Fallible batting line-ups set to be at the mercy of formidable pace units as English conditions will likely ensure a series for the bowlers.
And so, the Ashes have arrived again. With cricket very much in the public spotlight once more, the sport’s greatest rivalry is set to resume in Birmingham on Thursday morning – just a mere 18 days after England lifted their first World Cup on home soil.
Because of that home World Cup, the 2019 version of the Ashes is very much cricket in the fast lane with five Tests – spread across four cities – arriving in just six weeks.
And with such a short turnaround between matches, this series could well hinge on how each side handles their squad rotation and fast bowling depth.
With the English wickets expected to offer plenty of swing and seam, coupled with the obvious batting frailties on either side, it looms as a low scoring series set to be dominated by the ball.
Thankfully for each side they’re stacked in that department. Between them England and Australia have both opted to include six front line seamers in their respective squads.
England will again rely on the evergreen pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad as chief destroyers alongside the dependable Chris Woakes, the all-round package of Sam Curran and the new speed merchants Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone.
While Australia have the veteran UK specialist Peter Siddle, the World Cup’s leading wicket taker Mitchell Starc, the ever-reliable Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and are rounded off with the hustling seam of Michael Neser and the trump card James Pattinson.
After almost five years of frustration, Australia finally has the ‘Big Four’ of Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Starc all fit and available for selection. This, once distant, dream dates back to late 2014 when Hazlewood was the last of the quartet to make his Test debut.
A combination of injuries, both minor and serious, have meant that, until now, the four have never simultaneously been available. However, with Hazlewood having recovered from the back injury that’s ruled him out since January and Pattinson also seemingly over his own back troubles, they suddenly have an abundance of riches.
Now the visitors must stick to the fundamentals of succeeding in English climes and pick accordingly to the varying conditions. Their 2019 squad make-up suggests they have learnt plenty of lessons from their flawed 2015 Ashes campaign.
After a successful 2013-14 campaign, in which a fiery Mitchell Johnson blow England away, Australia entered English shores in 2015 intent on following a similar pathway.
However, although a pre-tour career ending injury to Ryan Harris scuppered their plans somewhat, an attack of Johnson, Starc and an off-colour Hazlewood was quickly found out across the series despite Johnson’s match winning contribution at Lords.
The 2015 surfaces of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, in particular, were crying out for the wiles of Siddle, however he was only turned to once the series was already decided in England’s favour.
Siddle, now entering his twilight at 34, is again included in the touring party. And after a successful recent spell in county cricket with Essex, where he’s reaped 34 Championship wickets at 20.08, he’s likely to play a larger role from the get-go this time around.
With Pattinson and Cummins already etched into the starting XI for Edgbaston, Siddle’s in a three-way battle with Hazlewood and Starc for the remaining seamers role.
For England there were similar dilemmas regarding the third seamers role. With Anderson and Broad already certain to begin the series, Woakes has edged out Archer for the final spot.
With his strong Edgbaston connections and figures of 6-17 against Ireland last week, Woakes was the obvious candidate for the role, however, Archer’s inclusion is likely to come later in the series.
Despite a fine start to his international career, Archer has been carrying a slight side injury since his World Cup final exploits and is also short of red-ball practice, having not played a first-class match for ten months.
In the batting, Australia must decide whether Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft will open the batting alongside David Warner. Despite Harris being the incumbent, it’s likely that Bancroft will get the nod after his steady runscoring feats with Durham and match-winning contribution of 93 not out in the Australian inter-squad match last week.
England captain Joe Root has already confirmed that he will swap places with Joe Denly in the order and bat at number three. After pressure from parts of the English media and also his coach Trevor Bayliss, Root has decided to make the jump to add more experience to a top three also containing Surrey pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy – who have a combined eight Tests between them.
So, where does this leave us?
England are perhaps slight favourites at this stage with home conditions taken into account and the simple fact that not many current Australian batsmen are very equipped at playing the moving ball.
However, England’s own frailties in the batting department will concern them too. While they pride themselves on batting all the way down to number 10, their top order is a serious worry. After getting bundled out for 85 on a green Lords wicket by 37-year-old county stalwart Tim Murtagh – there are plenty of issues to iron out.
Burns is averaging just 22.28 after 14 Test innings and Denly isn’t fairing much better with 24.16 across six innings. It’s beginning to appear that a lot will rest on Roy’s ability to transform his limited overs form into the Test arena as England continue their long quest to replace Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook at the top of the order.
Keep an eye on:
Now 29, Pattinson’s only previous Ashes experience was as far back as six years ago when he played in the opening two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series before breaking down with yet another unfortunate injury setback.
After career-threatening back surgery in late 2017, Pattinson has finally returned to his fearsome best this summer during a county spell at Nottinghamshire and the recent Australia A fixtures.
While its doubtful he will play in all five matches, Pattinson’s ability to swing and seam the ball at high speed whilst also offering control will make him a tough proportion to face for the English batsmen.
While England have a number of talented batsmen in their ranks, only Root can claim to be truly world class.
After stating for much of the past year that he prefers to bat at number four, Root has finally budged and moved up one.
The number three spot has been problematic for England ever since Jonathan Trott departed from the international scene in 2015 and despite Root averaging 40.47 batting there instead of the 48.00 he averages at four, it’s a decision made with the best interests of the team at heart.
How Root handles the responsibility of captaincy with the added burden of batting at first drop will likely define the series.
The Cape Town ball-tampering saga was the beginning of the end for a host of hugely significant figures in Australian cricket as the country endured its toughest year in living memory.
Australian cricket review 2018
It had all begun so well. The Australian cricket team started 2018 with an innings and 123-run victory over England to seal a 4-0 Ashes triumph.
There were smiles aplenty as the Sydney sun shone down brightly on Steve Smith and Darren Lehmann’s men after they’d made relatively light work of the old enemy. There was even time for a “classless” trophy presentation to follow – featuring a giant blue hand decorated in the Aussie flag and holding up four fingers next to the St George’s flag of England that featured a clenched fist to resemble the four-nil score line.
However, that was all a big masquerade by Cricket Australia. Behind the scenes the wider public were starting to grow tired of the way the Australian cricket team acted on and off the field. Whether it was the crude sledging or the ongoing arrogance of certain members of the team, tensions were starting to boil up.
There was talk of exhaustion in the camp as an unrelenting schedule that included a full Ashes series of five Tests, five ODIs and a T20I tri-series was then swiftly followed by a four-Test tour of South Africa. And it was beginning to take its toll on several high-profile members of the side – not least captain and vice-captain Smith and David Warner.
Smith citied potential burnout as his reasoning behind skipping part of the ODI series that proceeded the Ashes, while Warner was thrust into the captaincy for the T20I tri-series as both men continued to live their lives firmly inside the international “Cricket Bubble”.
Inside that “Cricket Bubble” the side had begun to develop a win-at-all-costs mentality as the demands of international cricket and a wider growing arrogance led to exaggerated aggression, and at times a sense of invincibility.
While no-one ever expected the Australians to cheat as blatantly as they did on that infamous Saturday afternoon at Newlands in late March, there were earlier warning signs that their conduct had started to spiral rapidly out of control. Not least, the continuing on and off field angst between the Australians and their hosts South Africa which had begun in Durban with an ugly staircase altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock that set the tone for the poor behaviour that followed throughout the series.
However, things certainly hit the nadir during the third Test in Cape Town. Not only did Warner instruct Cameron Bancroft to use sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball, but then when Smith and Bancroft subsequently tried to cover up the tampering they also lied to the Australian public.
The backlash was severe. “Sandpapergate” spared no one. Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull felt the need to get involved and the incident made worldwide news. Smith and Warner were immediately stepped down from leadership duties while investigations commenced. They would later both be handed one-year suspensions from CA while Bancroft was handed nine months.
Coach Lehmann was spared the axe but resigned days later, while CEO James Sutherland quickly announced there was to be a review of the “culture and conduct” of Australia’s professional cricket teams.
Newly reinstated wicketkeeper Tim Paine was handed the permanent Test captaincy, with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Marsh appointed his joint vice-captains. Meanwhile, long-time candidate Justin Langer replaced Lehmann as head coach. Langer’s first task was to preside over a 5-0 ODI series loss in England as Australia’s one-day side lived up to its ongoing mediocrity of recent years.
Without the batting prowess of Smith and Warner and, at times, a host of leading fast bowlers due to injury, Australia were being shown up as the ordinary side they’d now become. A T20I tri-series final was lost to Pakistan in Zimbabwe to continue a difficult beginning to the Langer-reign before a sense of pride was restored with a hard-earned Test draw against Pakistan in Dubai. Despite that draw the series was lost with a 373-run defeat in Abu Dhabi as familiar batting struggles were again very evident.
While the team were trying to win back the public with their new-found respectful behaviour, a host of changes were happening at the boardroom level. In June, James Sutherland announced that he was stepping down as CEO after seventeen years at the helm and he was replaced by former CA director Kevin Roberts.
Roberts was a long-time ally of CA chairman David Peever and it appeared the pair would continue working together when Peever was voted back in for a second term just days before the findings of the cultural review were made public to the state boards in late October. However, just one week into his three-year tenure Peever resigned after increasing pressure from New South Wales chairman John Knox.
Former captain Mark Taylor followed shortly after, resigning from his position on the board despite being many people’s choice to succeed Peever as chairman. That role eventually went to Earl Eddings who had originally taken up the role on a temporary basis following Peever’s swift exit.
Two more high-profile names followed Peever and Taylor out CA’s Jolimont headquarters on November 7th when Roberts used his new-found authority to fire both Pat Howard and Ben Amarfio. Howard, the Head of Team Performance, was due to leave after the 2019 Ashes but was shown the door early and replaced by former Australian cricketer Belinda Clark – who took the role on an interim basis.
Amarfio, meanwhile was the CA General Manager of Media and reportedly had to be escorted from the building by security after being made aware of his dismissal. He was replaced by Anthony Everard in a reshuffle of the CA media arm.
Much like the boardroom, things on the field continued to be rocky as the ODI side, now led by Aaron Finch, were beaten 2-1 at home to South Africa. They finished the year winning just two of their 13 matches and with only five months left to finetune for next year’s World Cup, their hopes of retaining the trophy they won in 2015 look particularly slim.
The Test side has also endured a tough year too. After beginning the year with back-to-back wins in Sydney and Durban they won just once thereafter. That win came in Perth during the ongoing series with India where Australia find now themselves unable to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after the visitors secured wins in both Adelaide and Melbourne. They finish the year with three wins, one draw and six defeats.
Predictably, the side are currently missing the runs of Smith and Warner. Their current run of nine Tests with just a single century scored is the country’s worst drought in more than 100 years. Taking out the hundreds scored by Usman Khawaja, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh in Sydney in January, only Khawaja has been able to pass three figures since. Collectively, Australia’s batting in 2018 has averaged around 26 runs per dismissal – their lowest since 1978.
Without Smith and Warner, the Test side needed senior duo Khawaja and Shaun Marsh to step up but neither have done enough to ensure Australia regularly post competitive totals. Khawaja has certainly faired the better of the pair with 732 runs at 40.66 in 10 Tests while Marsh has struggled averaging just 25.89.
Pat Cummins has led the bowling with 44 wickets at 19.97, while Mitchell Starc (31 wickets at 33.35) and Hazlewood (26 wickets at 33.26) have endured slightly disappointing returns compared with previous years as Nathan Lyon again led the wickets column with 49 victims at 34.02.
Elsewhere, another farewell was announced in April as a new television deal was agreed with Seven and Fox Sports worth $1.182 billion – replacing Channel 9 who had shown all international cricket in Australia since Kerry Packer led a television sports revolution 40 years ago.
After a miserable few months in Australian cricket, Usman Khawaja – filling the opening void vacated by Bancroft and Warner – scored a masterful final day 141 to marshal his side towards safety in their first Test since that fateful South African series in March.
Faced with a gigantic run chase of 462 and 140 overs to bat out, Khawaja held out for 522 minutes across day’s four and five, putting on stands of 132 with Travis Head and 79 with Tim Paine as the visitors finished eight down when Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed finally offered his hand to opposite number Paine.
The innings (and subsequent draw) restored some much-needed pride in Australian cricket whilst also putting pay to the theory that Khawaja couldn’t bat against spin bowling in Asian conditions.
Low Point: Sandpapergate, Newlands
While it’s been a year of great lows in Australian cricket, nothing compares to incident in Cape Town when Warner, Smith and Bancroft decided that the only way of getting the ball to reverse swing was to scuff it with sandpaper.
What followed will tarnish the aforementioned trio for the rest of their careers. But at least some good did come out of the episode with the trio being forced to turn out for club sides Randwick Petersham, Sutherland and Willetton.
New Kid on the block: Billy Stanlake
Although the 24-year-old Queenslander, made his international debut almost two years ago, he really shot to promise as a white-ball specialist in 2018.
Standing at 204 cm’s tall, Stanlake made his international debut on the back of some impressive displays for BBL side Adelaide Strikers and has since continued a steady rise in both the T20I and ODI formats.
His pace and awkward bounce have regularly asked questions of opposite batsmen such as when he took figures of 4-8 and 3-21 against Pakistan during a T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe in July.
He also had some success in ODI cricket too, going for just 5.75 in a high scoring series against England which included 3-35 from his 10 overs at Old Trafford.
However, with Hazlewood, Starc, Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile all ahead of him in the ODI setup a place in Australia’s 15-man 2019 World Cup squad may be currently out of reach.
Frequent back issues have resulted in Stanlake going down the limited-overs route as he’s yet to add to his two first-class appearances both made for Queensland in 2014.
Fading Star: Shaun Marsh
Could Trevor Hohns and his selection panel finally be running out of patience with the 35-year-old batsman who has averaged just 25.89 this year? – Taking away his hundred in the new year’s Test that average drops to 18.66 in his previous nine Tests.
There are ongoing whispers that Marsh’s Test future could be over if he fails to make runs against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
A talented lefthander, Marsh has endured a stop-start Test career since debuting against Sri Lanka in 2011. Five of his six Test hundreds have been made in Australian victories, including two in last summer’s Ashes.
What 2019 holds:
After failing to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in the ongoing series with India, nothing less than an impressive showing against a weak Sri Lankan side in their two-Test series in late January, would be seen as a disaster.
The Sri Lanka series, which includes a maiden Test at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, follows a three-match ODI series against India which will begin Australia’s countdown to their World Cup defence.
India then return the favour by hosting Australia in a five-match ODI series in late February and early March before a potential yet-to-be-confirmed ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE that is expected to accommodate the return of Smith and Warner sometime after March 29th.
The World Cup preparation will then ramp up in May ahead of Australia’s opening match with Afghanistan on June 1st. Should the Aussies progress to the final (July 14th) then they’ll have just nine days rest before playing a pre-Ashes tour match against an Australian A side in Southampton.
The five-Test Ashes campaign, the first series in the new World Test Championship, then begins in Birmingham on August 1st, before rolling onto Lords, Leeds, Manchester and concluding at The Oval on September 12th.
They then round out the year with home series against Pakistan (2 Tests, 3 T20Is) and New Zealand (3 Tests, 3 ODIs).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
When the New South Wales contracts for next summer were recently released, two names immediately stood out. Arjun Nair and Jason Sangha not only stood out for their undoubted youthful talent, but also because of their ethnicity.
The times are rapidly changing down under. As the country becomes ever more multicultural, gone are the days when cricket was exclusively a white only sport. Indeed now, State’s such as New South Wales are looking to fill their rookie contracts with the next generation of Asian-originated talent.
Arjun Nair and Jason Sangha aren’t just there to make up the numbers either. These are two of the most exciting talents to come through the New South Wales system in recent memory. Stylish right-handed batsman Sangha is at 16-years-of-age, the youngest player ever to receive a NSW rookie contract. His fellow youngster Nair, an 18-year-old offspinner, has been rewarded with a full State contract after a sensational year – which saw him rise through the Sydney Grade ranks to become a Sheffield Shield cricketer.
In January the pair made history when they became the first duo of Indian-origin to represent Australia in the same match. Also playing in that fixture against the Pakistan U19 side was another player of Asian-descent. The 19-year-old Wes Agar(younger brother of Ashton), who himself has just landed a rookie contract with South Australia.
With the cricketing landscape finally beginning to catch up with a new diverse Australia, cricketers of Asian-origin are beginning to emerge from pathways previously unlocked in a sport not widely known for its cultural diversity. Past research has shown that the cost of, and time consumed whilst playing cricket has previously alienated Asian youngsters from participating in the game.
Despite a strong “traditionally white” culture still being in place in some parts of the country, major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have seen an increase in the participation of players with Asian backgrounds. In 2012 Cricket Australia developed a three-year diversity and inclusion strategy aimed at taking the sport to newer diverse communities, through both schools and grass-roots recreational clubs.
And that strategy has recently started to show some signs of fruition. Although there have been players of Asian-descent throughout Australian cricket in the past – Hunter Poon, Dav Whatmore and Richard Chee Queeimmediately come to mind – the immergence of new talent such as Nair and Sangha, coupled with the recent success stories of men like Ashton Agar(a Sri Lankan mother), Usman Khawaja(born in Pakistan), Fawad Ahmed(a former Pakistani refugee) and Gurinder Sandhu(whose parents hail from the Punjabi region of India) can only be celebrated as a triumph.
Indeed, is there currently a better cricketing role model in Australia than Khawaja? Since returning to the national setup almost a year after suffering a severe knee injury, the nonchalant left-hander has piled up the small matter of 1,006 runs across the three separate formats.
In Australia, such hero’s are vital for the next generation of Asian youngsters. One such youngster is Sangha. Born in the Eastern suburbs of Randwick – but raised further north in Newcastle, the rookie number three is very much a product of Indian-heritage. His languid stroke-play is of subcontiental design and still just 16, he’s beginning to acuminate a hugely impressive CV for a man of such tender age.
If making ones Newcastle first grade bow, for the Wallsend District CC, at just 13-years-old wasn’t enough evidence of his huge potential, then a glowing report from former Australian batting great Greg Chappell should carry enough weight to suggest Sangha’s promise.
“An elegant stroke-maker with a touch of class that is the hallmark of the very best players.” – Greg Chappell on Jason Sangha’s potential talent.
The high praise from Chappell is evident in his recent performances. Despite only entering last December’s Under-19 National Championship once he had dominated both the School Sports Australia Under-15 tournament and the Under-17 National Championships, Sangha more than held his own by striking 316 runs across his eight innings at an average of 39.50.
And there was even more to come during Sangha’s miraculous rise through the ranks. In January he became the youngest man to score a hundred on debut for the Australian U-19 side during a tri-series victory over Pakistan in the UAE.
Just a month after his exploits of the Australian U-19 side, he was back in New South Wales breaking more records. Firstly, he made his Sydney first grade debut for Randwick Petersham CC, before becoming the youngest player to play Second XI cricket for New South Wales in 91 years whilst playing against the Australian Capital Territory in Canberra.
Sangha certainly hasn’t been the only young player of Asian-descent to make waves in NSW this year. Nair – who was born in Canberra to a migrant couple that originally arrived from Kerala in southern India some twenty years ago – has since continued his cricket development in the western Sydney suburb of Girraween.
Like Sangha, the offspinner has also honed his skills down under with a distinctive Asian flavour. In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo’s Daniel Brettig, Nair credited his ability to bowl as many as five different deliveries to watching countless YouTube videos of so-called IPL mystery spinners Sunil Narine and Ravichandran Ashwin.
The way such skills are now learnt may signal a new beginning in how young players self-teach using video footage but, like a history of Australian cricketers previously, it’s Grade Cricket where the wheat is separated from the chaff. Similarly to Sangha, Nair made the step-up to senior Grade Cricket whilst just a schoolboy.
At just 15, he became the eighth youngest player ever to play in the Sydney first grade competition when he represented Hawkesbury CC during the 2013-14 summer. He’s since gone from strength-to-strength going from Under-19 state selection to playing Sheffield Shield cricket inside three months.
With regular NSW spinners Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe both absent, Nair was granted a First-Class debut after impressing with match-figures of 9-70 in a Future Leagues clash preceding the match against South Australia in Coffs Harbour.
Such exposure accompanied by a Big Bash League stint with eventual champions Sydney Thunder – where he was rewarded with a Community Rookie spot – can only be beneficial for the development of a player whose batting talents might yet one day exceed his offbreak bowling. This was emphasized no more so than when, in his maiden first-class innings, he scored a backs-to-the-wall 37 from 93-delivieries during a pivotal partnership with Ryan Carters.
With both men now firmly in the grips of New South Wales for the foreseeable future, the future looks bright for the pair, who will looking for more Future Leagues action with the Blues this summer.
And they could yet be joined down under by a 22-year-old Pakistani legspinner.Usman Qadir, the son of former Pakistan legend Abdul Qadir, is currently mulling over a decision whether to return to play cricket in Australia after a lack of playing opportunities in his homeland. After spending time playing Second XI and club cricket (Adelaide CC) in South Australia in 2013, Qadir would have to serve a four-year qualifying period if he harboured any serious hopes of one day representing the Australians.
Although still unconfirmed, Qadir’s story would, to an extent, rival that of fellow Pakistani legspinner Fawad Ahmed. Could this represent a zenith moment for the future of Australian cricket?