reliance on James Anderson and Stuart Broad is undeniable. If either man or Chris Woakes were to succumb to injury early in the series then it could leave them ruthlessly exposed.

Without the all round qualities of Ben Stokes, and also missing the unfit trio Mark Wood, Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones, they are left to decide between the undercooked Jake Ball or the untried Craig Overton for the fourth seamers role. Beyond that the reserves are even more raw with George Garton and Tom Curren providing the initial backup options.

This Ashes campaign could well be decided by the fitness of either side’s main quick bowlers and the effectiveness of their reserves.

While the Australian’s have experienced recent batting woes in the middle order, the English have struggled to find the right formula at the top of theirs. Their over reliance on Alastair Cook and Joe Root has been well documented in recent years and they still find themselves unsettled at positions two, three and five.

Both opener Mark Stoneman and number five Dawid Malan found form with centuries in the final warm-up fixture in Townsville – albeit against weak opposition bowlers and on a flat wicket. Stoneman, with plenty of experience playing Grade cricket, should fair well as his game is well suited to the fast Australian wickets. Malan, like number three James Vince, could well be a lottery.

For England to have any chance in the series they must look to post gigantic first-innings totals much like they did when they won down under in 2010/11. On that occasion they had massive contributions from Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, while Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior also chipped in with valuable contributions.

Ashes campaigns can often end and define careers. The 2013/14 Ashes whitewash effectively saw the end of a generation of successful England players. Longtime stalwarts Pietersen, Prior, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Monty Panesar and Jonathan Trott either retired or were faded out after the series.

Likewise, Australia’s 3-2 series defeat in England in 2015 saw the back of Haddin, Shane Watson, Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers and captain Michael Clarke.

But with departures also comes new beginnings. Both current skippers Smith and Root had career lightbulb moments during the series four years ago. Smith regularly claims his hundred in Perth was the catalyst to his successful upturn in form that saw him captain the side just twelve months later and eventually become the best Test batsman in the world.

For Root, it was his dropping for the Sydney Test that held him in good stead when he later forced his way back into the side. His return against Sri Lanka in 2014 was the beginning of a run that has seen him become England’s premier batsman and now captain marvel.

How the pair cope with the bat and in the field will be crucial to how the series unfolds later this week.

Look out for:

Moeen Ali – England

After missing the first two warm-up matches with a side injury, Moeen is now deemed to be fit and ready to go after getting through 48 overs unscathed in Townsville last week.

With Stokes still unavailable due to an ongoing Police investigation, Moeen’s importance to the side has never been higher. It’s likely that he will move up a place to number seven in the batting lineup in Stokes’ absence and his late order hitting will be key to England’s chances of posting big totals.

His bowling will be equally important to the cause. With Australia readily renowned as a graveyard for offspinners over the years, Moeen will need to offer his captain control at important junctures of the match as Root will look to rotate his quicks.

If he can pray on the mind’s of Australia’s attacking batsmen – who regularly underestimated him during the 2015 Ashes – then he can again enjoy success.

Pat Cummins – Australia

Cummins could be forgiven for believing he may never play a home Test match let alone an Ashes series.

Yet, he’s now nailed on to join his New South Wales bowling teammates at the Gabba on Thursday morning as a key component in Australia’s plan to regain the little urn.

Still only 24-years-old, injuries have ravaged his young career to date. Since making his debut at the tender age of 18 six years ago, Cummins has succumbed to a series of stress injuries to the back and has, until this year, been unable to string together any meaningful cricket.

At his best he’s capable of bowling 90mph plus and swinging the ball both ways, however after such a checkered injury history will his fitness hold up to the rigours of a five-Test Ashes campaign?

Garry the goat

Nathan Lyon heads into his fourth Ashes campaign full of confidence after a career defining 2017 has seen him reach the top of his game.

 

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(Photo Credit: AFP).

 

“Nice, Garry!”

It’s Boxing Day 2016 and 63,478 people are packed inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground eagerly anticipating the spell of a certain Australian bowler. No, it’s not the fearsome pace of Mitchell Starc or the unerring accuracy of Josh Hazlewood they’re after, it’s the offspin of Nathan Lyon.

They were there to witness a phenomenon. The “Nice, Garry!” phenomenon. It had begun weeks earlier during a day/night Test match at the Adelaide Oval when wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, recently recalled to the side for his chirpiness behind the stumps, devised the rallying cry in a throwback similar to Ian Healy’s famous “Bowling Shane!” tagline witnessed throughout the 1990’s.

Wade’s catchphrase quickly went viral and soon escalated into a nationwide Nathan Lyon-love fest, so much so that it now had its own Facebook page. Heading into the Melbourne Test over 22,000 Facebook users signed a petition campaigning for the MCG crowd to collectively yell the, now famous, slogan whenever Lyon delivered the third ball of his opening spell.

Lo and behold, Lyon’s cult following grew to further heights when, right on cue, he sent the festive crowd into a frenzy by having Pakistani opener Sami Aslam caught at slip halfway through his opening over.

The once unheralded Lyon had now become a fully-fledged Australian cult hero. However, things could easily have turned out much different…

 

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Just weeks earlier, Lyon’s 2016 was heading towards an uncertain end. He was on the verge of being dropped from the Test side after a disastrous defeat to South Africa in Hobart coincided with his own slump in form and confidence. At one point he’d failed to take a single wicket in 660 first-class deliveries split between the Sheffield Shield and Test cricket.

If not for an untimely calf niggle suffered by New South Wales teammate Steve O’Keefe then Lyon would certainly have swapped places with his fellow spinner, thus finishing the year in domestic cricket.

Despite the memorable dismissal of Sami Aslam, his place in the side was once again in jeopardy heading into the final day of the Boxing Day fixture. The fanfare of that first-innings dismissal masked over his poor returns of 1-115 in the first dig. Then came the turning point. Faced with a straight forward looking final day survival act on a flat wicket, Pakistan collapsed in a heap to lose the match by an innings and 18 runs. Lyon’s contributions were massive. It was his scalps of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq that broke the back of a strong Pakistani middle order.

For Lyon, things had started to fall back into place – his roar was back!

Despite an up-and-down year with the ball – in which the nadir came when he was largely held accountable for a 3-0 series reverse in Sri Lanka – he still managed to conclude 2016 with a respectable 41 Test wickets at 36.34.

 

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After a difficult 2016, Lyon entered this year with plenty to prove, not least to himself. His biggest challenge was always likely to be how he performed on the spin friendly subcontinental wickets of India and Bangladesh. He has since dispelled all the doubts surrounding his place in the side and propelled himself into the elite bracket of spin bowlers across world cricket.

Heading into Australia’s four-Test tour of India in February, Lyon held an unflattering bowling record in Asia. Spread across 11 Tests his 42 wickets had cost him 42.57 apiece. Since then his six matches have yielded a further 41 wickets at just 19.39.

After playing second fiddle to O’Keefe during Australia’s opening Test victory in Pune, he burst into life in Bengaluru taking first innings returns of 8-50 before following up with 5-92 in the final Test in Dharamsala. Despite finishing the series on the losing side, Lyon (with 19 wickets at 25.26) had finally conquered his final frontier with success on Asian soil.

Further success was enjoyed throughout Lyon’s first tour of Bangladesh where he claimed 9-161 during a losing cause in Dhaka before bowling Australia to a series-levelling victory in Chittagong with excellent match figures of 13-154.

His superb form across 2017 has seen him rewarded with a place in the ICC’s top ten bowling rankings for the first time in his Test career.

 

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And so, ten years after his retirement, Australia finally appear to have a worthy spin successor to Shane Warne. He might not carry the same – on and off field – swagger as Warne, but six years after his Test debut, Nathan Michael Lyon is now enjoying a purple patch that is rapidly elevating him into Australian cricketing folklore.

For years his Test career often slipped under the radar. It easy to forget he was handed his Baggy Green as far back as 2011 and equally surprising that he’ll play his 70th Test match at the Gabba against England in two weeks’ time. And yet his numbers stack up against the very best in the modern era – (to date his 69 Tests have yielded 269 Test wickets at a highly respectable average of 31.83).

An unassuming character and very much a ‘team first’ man, he hasn’t got the X-factor of a David Warner, Mitchell Starc or Pat Cummins. Instead he’s his own man. Nathan Lyon is just… Well…Nathan Lyon – or perhaps Lyono, Garry, Gaz or the Goat if you’d prefer.

He earned his latest nickname The Goat after passing Hugh Trumble’s tally of 141 Test wickets in 2015 to become Australia’s greatest offspinner of all time. Before that he was more commonly known as Garry after the legendary AFL player Garry Lyon. Either way, he now stands behind only the great man Warne as Australian’s leading Test spin bowler.

A former Adelaide Oval groundskeeper turned Aussie team song leader, he’s been through more ups and downs in his 69-Test career than most. In 2013, he was dropped from the side twice in the space of three matches. For the Australian selectors it seemed there was always a sexier spin bowling option around the corner, except it turned out there wasn’t.

Until recently, Lyon’s relationship with the Australian public hasn’t always been all that smooth. There were times they forgot he was playing. There were times they wished he wasn’t playing. There were times they wished he was playing. There were times they wished he was Warnie, then the times they were just pleased he wasn’t just another Beau Casson or Jason Krejza. There were times they hated on him, times they loved him, and then the bizarre times they simply worshiped him.

Yet Lyon doesn’t get too high or low, he simply gets on with the task in hand. Bowling offspin in Australia is hard enough art without worrying about the uncontrollable. In fact, for a bowler with no particular mystery to talk of, his numbers on home soil (118 wickets at 34.55) compare admirably against his away record (151 wickets at 29.71).

Earlier in his career, his inability to dismiss Faf du Plessis and his South African colleagues on a fifth day wicket at the Adelaide Oval in 2012 carried a heavy weight on his slender shoulders. It took two years before he was remotely forgiven for this misdemeanour. His breakout performance came at an incredibly sad juncture in Australian cricket, when in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes’, Lyon took 12 wickets to bowl the Aussies to a last-gasp victory against India in Adelaide.

Since then he’s been a fixture in the side without ever feeling truly safe over his place until earlier this year.

So, what does the future hold for Lyon?

Only due to turn 30 three days before the Ashes begin, there appears plenty of bowling left in Lyon yet. It could be said that Warne enjoyed the best years of his Test career after turning 30. In fact, he took 386 of his 708 Test wickets after hitting the big 3-0 as he continued to add nous and guile to his already impressive repertoire of skills.

While Lyon has established himself as an excellent Test bowler, he’ll be eager to revive his stop-start limited overs career with a view to being involved in Australia’s World Cup defence in 2019. Despite making his ODI debut in March 2012, he’s earned just 13 caps and a solitary T20I appearance as others such as legspinner Adam Zampa have been preferred.

However, right now the ODI renaissance can wait for another day, there’s an Ashes series to be won.

Vince selection continues batting merry-go-round

England’s latest Ashes squad represents further muddled thinking from the selectors who appear to have run out of batting ideas.

 

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Is James Vince the man to solve England’s number three woes? (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

 

In the backdrop of the Ben Stokes brawling scandal, England’s Ashes squad announcement has played second fiddle in the public interest despite several curious and underwhelming choices from the selectors.

 
The inclusion of Hampshire batsman James Vince has raised the most eyebrows with the right-hander being recalled to the Test side in place of the jettisoned Tom Westley, despite averaging just 32.94 in this summer’s recently concluded County Championship. There’s also a return for Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance and first Ashes call-ups for Surrey’s Ben Foakes, Hampshire’s Mason Crane and Craig Overton of Somerset.

 
Vince, who played seven Test matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan last summer, now looks likely to become England’s new number three after Westley became the latest England batsman to be thrown on the scrapheap following a disappointing five-match spell in the side. Having tried and disregarded a host of options in recent years including the likes of Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Keaton Jennings, Alex Hales, Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett, Jos Buttler and Nick Compton – the England hierarchy have simply found themselves nowhere left to turn other than to recall the previously overwhelmed pair of Ballance and Vince.

 
The return of Vince, despite no recent County form to speak of and an unpleasant Test record that reads: 7 Tests, 11 innings, 212 runs at 19.27 and a highest score of 42, is another instance of muddled thinking from James Whitaker and his fellow selectors. Vince, although a talented batsman with a dreamy cover drive, was shown to be heavily suspect outside his off stump during his brief Test exposure last summer. His willingness to chase at wide deliveries he should be leaving alone could come back to haunt the England hierarchy if, as expected, he is the man chosen to bat at number three come the first Test on November 23rd.

 
While Ballance enjoyed a fine start to the summer with Yorkshire – eventually finishing with 951 runs at 67.92 – he has struggled for runs since breaking his finger against South Africa in July. This latest opportunity represents the third time he has returned to the Test set-up after been dropped during the 2015 Ashes and again in Bangladesh last winter. Ballance, a tough and resilient character, will look upon the opportunity as “Third time lucky”, although the cynics might suggest it’s more a case of “Last chance saloon” as his Test career reaches a major crossroads after averaging just 19 in his previous 12 matches.

 
Like Vince, Ballance has shown technical vulnerabilities throughout his international career. Whereas the Hampshire-man’s downfall is his love for the drive, Ballance has refused to change a technique that sees him shuffle back into the crease rather than getting onto the front foot. Despite both men’s flaws, it’s difficult to imagine who the selectors could have possibly turned to instead.

 
Hameed has struggled to make runs for Lancashire after returning from a thumb injury at the beginning of the summer, likewise Jennings has failed to pass 20 in the twelve innings he’s played for Durham since his Test axing in August. Hales and Buttler don’t play enough first-class cricket to form any valuable consistency in the format and the likes of Compton (season average – 26.23) Duckett (42.05) Lyth (25.22) and Robson (39.25) just haven’t pulled up enough trees this summer.

 
In a way you simply have to feel sorry for the selectors. Who else REALLY can they pick? They just can’t find the correct batting formula to compliment Alastair Cook and Joe Root. Since Root debuted in late 2012 there’s been thirteen batting debutants with only Hameed and Root himself managing to average over 40. Perhaps further down the line youngsters such as Joe Clarke of Worcestershire and Essex’s Daniel Lawrence should be given an opportunity but an Ashes tour is no place to blood adolescents.

 

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Mason Crane in action for New South Wales earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

 

Elsewhere, Somerset’s Craig Overton was included ahead of the unfit Mark Wood and injured Toby Roland-Jones. The call-up of Overton is England’s Ashes bolter and could well be an inspired one. Although he lacks the pace of his, currently injured, twin brother Jamie, Craig Overton is a fine cricketer who uses his tall frame to generate speed in the high 80’s as well being a more than capable batsman and sharp fielder. Many will suggest that he’s fortunate his brother is currently laid low, like Roland-Jones, with an early stage stress fracture of the back or he, instead, may have come under consideration. However, 46 County Championship wickets at 22.39 cannot be sniffed at and he’ll look to use the early tour matches as an opportunity to stake a claim alongside Jake Ball.

 
The decision to pick Mason Crane as the backup spinner is a risky one. It was certainly a decision based on two factors; Potential and recent exposure down under. Unquestionably, Crane has great potential as a young legspinner, however, he’s played second fiddle to the steady left-arm offerings of Liam Dawson at Hampshire this summer. Playing in just half of his side’s Championship fixtures, he’s mustered the unflattering returns of 16 wickets at 44.68. The big appeal for the selectors lies with his recent experience in Australian conditions after he spent winter playing Sydney Grade cricket with Gordon – a move that saw him rewarded with a Sheffield Shield debut for New South Wales.

 
Many have called it the weakest England squad to tour Australia in recent memory but with world-class batsmen in Cook and Root, a middle order packed with quality allrounders and the pace pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, it’s far too early to be calling 5-0 to the Aussies.

 
And yet, for England this could all pale into insignificance if Ben Stokes is an Ashes absentee.

 
Ashes squad: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Gary Ballance, Joe Root ©, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jake Ball, Craig Overton, Mason Crane.

 

Ten under twenty 2017

With another year of the County Championship kicking off recently, I follow up last year’s list of the most exciting talent under the age of 20 with a new group of players ready to take the County scene by storm.

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Sussex’s George Garton (Centre) enjoyed a rapid rise into the England Lions side in 2016. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

Aaron Beard (Age 19) – Essex

A right-arm fast bowler who has spent the winter with the England U19’s in India, Aaron Beard has impressed many at Chelmsford after rising through the ranks into the first XI during the 2016 season.

He was rewarded for a strong showing with a new one year extension at the end of last summer. After impressing with 4-62 on his first-class debut against the touring Sri Lankans in May last year he went on to play two further Championship matches later that month before dropping back into Second XI and U19 cricket.

But 2016 wasn’t the beginning of Beard’s journey as a known cricketer. In 2013, he hit the headlines as a 15-year-old schoolboy, when he was asked to field for the England side during a pre-Ashes scrimmage against Essex. Luckily for Beard his school gave him permission to skip class for a day out in the field instead.

What 2017 holds in store?

With a bit of luck on his side, Beard will have a regular chance to pit his wits against First Division batsmen for the first time after Essex earned promotion last summer. He began well with 3-47 and 2-45 in the season opener against Lancashire before dropping out of the side for the next match against Somerset in Taunton.

Essex’s first season in the top flight since 2010 has seen them reinforce the fast bowling stocks with the arrivals of both Mohammed Amir and Neil Wagner – who will share the overseas responsibly. With club legends Graham Napier and David Masters having hung up their boots following stellar careers, bowling places are up for grabs at the County Ground. Beard will be vying with the likes of Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn and Matt Dixon for a place alongside either of the overseas duo.

Dominic Bess (19) – Somerset

An offspin bowler of enormous potential, Devon-born Dominic Bess burst onto the scene with 6-28 on his County Championship debut against Warwickshire last September. This was no ordinary debut. His wickets included the former England batsmen Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell with successive deliveries as he ripped apart the Bears middle order.

Bowling in tandem with fellow spinner Jack Leach, Bess followed up his dream debut with an equally polished display against Nottinghamshire later the same month. This time his first-innings figures read an impressive 22.5-10-43-5. He also showed an ability with bat in hand too, striking 41 when others struggled to adapt to a turning Taunton wicket.

Bess was one of the key beneficiaries of the ECB’s new 2016 initiative to introduce more spin bowlers to the County game via a no-toss rule. Without the rule in place it’s doubtful he would have been given the chance to bowl alongside fellow spinners Leach and Roedolf van der Merve.

After a successful first foray into County Cricket, he spent most his winter Down Under playing grade cricket for the West Torrens Cricket Club in Adelaide.

What 2017 holds in store?

With more than half (8 out of 14) of Somerset’s Championship fixtures being played before the NatWest Blast kicks off in early July, its likely – with both Leach and van der Merve ahead of him in the spin ranks – that Bess doesn’t see any Championship action until at least August.

That could mean a summer of Second XI cricket awaits Bess unless he can break into either of the two limited overs formats. That said, if Leach continues to take mountains of wickets and England are looking for another spin option for their Test series with South Africa and the West Indies then Bess could well find a first team spot available.

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Somerset’s Dominic Bess found the 2016 Taunton wickets very much to his liking. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Ollie Pope (19) – Surrey

A talented wicketkeeper/batsman, Ollie Pope broke into the Surrey setup late last summer after some impressive performances with both the County’s Second XI and the England U19’s.

He made his Surrey debut in an important fixture too. With a place in the Royal London Cup final at stake, Pope was thrust into the spotlight at Headingley as his Surrey side defeated Yorkshire to reach the Lords showpiece. Batting at seven, he made 20 0ff 23 before being runout on the final ball of the innings.

One of many wicketkeeper/batsmen to have been on the Surrey books in recent times, Pope was rewarded with a two-year professional contract last August having represented the club since he was nine-years-old.

Before signing a professional contract, he combined his days in the Surrey academy with a prolific run-scoring spell at Cranleigh School.

He made his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture against Oxford University at The Parks.

What 2017 holds in store?

With former wicketkeepers Steven Davies and Gary Wilson having left for pastures new with Somerset and Derbyshire respectively, Pope suddenly finds himself further up the pecking order at The Oval.

He will still start the season as deputy to regular glovesman Ben Foakes, though. Nevertheless, with Foakes attracting series interest from the England selectors, there could still be a chance that Pope will battle with Rory Burns to see some time behind the stumps.

As for seeing time in front of the stumps, that will be a difficult task – especially as Surrey have further strengthened the batting with ex-Durham pair Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick.

Even if he doesn’t see much first-team action in 2017, Pope will at least get the opportunity to improve his skills by again working alongside former England wicketkeeper Alec Stewart.

 

Josh Coughlin (19) – Durham

Sunderland-born fast bowler Josh Coughlin is another to fall off the long conveyer belt of North East talent in recent times.

The 19-year-old made his first-class bow against a touring Sri Lanka A side last June – in doing so he joined his brother Paul in having represented the county. He followed that up a month later by debuting for the England U19 side against their Sri Lankan counterparts before succumbing to a knee injury.

He returned later in the season to help Durham capture the 2016 Second XI Championship, whilst also continuing to represent Durham Academy in the North East Premier League.

After captaining the Academy side to the NEPL T20 cup last year, he was rewarded with a one-year summer development contract ahead of the 2017 season.

What 2017 holds in store?

Despite Durham’s well-documented financial problems leading to a flurry of departures in the offseason, the quick bowling has remained relatively intact with only Asher Hart (Hampshire) and Jamie Harrison (Released) leaving the club.

That means that Coughlin will be very much fighting it out for a place in the team. The experienced trio of Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood will no doubt start the season in the side so Coughlin will be left to compete for playing time alongside the likes of his brother Paul, James Weighell, Brydon Carse, Barry McCarthy, Gavin Main and Usman Arshad.

Cracking a first-team spot in 2017 will be difficult with such an array of bowling talent available to Durham. However, it only takes a few injuries and likely international call-ups for the likes of Wood and McCarthy to lead to the resources being stretched and opportunities arising. In the meanwhile, Coughlin will continue his development with the county’s Second XI and club side Hetton Lyons.

Delray Rawlins (19) – Sussex

A hard-hitting batsman and left-arm spinner, Delray Rawlins certainly comes with an interesting story.

In 2013, he made his international debut for his country of birth Bermuda at the tender age of 15. In 2014, he earned a scholarship at the prestigious St Bede’s School in East Sussex as part of a programme organised by the Bermudian cricket board and just a year later he joined the Sussex Academy after a successful trial.

After impressing in Second XI cricket, where he was often the sole spinner in the side as well as batting in the top order, he signed a one-year professional contract with the Hove-based club last October before recently adding an extra year onto that to stay until the end of 2018.

Despite representing Bermuda as recently as November – when he played in the World Cricket League Division Four matches in Los Angeles – Rawlins had pledged his future alliance to his adopted country.

And in doing so he made an immediate impression with a debut hundred for the England U19 programme in India in January. That unbeaten 109 was followed by scores of: 46, 96, 9, 17, 70*, 15, 140 and 49 as he established himself as a young man for all occasions across the five ODI and two Youth Test matches.

What does 2017 hold in store?

After making his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture with Cardiff University, Rawlins was selected for Sussex’s opening 2017 County Championship fixture with Kent at Hove.

Batting at number three he made a gritty 78-ball 22 after coming to the crease with his side in early trouble. He will be looking to cement his place in the side before veterans Ed Joyce, Luke Wells and Matt Machen all become available for selection again.

Going forward, Rawlins could well be battling it out for an allrounders role with the likes of captain Luke Wright, Chris Jordan and new Kolpak signing David Wiese.

His power hitting and tidy spin could well become useful in both the Royal London Cup and NatWest Blast.

 

George Bartlett (19) – Somerset

George Bartlett could well be the best batting talent to emerge at Taunton since current captain Tom Abell.

A right-handed batsman with a bright future, Bartlett graduated from the Somerset Academy last summer before signing a one-year professional contract in October after impressing in the club’s Second XI competitions.

He’s also been a regular contributor for the England U19 side in recent years. None more so that when he was part of a gigantic stand worth 321 in 82 overs with Max Holden in India earlier this year. Bartlett’s contribution was a huge 179 (The highest score by an England U19 batsman overseas, beating the 170 made by Nasser Hassain in Sri Lanka in 1987) and he added further scores of 68, 0 and 76 to round out a successful Youth Test series on the subcontinent.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Despite the retirement of Chris Rogers (Who returns as batting coach this summer) finding a spot for Bartlett in a crowded middle order looks initially impossible. With Marcus Trescothick and Dean Elgar likely to open the batting, Abell will move down to three and will likely be followed by James Hildreth at four, Steven Davies at five and then two of Roedolf van der Merve, Jim Allenby, Peter Trego or Lewis Gregory at six and seven.

And that lineup doesn’t include promising wicketkeeper Ryan Davies who is likely to perhaps miss out due to the signing of Steven Davies.

So, it’s likely that Bartlett must continue knocking down the door with Second XI runs as he waits for an opportunity further down the line.

 

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George Bartlett and Max Holden embrace during their 321-run stand in Nagpur. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

Max Holden (19) – Northamptonshire (on loan from Middlesex)

A left-handed middle-order batsman – who’s also capable of opening – Max Holden moved on loan to Northamptonshire until the end of June after finding opportunities limited at parent club Middlesex.

That’s not to say that he’s not held in high esteem at Lords. He just finds himself behind the likes of Adam Voges, Sam Robson, Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Nick Compton in a stacked Middlesex batting unit.

Cambridgeshire-born Holden signed a four-year contract with Middlesex in 2016 after graduating from their Academy and age-group systems.

A regular captain with the England U19 side in recent years, he was part of that huge stand of 321 with Bartlett in Nagpur – a new record for any wicket for England which has only been beaten once in all international Under-19 cricket. Holden’s contribution was 170.

What does 2017 hold in store?

He will be available in both the Specsavers Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup until the end of June, and looks to have secured a middle order spot at Wantage Road – a ground where he made a century for the England U19’s last summer.

He made 19 and 75 not out against Loughborough MCCU on his first-class debut earlier this month, before bagging a duck on his Championship bow against Glamorgan.

 

George Garton (19) – Sussex

A tall left-arm fast bowler, George Garton made major strides in 2016. He started the year playing for England in the U19 World Cup before representing Sussex across all formats and tasting further international honours with the England Lions.

The Brighton-born man made his first-class debut a year ago against Leeds/Bradford MCCU – taking a wicket with his first ball – and went on to play four further Championship fixtures for Sussex taking 10 wickets at 35.20.

He also made an impression in the Royal London and NatWest Blast competitions too. His immediate impact in the short formats for Sussex earned him a shock call up to the England Lions squad for a tri-series also involving the Pakistan and Sri Lanka A sides. Garton played in three of the fixtures, impressing with 4-43 against the Sri Lankans at Canterbury.

His international aspirations were further enhanced when he was selected as part of the England Pace Programme for a two-week training camp in South Africa at the beginning of the year.

What does 2017 hold in store?

With experienced South African Vernon Philander having been brought in as an overseas player, thus joining a fast-bowling arsenal that also includes Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, David Wiese, Ollie Robinson, Stu Whittingham and Steve Magoffin, finding a place in the side for Garton will prove initially difficult for coach Mark Davis.

Having said that, Garton – who turns 20 on April 15th – has impressed bowling coach Jon Lewis aplenty during his time with the club and with his left-arm quick bowling he offers something different to any other bowler at the club with fellow left-armer Tymal Mills now just a T20 specialist.

 

Kiran Carlson (18) – Glamorgan

One of two young Welshmen on this year’s list, Kiran Carlson is part of an exciting crop of youngsters currently on the Glamorgan staff that also includes Owen Morgan, Aneurin Donald, Nick Selman and Lukas Carey (see below).

A right-handed middle-order batsman and handy offspin bowler, Carlson became the youngest player to record a first-class hundred for Glamorgan when he made 119 against eventual champions Essex at Chelmsford aged just 18-years and 119 days.

Despite batting being his primary forte, he originally made his name with the ball. Turning his arm over on a spinning Northampton track he took 5-18 on debut – including the wicket of England batsman Ben Duckett.

Whilst completing his maiden hundred, he became the youngest player in English county first-class cricket to record the double of a five-for and century.

He finished off 2016 with an unbeaten run-a-ball 74 against Leicestershire and, at just 18, he promises to reach further milestones in 2017.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Now a permanent fixture in a young Glamorgan lower middle-order, Carlson will hope his first summer of first-class cricket wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

His season didn’t get off to the best start. Batting at number seven he registered a first-innings duck against Northamptonshire before making 30 in the second dig.

Although he will likely face many ups and downs during his first full season of senior cricket, with the backing of coach Robert Croft he’s likely to be given ample opportunities to find his feet.

 

Kiran Carlson
Glamorgan’s Kiran Carlson became the youngest man to record both a five-for and century in County Championship history. (Photo Credit: Glamorgancricket.com)

 

Lukas Carey (19) – Glamorgan

Like Carlson, 19-year-old Carey is a product of the Glamorgan/Wales Minor County pathways system that has helped produce a clutch of talented players over recent seasons.

Carey, a right-arm medium fast bowler from Pontarddulais, has the potential to become the most exciting bowler to emerge from Wales since James Harris first broke through a decade ago.

He made his mark last August with a fiery Championship debut spell against Northamptonshire in Swansea. Opening the bowling, Carey tore through the visitor’s top order with three wickets in his first six overs. Like Carlson he also claimed Duckett as his maiden first-class victim.

In all he took 13 wickets at 25.38 in three Championship matches last summer to kickstart a promising career.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Carey begun the 2017 County Championship season well when he claimed 4-85 in Glamorgan’s opening defeat at Northamptonshire. He followed that up with 3-85 and 1-13 in his second game against Worcestershire and looks to have established a solid opening partnership with veteran Australian Michael Hogan.

 

Also look out for…

Tom Haines (18) – Sussex, George Panayi (19) – Warwickshire, Harry Brook (18) – Yorkshire, Josh Tongue (19) – Worcestershire

 

Progress but ultimately not enough

Despite a 2-1 series defeat, Steven Smith and his men can return home to Australia with their heads held high after a topsy-turvy four Test matches in India

 

Steven Smith
Despite three centuries in four Tests, Steven Smith was unable to lead Australia to a series victory. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

 

What a series! It was tight, tense and at times fractious, but in the end the hosts India prevailed with, what eventually turned out to be, a comfortable eight-wicket victory in Dharamsala.

That Australia even made it to Dharamsala with the series still in the balance at 1-1 speaks volumes of the improvements they have made to playing cricket in the subcontinent. Eventually, though, old habits sneaked in during the final Test – most noticeably a third-day batting collapse that all but handed the series to India.

Captain Steven Smith will look back on the series with an equal amount of pride and regret. His team went into the four Test series as huge underdogs – having lost their previous nine Tests on Asian soil – so to compete strongly until the penultimate day of the series will have pleased him immensely. On the other hand, his side will be disappointed that they eventually lost the series after going one-nil up in Pune. Moreover, they will regret not having seized control of the key opportunities that came their way in the prevailing three matches.

For India, it meant a successful end to a fine season of home cricket. After losing in Pune – their first defeat at home in 20 Tests – they showed tremendous character and skill to fight their way back into the series after such a packed international schedule that included 13 Tests in six months.

Even so, Australia have made major progress in the way they have approached the challenges of facing quality opposition in alien conditions. Taking away the two second innings collapses that ultimately cost them the series (112 in Bengaluru and 137 in Dharamsala) the batting has held reasonably firm. The most noticeable aspect was the willingness to grind out an innings and bat time rather than just playing the attack at all costs “Australian way of cricket” that has come unstuck on previous visits to India.

 

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Nathan Lyon made huge improvements to his bowling on the subcontinent. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

 

Smith has of course led the way, scoring three centuries on his way to 499 runs at 71.28. Such is Smith’s genius that he’s now averaging 61.05 after 54 Test matches. When you consider that he’s yet to turn 28-years-old, you’d have to imagine he’ll at least double the 5000+ Tests runs and 20 centuries he already has in the locker.

Other batters have enhanced their reputations too. Matt Renshaw scored important first-innings fifties in both the first two Tests before gradually fading as the series wore on. In doing so he became the first Australian to score 500+ Test runs before the age of 21. Often looking cool and composed at the crease, it’s easy to forget that he was playing his maiden series anywhere outside of Australia. The whole experience, on and off the field, is certain to hold him in good stead going into a high-pressured Ashes campaign later in the year.

The enigma that is Glenn Maxwell was finally unlocked as a Test batsman too. Brought into the side to replace the injured, and repeatedly misfiring Mitchell Marsh, Maxwell played two mature knocks (104 in Ranchi and 45 in Dharamsala) to stake a claim for a regular batting spot at number six. Despite a breakout series with the bat, Maxwell’s bowling remained underused and perhaps under trusted by Smith, (he bowled just 6 overs in three innings) and with Darren Lehmann largely preferring a fast-bowling allrounder at number six it remains to be seen if he’ll keep his place for future home assignments.

If the likes of Smith, Renshaw and Maxwell can walk away from India pleased with their batting efforts, the same can’t be said for David Warner. The combative left-hander struggled to stamp his authority on the series. Despite making starts in many his innings, he made just one fifty plus score in eight innings. Warner’s struggles against the spin of R Ashwin continued a longer theme for him away from the home comforts of Australia.

Without an away Test hundred in nearly three years, his away average now stands at just 36.61 compared to his overall average of 47.42. In India that average drops even further to 24.25. Although there’s no thoughts of the vice-captain losing his place in the side, a lack of overseas success is bound to tarnish his reputation as a great batsman.

 

Pat Cummins
After a 1946 day absence, Pat Cummins made an impressive return to Test cricket. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

 

The middle order duo of Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb had their moments with the bat, but both will feel that they left runs out on the field. Putting aside their match saving 124-run partnership – that spanned 62 final-day overs – in Ranchi, the pair struggled to put together the numbers required to earn their side success on the subcontinent.

Besides his unbeaten 72 in Ranchi, Handscomb’s seven other scores ranged between 8 and 24. Marsh on the other hand, is a notoriously bad starter at the crease and despite looking comfortable against the spin bowlers when set (he made 66 in Bengaluru and 53 in Ranchi) he also recorded five single figure scores in his eight innings. With Usman Khawaja set to come back into the side, it’s quite conceivable that Marsh, at 33, could well have played his final match for Australia.

Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade belatedly found form in Dharamsala with unbeaten innings of 57 and 25, but it was a case of perhaps to-little-to-late for Australia as they needed more runs from their number seven. His form with the gloves was tidy enough throughout with the only real blemish being a dropped catch off the batting of Wriddhiman Saha – who went onto record a crucial century in Ranchi.

Another gain from the series was the general form and consistency of spinners Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe. Lyon entered the series with plenty of question marks (and a hefty bowling average of 42.57) during his previous bowling in Asian conditions, however, he managed to snare 19 wickets at 25.26 across the series. Unfortunately for Lyon, both his 8-50 in Bengaluru and 5-92 in Dharamsala came in losing causes. O’Keefe, meanwhile, had a greater impact on Australia’s first Test victory on Indian soil in 13 years.

He benefitted from an, at times unplayable, Pune wicket to capture 6-35 in both innings and earn himself a place in Australian cricketing history. Although his effectiveness faded as the series worn on – he claimed just seven wickets thereafter – he still managed to dry up an end as the quicks bowled in short spells. He eventually matched Lyon’s haul of 19 wickets at a slightly better average of 23.26.

When Mitchell Starc pulled up lame upon the conclusion of the second Test, the return of Pat Cummins was one of the defining stories of the series. It had been a staggering 1946 days between Cummins’ Test debut in 2011 and his second Test in Ranchi. Regardless of the impact he had in his two Tests in India, the fact that he backed up again in Dharamsala after bowling 39 overs in Ranchi was heartening for all to see.

And he certainly made an impression. In many ways, he was the perfect replacement for Starc. Bowling in short sharp spells, his pace reaped more from the slow pitches than anyone else from either side and he regularly clocked over 145kph. Although it’s important to remember that it’s still the beginning of his comeback to the longer format, the prospect of him one day bowling in tandem with Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson is a tantalising one.

Going forward, Australia must learn from both the positives and negatives from their latest Asian trip – for there was progress, even though it was ultimately not enough.

Can Australia learn from past Asian mistakes?

After recent failings in Asia, Steven Smith’s men understandably start their four-Test series in India as underdogs, but can they learn from past misdemeanours and spring a surprise or two on the hosts?

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The picturesque Himachal Pradesh Stadium in Dharamsala is to host the fourth Test match.

It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since Australia last visited India for a Test series. Although a great deal of water has passed under the bridge since then with multiple personnel having come and gone – somethings, however, remain unchanged – the Australian cricket team’s struggle with subcontinental conditions.

On Thursday, captain Steven Smith will lead out his men in Pune in the first of a four-Test series that will also include trips to Bangalore and the outpost cities of Ranchi and Dharamsala. Three of the four venues will be hosting Test cricket for the first time, but don’t be fooled the advantages are all very much India’s.

Under the stewardship of Michael Clarke, (and later, for one Test, Shane Watson), the 2013 touring party included the likes of Phillip Hughes, Brad Haddin, Ed Cowan, Mitchell Johnson, Xavier Doherty, Moises Henriques and Peter Siddle as well as 2017 returnees Smith, David Warner, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell and Nathan Lyon.

Little did they know at the time, but that 4-0 whitewash was the beginning of four years of Australian torment on the subcontinent. Including the four defeats in India, they have played nine Tests, lost nine Tests since 2013. Their record in India is even uglier still. Since their final frontier 2-1 series victory in 2004 (Australia’s only series win in India throughout the past 48 years), they are yet to claim a Test victory in the country – in fact they haven’t even shared a Test there since 2010 when a Ricky Ponting-led side lost a three-Test rubber 2-0.

The 2013 tour will not only be remembered for embarrassment on the field and the infamous ‘Homeworkgate’ fiasco off it, but also for the reincarnation of Smith – the Test cricketer.

Originally taken as a spare batsman, Smith was unlikely to get a look in until both Watson and Khawaja were suspended for not adhering to team policy. Regardless, he took his opportunity with both hands when he compiled an assured first-innings 92 during the third Test in Mohali. With that he ensured a place on the Ashes tour of England later that year.

Smith is now the number one Test batsman in the world, but his task in leading the side in India certainly gets no easier than it was for his predecessor Clarke four years ago. The hosts are currently undefeated in twenty Tests on home soil with thirteen of those coming under the impressive leadership of Virat Kohli. Their recent form speaks volumes too. An improving England side were dispatched 4-0 with relative ease before Christmas, while Bangladesh were brushed aside by 208 runs earlier this month.

Against a formidable batting lineup unable to even accommodate Karun Nair – who scored an unbeaten 303 in his previous Test against England – Australia’s bowling arsenal will certainly have their work cut out both trying to dismiss and contain the likes of Kohli, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane throughout the next six weeks.

With the selectors set to include three seamers in Starc, Josh Hazlewood and allrounder Mitchell Marsh, the spin responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Lyon and Steve O’Keefe.

1st Test - Australia v South Africa: Day 4
With a bowling average of 42.57 in Asia, Australia will need a major improvement from Nathan Lyon if they are to succeed in India. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

It will be up to Lyon and O’Keefe to tie down the home batsmen in the first innings and then create opportunities in the second when the notoriously dry Indian pitches will be expected to turn square. Early signs during Australia’s only warmup fixture in Mumbai last week were not ideal for the visitors. Despite the spinners sharing seven wickets between them they also received plenty of punishment from Indian A batsman Shreyas Iyer conceding economy rates of 4.20 and 5.61 in the process.

Both Lyon and O’Keefe still have considerable lingering doubts hanging over them. In Asian, Lyon has taken his 42 wickets at a costly 42.57 compared to his overall average of 34.07. In a part of the world where spinners are expected to take the bulk of the 20 wickets required to win a Test match, Lyon’s offspin has largely proven ineffective. Certainly when related to the success he’s accomplished when generating sharp bounce and overspin on the harder surfaces at home.

Meanwhile, O’Keefe’s skiddy left-arm bowling technique has the potential to thrive in Indian conditions providing he bowls with sufficient pace and accuracy. His history of untimely injuries could well count against him though, especially as he’s likely to be required to bowl lengthy spells in draining conditions.

If Australia are to achieve any success throughout the series, then it’s likely to arise from the success of the fast bowlers and Starc in particular. The left-armer wreaked havoc in the last Test series he played in Asia taking 24 Sri Lankan wickets at a cost of just 15.16. India will be different of course, they have a stronger batting order than the Sri Lankans and the SG ball used in India will behave differently to the Kookaburra used further south. However, should Starc and to a lesser extent Hazlewood and Mitchell Marsh get the ball to swing both early doors and later in the innings then perhaps they could restrict the Indian totals to something more manageable.

In the wake of last year’s failed Sri Lanka series, a “horses for Asian courses” selection policy was muted with a major view on this Indian tour for its inauguration. In other words, batsmen and bowlers who have had international success in Australia and other parts of the world won’t necessary be selected for a subcontinental tour.

The first casualty of this new thinking could well be Khawaja. Despite piling up 581 runs at 58.10 during the home summer, the elegant left-hander has previously struggled in Asia scoring just 115 runs at 19.16 during four Tests in Sri Lanka. Last year, his ineptness against the Sri Lankan spinners saw him dropped for the final Test alongside Joe Burns.

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The form of Shaun Marsh could be vital to Australia’s chances in India. (Photo Credit: Associated Press.)

With Shaun Marsh reinstated to the middle order following injury, Khawaja will battle it out with rookie Matt Renshaw for the right to open with Warner. Last week’s tour match in Mumbai was in fact Renshaw’s only first-class match anywhere in Asia so his meagre returns of 11 and 10 will leave Trevor Hohns and Darren Lehmann slightly uneasy. Either opening option can be viewed as a risk but a middle order of Smith, Marsh and Peter Handscomb looks to be as equipped against the turning ball as any combination the Australians could have thrown together.

Marsh has successive hundreds in his two most recent Tests in Asia (albeit both occurred in Sri Lanka), while Handscomb has impressed observers with his ability to play spin bowling off both front and back foot in domestic cricket.

The spotlight will also be on wicketkeeper Wade. The visitors can ill afford for the Tasmanian to have a poor series behind the stumps. Creating chances against a powerful Indian batting line up is difficult enough without squandering them too. Four years ago, Wade was the incumbent keeper entering the series but a string of dropped catches and poor scores saw him replaced by the experienced Haddin. Although he’s worked hard on his keeping with Victoria over the past few years, is he really a better glovesman than the recently disregarded Peter Nevill?

For India, chief tormentors Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will again carry the most threat, much as they did four years ago, when they combined for 53 wickets against the Australians. The duo will likely be joined by fellow spinner Jayant Yadav – who debuted against England late last year – and seamers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.

With a poor recent away Test record, especially in Asia, Australia will certainly be up against it. Many are predicting another 4-0 whitewash and history suggests that could be a real possibility.

Yet, with matchwinners Warner, Smith and Starc in the side there remains just a glimmer of hope that the visitors can pull off what would be regarded as one of modern-day cricket’s greatest upsets.

The good, the bad and the recovery

Australian cricket review 2016.

The past year was a mixed bag for Australian cricket. After topping the Test rankings in February, they contrived to lose their next five Test matches, this led to an upheaval not seen Down Under since the Argus review in 2011.  

Australia v South Africa - 2nd Test: Day 1
Despite passing 1000 Test runs for the third consecutive year, Steven Smith had plenty to ponder in 2016. (Photo Credit: Cricket Australia/Getty Images).

 

Australian cricket’s 2016 could be categorized into three segments. The Good, The Bad and The Recovery.

The stats would suggest a middle of the road year for the Australians. 17 victories in 28 ODI’s is a decent return but it also included a 5-0 whitewash in South Africa. Five Test wins out of eleven matches isn’t great, but three of those victories have come at the end of the year – suggesting a brighter future.

Steven Smith’s men started the year on the front foot, continuing the progress they had made in late 2015. An 4-1 ODI series victory against a powerful Indian side in January was followed up a month later when they regaining both the Test Mace and the Trans-Tasman Trophy with a dominant 2-0 series win in New Zealand. From there on things started to go pear shaped.

Defeats to both New Zealand and India in the World T20, meant that Australia were eliminated at the Super 10 group stage in another disappointing showcase edition of the game’s shortest format. It continues to remain the only global international tournament they are yet to win.

After a brief renaissance in the Caribbean – where Australia beat both the hosts West Indies and South Africa to capture the ODI tri-series – They headed to their least favourite part of the world…The Subcontinent.

Some made the Australians favourites against an inexperienced and transitional Sri Lanka outfit still yet to replace the once in a generation batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But others looked at their recent Test failures in Asia (Played six, lost six since 2013) and knew there would be pain ahead. And so it transpired. Despite being well placed in each of the three Tests, Australia lost them all.

Old failings came home to roost. Batsmen were stuck in two minds whether the ball was going to spin big or just skid on, while Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland looked out of their depth when matched up against Rangana Herath and co. Played six, lost six soon became played nine lost nine. With a four-Test series in India lined up for late February, what chances do Australia have of avoiding; played thirteen, lost thirteen?

They would go onto suffer in ODI cricket too. A weakened pace attack, minus Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, was taught a lesson in South Africa – where despite David Warner scoring two centuries in the series, the hosts secured a 5-0 whitewash against the world’s number one ranked side.

The confidence of such an achievement clearly rubbed off on the Proteas as they brushed aside a struggling Australian side in the opening two Tests of the summer. In Perth, they capitalised on a dramatic batting collapse to open with a 177-run victory, and they then secured the series with a comprehensive innings and 80-run drubbing in Hobart.

It was at this point where Australia had reached its nadir. Changes had to be made and chairman of selectors Rod Marsh was the first to go ahead of his scheduled May 2017 departure. Marsh’s time was certainly up, the decision to hand Test debuts to South Australia duo Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie rose many an eyebrow and he was replaced by fellow selector Trevor Hohns on an interim basis.

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The Australian batting had an over reliance on the runs of captain and vice-captain, Smith and Warner.

 

Following Ferguson and Mennie out of the side after the Hobart calamity were previous incumbents Joe Burns, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill. The quartet had started the year as key components of a side looking for quick fixes following a host retirements throughout 2015, but a severe lack of late order runs from the likes of Marsh and Nevill meant they were replaced by Nic Maddinson and Matthew Wade, whereas Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb replaced Burns and Voges as the selectors started another rebuilding of the batting order. Lyon could also find himself somewhat fortunate to have stayed in the side too. Barring an injury to Steve O’Keefe he would have been dropped, instead he earned himself ‘cult hero’ status among the Australian fans.

The freshening up of the side had instant rewards as they won the dead rubber against South Africa before finishing the year with last day victories against Pakistan in both Brisbane and Melbourne. Both Handscomb and Renshaw made impressive contributions to the three victories, although the jury remains out on Maddinson and Wade following a string of low scores.

In both Test and ODI cricket the batting suffered an overreliance on both Smith and Warner. The senior pair coped well enough with Smith passing 1000 Test runs for the third straight year and Warner scoring seven centuries among his 1388 ODI runs at 63.09. But it was a strange year for Warner, ODI cricket was once seen as his weakest format but it was by far his strongest in 2016. His Test form suffered for the most part despite bookending the year with scores of 122no and 144 he scored just 748 runs at 41.55 – his worse returns since his debut year of 2011.

Australian pair Adam Zampa and Travis Head made the leap from domestic cricket to the limited overs sides with a fair degree of success. Zampa, who claimed 30 wickets at 27.80, was preferred to Lyon as the number one spinner and Head, 416 runs at 29.71, was often chosen ahead of the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell.

Day/Night cricket took another step toward becoming the future of the Test calendar, so much so that an Ashes fixture has been pencilled in for the Adelaide Oval next summer. This summer’s two day/night Test crowds were again successful mirroring the 123,736 that turned up for the inaugural pink-ball fixture last summer. The Adelaide Oval invited in 125,993 punters across four days of the Test against South Africa, while Brisbane saw 78,085 people flock to it’s Test match against Pakistan at The Gabba.

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Many Queenslander’s enjoyed the cricket during The Gabba’s inaugural Day/Night Test match earlier this month. (Photo Credit: Associated Press).

 

Elsewhere, the KFC Big Bash continued its march towards overtaking the international game in audience figures and public interest. On January 2nd, the Melbourne derby between the Stars and the Renegades attracted a BBL attendance record of 80,883 at the MCG.

 

High Point: Top of the Test world.

After beating Tasman neighbours New Zealand 2-0 in their own backyard in February, the Aussies moved above India in the Test rankings and received the Test mace for the first time in two years.

At the time, it felt like a new bright beginning was occurring in Australian cricket. Captain Smith had yet to lose a Test match and his side included a new settled batting line up blooded earlier in the summer. The likes of Khawaja, Burns, Voges, Nevill and Mitchell Marsh were seemingly finding their way in international cricket with relative ease. During some stage of five Test defeats in succession each man would be dropped.

Little did they known about what was to happen next! Despite only receiving the Test mace in an underwhelming ceremony on arrival in Sri Lanka. A 3-0 whitewash to the hosts saw them slide below both India and Pakistan into third position in the rankings.

 

Low Point: 87 all out in Hobart.

Despite losing five Test matches in a row for the first time since 2013, they hit rock bottom during the first morning of their second Test against South Africa in Hobart.

Much like the 60 all out at Trent Bridge last year, it’s impossible to look beyond 2016’s own addition of the great Australian batting horror show. For Hobart 2016 read Headingley 2010 or Newlands 2011, or perhaps Lords 2013.

Put into bat on a green and juicy looking Tasmanian wicket, the hosts ran into an inspired Proteas attack including Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. The rest was an ugly nightmare for anyone of Australian persuasion.

Both openers were back in the sheds before the second over was complete and the middle order fared no better as Smith was left stranded on 48 as he watched his troops collapse around him. Besides Smith, only debutant fast bowler Mennie made it into double figures as the innings lasted just 32.5 overs.

Unfortunately for Smith and his men this was no aberration either. In the four previous matches leading up to Hobart, Australia had contrived to lose 10-86 in Perth, 10-83 at Colombo, 9-52 at Galle and 6-22 at Pallekele.

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Matt Renshaw made a bright start to his Test career after replacing Joe Burns at the top of the order. (Photo Credit: Associated Press).

 

New Kid on the block: Matt Renshaw

The significance of Matt Renshaw’s arrival onto the Test scene cannot be underestimated. While he only scored 10 and 34no on debut, it was the way in which he scored his runs that will remembered in Australian cricketing folklore for years to come.

Coming off the back of five consecutive Test defeats – which included countless batting collapses of gigantic proportions – Australia needed some fight at the top of the order. Despite having just 12 first-class matches under his belt, 20-year-old Renshaw was just the man for the job.

Taking guard against the pink ball during the notoriously difficult evening session Renshaw – batting alongside regular number three Khawaja – showed composure and determination beyond his years to keep out a pumped up South African attack as the opening day lay on a knife edge. Despite frequently playing and missing he managed to blunt the new ball for 46 deliveries. This did not go unnoticed by a raucous Adelaide crowd – who cheered every time the ball beat the left-hander’s bat.

His unbeaten 137-ball 34 ensured Australia comfortably chased down their victory target of 127 in the fourth innings. After five defeats on the trot, a new-look side has stopped the rot and Renshaw was at the forefront of a new beginning.

After earning plaudits for his steely qualities on debut, in his next Test he showed a greater expansion to his batting with an accomplished first innings 71 in front of his home crowd in Brisbane. While greater challenges await away from home, Renshaw has shown he may well have the technique and character to meet them head on.

 

Fading Star: Adam Voges

After a brief period of doing his best Sir Donald Bradman’s impression, Voges, as an underperforming veteran of the side, quietly bore the brunt of five successive Test defeats.

At 37-years-old, any sustained period of bad form was always likely to result in him being put out to pasture. And when that bad form happened to coincide with such a disastrous run for the team, any leeway reserved for Voges quickly evaporated.

With the selector’s already keen to freshen up the batting with some younger faces, Voges’ contribution to five Test defeats (148 runs at 14.8) was simply not sustainable. In Sri Lanka, he was found out by the turning (and non-turning) ball. However, the pace and movement of South Africa’s new-ball attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

His final ten Test innings were indeed much inferior to the previous 21. After first donning the baggy green in June 2015, he plundered 1337 runs at a Bradman-esque 95.50 before running into the Sri Lankans in July.

Regardless of his decline, he still leaves the international scene with a batting average of 61.87 across 20 Tests. Expect him to continue to serve both Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers with renewed success for the years to come.

 

Farewell to: Max Walker and John Gleeson.

Affectionally known as ‘Tangles’ due to his wrong-footed bowling action, Max Walker was not just a successful fast bowler, but also a highly skilled AFL footballer, writer and commentator too.

His death to cancer in September, aged just 68, was felt keenly across the world as many rushed to tell their stories of past meetings with the popular Tasmanian.

He played all of his international cricket during the 1970’s, amassing 34 Test matches during a successful era of Australian cricket under the Chappell brothers. His 138 wickets at 27.47 were taken alongside the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Bob Massie.

John Gleeson had already played his final Test match by the time Walker made his debut in December 1972, but his influence on Australian cricket was equally important.

Known as a ‘mystery’ spinner at a time when orthodox ruled, Gleeson only took to first-class cricket for New South Wales at the relatively old age of 27. But after impressing then Australian captain Richie Benaud as a net bowler he was handed a Test debut in 1967, he went on to play 29 Tests for his country claiming 93 wickets at 36.20. He sadly passed away in Tamworth in October, aged 78.

 

What 2017 holds:

For the Australians, two major Test series highlight the 2017 international schedule. Firstly, they travel to India for a four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in February, then later in the year they host England in a home Ashes campaign.

Tours to India and Ashes campaigns are where reputations are forged and legacies are written. History would suggest that given their continuous struggles against the turning ball and India’s impeccable recent home record, it’s hard to see Smith’s men gaining many positives from that series.

The 2017/18 Ashes campaign could be an intriguing one. Both teams are, at the time of writing, equally skilful and highly flawed.

Other fixtures to take place in early 2017 include; ODI series against Pakistan and New Zealand and a T20 series against Sri Lanka before the team heads off to India at the end of February.

June brings another version of the Champions Trophy to be held in England. Australia are drawn in a group alongside the hosts, Bangladesh and New Zealand.

A rescheduled two-Test tour of Bangladesh has been muted to take place in August – providing the required security concerns are adhered to.

Can Maddinson fulfil undoubted potential?

Despite his obvious talent, the timing of Nic Maddinson’s maiden Test call-up, ahead of NSW teammate Kurtis Patterson, comes as somewhat of a surprise.

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Nic Maddinson (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

On October 10th 2010, Nic Maddinson made history at the Adelaide Oval. At 18 years and 294 days, he became the youngest New South Wales batsman to score a century on first-class debut.

During that day, he put on a quick-fire partnership of 153 with former Blue’s teammate Usman Khawaja. On Thursday, the two men will once again be reunited in Adelaide – this time as Test cricketers.

On November 27th 2011, Kurtis Patterson broke Maddinson’s record. At 18 years and 206 days, Patterson also eclipsed former Australian Test batsman Barry Shepherd’s 1955-56 record as the youngest debutant century maker in Sheffield Shield history.

After his astonishing introduction to first-class cricket, injuries and other circumstances meant Patterson had to wait a further two years to play another match. Maddinson, on the other hand, was granted freedom to establish himself as a permanent, albeit moveable, fixture in the New South Wales first XI.

On November 20th 2016, Maddinson was selected to earn a Baggy Green ahead of Patterson. The timing of his maiden Test call-up, alongside Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw, comes as somewhat of a surprise. That Maddinson has the potential has never been in doubt. But does his recent first-class performances warrant selection ahead of his in-form NSW colleague Kurtis Patterson?

During the 2015/16 Shield campaign, Maddinson averaged just 30.50 compared to Patterson’s 52.64. So far this summer he’s scored only 155 runs to Patterson’s 278, albeit having played a match less. Perhaps it was Maddinson’s greater experience (59 first-class matches to Patterson’s 33) that edged him ahead during selection meetings this week.

Or perhaps it was his accomplished 116 – scored against Western Australia on a recent turning SCG wicket – something that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed with a tour of India coming up early next year. Whatever it was, Pattinson finds himself unfortunate to miss out.

It has been confirmed that Maddinson will make his Test debut as a number six. With power hitting a strong part of his game – he’s previously represented his nation in two T20 internationals, its hoped he will thrive on the opportunity to play his natural game – something the former incumbent Mitchell Marsh hitherto failed to achieve.

It’s something his new skipper Steven Smith is excited about; “The selectors have given him an opportunity to come in and play at number six and sum up the conditions and play with a bit of freedom at the same time.

“On his day he can tear any attack apart.” Smith told reporters in Adelaide.

Despite starting out his state career as an opening batsman, Maddinson’s critics suggest he lacks the required patience to success at Test level. Some have even gone as far as suggesting he gets bored during spells at the crease. Regardless, he was entrusted with the honour of captaining New South Wales six times last summer with Moises Henriques out injured and Smith absent on national duty.

Despite showing endless potential for several years following his record-breaking debut, the 24-year-old lefthander hasn’t yet found a regular consistency in his game. Irrespective of this it seems the selection panel – now chaired by Trevor Hohns following the resignation of Rod Marsh last week – have grown so restless of waiting for him to find a greater level of consistency in his batting, that they have decided to take a punt on him anyway.

Having impressed in the junior ranks, Maddinson looked to have made the giant leap to the next level during an A tour of England prior to the 2013 Ashes. Opening the batting against Gloucestershire at Bristol, he made a powerful 181 off just 143 deliveries – still his highest first-class score to date. However, after a breakout first-innings, in the second dig – emblematic of his career to date – he was caught behind for a golden duck.

The batting line up for that three-day tour fixture included the likes of Khawaja, Smith, Jordan Silk, Phillip Hughes and Matthew Wade. Three of those men will represent Australia later this week. Baring tragedy and misfortune, there was perhaps a time when all five would have looked likely starters to join Maddinson at the Adelaide Oval.

Although Maddinson’s insouciant style has previously drawn comparisons with former New South Wales and Australian batsman Mark Waugh, it has also regularly got him into trouble when faced with quality bowling. If he’s to succeed at Test level, he must cut out the mental errors that have his plagued his game for the best part of six years.

Having said that, he must be given a fare crack at the number six position unlike his predecessor Callum Ferguson, who wasn’t given just one Test before being disregarded after the side’s insipid display in Hobart.

 

Vital questions to be answered as Australia hit rock bottom

A fifth straight Test loss, coupled with a recent 5-0 ODI whitewash in South Africa has left Australian cricket in a state of desolation. But what can be done to stop the rot with key series against Pakistan and India on the horizon?

I look at five important questions Australian cricket needs to answer moving forward.

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Steven Smiths fights a lone battle as wickets tumble around him in Hobart. (Photo Credit: Cricket Australia/Getty Images.)

 

Why is there such a lack of fight with the bat?

“We are not resilient enough, we are not digging in enough, we are not having the pride in our wicket, we’re just not being resilient enough and something has got to change.” – those are the words of captain Steven Smith after his side were humiliated to the tune of an-innings and 80-run defeat against South Africa in Hobart.

Lately when the going gets tough, the batting simply folds. Three alarming batting collapses of 10 for 86 in Perth as well as 10 for 85 and 8 for 31 in Hobart have all occurred across just four innings in the current series. This isn’t just a recent issue either. In Colombo, just a couple of months back, they lost 10 for 86. Last year they were bowled out for 60 at Trent Bridge.

While the technical deficiencies against both swing and spin have been mentioned many times before, the recent lack of fight with the bat is astonishing. Be it a confidence or mental issue, it appears to be rapidly spiralling out of control. When the going gets tough you’d always expect an Australian side to fight for the collective cause, to fight for the baggy green with a certain level of passion and pride. But recently there has been a worrying trend to simply throw the towel in when victory appears out of reach.

These issues certainly haven’t been lost on the selectors either. They were so worried about the batting that they included South Australian quick Joe Mennie at the expense of the more experienced Jackson Bird, because he had a better first-class batting average. Likewise, allrounder Mitchell Marsh was jettisoned in Hobart in favour of a sixth batman in Callum Ferguson – ultimately it had the adverse effect with Australia getting shot out for 85 in just 32.5 overs. Coincidently the last time they entered a Test match with six batsmen and no allrounder was the 60 all out at Trent Bridge.

While the batsman talk a good game, with suggestions of playing the “Australian Way” – an aggressive front foot approach to dominating all types of bowling regardless of the match situation or conditions – they don’t appear to be driven enough to knuckle down and absorb pressure when the opposition bowlers are on top. Although the shear number of limited overs cricket has led to an increase in the run rate of Test matches, there is still a place in the game for batting time and putting a hefty price on one’s wicket. Apparently, someone forgot to mention this to the Australians.

  

Is there a cultural shift in Australian cricket?

There was talk after a failed Olympic games campaign earlier this year that Australian athletes are “Going Soft”. It was also suggested that each medal won by the Olympic team had cost the taxpayers around $20M. Back then the nation’s public were demanding answers. While the failures of their cricketing counterparts are not costing anywhere near that amount, do they also have a right to question whether their cricket team has, in fact also, gone soft?

As the mind wanders back to the Australian cricket teams of yesteryear, it instantly thinks of eleven tough men. Mates, willing to do all they can to achieve collective a success. Sledging and on field nastiness were bred into them during years of Grade cricket and sustained into the international arena.

There was a time when Australian cricketers were just blokey blokes. During the seventies Jeff Thomson kept fit by hunting pigs in his spare time, in the late eighties David Boon once drank 52 cans of beer on a pre-Ashes flight from Sydney to London and in the nineties Glenn McGrath regularly mocked the opposition as much as his bowling castled them.

How things change. In the present, there wasn’t even any pre-series gloating before the South Africans had arrived down under. Not from the Aussies anyway. Instead It was the visitors who did the talking and ultimately backed up their words with strong actions on the field.

It is just a severe of lack confidence that has quietened Smith’s men or it is a shift in the culture of this team?

It appears there is currently a significant lack of leaders and characters in the home dressing room. With the amount of backroom staff now around, perhaps the lack of having to think for one’s self is diluting the leadership qualities of the modern-day player.

Australia has always had a loud authoritative figure at its helm, right from the days of Ian Chappell through to Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. Unfortunately, Smith – as good a batsman as he is – just isn’t cut from the same cloth. Aside from David Warner (who has mellowed quite considerably in recent times) it appears to be a dressing room full of quiet voices.

While Smith’s captaincy is currently in no doubt after he showed plenty of fighting qualities in his two “leading from the front” knocks in Hobart, he needs stronger voices and opinions around him both on and off the field.

Moving forward, one option would be to bring back Matthew Wade to keep wicket instead of the underperforming Peter Nevill. Wade is a fighter. Not only would he add more with the bat, but as a state captain for Victoria he would also act as another strong sounding board for his Smith to bounce ideas off.

 

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After a brief and fruitful Test career, Adam Voges looks to have played his final match. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

 

Why are so many fast bowlers injured, and what can be done to counter this?

Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Joel Paris and Peter Siddle are all currently unavailable for international selection. Taking away those kinds of options from any international side would hurt. For Australia, these days’ such injury predicaments are common place.

Despite the CA hierarchy often insisting on a rest and rotation policy for fast bowlers despite them often being fit to play, the bowling stocks across the nation appear to be as depleted as ever.

Cummins, still only 23 years of age, has not represented Australia in Test cricket his making his debut in South Africa almost five years ago. Meanwhile, persistent back and muscle injuries have also restricted Pattinson to just 17 sporadic appearances in the half-a-decade since he made his Test bow against New Zealand.

Elsewhere, despite being included in previous squads, a combination of hamstring, shoulder and back injuries have prevented Coulter-Nile from yet making his Test debut. He’s currently ruled out for the foreseeable future after picking up a lumbar bone stress issue whilst touring Sri Lanka earlier this year.

Siddle, on the other hand, is a recent victim of the system. Initially diagnosed with an early-stage stress fracture of the back during a Test series in New Zealand in February, he only returned to bowling during the recent Matador Cup. But with other options unavailable for the start of the summer, he was unwisely rushed back into action for the recent Perth Test – despite having bowled in just one first-class match beforehand. He was left out of the Hobart Test after complaining of lower back soreness after the defeat at the WACA.

These are familiar stories.

This time last year I wrote a piece on the perceived depth of quick bowlers in Australia. My drawn-up list included the likes of Pattinson, Cummins, Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Jackson Bird and Jason Behrendorff. However, because of the demanding current international schedule and the injuries that coincide with it, these guys are now not necessary the next in line.

One year ago, names such as Scott Boland, Chris Tremain, Joe Mennie and David Worrall were virtually unknowns. Twelve months later and circumstances have meant that they are now legitimate fast bowling options for their country.

So, what can be done to combat these injury issues? With the rest and rotation policy clearing not working as well as CA medical staff would have liked, perhaps it’s time to go back to the old-school approach of allowing fast bowlers to play as much Sheffield Shield and Grade cricket as possible. If the “overs under the belt” approach used to work for players like Thomson and Lillee, then perhaps it’s worth a go for Cummins and co.

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Could Queensland’s English-born opener Matt Renshaw be the answer to Australia’s batting woes? (Photo Credit: Cricket Australia/Getty Images.

 

Is it time to head back to the drawing board and give youth a go?

Despite a spectacular Bradman-esque start to his international career, old father time is finally catching up with Adam Voges – who is averaged just 14.8 across his past ten Test innings.

Although the veteran right-hander isn’t the only one under considerable pressure to keep his place for the upcoming third Test at the Adelaide Oval, at 37 he appears the most likely to make way as the selectors look to freshen up the batting line-up with younger talent.

Like Voges, father time has also caught up with Cricket Australia’s recent policy of picking experienced batsman such as Callum Ferguson and Chris Rogers. While the system has brought some success – most notably with Rogers – it was only ever seen as a short-term measure as no younger options were demanding outright selection.

With next year bringing a tour to India as well as a home Ashes campaign, now’s the time for the next generation of Australian batsmen to stand up. Recent success stories such as England’s Haseeb Hameed and Kusal Mendis of Sri Lanka, should provide the selectors with some hope that by taking a punt on a promising young player they could gain both short and long-term rewards.

So, who are next in line? Despite no one knocking the door down with a mountain of Shield runs, the early front runners appear to be; South Australian pair Travis Head and Jake Lehmann, New South Wales’ Kurtis Pattinson, Victorian Peter Handscomb and Cameron Bancroft of Western Australia. If the selectors chose to go even younger then Queensland pair Matt Renshaw (20) and Sam Heazlett (21) would represent their best current options.

With Smith, Warner and Usman Khawaja seemingly locked in for the foreseeable, as many as three batting berths look to be up for debate heading in the next Test match. The squad is due to be announced on Sunday after the latest round of Shield matches.

 

Has there been too much resting on laurels in the top hierarchy of Australian cricket?

In short, Yes.

Before Rod Marsh resigned from his position as chairman of selectors on Wednesday, things had been running along cosily for quite some time at Cricket Australia’s Melbourne headquarters.

In fact, not since Mickey Arthur was fired before the 2013 Ashes series has there been any significant upheaval in the CA ranks. While the appointment of coach Darren Lehmann has brought some extreme highs including a 5-0 Ashes whitewash and a World Cup victory on home soil, it has also brought huge lows such as the away series defeats in the UAE, England and Sri Lanka.

There is a thought that those highs have led to a certain complacency among the hierarchy with each of James Sutherland, Pat Howard and Lehmann judged to be sitting with their feet too comfortable under the Cricket Australia table.

Chief executive Sutherland has been his post for since 2001, while Howard was appointed in awake of the 2011’s Argus review. Lehmann – who was brought in to replace Arthur in 2013 – has meanwhile, recently given a contract extension that will take him through until the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup and Ashes campaigns in England.

If further changes are to accompany the exit of Marsh in the wake of recent performances, then it would seem most likely that Howard’s head would be first onto the chopping board. It’s often hard to comprehend what Howard’s current role even consists of… From the outside looking in, he appears to be the high-performance chief of a hugely underperforming side. His present contract is due to run out in the middle of next year. Will he be allowed to see his term out or will he follow Marsh out of the door before his current deal expires?

 

Batting woes leave Mitchell Marsh skating on thin ice

Lack of quality alternatives have led to a certain leeway with the selectors, however, going forward the allrounder’s form with the bat remains a serious concern.

2nd Test - Australia v India: Day 3
Photo Credit: Getty Images.

 

Last Friday when asked about the batting form of Test allrounder Mitchell Marsh, Australian chairman of selectors Rod Marsh went out of his way to make a clear ultimatum towards the Western Australian’s Test summer. It went along the lines of: He needs to get a Test hundred I reckon.”

Fast forward a week to the second day’s play of the first Commonwealth Test match at The WACA. The scenario reads: Australia coasting towards South Africa’s paltry first innings total of 242. David Warner and Shaun Marsh are sailing along smoothly at 0-158 before a dramatic (all-too-familiar) batting collapse sees the Aussie’s lose four wickets for just 23 runs. Enter Mitchell Marsh replacing his brother Shaun at the crease and seemingly set for a “Silencing the doubter’s innings”.

A firm and quick WACA deck, a loving home Perth crowd – including father Geoff, and against a Dale Steyn-less South African attack – surely today would be the day to quieten the concerns of both selectors and supporters alike. A maiden Test hundred at The WACA awaited surely…

Except this is sport and not a hometown fairy tale for Marsh. Vernon Philander found some decent movement with a fifty-over old kookaburra cherry and slide one into the front pad, Marsh’s Puma bat wasn’t even in the picture. Dismissed for an eighth-ball duck was certainly not part of the grand plan.

While Marsh brings plenty of other strings to his bow – most noticeably his gun fielding in the gully region and a more than handy first-change seam bowling action – it’s been made clear by Rod Marsh that his role in the side is predominantly as a number six batsman. On that front an average of just 23.07 across 30 Test innings doesn’t read all too easy on the eye.

The potential is of course there. It always has been. A maiden ODI hundred against India in January suggested at a breakout period, so did the match-winning 69 not out in Wellington just two weeks later. But although he was “Batting as well as anyone” during the disastrous tour of Sri Lanka recently, he only managed scores of 31, 25, 27, 18, 53 and 9 – middling scores suggesting he’s first got himself in, and then found ways to get dismissed when something more substantial looked on the cards. Parallels can certainly be made with his predecessor Shane Watson – easy on the eye but lacking the match defining contributions required at Test level.

The problem for the Australian selectors is the lack of international-standard competition in the seam bowling allrounders role. Should the selectors finally lose patience with their project player – And they have invested a lot into the development of Marsh – then New South Wales’ Moises Henriques would represent the obvious replacement.

Returning to Henriques would bring with it a different set of question marks though. While he has dominated with the bat in recent Sheffield Shield campaigns, his bowling is vastly inferior to anything offered by Marsh. Besides he looked very much out of his depth whilst facing the turning ball during his one Test in Colombo recently. With a Test tour of India looming in the new year, his inclusion looks unlikely.

Other options would be to include Victorian Marcus Stoinis, who – despite being a serial ‘A’ team squad member – hasn’t, at 27, kicked on as much as Cricket Australia would have once hoped. Likewise, James Faulkner has suffered from injuries whilst being mainly pigeonholed as a limited overs specialist lately.

Fellow seam-bowling allrounders such as Western Australia’s Hilton Cartwright, (aged 24) and Jack Wildermuth (23) of Queensland also spring to mind as future options, however both currently lack enough experience at first-class level to be considered as viable inclusions.

Another option would be to call up Travis Head. A batsman the selectors are seriously keen on after he has shown impressive batting and leadership qualities in the past year. After being called up to train with the Test squad during the final Test against Sri Lanka in August, it remains only a matter of time before the South Australian captain is given a chance at Test level, although it seems he may be viewed as a long-term replacement for the veteran Adam Voges at number five. With both Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle working their way back to full fitness after injuries it remains likely that the policy of three quicks, Nathan Lyon and a seam-bowling allrounder will not change anytime soon.

With Marsh struggling with live up to expectations with the bat, it doesn’t help that the man behind him in the order is also fighting his own demons with the willow. Peter Nevill’s position in the side is too being debated with the wicketkeeper averaging just 20.88 since dispensing Brad Haddin during last year’s away Ashes campaign. While Nevill has been nothing short of excellent with the gloves, his Test average is 17.00 down on his first-class record.

Although he was unlucky to be dismissed caught at first slip in the first innings at The WACA when he didn’t hit the ball (and his side were out of reviews after both Steven Smith and Shaun Marsh used them to no avail earlier in the day) with the batting carrying an over-reliance on both Smith and Warner the pressure will be on the likes of Marsh and Nevill to start making the contributions their team requires.

For Marsh it looks like that maiden Test hundred will have to wait another day.