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.
When observing Australia’s disastrous ODI form of 2018, it seems hard to believe they entered 2019 as a team hoping to defend the World Cup crown they secured in Melbourne four years ago.
Such was the disarray in their ODI side, that they’d won only two of the 13 matches they played in 2018. But even more concerning was the brand of cricket they were producing. Their 1990’s version of the ODI format looked seriously dated and off the pace when compared to the new heights being set by the likes of England and India.
To make matters worse they even seemed behind more balanced sides like South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies who were all packing more of a punch than Australia. After dominating the one-day scene for much of the 90’s and 2000’s, they have spent the past few years unsure of their ODI identity. This has been summed up by a series of jumbled moves and poor selections designed to find a solution to their prolonged form slump.
Those such moves included the recall of 34-year-old seamer Peter Siddle in January, despite him having not played limited-overs cricket for Australia for almost nine years. His recall was based, like many, on his form in the Big Bash – where he helped Adelaide Strikers win the 2017/18 version of the tournament.
With the domestic one-day tournament shoved into a short window at the beginning of the Australian summer its often the Big Bash that provides Australia with one-day players as it runs parallel to the home ODI’s that traditionally occur throughout January and early February.
Other dubious examples of pigeonholing Big Bash bowling stars into the ODI setup were epitomized by the inclusions of the Adelaide Strikers’ giant quick Billy Stanlake and the death-specialist Andrew Tye of the Perth Scorchers. Both were given brief spells in the side before being displaced alongside the likes of Michael Neser and Ashton Agar.
Likewise, with the batting missing the power of David Warner, the selectors took a punt on a pair of recent Big Bash stars hoping they’d be able to sustain strong opening support for captain Aaron Finch.
D’arcy Short and Chris Lynn were both trialled (for four ODI’s each) as top order hitters expected to exploit the early powerplay overs. When both failed to take their T20 form into the international arena, Australia quickly returned to the more traditional approaches of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb, as they sort a different means of scoring the runs required to topple the power-hitting nations that now await in ODI cricket.
However, after many had begun writing off their chances of retaining the World Cup at Lords on July 14th, the Australians showed signs of rejuvenation during the recent limited overs victories in India.
First Pat Cummins and then Glenn Maxwell led them to a 2-0 win in the T20I’s, before they came from 0-2 down to win 3-2 in the ODI series – the first time they have ever achieved such a feat. It was also their first ODI series victory in seven attempts dating back to January 2017.
Suddenly a once unbalanced side, shorn of the banned duo Steve Smith and Warner and the injured fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, are beginning to regroup and peak with the World Cup just around the corner.
Led by the batting of Khawaja, and then finished off by the superb bowling of Cummins and Adam Zampa, Finch’s men overcame a fancied home side to win their first ODI series in India since November 2009.
After entering India with a number of question marks over key areas of the side, they now find themselves having to make some tough selection decisions when taking into account the returns of Smith, Warner, Starc and Hazlewood and the fine form shown by Khawaja, Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Jhye Richardson and Nathan Lyon.
And they only have a five-match series against Pakistan in the UAE remaining before they have to announce their preliminary 15-man World Cup squad to the ICC on April 23rd. They will then have a World Cup training camp in Brisbane in early May prior to finalizing the 15-man squad by May 22nd.
With the Pakistan series beginning in Sharjah on Friday; Who’s entering the run-in certain of a place in the World Cup 15 and who’s looking over their shoulder hoping for a final chance to impress?
Aaron Finch – Despite wrestling with his own batting form recently, Finch has shown great calm and composure as skipper of the side. While his form remains a slight concern – he registered two ducks against India and has just one fifty (93 in Ranchi) in eleven innings since taking over the ODI captaincy in November – he’s a fine player who will no doubt recapture the form that’s seen him hit 11 centuries in 100 ODI innings.
Glenn Maxwell – A vital clog in the Australian limited overs side and someone with undeniable X-factor, Maxwell began the year unsure of his place or role in the side after being shunted down the order to bat as a pure finisher at number 7. But after a recent match-winning T20I hundred in India, he’s impressed further up the ODI order with vital hard-hitting cameos and useful spells with the ball. Add in his terrific fielding and leadership qualities he’s now a sure bet for the WC 15.
David Warner – A key fixture in the side before his 12-month ban, Warner is due to be briefly reintegrated back into the set-up at the beginning of the UAE tour before regaining his fitness with Hyderabad Sunrisers in the IPL. Although he won’t play for Australia before the WC squad announcement on April 23rd, he’s a certain pick for the tournament.
Usman Khawaja – The real winner from the India series. Khawaja – opening the batting – scored his maiden ODI hundred (104) in Ranchi and followed it up with 91 in the record run-chase in Mohali, before rounding out the series with another match winning hundred in Delhi. Although likely to drop down to number three to facilitate the return of Warner, he finally looks a permanent fixture in the ODI side – six years after debuting in the format.
Pat Cummins – One of first names on the team sheet, Cummins continues to go from strength to strength in all forms of cricket, no more so than when he recently topped the wickets tally in the India series with 14 victims at 15.71.
Mitchell Starc – Currently out with a pectoral muscle injury, Starc missed the tour of India and will also miss the Pakistan series after initially being hopeful of recovering in time. But given his recent history and pedigree in ODI cricket, he’s almost guaranteed to return to the XI once he’s back to full fitness.
Adam Zampa – Now the undisputed number one spinner in Australia’s ODI side, Zampa has endured a stop start few years in the national side but has now finally nailed down his spot with his legspin trailing only Cummins in India with 11 wickets as he both attacked and defended when required.
The very likely
Peter Handscomb – Scored a maiden ODI hundred (117) in the successful fourth ODI run-chase, before scoring an equally important 52 in the decider. Freshly dropped from the Test side, Handscomb was a leftfield pick when recalled to the ODI side to play India in January after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus from the limited over set-up. An excellent player of spin and a useful backup wicketkeeping option, he looks likely to battle with Smith for a place in the XI.
Alex Carey – After establishing himself as the number one limited-overs gloveman ahead of Tim Paine last year, Carey has generally batted down the order at six and seven but also opened, with little success, against India in January. A fine glovesman and good late innings finisher, he’s likely to begin the WC behind the stumps, although a spell of poor form could see Handscomb take over the gloves.
Marcus Stoinis – After starting the India series in good touch, Stoinis suffered a broken thumb, leading the way for fellow Western Australian Turner to come into the side and perform heroics. Capable of hard hitting towards the end of the innings but has been criticized for heaping pressure on the run-rate by playing out too many dot balls. Can also perform a solid role as the side’s fifth bowling option as seen when he recently dismissed Virat Kohli. Has taken over the allrounder role fulltime from previous incumbent Mitchell Marsh.
Steve Smith – Like Warner, Smith has been nursing an elbow injury in recent times, putting his planned comeback in doubt. After a brief reintegration back into the national setup, his next involvement in top level cricket is due to be the IPL with Rajasthan Royals where he will need to prove his fitness and form before the squad announcement. There is a thought that he could be left alone until the Ashes, given his importance to the Test side.
Josh Hazlewood – Still recovering from a stress-fracture of the back he suffered against India in January, Hazlewood is on a race against time to put himself firmly back in the WC reckoning. Having taken 72 wickets in 44 matches and established himself as a key figure in the ODI setup, he’s likely to be given every chance to fully recover from the injury and earn a place in the WC 15 even though he won’t play any cricket before May. His inclusion in the squad is likely to be determined by his ability to play in the warm-up matches.
Jhye Richardson – A fine tour of India in which he took eight wickets in three matches has likely elevated Richardson ahead of the likes of Coulter-Nile and Behrendorff in the pecking order. Still only 22 and fairly raw, he looks to have a bright future across formats for Australia having also made his Test debut in January deputising for the injured Hazlewood. If the latter fails to recover from his aforementioned injury then Richardson could also find himself in the WC starting XI.
Ashton Turner – Brought into the squad for his abilities to hit a long ball and his excellent running between the wickets, Turner was drafted into the starting XI in India due to Stoinis’ misfortune and made the most of his chance scoring a magnificent unbeaten 43-ball 84 to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat in the four ODI. He will have the Pakistan series and then the IPL to prove he is worthy of a place in the WC 15. He can also bowl useful offspin and is excellent in the field.
Shaun Marsh – A big favourite of Justin Langer and a shining light during a poor 2018 for Australia, he’s scored four ODI hundreds in the past year against strong opposition (2 x England, South Africa and India) but his recent dry spell in India (scores of 16, 7 and 6) after he missed the series opener due to the birth of his second child, have tied in with similar players like Handscomb and Khawaja having timely success meaning Marsh’s spot suddenly looks vulnerable. Was left out for the series decider against India after Stoinis recovered from his thumb injury.
Nathan Lyon – Behind Zampa in the spinning ranks, Lyon is only likely to make the WC squad if Finch and the selectors decide they want to play two spinners during the tournament. He impressed bowling in tandem with Zampa in India where he offered his side much needed control during the middle overs.
Nathan Coulter-Nile – Played the first two India ODI’s before sitting out the remaining matches when Richardson came into the side. Capable of hitting a long ball down the order, his recent injury record could well count against him when Australia decide on their final 15.
Jason Behrendorff – Another injury-prone Western Australian quick, the left-armer originally came into the side after impressing in a handful of T20I matches and has let no one down without yet taking the hatful of wickets to fully cement his place in the WC 15. His left-arm angle and ability to swing the new ball are certainly in his favour but with Starc due to return soon, might he become redundant?
On the outside looking in
D’Arcy Short – A regular T20 performer, Short was recently called into the ODI squad to cover for Marsh who briefly went home on paternity leave. However, he failed to feature in any of the games and was already back playing in the Sheffield Shield before the tour finished.
Travis Head – A veteran of 42 ODI’s, Head was dropped in January after an underwhelming two-year spell in the side, where he scored one hundred and 10 fifties batting throughout the top and middle order. He remains unlikely to be re-visited before the WC.
Kane Richardson – The South Australian has played only 18 ODI’s in six years and is likely to remain on the outside unless a couple of the other fast bowlers are stricken down with injury. The leading wicket taker in this year’s Big Bash, he was called up for the India and Pakistan series when Starc was ruled out.
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).
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.
The past year was a mixed bag for Australian cricket. After topping the Test rankings in February, they contrived to lose their next five Test matches, this led to an upheaval not seen Down Under since the Argus review in 2011.
Australian cricket’s 2016 could be categorized into three segments. The Good, The Bad and The Recovery.
The stats would suggest a middle of the road year for the Australians. 17 victories in 28 ODI’s is a decent return but it also included a 5-0 whitewash in South Africa. Five Test wins out of eleven matches isn’t great, but three of those victories have come at the end of the year – suggesting a brighter future.
Steven Smith’s men started the year on the front foot, continuing the progress they had made in late 2015. An 4-1 ODI series victory against a powerful Indian side in January was followed up a month later when they regaining both the Test Mace and the Trans-Tasman Trophy with a dominant 2-0 series win in New Zealand. From there on things started to go pear shaped.
Defeats to both New Zealand and India in the World T20, meant that Australia were eliminated at the Super 10 group stage in another disappointing showcase edition of the game’s shortest format. It continues to remain the only global international tournament they are yet to win.
After a brief renaissance in the Caribbean – where Australia beat both the hosts West Indies and South Africa to capture the ODI tri-series – They headed to their least favourite part of the world…The Subcontinent.
Some made the Australians favourites against an inexperienced and transitional Sri Lanka outfit still yet to replace the once in a generation batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But others looked at their recent Test failures in Asia (Played six, lost six since 2013) and knew there would be pain ahead. And so it transpired. Despite being well placed in each of the three Tests, Australia lost them all.
Old failings came home to roost. Batsmen were stuck in two minds whether the ball was going to spin big or just skid on, while Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland looked out of their depth when matched up against Rangana Herath and co. Played six, lost six soon became played nine lost nine. With a four-Test series in India lined up for late February, what chances do Australia have of avoiding; played thirteen, lost thirteen?
They would go onto suffer in ODI cricket too. A weakened pace attack, minus Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, was taught a lesson in South Africa – where despite David Warner scoring two centuries in the series, the hosts secured a 5-0 whitewash against the world’s number one ranked side.
The confidence of such an achievement clearly rubbed off on the Proteas as they brushed aside a struggling Australian side in the opening two Tests of the summer. In Perth, they capitalised on a dramatic batting collapse to open with a 177-run victory, and they then secured the series with a comprehensive innings and 80-run drubbing in Hobart.
It was at this point where Australia had reached its nadir. Changes had to be made and chairman of selectors Rod Marsh was the first to go ahead of his scheduled May 2017 departure. Marsh’s time was certainly up, the decision to hand Test debuts to South Australia duo Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie rose many an eyebrow and he was replaced by fellow selector Trevor Hohns on an interim basis.
Following Ferguson and Mennie out of the side after the Hobart calamity were previous incumbents Joe Burns, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill. The quartet had started the year as key components of a side looking for quick fixes following a host retirements throughout 2015, but a severe lack of late order runs from the likes of Marsh and Nevill meant they were replaced by Nic Maddinson and Matthew Wade, whereas Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb replaced Burns and Voges as the selectors started another rebuilding of the batting order. Lyon could also find himself somewhat fortunate to have stayed in the side too. Barring an injury to Steve O’Keefe he would have been dropped, instead he earned himself ‘cult hero’ status among the Australian fans.
The freshening up of the side had instant rewards as they won the dead rubber against South Africa before finishing the year with last day victories against Pakistan in both Brisbane and Melbourne. Both Handscomb and Renshaw made impressive contributions to the three victories, although the jury remains out on Maddinson and Wade following a string of low scores.
In both Test and ODI cricket the batting suffered an overreliance on both Smith and Warner. The senior pair coped well enough with Smith passing 1000 Test runs for the third straight year and Warner scoring seven centuries among his 1388 ODI runs at 63.09. But it was a strange year for Warner, ODI cricket was once seen as his weakest format but it was by far his strongest in 2016. His Test form suffered for the most part despite bookending the year with scores of 122no and 144 he scored just 748 runs at 41.55 – his worse returns since his debut year of 2011.
Australian pair Adam Zampa and Travis Head made the leap from domestic cricket to the limited overs sides with a fair degree of success. Zampa, who claimed 30 wickets at 27.80, was preferred to Lyon as the number one spinner and Head, 416 runs at 29.71, was often chosen ahead of the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell.
Day/Night cricket took another step toward becoming the future of the Test calendar, so much so that an Ashes fixture has been pencilled in for the Adelaide Oval next summer. This summer’s two day/night Test crowds were again successful mirroring the 123,736 that turned up for the inaugural pink-ball fixture last summer. The Adelaide Oval invited in 125,993 punters across four days of the Test against South Africa, while Brisbane saw 78,085 people flock to it’s Test match against Pakistan at The Gabba.
Elsewhere, the KFC Big Bash continued its march towards overtaking the international game in audience figures and public interest. On January 2nd, the Melbourne derby between the Stars and the Renegades attracted a BBL attendance record of 80,883 at the MCG.
High Point: Top of the Test world.
After beating Tasman neighbours New Zealand 2-0 in their own backyard in February, the Aussies moved above India in the Test rankings and received the Test mace for the first time in two years.
At the time, it felt like a new bright beginning was occurring in Australian cricket. Captain Smith had yet to lose a Test match and his side included a new settled batting line up blooded earlier in the summer. The likes of Khawaja, Burns, Voges, Nevill and Mitchell Marsh were seemingly finding their way in international cricket with relative ease. During some stage of five Test defeats in succession each man would be dropped.
Little did they known about what was to happen next! Despite only receiving the Test mace in an underwhelming ceremony on arrival in Sri Lanka. A 3-0 whitewash to the hosts saw them slide below both India and Pakistan into third position in the rankings.
Low Point: 87 all out in Hobart.
Despite losing five Test matches in a row for the first time since 2013, they hit rock bottom during the first morning of their second Test against South Africa in Hobart.
Much like the 60 all out at Trent Bridge last year, it’s impossible to look beyond 2016’s own addition of the great Australian batting horror show. For Hobart 2016 read Headingley 2010 or Newlands 2011, or perhaps Lords 2013.
Put into bat on a green and juicy looking Tasmanian wicket, the hosts ran into an inspired Proteas attack including Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. The rest was an ugly nightmare for anyone of Australian persuasion.
Both openers were back in the sheds before the second over was complete and the middle order fared no better as Smith was left stranded on 48 as he watched his troops collapse around him. Besides Smith, only debutant fast bowler Mennie made it into double figures as the innings lasted just 32.5 overs.
Unfortunately for Smith and his men this was no aberration either. In the four previous matches leading up to Hobart, Australia had contrived to lose 10-86 in Perth, 10-83 at Colombo, 9-52 at Galle and 6-22 at Pallekele.
The significance of Matt Renshaw’s arrival onto the Test scene cannot be underestimated. While he only scored 10 and 34no on debut, it was the way in which he scored his runs that will remembered in Australian cricketing folklore for years to come.
Coming off the back of five consecutive Test defeats – which included countless batting collapses of gigantic proportions – Australia needed some fight at the top of the order. Despite having just 12 first-class matches under his belt, 20-year-old Renshaw was just the man for the job.
Taking guard against the pink ball during the notoriously difficult evening session Renshaw – batting alongside regular number three Khawaja – showed composure and determination beyond his years to keep out a pumped up South African attack as the opening day lay on a knife edge. Despite frequently playing and missing he managed to blunt the new ball for 46 deliveries. This did not go unnoticed by a raucous Adelaide crowd – who cheered every time the ball beat the left-hander’s bat.
His unbeaten 137-ball 34 ensured Australia comfortably chased down their victory target of 127 in the fourth innings. After five defeats on the trot, a new-look side has stopped the rot and Renshaw was at the forefront of a new beginning.
After earning plaudits for his steely qualities on debut, in his next Test he showed a greater expansion to his batting with an accomplished first innings 71 in front of his home crowd in Brisbane. While greater challenges await away from home, Renshaw has shown he may well have the technique and character to meet them head on.
After a brief period of doing his best Sir Donald Bradman’s impression, Voges, as an underperforming veteran of the side, quietly bore the brunt of five successive Test defeats.
At 37-years-old, any sustained period of bad form was always likely to result in him being put out to pasture. And when that bad form happened to coincide with such a disastrous run for the team, any leeway reserved for Voges quickly evaporated.
With the selector’s already keen to freshen up the batting with some younger faces, Voges’ contribution to five Test defeats (148 runs at 14.8) was simply not sustainable. In Sri Lanka, he was found out by the turning (and non-turning) ball. However, the pace and movement of South Africa’s new-ball attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
His final ten Test innings were indeed much inferior to the previous 21. After first donning the baggy green in June 2015, he plundered 1337 runs at a Bradman-esque 95.50 before running into the Sri Lankans in July.
Regardless of his decline, he still leaves the international scene with a batting average of 61.87 across 20 Tests. Expect him to continue to serve both Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers with renewed success for the years to come.
Affectionally known as ‘Tangles’ due to his wrong-footed bowling action, Max Walker was not just a successful fast bowler, but also a highly skilled AFL footballer, writer and commentator too.
His death to cancer in September, aged just 68, was felt keenly across the world as many rushed to tell their stories of past meetings with the popular Tasmanian.
He played all of his international cricket during the 1970’s, amassing 34 Test matches during a successful era of Australian cricket under the Chappell brothers. His 138 wickets at 27.47 were taken alongside the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Bob Massie.
John Gleeson had already played his final Test match by the time Walker made his debut in December 1972, but his influence on Australian cricket was equally important.
Known as a ‘mystery’ spinner at a time when orthodox ruled, Gleeson only took to first-class cricket for New South Wales at the relatively old age of 27. But after impressing then Australian captain Richie Benaud as a net bowler he was handed a Test debut in 1967, he went on to play 29 Tests for his country claiming 93 wickets at 36.20. He sadly passed away in Tamworth in October, aged 78.
What 2017 holds:
For the Australians, two major Test series highlight the 2017 international schedule. Firstly, they travel to India for a four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in February, then later in the year they host England in a home Ashes campaign.
Tours to India and Ashes campaigns are where reputations are forged and legacies are written. History would suggest that given their continuous struggles against the turning ball and India’s impeccable recent home record, it’s hard to see Smith’s men gaining many positives from that series.
The 2017/18 Ashes campaign could be an intriguing one. Both teams are, at the time of writing, equally skilful and highly flawed.
Other fixtures to take place in early 2017 include; ODI series against Pakistan and New Zealand and a T20 series against Sri Lanka before the team heads off to India at the end of February.
June brings another version of the Champions Trophy to be held in England. Australia are drawn in a group alongside the hosts, Bangladesh and New Zealand.
A rescheduled two-Test tour of Bangladesh has been muted to take place in August – providing the required security concerns are adhered to.
Despite his obvious talent, the timing of Nic Maddinson’s maiden Test call-up, ahead of NSW teammate Kurtis Patterson, comes as somewhat of a surprise.
On October 10th 2010, Nic Maddinson made history at the Adelaide Oval. At 18 years and 294 days, he became the youngest New South Wales batsman to score a century on first-class debut.
During that day, he put on a quick-fire partnership of 153 with former Blue’s teammate Usman Khawaja. On Thursday, the two men will once again be reunited in Adelaide – this time as Test cricketers.
On November 27th 2011, Kurtis Patterson broke Maddinson’s record. At 18 years and 206 days, Patterson also eclipsed former Australian Test batsman Barry Shepherd’s 1955-56 record as the youngest debutant century maker in Sheffield Shield history.
After his astonishing introduction to first-class cricket, injuries and other circumstances meant Patterson had to wait a further two years to play another match. Maddinson, on the other hand, was granted freedom to establish himself as a permanent, albeit moveable, fixture in the New South Wales first XI.
On November 20th 2016, Maddinson was selected to earn a Baggy Green ahead of Patterson. The timing of his maiden Test call-up, alongside Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw, comes as somewhat of a surprise. That Maddinson has the potential has never been in doubt. But does his recent first-class performances warrant selection ahead of his in-form NSW colleague Kurtis Patterson?
During the 2015/16 Shield campaign, Maddinson averaged just 30.50 compared to Patterson’s 52.64. So far this summer he’s scored only 155 runs to Patterson’s 278, albeit having played a match less. Perhaps it was Maddinson’s greater experience (59 first-class matches to Patterson’s 33) that edged him ahead during selection meetings this week.
Or perhaps it was his accomplished 116 – scored against Western Australia on a recent turning SCG wicket – something that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed with a tour of India coming up early next year. Whatever it was, Pattinson finds himself unfortunate to miss out.
It has been confirmed that Maddinson will make his Test debut as a number six. With power hitting a strong part of his game – he’s previously represented his nation in two T20 internationals, its hoped he will thrive on the opportunity to play his natural game – something the former incumbent Mitchell Marsh hitherto failed to achieve.
It’s something his new skipper Steven Smith is excited about; “The selectors have given him an opportunity to come in and play at number six and sum up the conditions and play with a bit of freedom at the same time.
“On his day he can tear any attack apart.” Smith told reporters in Adelaide.
Despite starting out his state career as an opening batsman, Maddinson’s critics suggest he lacks the required patience to success at Test level. Some have even gone as far as suggesting he gets bored during spells at the crease. Regardless, he was entrusted with the honour of captaining New South Wales six times last summer with Moises Henriques out injured and Smith absent on national duty.
Despite showing endless potential for several years following his record-breaking debut, the 24-year-old lefthander hasn’t yet found a regular consistency in his game. Irrespective of this it seems the selection panel – now chaired by Trevor Hohns following the resignation of Rod Marsh last week – have grown so restless of waiting for him to find a greater level of consistency in his batting, that they have decided to take a punt on him anyway.
Having impressed in the junior ranks, Maddinson looked to have made the giant leap to the next level during an A tour of England prior to the 2013 Ashes. Opening the batting against Gloucestershire at Bristol, he made a powerful 181 off just 143 deliveries – still his highest first-class score to date. However, after a breakout first-innings, in the second dig – emblematic of his career to date – he was caught behind for a golden duck.
The batting line up for that three-day tour fixture included the likes of Khawaja, Smith, Jordan Silk, Phillip Hughes and Matthew Wade. Three of those men will represent Australia later this week. Baring tragedy and misfortune, there was perhaps a time when all five would have looked likely starters to join Maddinson at the Adelaide Oval.
Although Maddinson’s insouciant style has previously drawn comparisons with former New South Wales and Australian batsman Mark Waugh, it has also regularly got him into trouble when faced with quality bowling. If he’s to succeed at Test level, he must cut out the mental errors that have his plagued his game for the best part of six years.
Having said that, he must be given a fare crack at the number six position unlike his predecessor Callum Ferguson, who wasn’t given just one Test before being disregarded after the side’s insipid display in Hobart.
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?
Lack of quality alternatives have led to a certain leeway with the selectors, however, going forward the allrounder’s form with the bat remains a serious concern.
Last Friday when asked about the batting form of Test allrounder Mitchell Marsh, Australian chairman of selectors Rod Marsh went out of his way to make a clear ultimatum towards the Western Australian’s Test summer. It went along the lines of: “He needs to get a Test hundred I reckon.”
Fast forward a week to the second day’s play of the first Commonwealth Test match at The WACA. The scenario reads: Australia coasting towards South Africa’s paltry first innings total of 242. David Warner and Shaun Marsh are sailing along smoothly at 0-158 before a dramatic (all-too-familiar) batting collapse sees the Aussie’s lose four wickets for just 23 runs. Enter Mitchell Marsh replacing his brother Shaun at the crease and seemingly set for a “Silencing the doubter’s innings”.
A firm and quick WACA deck, a loving home Perth crowd – including father Geoff, and against a Dale Steyn-less South African attack – surely today would be the day to quieten the concerns of both selectors and supporters alike. A maiden Test hundred at The WACA awaited surely…
Except this is sport and not a hometown fairy tale for Marsh. Vernon Philander found some decent movement with a fifty-over old kookaburra cherry and slide one into the front pad, Marsh’s Puma bat wasn’t even in the picture. Dismissed for an eighth-ball duck was certainly not part of the grand plan.
While Marsh brings plenty of other strings to his bow – most noticeably his gun fielding in the gully region and a more than handy first-change seam bowling action – it’s been made clear by Rod Marsh that his role in the side is predominantly as a number six batsman. On that front an average of just 23.07 across 30 Test innings doesn’t read all too easy on the eye.
The potential is of course there. It always has been. A maiden ODI hundred against India in January suggested at a breakout period, so did the match-winning 69 not out in Wellington just two weeks later. But although he was “Batting as well as anyone” during the disastrous tour of Sri Lanka recently, he only managed scores of 31, 25, 27, 18, 53 and 9 – middling scores suggesting he’s first got himself in, and then found ways to get dismissed when something more substantial looked on the cards. Parallels can certainly be made with his predecessor Shane Watson – easy on the eye but lacking the match defining contributions required at Test level.
The problem for the Australian selectors is the lack of international-standard competition in the seam bowling allrounders role. Should the selectors finally lose patience with their project player – And they have invested a lot into the development of Marsh – then New South Wales’ Moises Henriques would represent the obvious replacement.
Returning to Henriques would bring with it a different set of question marks though. While he has dominated with the bat in recent Sheffield Shield campaigns, his bowling is vastly inferior to anything offered by Marsh. Besides he looked very much out of his depth whilst facing the turning ball during his one Test in Colombo recently. With a Test tour of India looming in the new year, his inclusion looks unlikely.
Other options would be to include Victorian Marcus Stoinis, who – despite being a serial ‘A’ team squad member – hasn’t, at 27, kicked on as much as Cricket Australia would have once hoped. Likewise, James Faulkner has suffered from injuries whilst being mainly pigeonholed as a limited overs specialist lately.
Fellow seam-bowling allrounders such as Western Australia’s Hilton Cartwright, (aged 24) and Jack Wildermuth (23) of Queensland also spring to mind as future options, however both currently lack enough experience at first-class level to be considered as viable inclusions.
Another option would be to call up Travis Head. A batsman the selectors are seriously keen on after he has shown impressive batting and leadership qualities in the past year. After being called up to train with the Test squad during the final Test against Sri Lanka in August, it remains only a matter of time before the South Australian captain is given a chance at Test level, although it seems he may be viewed as a long-term replacement for the veteran Adam Voges at number five. With both Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle working their way back to full fitness after injuries it remains likely that the policy of three quicks, Nathan Lyon and a seam-bowling allrounder will not change anytime soon.
With Marsh struggling with live up to expectations with the bat, it doesn’t help that the man behind him in the order is also fighting his own demons with the willow. Peter Nevill’s position in the side is too being debated with the wicketkeeper averaging just 20.88 since dispensing Brad Haddin during last year’s away Ashes campaign. While Nevill has been nothing short of excellent with the gloves, his Test average is 17.00 down on his first-class record.
Although he was unlucky to be dismissed caught at first slip in the first innings at The WACA when he didn’t hit the ball (and his side were out of reviews after both Steven Smith and Shaun Marsh used them to no avail earlier in the day) with the batting carrying an over-reliance on both Smith and Warner the pressure will be on the likes of Marsh and Nevill to start making the contributions their team requires.
For Marsh it looks like that maiden Test hundred will have to wait another day.
It’s beginning to sound like a broken record. But once again when faced with quality spin bowling on a surface offering some assistance, Australia’s batsman have finished second best.
In the end not even the predicted rain could save them in Kandy. Despite being favorites for the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy before the first Test match, Australia instead find themselves 1-0 down with just two Tests to play. The 106-run defeat at the Pallekele International Stadium adds another chapter to Australian cricket’s recent catalogue of struggles on the subcontinent.
Despite staunch resistance from Peter Nevill and the injured Steven O’Keefe, who added a painstaking stand of 4 runs from 178 deliveries, it wasn’t enough as the hosts wrapped up victory before tea on the fifth day. For Australia it was a seventh consecutive Test match loss in Asia.
Their shortcomings against the spin offerings provided by the Sri Lankan trio of Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan and Dilruwan Perera are certainly no aberration. Such deficiencies have been going on for decades and they currently look no closer to being arrested than they were after the disastrous tour of India three years ago.
After dismissing the hosts for 117 on the first day of the Test, the Australians could only muster a first-innings lead of 86. Eventually set 268 to win after a masterful third innings 176 by rookie Kusal Mendis, they folded for 161 on day five with Herath and Sandakan sharing 16 wickets in the match.
It’s been almost five years since Australia last celebrated a Test or series victory on Asian shores. In fact it was on their last tour of Sri Lanka, where they claimed a 1-0 series victory, thanks largely to the excellent batting of a certain Mike Hussey. Since then they have struggled desperately, often faced with scoreboard pressure and several men hovering around the bat.
Since that 2011 series win there has been nothing but heartbreak in Asia. The early 2013 tour of India – which will forever be known as the homeworkgate series – was the beginning of a disastrous spell from the Australians. The likes of Ashwin, Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha turned Australia ragged on that occasion during a 4-0 Indian whitewash. Further strife was endured during a 2-0 Pakistan series victory in the UAE in October 2014 where this time the legspin of Shah and the canny left-arm spin of Zulfiqar Babar proved to be the visitor’s downfall.
Other shortcomings against spin have also occurred outside of Asia too. A 2014 ODI loss to Zimbabwe was compounded by an inability to score off a quartet of modest spinners, while the likes of Bishoo and Narine have troubled the Australians on recent visits to the Caribbean.
Perhaps overconfidence or a lack of patience is often to blame for their careless batting. This was best epitomized in the first innings dismissal of Steve Smith. The Australian captain – who’s commonly renowned as the country’s best player of spin since his predecessor Michael Clarke – was well set on 30 before an ugly heave against Herath resulted in his departure at a crucial part of the match. Australia should have shut Sri Lanka out of the match thereafter, instead they only claimed a first innings lead of 86 when something over 200 would have made life extremely difficult for the hosts.
Despite being well aware of their struggles against spin bowling, what more can Australia do to conquer their fears over the turning ball?
By going to Sri Lanka two weeks prior to their current series, they gave themselves every chance to acclimatize to the humid weather and dry surfaces faced with on the island. While back home work is constantly being done to improve the way the Australians play on turning wickets. Last year a hybrid spin pitch was installed at the Bupa National Cricket Centre in Brisbane. The hope is that the next generation of young Australian batsmen will be able to spend plenty of time honing their skills on the subcontinent-like surface.
Technique wise, going forward they must find a pragmatic but purposeful way of playing the turning ball. A tendency to attack their way out of tough situations may be the Australian way but it’s rarely proved to be the correct way.
Currently faced with two must-win Tests in the coming weeks and then a four-Test series due to commence in India in February, there’s going to be no hiding places for the Australian batsmen. Right now they must find a quick fix before another series on the subcontinent is lost. Seven defeats and counting…
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?