Australian cricket set for summer of change and intrigue

At the end of another Ashes and World Cup cycle, along with the retirement of key players, times are changing for Australian cricket and with an exciting summer ahead; CaughtOutCricket looks at nine key highlights to look out for.  

Pink Kookaburra
The Adelaide Oval is set to host the first ever Day-Night Test match this November.

New captain and deputy

With Michael Clarke now fully retired from international cricket, the time has come for Steven Smith to take over the captaincy on a full time basis for both ODI and Test cricket. Despite having captained for three Tests against India last summer and being appointed as Clarke’s ODI successor after the World Cup triumph in March, Smith now has the time to put his own stamp on the side with the next Ashes and World Cup campaigns not for another two and four years respectively.

Smith’s promotion to leader left the side with a lieutenant short and that void has been promptly filled by David Warner. Just a year ago, such a move would have seemed highly unlikely, but the dashing lefthander has since made a conscious effort to improve his on and off field behaviour – even giving up sledging and alcohol during the recent Ashes campaign. Such maturity, coupled with Warner’s previous leadership grooming and a lack of serious alternatives, has led Cricket Australia to make such a decision.

A return to Bangladesh

It’s been over nine years since Australia last visited Bangladesh for a Test series. On that occasion Jason Gillespie was the hero as he became the first nightwatchman to score a double hundred – in what turned out to be his final Test appearance.

That previous series resulted in a 2-0 whitewash – but not without the odd hairy moment as Ricky Ponting led his side to a three-wicket face-saving success in Fatullah before an innings victory followed at Chittagong. Obviously much has changed since then, and with the retirement of Clarke, not a single Australian from that tour now still plays international cricket.

This time they return for Tests at both Chittagong and Mirpur against a competitive and improving Tigers – who will have reason to feel confident after a string of impressive recent home results, albeit in limited overs matches. After recent failings in both India and the UAE, all eyes will be on the Australian batsmen as they look to combat their spin woes against the likes of Shakib Al Hasan and Jubair Hossain.

New opening partner for Warner

With the retirement of Chris Rogers after a brief but successful two-year Test career, Warner is now on the hunt for a new opening comrade for the upcoming tour of Bangladesh. Despite Shaun Marsh being the reserve opener for the recently concluded Ashes campaign, his inability to play the moving ball looks to have put pay to his chances of long term shot at the job and other candidates are currently being looked at.

Joe Burns looks to be an early frontrunner for the opening having being selected as Warner’s partner in an auditioning role during the ongoing ODI series in England. Although the 25-year-old made his Test debut as a number six last summer, he has recently fulfilled the opening role with plenty of success for Queensland.

Another option for the opening role is Cameron Bancroft. The Western Australian was third on the Sheffield Shield run scoring charts last summer with 896 runs at 47 and recently scored an impressive 150 during an A tour of India. A solid batsman in the Rogers mould, at 22, Bancroft is very much one for the future.

Bowling attack changes

Much was made of the exclusion of Peter Siddle during the business-end of the Ashes, when it seemed the pitches provided were tailor made for his style of bowling and a good showing in The Oval match could yet revive his stuttering Test career.

Siddle is of course part of an impressive battery of pace bowlers assembled by Australia in recent years and their depth is certain to be tested by a demanding schedule which will include ten Tests, eight ODIs and three T20Is before the summer is out. Such scheduling is sure to mean that the fast bowlers will have to be carefully managed as and when the selectors see fit.

Already there has been suggestions that both Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazelwood will be rested for the tour of Bangladesh next month with an eye on the series with New Zealand that follows. Luckily for Australia their fast bowling stocks remain high with the likes of Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, James Faulkner, Gurinder Sandhu and Nathan Coulter-Nile all waiting in the wings should changes be made. Keeping them all fit remains another matter.

New glovesmen

Whether you agree with the way in which it was handled or not, the call made on Brad Haddin during the Ashes looks to have ended his Test career. It had been assumed for some time now that Haddin would indeed call it a day in Test cricket after the Ashes – much like he did in the limited overs form after the World Cup in March – but circumstances did not allow for the graceful ending that someone of Haddin’s stature undoubtedly deserved.

All the same, sport moves on and Peter Nevill has been entrusted with first dibs on the Test wicketkeeping position. After coming into the side at Lords, Nevill did a steady if not spectacular job both in front and behind the stumps, but it’s too premature to simply declare the position as a closed shop this early on.

There are other strong contenders should Nevill’s form dip drastically over the summer months. Matthew Wade, is at 27, two years Nevill’s junior and already a scorer of two Test hundreds across his twelve matches. Should he continue to make waves in the ODI arena – he scored a match winning unbeaten 71 at Southampton in his previous ODI – then there is no reason why he can’t challenge Nevill for a Test berth.  Further down the line is the talented 23-year-old Sam Whiteman of Western Australia – who has impressed the Australian cricket hierarchy for a couple of years now – his time will surely come sooner rather than later.

Can Peter Nevill become Australia's next long-term Test wicketkeeper?
Can Peter Nevill become Australia’s next long-term Test wicketkeeper?

A return to the Trans-Tasman rivalry

After a near four-year exile, Australia and New Zealand will again meet to compete for the Trans-Tasman Trophy this summer with five Tests scheduled across both countries. The duel will begin in Australia at the beginning of November with Tests set for: The Gabba, The WACA and a day-night game at the Adelaide Oval (More of that next). It will then conclude in New Zealand in February with matches at The Basin Reserve in Wellington and Christchurch’s Hagley Oval.

The previous encounter between the pair was a competitively fought two-Test contest that finished one-each in December 2011. That series marked the debuts of Pattinson, Starc and Warner for Australia and Trent Boult for New Zealand and that same quartet will all be looking to make an impact this time around.

Furthermore the two sides will also meet for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy prior to the return leg of their Test clash in New Zealand. The famous named trophy – currently belonging to the Black Caps after their World Cup group triumph at Eden Park in February – is back up for grabs across three matches as it is set to be played more frequently under the new future tours programme.

The trophy was originally contested annually from 2004–05 until 2009–10 as a three- or five-match series with Australia currently holding the upper hand with four victories to New Zealand’s two.

The first day-night Test match

After years of uncertainty and debate, the first ever day-night Test match will finally be staged at the Adelaide Oval on November 27th.

The historic event will mark the first Test to be played under lights with the new, heavily trailed, pink Kookaburra ball and will begin at 2pm ACDT time.

Much intrigue and scepticism surrounds the move for day-night Test cricket, with issues such as notwithstanding the traditions of the game and the condition and behaviour of the pink ball under lights, being the most prominent.

The move was brought about of course to improve attendances and television audiences across Australia with CA chief exclusive James Sutherland having campaigned for the move for seven years. Like Sutherland, Coach Darren Lehmann and CA board member Mark Taylor have both supported the move, but it hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea with players like Mitchell Starc being unsure how the new pink ball will replicate the mannerisms of its red counterpart.

It seems nobody truly knows how the pink ball will react under the rigors of day-night Test cricket. So watch this space.

New Matador Cup team

The Matador BBQs One-Day Cup has had mixed success since its change of format in 2013-14, with the limited overs competition now being played in Sydney to its entirety in one three-week block at the beginning of the Australian summer.

Some argue that it’s good to play the one-day format in a single block, while others argue that it should be played continually throughout the summer so to lead up to the annual ODI series played in the New Year.

Either way this year’s competition is set to include a seventh side in the form of a Cricket Australia XI. The team to be simply known as the CA XI is a two-year trial project, with the 15-man squad set to be comprised of un-contracted state players and national youth squad members.

The squad will be selected by State Talent Managers and guided by the National Selection Panel, while former England bowling coach and Bupa National Cricket Centre head coach Troy Cooley will coach the side with assistance from High Performance Coach Graeme Hick.

It is hoped that the team will include the likes of Australian U19 starlet Jake Doran, an 18-year-old wicketkeeper batsman who has dominated his age group over the past year.

Cricket set to leave The WACA for Burswood

And finally, although technically it won’t directly come into effect until 2018, the changing of the guard in Perth is a huge one for cricket in Australia.

International cricket has been played on the fast and bouncy pitches of The WACA for over forty years, but although that will remain the case for the foreseeable, the cities’ premium international and Big Bash fixtures will now be moved to a brand new 60,000-capacity stadium across the Swan river at Burswood.

Visiting teams from England, India and South Africa will play all of their Perth fixtures at the new Burswood ground from 2018 onwards as the old WACA ground will be downsized to a “boutique” venue with a capacity of 10,000-15,000.

While all other countries, barring those mentioned above, will still play international fixtures at The WACA and Western Australia will continue to play Shield fixtures there – it seems a somewhat sad chapter in the history of Western Australian cricket with the great Dennis Lillee among those opposing the move.

One series too many for Australia’s dad’s army?

The Investec Ashes 2015

Just one Test in and three senior players are already out of the side.

While it’s far too early to suggest the wheels have fallen off – Australia’s start to the Ashes has been less than ideal.

Much was made of Jason Gillespie’s “Dad’s army” comments made in the build up to the Ashes. While the comments were taken with a pinch of salt by the Australian camp, much more was made of them in the British media and perhaps in retrospect, quite rightly so.

With the Ashes campaign just four days of cricket old, the visitors find themselves heading to Lords tomorrow without three of their veteran players in the starting line up.

One LBW too many...Shane Watson has been dropped for the second Test of the Ashes series.
One LBW too many…Shane Watson has been dropped for the second Test of the Ashes series.

While there is inevitably casualties in any Ashes series, Australia wouldn’t have imagined they would be going into the second Test of the series 1-0 down and without arguably their number one bowler, all-rounder and wicketkeeper. But with Ryan Harris having to announce his retirement ten days ago and Shane Watson facing the drop alongside the unavailability of Brad Haddin for personal reasons that remains the case.

Things started to go wrong before the series had even began when Harris pulled up before the final tour match at Chelmsford. Although not a likely starter for the first Test in Cardiff, Harris’ type of accurate bowling was missed dearly during his side’s 169-run reversal and with doubts surrounding the fitness of Mitchell Starc ahead of the second Test, Harris’ name would surely have come into serious contention with the selectors.

After another couple of starts, 30 and 19 to be exact, Watson’s luck has finally appeared to run out. There has been for a long time, endless running jokes both on social media and in also in the media itself about Watson’s ability to consistently fail to contribute significant match-defining performances for his country, while at the same time seemingly being un-droppable.

This time Watson’s place in the side became untenable. His continuous ability to get out LBW (29 times in 109 Test innings) after making yet another start in the middle order appears to have reached its point of no return in the eyes of both chief selector Rod Marsh and coach Darren Lehmann.

For too long Watson has been chosen on what he might be capable of doing on the field rather than what he really delivers on the field. For all of his beautiful off drives and fierce pull shots he has continued to frustrate with innings of no great substance – pretty 20’s or 30’s and not match winning contributions.

Watson will be replaced by 23-year-old Mitchell Marsh and it is hoped that he can provide some youth and enthusiasm in the side after they looked old and ragged in the field at Cardiff. For Watson in Test cricket the end looks nigh. Marsh, being Watson’s junior by over ten years, should now be given a fair run in the all-rounders role with an eye on both the present and the future.

The future of Brad Haddin remains far more unclear. The 37-year-old is missing the second Test at Lords due to a personal family matter and is widely expected to call it a day from Test cricket at the conclusion of the Ashes in August. Although his batting and keeping has reclined in the past eighteen months, he remains a vital part of the dressing room for his vast experience in the game. While his place for Lords will be taken by his long time New South Wales understudy Peter Nevill – It remains to be seen if Haddin will play any further part in the series or in a baggy green for that matter.

While Australia are only one-nil down after one of five Tests, it was the way in which England grabbed the momentum from the moment Haddin dropped Joe Root on nought mid-way through the first session that defied the entire match and could have follow on effects as the series unwinds. Yes England had some luck along the way but the way they played Australia at their own game and came out comfortably on top will worry the visitors.

England was far better at batting, bowling and fielding and at times they looked a much younger and fitter side in the field. That’s probably because they were. The average age of the Australian side in the match was just under 31 while the England side was just above 27. That same English side still included plenty of experience though with James Anderson, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell having all played over 100 Tests and Stuart Broad 80.

Compare this to the Australian side which includes both Chris Rogers and Adam Voges who have a combined 74 years but just 24 Test caps between them and it says a lot about the current situation this aging Australian side faces.

The careers of Australian and English players, rightly or wrongly are usually defined by the Ashes and each campaign brings with it an end to a certain player cycle. England’s five-nil whitewash eighteen months ago more or less brought with it an end to the careers of six men. Graeme Swann retired after just three Tests, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Carberry and Chris Tremlett haven’t been selected since, while it was effectively the end for Matt Prior, who was dropped before the fourth Test and played just four more matches last summer, and Jonathan Trott who went home after one Test and played just three more since before retiring from international cricket.

Although Australia expected the retirements of Haddin, Harris and Rogers at the conclusion of the Ashes series, they would not have expected to be entering the Lords Test without Watson and two of their key components from that Ashes whitewash less than two years ago.

New cycle approaching for Australia?

Progression happening earlier than expected for Australia.

Things are happening thick and fast for Australian cricket. After the tragic death of Phillip Hughes a couple of weeks ago and the dramatic final session victory over India in Adelaide on Saturday the team already has a new (stand in) captain and half a new bowling line up for the second Test against the Indians in Brisbane.

Steven Smith was chosen as the man to replace the injured Michael Clarke as Australian Test captain.
Steven Smith was chosen as the man to replace the injured Michael Clarke as Australian Test captain.

With the clouds circulating over the future of incumbent captain Michael Clarke, who underwent major hamstring surgery on Tuesday. Steven Smith was named Australia’s 45th Test captain for at least the final three Tests of the summer.

While most of us expected previous vice-captain Brad Haddin to take over the helm of the side in Clarke’s absence – As he was lined up to do so when there were worries over Clarke’s fitness for the originally scheduled first Test of the summer at the Gabba, rearranged due to the death of Hughes – The seriousness of Clarke’s injuries and the lack of a timescale for his comeback has led the selectors to promote Smith ahead of schedule.

Although Smith is a good choice as captain and his appointment has been well received by ex-Australian captains Ian Chappell, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting – Even he must admit that his promotion is way ahead of the expected schedule.

It helps that alongside David Warner, Smith is now the side’s premier and inform batsman. Since the start of the home Ashes series last summer he has scored 984 runs at 61.50 and now looks like replacing Clarke as the sides middle order rock. He has also already moved himself up into Clarke’s number four batting spot as he looks to take more responsibility with the captaincy.

Elsewhere the lineup is starting to evolve much sooner than many expected from the side that dominated England over five Tests just a year ago.

At the end of that whitewash series players such as Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris had stated their wishes to continue on to be able to defend their Ashes crown in England next summer and although that might yet happen – things are starting to look less certain now.

The 2015 Ashes tour of England was supposed to be end of a cycle as far as a few Australian players were concerned, but with form and injuries taking over at the present, that day looks like it could be happening rather sooner than expected.

Taking a look at the current side, there remains plenty of questions over the mid-to-long term future of many players. Starting with the top order I take a look at the immediate and long term future of those who’s places could be under threat throughout the next year of Test cricket.

Chris Rogers – Despite a recent from slump which has seen him not pass fifty in his last eight Test innings, he received reassurances from the selectors over his immediate future in the side. Despite not scoring as much as the selectors would have liked, the fact that he has had a huge affect on the development of Warner as a world class opener has earned him some credit in the bank. Another reason for the selectors leniency towards Rogers is the lack of other opening options.

IThe likes of Ryan Carters and Ed Cowan have been amongst the runs in the Sheffield Shield. While Carters could do with at least another season batting at the top of the order after spending more of his early career in the middle order, returning to Cowan would be a backwards step after he was largely found wanting during his previous spell in Test cricket.

The main challenge to Rogers at the top of the order was of course Phil Hughes – Who in an ideal world would have replaced the 37-year-old at the conclusion of next summers Ashes.

Someone else who could possibly replace Rogers in the future is Jordan Silk, 22, but the Tasmanian batsman is currently averaging just 25 during the first part of the Shield campaign.

With no more Shield cricket to be played during the Test summer due to the Big Bash it’s unlikely that Rogers will be dropped even without a significant score and the chances are his vast experience in English conditions will earn him an Ashes swan song next summer.

Allrounder Shane Watson’s place in the side also seems up in constant question. With the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh as a second allrounder batting at six, Watson has not had the same workload of bowling as he once had and can now fully concentrate on his batting.

Like Rogers it has been a long time since Watson made a significant score in Test cricket and with a brittle body that seems to break down after every other match it looks like Watson could be on thin ice if Shaun Marsh makes runs at number five and Clarke returns to the side for future assignments next year.

On top form he remains a lock in at number three for the next couple of years but with the injuries and his inability to make hundreds when they matter the most, Watson’s days could be numbered if an adequate replacement batsman shines through in Shield cricket.

Michael Clarke’s recent back and hamstring injuries a becoming a far greater concern than first feared a couple of months ago, so much so that after hobbling out of his sides victory in Adelaide, Clarke told reporters that he could have played his final cricket match for his country.

Since then he has undergone major surgery on his hamstring injury and has said his future is now in the hands of the medical team. It remains likely that he will return to Australian colours sometime next year and despite the usual two month recovery for such surgery, the World Cup seems to come too soon for him – Perhaps a return to the side for next June’s tour of the West Indies remains more likely.

Jury still out....Brother's Mitchell and Shaun Marsh prepare to play their first Test together.
Jury still out….Brother’s Mitchell and Shaun Marsh prepare to play their first Test together.

Both the Marsh brothers, Mitchell and Shaun have yet to secure their places in the side with any real authority as of yet. Although the young allrounder Mitchell has impressed with his exciting batting style and tight bowling in his three Tests to date, he has yet to score match changing runs or take any vital wickets.

Shaun has been in and out of the Test team since make his debut over three years ago. His two Test centuries have both contributed at difficult times – 141 in Pallekele on debut and 148 in Centurion last February. Despite these two impressive overseas knocks, he has only passed single figures in five of his other thirteen innings.

If he can find some consistency between the all or nothing part of his game then there is likely going to be a spot available to him in the middle order with the futures of Watson and Clarke in doubt.

Despite being over looked for the captaincy Brad Haddin remains the current incumbent wicketkeeper. While he has failed to score more than 22 in his last eleven innings, his exploits in last summer’s Ashes have likely earned him one last chance to win a World Cup on home soil as well as an away Ashes. The shoulder injury he picked up in the UAE perhaps remains a concern for a man of 37 but without Clarke in the side for the next few months, Haddin’s experience will be vital for new skipper Smith.

When the time comes for Haddin to step aside, likely to be after next summer’s Ashes, Matthew Wade remains the front runner to replace the New South Welshman.

Alongside Wade, Peter Nevill and Sam Whiteman will be talked up by many, with Nevill’s current Shield form currently edging him ahead of the younger Whiteman.

The next generation...Josh Hazelwood receives his Baggy Green from Glenn McGrath.
The next generation…Josh Hazelwood receives his Baggy Green from Glenn McGrath.

With his exclusion for the ongoing Test at the Gabba, Peter Siddle has now been dropped twice in the past year. Although the 30-year-old still remains in the picture, he is increasing finding his place more threatened by his younger and quicker counterparts. First in Cape Town he was replaced by James Pattinson and now by Josh Hazelwood.

It has been clear since his axing in South Africa that he has been down in pace and with younger men such as Hazelwood now staking an impressive claim to be in the side, he must accept he is now just a squad bowler and not the spearhead he once was. It’s very unlikely that a man with 192 Test wickets will be disregarded so quickly yet though.

Elsewhere across the quick bowling corps Mitchell Starc has remained performing in ODI and Sheffield Shield cricket earning him a recall to the side for the second Test match despite an ordinary outing in his only match in the UAE. He has yet to play back-to-back matches and remains slightly unconvincing at Test level.

Jackson Bird and Pat Cummins have recently returned from long term injuries to represent their respective State sides Tasmania and New South Wales. But it will be a while out yet for either of them to return to the Test side without decent match practice beforehand.

Another impressive young quick bowler in James Pattinson remains on the sidelines after a series of serious injuries. The 24-year-old last played for his country in the final match of their 2-1 Test series victory in South Africa back in March before a reoccurrence of a back stress problem put pay to his 2014. He has since remodelled his bowling action and hopes to make a return to Shield cricket with Victoria before the end of the summer after playing as a batsman only for grade side Dandenong in recent weeks.

Ryan Harris, when fit, still remains a world class bowler, but following knee surgery in March he is now likely to be managed even more cautiously than last summer – Where it was a minor miracle that his knee managed to make it through five Tests on the bounce.

He will fitness permitting be on the plane to England next Summer where it is expected he will wind down his international career. A career that started when he was already 29-years-old and has crossed between him being a world class opening bowling and a regular member of the physio table.

Mitchell Johnson’s resurgence in the past twelve months has seemingly added a couple of years onto his international career and he will likely remain as the spearhead of the Australian bowling whilst the inexperienced men find their feet.

At least the critical vultures will now be off the back of spinner Nathan Lyon – Who’s twelve wickets in Adelaide have earned him some patience in the side after a disastrous tour of the UAE. His place in the side could have been under threat had his fellow New South Wales colleague Steve O’Keefe impressed more on his Test debut in Dubai, but for the next year at least he will remain the number one tweaker.

Much will be determined by the ongoing series result against India and the performances of those involved as to who will make the tours of West Indies and England next summer, while the final Sheffield Shield matches to be played at the conclusion of the Big Bash tournament in February will also be a chance for those on the outside to claim a place on the plain new year.

Will the the new cricketing cycle start earlier than expected? We will have to sit back and see how the summer unfolds to find out.

Haddin winning battle of the glovesmen

Resurgent and declining fortunes for Haddin and Prior.

Tensions flare in contrasting series for both Haddin and Prior.
Tensions flare in contrasting series for both Haddin and Prior.

Despite all the attention being on England’s annihilation to Mitchell Johnson at both The Gabba and The Adelaide Oval, there have been plenty of sub-plots involved in the Ashes thus far – none more so than the continuing fortunes of each side’s glovesmen.

While Brad Haddin has come out all guns blazing in a bid to resurrect his career, Matt Prior on the other hand has fallen away so dramatically that many are already calling for him to be axed before the series is even three Tests old.

In a spectacular turn around of events from a year ago – where Prior was being hailed as the best wicketkeeper-batsman is the world and Haddin forced to watch from the sidelines behind Matthew Wade in the reckoning, it has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for both men.

There remains many striking similarities between the pair. Both are vice-captains of their respective sides and both are important ‘Team before themselves men’ in a sense that they are willing to play in any role that their team requires at any given time. But perhaps the biggest comparison would have to be each man’s willingness to counter-attack with the bat when their side is either ahead or behind the game.

After spending six months completely out of the game, Haddin was reintroduced into the Test side in March for Australia’s tour of India – with the thought being that he was a far superior player of spin bowling to the incumbent Wade, but also more importantly for his off field experience that was vastly needed in a team both low on confidence and togetherness.

That time away form the game, due to a serious illness to his young daughter Mia, in which he spent most of his time beside her hospital bed, has helped Haddin clear his head of any negative thoughts on the game of cricket. After all it is only a game – when there are far more important things going on in life.

Haddin celebrates his 200th Test catch in Adelaide.
Haddin celebrates his 200th Test catch in Adelaide.

His 50th Test at The Gabba was the true turnaround in his career. Coming in amidst an Australian batting collapse, he added a match turning seventh-wicket partnership of 114 with Johnson to guide his side to a more respectable first innings total of 295. To follow that first innings 94 he scored an almost run-a-ball 53 in the second dig to allow Michael Clarke a deceleration.

The rejuvenated 36-year-old then blazed his way to a superb 118 in Adelaide, again contributing with the bat when his team needed it most. Finding himself at the wicket with the game still in the balance, he was at first watchful alongside Clarke before cutting loose and taking the attack to both English spinners, and in due course adding a 200-run association with his captain for the sixth wicket.   

The determination and fight shown by Haddin across the two Tests speaks volumes of a man determined not to lose another Ashes campaign. Despite a good batting record against the old enemy, he has been unable to stop his country from losing their previous three Ashes encounters.

In stark contrast his opposite number Prior has had a six months to forget. His form has seemingly completely deserted him since he scored a match saving hundred in New Zealand last March and was subsequently named England’s player of the year – a richly deserved award after a stellar 2012 with both bat and gloves.

Since then though his form has gone down like a lead balloon. Seven Ashes Tests have brought him just 206 runs at an average of less than 20. Certainly not form befitting a man who has up until now averaged around 44 in his 70-odd Test matches.

At The Gabba, he was out twice to obnoxious Nathan Lyon deliveries for a grand total of five runs in the match. On both occasions England needed much more from their reigning player of the year – its no coincidence that when Prior plays well – so do his country.

A dejected Prior walks back after another low Ashes score.
A dejected Prior walks back after another low Ashes score.

With many already calling his place in the side into question, he did himself no favours with a tepid first innings knock in Adelaide. After being worked over by the short ball from Johnson for three deliveries he duly obliged by edging his fourth into the waiting gloves of Haddin behind the wicket. Again this was not the way for an experienced campaigner to play when his side were staring down the barrel at 5-117.

Although he batted his way into some sort of nick in the second innings with an innings of 69, it was the way in which he played which suggested a man still struggling with his shell shocked mindset. Whilst his began to look some way towards the Prior of old against the spin of Lyon, he continued to regularly play and miss against the quicks. Playing with little care for the match situation and slogging anything he saw slightly in his zone, his eventual dismissal signalled the end of England’s fight as he became another victim of the ‘Happy Hooking Syndrome’ that has plagued England’s batsmen for the past two Test matches.

With the gloves there is also a contrasting difference between both Haddin and Prior. Haddin has taken everything coming his way, whilst the usually reliable Prior has been sloppy in both Tests. This reached its head none more so than in Australia’s first innings in Adelaide – where Prior missed catches, stumpings and run outs far to often for a man of his stature.

Perhaps the most striking of all the stats from this series so far is the averages between the two men. After his three innings Haddin averages 88.33 whilst after four knocks Prior just 18.25. Whilst stats don’t tell the whole story, they don’t often lie – There is no way Prior should be averaging 70 less than his counterpart.

Whilst there is no doubt that Prior will continue with the gloves for the rest of the series, England’s selectors will still wonder when their once prize asset will return to the top of his game – if he doesn’t then either Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler will be given a chance sooner than expected.

For Australia, Haddin will keep believing that he will get a chance to hold up the precious little urn sooner rather than later – for what he’s been through in the past 18 months – very few would begrudge him that.