In the aftermath of the biggest crisis to hit Australian cricket in recent memory, CaughtOutCricket examines five key talking points that remain in the public spotlight.
Will Steve Smith and David Warner play for Australia again?
After both were handed twelve-month bans by Cricket Australia (CA) for their involvements in the ball-tampering incident there is a case to suggest that neither man – Australia’s two leading batsmen – will ever represent their country again.
While that’s perhaps wide of the mark for former captain Smith – who has a relatively clean rap sheet up until now – the future isn’t quite so bright for Warner who carries plenty of previous baggage when it comes to crossing the line.
The early indications are that Warner, who CA said was the chief instigator in devising the ball-tampering plan, is expected to challenge his ban in the next seven days as he fights for his international future. Reports coming out ofESPNcricinfo suggest that Warner could be forced out of the national setup completely – similar to the way the ECB disposed of Kevin Pietersen after a disastrous Ashes campaign four years ago.
Even if Warner did find himself back in favour of the national setup, its been confirmed that he will never hold another leadership position, Smith on the other hand is banned from captaining the side again for at least 24 months.
While CA have come down particularly harsh on each player, its Warner who’s become the scapegoat especially among his fellow teammates and staff members.
With the twelve-month hiatus including no participation in the IPL or any domestic or international cricket associated with CA, it appears a long road back for Smith and Warner.
Who is the next long-term captain?
When it was decided that both Smith and Warner would be stepped down from their leadership roles with immediate effect on the fourth morning of the recent Newlands Test, it was Tim Paine who was the obvious choice as stand-in captain.
Paine has been looked upon as a potential future leader from as far back as 2010 – the year he made his Test debut against Pakistan. However, he has played just eight Tests since returning to the Test side after a seven-year break between caps so its natural that the decision to appoint him Australia’s 46th Test captain comes with a certain amount of scrutiny.
At 33, Paine’s career is closer to the conclusion than the beginning and while he’s enjoyed a renaissance with both bat and gloves since his return its impossible not to imagine that his appointment as captain has been finalised with a fair amount of haste and short-termism.
But with a Test match beginning in Johannesburg on Friday, the CA hierarchy were left with little choice but to appoint Paine to the role. With Smith and Warner unavailable the other viable options appear sparse.
Western Australia skipper and current Australian allrounder Mitchell Marsh looks the most likely candidate going forward. The 26-year-old led the Australian U19 side to World Cup success in 2010 but has limited other captaincy to fall back on having only recently been appointed as WA skipper last summer.
Marsh, like Paine and another possible option in Victorian captain Peter Handscomb, is still to fully establish himself in the current Australian side.
The debate will go on.
How did Darren Lehmann survive the fallout?
How is Lehmann still in a job? Is the question many cricket fans are currently asking. Reports surfaced on Tuesday that Lehmann was set to offer his resignation to the CA board after becoming one of the six members said to be involved in the fiasco.
However, after speaking to CA head of Integrity Iain Roy and CEO James Sutherland it has been determined that Lehmann had no prior knowledge of the ball-tampering ploy before it was carried out on the field by Cameron Bancroft.
Many have reasoned that it would’ve been impossible for Lehmann to have been in the dark over the incident, especially as he was seen apparently communicating with the 12th man Handscomb via a walkie talkie. Yet somehow, he and assistant coach David Sakar have come out of the internal investigations relatively unscathed.
It now looks likely that Lehmann will see out his existing contract which runs until after the 2019 World Cup and Ashes campaigns in England. His long-term successor remains the former Aussie opener and current WA coach Justin Langer who is expected to take over the role after the expiration of Lehmann’s current deal.
Lehmann has enjoyed plenty of success as coach – highlighted by a World Cup triumph on home soil and two victorious home Ashes campaigns but he’s also had his critics who suggest he’s fostered and overseen a bad culture in the Australian dressing room.
Can the team environment change significantly enough to win back the public?
The fallout from this week’s events across the cricketing, political and social media world has been unprecedented.
Some have called for life bans to be handed out to all involved with plotting the on-field cheating, while others have suggested the bans handed to Bancroft, Smith and Warner were ‘Punishments that didn’t fit the crime’.
One-year bans for Smith and Warner and nine months for Bancroft undoubtedly appear harsh but clearly CA felt the desperate need to make an example of the trio. Pressure from the government and lucrative sponsorship partners certainly didn’t help their cause when deciding the adequate justice and punishment for men representing their country on the world stage.
With the aforementioned trio now out of the picture it’ll be the responsibility of Lehmann, Paine and other senior members such as Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc to forge a new ‘cleaner’ culture in the dressing room.
CEO James Sutherland has already confirmed that CA are committed to setting up an independent review into “the conduct and culture” of the men’s teams which will be conducted by an expert panel and reported back to the CA board.
With this in mind the team must make a sustained effort to win back the wider public by ditching the ‘bad guy’ on field persona inherited under the leadership of Michael Clarke and continued during the Smith regime.
The over-the-top sledging must also be eradicated immediately if they’re to appear serious about changing the identity of the national side for the betterment of cricket in Australia.
What does the future look like?
The immediate future begins on Friday with a series still on the line. Although Australia find themselves 2-1 down with one Test to play they must begin to draw a-line-in-the-sand over the recent events and remember that they are in South Africa to play cricket.
Queensland pair Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns have been drafted into open the batting while either Glenn Maxwell or Handscomb will slot into Smith’s role at number four.
The immediate loss of the side’s best two batsmen is sure to leave a gaping hole. The team has struggled to build big totals without heavy contributions from either Smith or Warner and other senior batsmen such as Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh must now step out of the shadows and help fill the void.
Should Smith and Warner return to the side upon the completion of their twelve month bans then they will miss a ODI series in England in June, followed by a tour to Zimbabwe, a home series against Bangladesh, ODI’s against Pakistan in the UAE & South Africa at home, before home Test series against both India and Sri Lanka and then an ODI series in India and Tests in the UAE against Pakistan.
With World Cup and Ashes defences on the line later in 2019 it promises to be an important eighteen months in Australian cricket.
Australia showed plenty of grit and resolve in Test series against India, Bangladesh and England, but their limited-overs performances took a nose-drive as off field issues clouded much of the year.
In the midst of another successful home Ashes campaign it’s easy to assume that everything in 2017 was rosy Down Under. However, just a few months ago Australian cricket found itself draped in a deep power struggle with potentially lasting consequences.
A contract pay dispute between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) had become so serious that mediation was called for and government influence was on standby should the dispute not be resolved before the Ashes.
Whether the Ashes would have ever become compromised is up for debate. However, that it ever got to that stage was a major concern for all involved.
With the CA board wanting to break up the previous revenue sharing model – which had effectively been in place since 1998 – and the ACA wanting to keep the same memorandum of understanding (MoU) in place there was bound to be a conflict of interests – but the way it played out in public didn’t reflect well on either party.
With 230 of the 300 contracted Australian cricketers essentially unemployed throughout July, it raised concerns that some players would turn their backs on CA altogether and instead join the T20 circuits around the world.
After months of public squabbling between CA and the ACA it took the rational intervention of long-time CA CEO James Sutherland to finally bring the two parties together and a new MoU was eventually agreed on August 3rd. The players would keep their revenue sharing model with a few compromises and CA would ensure no more cricket was lost with tours of Bangladesh and India looming on the horizon.
On the field the Test side, marshalled by the increasingly influential Steve Smith, enjoyed relative success. In all, they finished the year with six wins, two draws and three defeats spread across four series. In January they romped to 220-run win over Pakistan in Sydney to seal a 3-0 whitewash over the visitors before heading to India in February.
Despite a spectacular 333-run victory in the first Test in Pune, Australia went onto lose the four-Test series 2-1 with defeats in Bengaluru and Dharamsala sandwiched between a draw in Ranchi. Despite another series defeat on the subcontinent – this felt like a watershed moment.
Led by the excellent Smith, who scored three centuries in the series on his way to 499 runs at 71.28, Australia competed well in each of the matches and were unlucky to come out second best against a fine Indian side.
For Smith it was just the beginning in another extraordinary year in Test cricket. He’d go onto finish the year as the leading run-maker with 1305 runs at 76.76 – the fourth successive year he’s passed the 1000+ run mark. Not satisfied with only three centuries in India he also scored another three in the first four Ashes Tests later in the year. Match winning efforts in Brisbane and Perth were joined by a match-saving vigil in Melbourne.
Like Smith, Nathan Lyon also finished the year on top of the world. His 63 wickets at 23.55 were more than any other bowler and his evolution as a world-class spinner played a major part in Australia’s Test fortunes.
Lyon certainly played a huge role in Australia’s two match tour of Bangladesh in August. His 22 wickets at 14.31 included three five-wicket hauls in just four innings as the visitors fought back from a 20-run defeat in Mirpur to level the series with a seven-wicket victory in Chittagong. The series also witnessed the return to form of David Warner who scored back-to-back centuries after struggling in similar conditions in India.
The return of Pat Cummins to the Test side was also a major boost. A spate of injuries had meant that 1946 days had elapsed between his debut in December 2011 and his return to the side in March. His return meant that Australia could finally field their pace attack of choice, for an Ashes series no less, with Cummins joining Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
The Ashes were regained with the minimum amount of fuss. Despite many, this author included, predicting a tighter series it took just 15 days and three Tests for the Urn to return Down Under.
Led by the runs of Smith and the shared wickets of Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon and Starc they blow England away whenever the visitors appeared to be in the contest. While it wasn’t as brutal as the Mitchell Johnson-led effort of four years previous, the short-pitched bowling was enough to regularly dislodge a weak England batting line-up.
Don’t be mistaken though, this still isn’t a great Australian Test side. They are, though, an improving side who should still have their best years ahead of them. In fact, of the current side only Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh are entering their latter years.
The selectors deserve a great deal of credit for their sensible and brave selection calls ahead of the series with veteran’s Paine and Marsh recalled to the side ahead of underperforming duo Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell. Likewise, Cameron Bancroft and Mitchell Marsh both made vital contributions when called upon to replace the out-of-touch Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb.
In the limited overs formats, it was a poor year. They started the year with a 4-1 series victory at home to Pakistan but struggled to replicate that form away from home. A 2-0 series defeat in New Zealand was followed by a disappointing Champions Trophy campaign.
Not helped by the wet English weather they saw their opening two matches both abandoned before they were knocked out of the tournament by hosts England. Although news has recently broken that shows them somewhat unfortunate to have exited the tournament so early, their displays against New Zealand and England were sub-par.
They were then defeated 4-1 in India to round out a disappointing year in ODI cricket. Finding the right balance remains a key issue going forward for a side looking to defend their World Cup crown in 2019.
In T20 cricket they won just two of the six matches they played. Despite the growing success of the Big Bash, it remains a format which the national side has yet to master. Although they weren’t helped earlier in the year when a scheduling farce forced them to pick a weakened side for a three-match home series with Sri Lanka.
With the Test side over in India preparing for their series opener in Pune – a T20I match was being played at the Adelaide Oval just 15hrs and 50mins beforehand.
High Point: Victory in Pune.
Despite winning the Ashes back on the final day of Test cricket at Perth’s famous WACA ground, Australia’s best moment of the year came in Pune in late February.
Going into the series against India as huge underdogs – owing mainly to their terrible recent record on the subcontinent – Australia turned the tables (quite literally!!) to beat a fancied Indian side and go one-nil up in the series.
For the Aussies it was their first Test victory on Indian soil since an Adam Gilchrist-led side won 2-1 there in 2004.
Led by the 12 wickets of left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe and a fine second-innings hundred by Smith they bowled out the Indians for just 105 and 107 on a raging turner to win by a gigantic 333 runs.
Although they still went onto lose the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, it showed that they could achieve success in subcontinental conditions.
Low Point: Public pay disputes.
While their 20-run defeat to Bangladesh in Mirpur in August – their first ever Test loss to the Asian nation – was the low point on the field, the significance of the pay dispute and its effect on the perception of cricket in Australia was particularly damning.
As the whole episode played out in a public slanging match, the way Australian cricket was being ran – often the envy of other cricket boards across the world – had been severely tarnished.
Despite not being a kid anymore at 25, Bancroft made his first serious foray into the international game when he was drafted in to open the batting for the Ashes.
Set to make his Test debut in Bangladesh in 2015 before the tour was postponed on security grounds, he was finally rewarded with a place in the side at the expense of an out-of-form Renshaw.
When others were failing to make an impression, Bancroft hit 442 runs at 110.50 for Western Australia in the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield. His 76no and 86 against a full strength New South Wales attack was a particularly significant factor in his callup.
After a superb unbeaten second-innings 82 on Test debut in Brisbane his form has thus far been patchy with 179 runs at just 29.84, although he’s sure to be granted a prolonged run in the side.
There was a time – after he endured a mixed tour of India and subsequently lost his CA contract – that Shaun Marsh looked like becoming the 2017 fading star of Australian cricket.
However, a fine Ashes series has seen the 34-year-old batsman remain a pivotal part of Smith’s side – instead its Peter Siddle who has seen his eight-year international career drift towards its conclusion.
The 33-year-old Siddle last played a Test for his country against South Africa in Perth last November before succumbing to a back injury which ruled him out of action until October. After a slump in form for Victoria – He’s taken just five first-class wickets at 75.20 in four matches this summer – he was dropped for the most recent Shield match against Western Australia.
Barring a huge turnaround in form and a spate of injuries to the current Australian quicks, it’s likely that Siddle’s played the last of his 62 Tests. An accurate seamer bowler in his prime, “Sidds” has taken 211 wickets at 29.92 since making his debut in India in 2008.
Although Australia start as favourites, expect a tight Ashes series as both teams line up with obvious flaws in their armouries.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
England’s latest Ashes squad represents further muddled thinking from the selectors who appear to have run out of batting ideas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.