A trip to the Bradman Museum in Bowral isn’t just about cricket; it’s about Australian sporting history, traditional and culture.
It’s Easter Saturday and a beauty in Sydney. Replacing the dank and drizzle that plagued my Good Friday walk in the Eastern Suburb’s is a bright sky that closely resembles the blue of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
A lot has happened in Australian cricket in the two years since I last stepped foot in Sydney. Richie and Phillip have sadly left us, a home World Cup crown was secured, an away Ashes series squandered and farewells were aplenty with Pup, Ryano, Bucky, Hadds, Mitch and Watto all leaving the international scene. One thing guaranteed to always remain around these parts though, is the legacy of Sir Donald Bradman.
As I make my two-hour train descent towards Bradman’s final resting place of Bowral, the big city slowly drifts by into a flurry of suburbs and small villages and then, beyond Campbelltown, the beautiful Southern Highlands. One can’t help but to be impressed at the amount of sporting facilities that lie adjacent to the train line. No suburb goes empty handed without AFL, soccer, tennis, cricket and rugby facilities. Many small rural towns even have their own horse racing circuits and golf courses.
Yes, Australia has the good weather and the space to facilitate such sporting resources, but they also have an unrivalled love for sport and the great outdoors. It’s just in their blood. And Bradman is an integral part of that.
Weaving through the Southern Highlands is a joy to behold. Cattle, sheep and horses litter the landscape of rolling hills and tree-laden meadows. Country NSW has never looked so glorious.
As the train enters its final stretch through Mittagong and towards Bradmanland, the excitement becomes intangible. Unrivalled since the morning I wondered down towards Yarra Park for my first visit to the MCG, for such a cricket lover visiting the hometown of the game’s finest player is right up there with other fine memories of the sport.
Having finally arrived at Bowral the walk through the town centre is a pleasant one. A thriving cafe scene enriches the area as the locals gather to discuss the various different footy codes being played over the Easter period. As local children play in the town’s many park areas, you can almost imagine a young Bradman doing likewise some 100 years previously.
Part of The Bradman Walk meanders towards Glebe Park. The recently fallen leaves throw you into an autumnal way of feeling. If it not for the warm easterly breeze, it could well be a late September morning anywhere in England. Instead the profound cries of a nearby swarm of cockatoos reiterates the fact that this is very much Antipodean land.
And then suddenly out of nowhere, I’d arrived at the picturesque Bradman Oval. Encircled by Camden Woollybutt gumtree’s and a smartly painted white picket fence, this again leads me back to a great feeling of Englishness. Indeed, the traditional pavilion puts the cherry atop the English cake.
In a way the Bradman Oval is the closest thing to resembling English cricket across Australia. Sure the WACA ground retains some English-style characteristics in the design of its stands – but how long will it continue to host international cricket once the new Perth Stadium is built? While the Gabba, MCG, SCG and the Adelaide Oval are all now essentially large footy grounds with, occasional, cricketing tenants.
The museum itself is charming. Throughout the Bradman Gallery the early years of The Don are told aplenty and described in fascinating ways with in-depth accounts of both his adolescent life in Cootamundra and Bowral, and his early cricketing memories. A whole installment is in fact dedicated to his infamous cricket-schooling – involving a stump, a golf ball and a water tank.
Another of the museum’s absorbing features is a segment on Bradman’s Invincibles side of 1948. While we commonly hear of the successes of men like Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller on that tour, learning more about lesser-known names such as Bill Johnston and Colin McCool was an equally enlightening experience.
The section Cricket through the Eras, which pays particular attention to both the Bodyline series of the 1930’s and Kerry Packers’ World Series Cricket in the 1970’s, is another worthwhile affair mixing both visual and audile recollections of hugely important periods in Australian cricket.
In a day and age when many cricketers live a predominately freelance existence, it’s equally compelling and surprising to discover the sheer volume of contrasting teams Bradman either represented or encountered. From the inter-village 234 made against Wingello to a knock of 153 against a HD Leveson Gower’s XI at Scarborough – an informative plaque lists every score The Don ever made over 150.
Other interesting features include subjects on The Baggy Green, The Origins, The Greats of the Game, The World of Cricket, The Game and a vertual Kids Backyard section.
A trip to the Bradman Museum is an education in not just cricket; but sporting history, tradition and culture too. For over a century, cricket down under has captured the very essence of Australian life. And Bradman was at its very forefront.
The highs of March’s World Cup glory were replaced by the lows of August’s Ashes failure, amid a year that witnessed a spate of returns and farewells.
It was a year of farewells and new beginnings in Australian cricket. Triumph, heartbreak, legacy, retirement and groundbreaking – were all key words used during another rollercoaster year in Australia’s favourite summer sport.
Figures alone suggest that Australia has had a good 2015. They lost just three of their 13 Tests and three of their 19 ODIs, but of course figures only tell half of the tale.
On the surface the year concluded as it had begun – with captain marvel Steve Smith scoring a customary Test hundred whilst leading Australia to yet another dominate home series victory. However, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that 2015 was a year in which the landscape changed across Australian cricket.
A new captain, vice-captain, wicketkeeper, spearhead quick, opening batsman, allrounder and chairman were just a few changes to occur over the past twelve months.
November saw Cricket Australia break new ground when the Adelaide Oval played host to cricket’s first ever day/night Test match. The three-wicket victory over New Zealand was by most accounts a resounding success with a grand total of 123,736 people attending the first three days of play.
On the field, deputising for the injured incumbent Test captain Michael Clarke, Smith had begun the year making 117 and 71 against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground – He concluded it with scores of 134* and 70* against the West Indies at the MCG – this time as permanent chief in commander.
Clarke’s demise conspired to be painful and rapid; Smith’s rise conspicuous and fruitful. Much like when Ricky Ponting reached the end of the road as captain in 2011, the changing of the guard was evident as it played out amongst the public spotlight of an Ashes campaign.
Unlike Ponting, Clarke wasn’t about to continue any further in the side. He would go on to announce his retirement from international cricket in an interview with old ally Shane Warne during the third morning of the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.
The timing of the decision came as no surprise. Amid a huge slump in form – in which his six 2015 Tests had brought just 196 runs at 21.77, and coupled with the strain of multiple injuries and the ongoing raw emotions over the death of Phillip Hughes last November, Clarke no longer had anything left to give.
His retirement would headline a host of farewells throughout the year. Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson all walked away from the international game, while Shane Watson chose to step aside from the Test arena.
Going into 2015, Australia had their eyes solely on two main prizes. A home World Cup victory and an away Ashes triumph. The first of which they had never achieved, the second hadn’t been ticked off for fourteen unthinkable years.
With the World Cup secured after an exhilarating seven-wicket victory over co-hosts New Zealand at the MCG in late March, perhaps also expecting Ashes success was too greedy.
The World Cup success was systematically built around a strong pace bowling unit, of which Mitchell Starc was the ultimate ringleader. The left-armer claimed a joint tournament-high 22 wickets at just 10.18. Alongside Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, he combined to obliterate all fellow challengers.
While the side that claimed the ODI silverware were a well drilled and balanced outfit in home conditions, the squad that arrived as favourites on English soil in June were overconfident, creaky and long in the tooth.
Once again found out by the seaming and swinging ball, a problem that has handicapped touring Australian sides for some years now, their brittle top and middle order were frequently lambs to the slaughter. Entering the green-top-abattoirs of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, the tourists simply had no answers when confronted with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and co. wielding shiny new Dukes balls in helpful conditions.
Truth be told, much like the English side that travelled down under in 2013-14, this was an Ashes series too far for an ageing Australian squad with ten players over the age of 30 – four of whom were 35 or older.
Given the pre-series nickname Dad’s Army, Clarke and his men played down the concerns of age, instead deciding to focus on the experience they had in their ranks. But once the series got underway it became clear many wouldn’t make it beyond its conclusion in late August.
After Harris pulled up lame during a pre-Ashes tour match at Chelmsford, it began a procession of untimely blows for the tourists. Selection blunders, personal issues and significant loss of form all contributed as the problems mounted, eventually reaching their summit on that frightful first morning in Nottingham.
The casualties provided by a failed Ashes campaign, led to more selection dilemmas. But only after a proposed two-Test tour of Bangladesh was cancelled on security grounds in October, did we begin to see the makeup of the new Test side – now under the fulltime stewardship of Smith.
Joe Burns, selected ahead of the younger Cameron Bancroft, has averaged 47.88 with two hundreds since being named as Rogers’ successor in early November. While Usman Khawaja shrugged off nine months of knee ligament rehabilitation to finally nail down the number three berth. Either side of a hamstring injury, the left-hander scored 504 runs at 126.00, including three consecutive hundreds.
Although there’s no denying that much greater challenges (than home series against New Zealand and the West Indies) await next year, the batting order already has a more balanced feel to it. That Shaun Marsh was dropped for the Boxing Day Test despite scoring 182 in his previous innings at Hobart shows that competition for places is strong.
The fast bowling stocks remain a slight concern. Despite the retirements of Harris and Johnson, the depth is still relatively broad; keeping men on the park is the real concern. Cummins, Starc and Nathan Coulter-Nile are all currently sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Alongside the flourishing comebacks of Burns and Khawaja, the return of James Pattinson – absent from the World Cup and Ashes campaigns with various back injuries – is a significant positive heading into 2016.
Away from the field, David Peever, a former managing director at mining giant Rio Tinto, took over as Cricket Australia chairman following Wally Edwards departure from the role in October. After four years in the position Edwards’ legacy will no doubt be his role in the so-called ‘Big Three’, he leaves CA in a sound financial predicament.
September saw substantial news regarding the future of international cricket in Perth. From 2018 onwards all limited overs cricket and Test matches against England, India and South Africa will be moved from the WACA to a new 60,000-seater stadium in Burswood. The move saw plenty of opposition with former Test great Dennis Lillee among the masses in stating his displeasure at the move.
When over 93,000 people packed into the MCG to witness a showdown between the tournaments two hosts, they expected a close game.
After a thrilling group stage match in Auckland a month earlier New Zealand, led by the effervescent Brendon McCullum, went into their first World Cup final on the crest of a wave. But Starc soon changed all that when he dismissed McCullum in the first over.
New Zealand could only limp to 183. Solid top order contributions from David Warner, Smith and Clarke saw Australia ease home in the 34th over to claim an unprecedented fifth World Cup crown.
Going into that treacherous first morning at Trent Bridge, the Ashes were still on the precipice. Just 18.3 overs later and the English were essentially clutching the urn.
The insouciant way in which the Australian’s went about batting against Stuart Broad was simply dumbfounding. Sure, every edge went to hand and Ben Stokes, in particular, pulled off a world class grab in the slips, but Australia’s porous defence against the moving ball led to plenty of questions being asked.
An innings and 78-run defeat followed. The Ashes were handed over and with them Clarke handed over his resignation.
New kid on the block: Josh Hazlewood.
Since making his debut last December, Hazlewood has been an almost ever present (he missed just the fifth Ashes Test) in the Test side, taking 60 wickets at 24.13.
Despite struggling to control the amount of swing and seam on offer in English conditions, the 24-year-old impressed in both the West Indies and in home conditions.
With Johnson retired and Starc injured, Hazlewood stood up to be counted during the day/night Test in Adelaide last month. His match figures 9-136 were his career best and led to man-of-the-match honours.
Like with all young fast bowlers, its important he’s given adequate rest after playing a key role in recent series wins over New Zealand and the West Indies.
Fading Star: Michael Clarke
While six ageing players have retired this year, the decline of Michael Clarke is perhaps the greatest. He started the year not only still mourning the loss of Hughes, but also battling back and hamstring complaints and never fully recovered to find either his best form, or enthusiasm for the game.
The World Cup Final knock of 74 was his only innings of note before poor tours of the Caribbean and United Kingdom led to his inevitable retirement.
He left the game with 17,112 international runs spread across 115 Tests, 245 ODIs and 34 T20Is.
Farewell to: Richie Benaud & Arthur Morris
Benaud passed away in April at his Coogee home after a short battle with skin cancer. He was 84. A pioneer of cricket broadcasting later in life, Richie will also be fondly remembered as a deep thinking captain and superb legbreak bowler.
He played 63 Tests between 1952-1964 and finished his career with three centuries and 248 wickets.
Australian summers will not be the same without his distinctive voice being heard in the Channel Nine commentary box. Richie touched the lives of many – this author included.
Morris, a fellow Australian Cricket Hall of Famer, died in August aged 93. He made his name as a tremendous left-handed opening batsman, starting out at the conclusion of the Second World War.
He shot to fame as part of Don Bradman’s famous invinclibles Ashes tour of 1948 – where he topped the run scoring charts with 696 runs at 87.00. One of the last living players from that tour (Only Neil Harvey remains) he finished his career in 1955 having played 46 Tests in the Baggy Green.
What 2016 holds?
Like with any year, Australia’s progress will be judged on their away success. More to the point their ability to play the swinging and spinning ball in alien conditions.
A two-Test tour of New Zealand in February should be a measure of how much they have learnt from their mistakes against the moving ball in England, while a series in Sri Lanka later in the year will gauge where they are at regarding the spinning ball, a fundamental problem during recent tours on the subcontinent.
The ICC World Twenty20, set to be hosted by India in March, will offer further insight into whether Aaron Finch’s side can click as a unit after previous disappointment in the only format Australia has yet to win a global tournament in.
The home summer concludes the year when both South Africa and Pakistan head down under, with discussions already underway to stage at least one day/night Test.
The retirement of Mitchell Johnson and foot injury sustained to Mitchell Starc has again led to the question, how deep is Australia’s fast bowling depth?
We keep getting told how much fast bowling depth there is in Australia. We’re told that they could field as many as twenty different seamers and still remain competitive in international cricket – but are the fast bowling stocks quite as strong as they once were?
This year’s retirements to former spearhead’s Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson has taken away not just experience (100 Tests) and quality (426 wickets), but it’s also significantly weakened the depth in fast bowling across the country. Throw in the metatarsal injury sustained by Mitchell Starc during the recent Test against New Zealand, along with a host of injuries currently facing other potential candidates, and it begins to become a cause for concern.
The injury picked up by Starc during the first innings in Adelaide is as much, if not more, frustrating for the selectors than the timing of Johnson’s retirement following the previous Test in Perth. Starc had this summer, started to become the Test bowler his rich promise has previously suggested he was capable of becoming. In outbowling fellow left-armer Johnson during his, at times, rapid spells at the Gabba and the WACA, he had taken over as the bowling attack’s spearhead and was bowling better than ever before injury prematurely ended his home summer with 13 wickets at 23.23.
Starc, 25, is now targeting the tour of New Zealand in February as a realistic return date. The prolonged rest should, at least, allow him to freshen up after a tough year battling a recurring ankle problem.
All the signs currently point towards James Pattinson replacing Starc for next week’s first Test against the West Indies in Hobart. But, while, on the surface the bowling depth looks exciting and plentiful, scratch a little deeper and the cracks begin to appear.
Quite literally, you could find cracks or fractures or strains, as it appears more young Australian quick bowlers are currently gracing the treatment table instead of the firing on the field.
Producing the fast bowlers has been the easy part for Australia, keeping them injury-free hasn’t. In the past few years most of their young quicks have become even more susceptible to injury than an Arsenal footballer.
With the squad for next week’s first Test due to be announced on Tuesday morning, it will be interesting to see who stands where in the fast-bowling cartel. Certainly plenty of mulling over awaits Rod Marsh and his fellow selectors Darren Lehmann, Mark Waugh and Trevor Hohns.
If there’s one thing that we already know it’s that Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle will be taking up two, of the expected three, fast bowling berths set to be available alongside Nathan Lyon and allrounder Mitchell Marsh.
Hazlewood, 24, produced the goods when it mattered most for Australia at the Adelaide Oval. His innings (6-70) and match (9-136) figures were both career best’s, but it was the way in which he took over as the leader of the attack in the absence of Johnson and Starc that really highlighted his value to the current setup. However, on the downside, his workload (He bowled 119 overs during the series) is already being questioned just three Tests into the summer, this follows on from a hectic year since he debuted against India last December.
Unable to get into the Australian side just a few months ago (not forgetting the Victoria side during the Matador Cup), Siddle, 31, is fast becoming a valuable commodity among the bowling stocks. His ability to retain pressure is a quality not withstanding many of his counterparts and Hazlewood could do well to buy his mate a beer after he contributed heavily in earning the New South Welshman many of his nine wickets.
Despite complaining of a slightly sore back during the match, in which he claimed his 200th Test victim, Siddle should be deemed fit enough to face the Hobart Test. But alongside the aforementioned duo and a fit again Starc, how far does the bowling depth stretch in Australia? Here’s a look at the likely next in line.
James Pattinson (Age 25) Tests: 13 (51 wickets at 27.07)
His Test record is solid, his injury record less so. Since playing his last Test match in South Africa back in March 2014, a host of injuries have limited him to just four first-class matches for Victoria.
Among those setbacks were two serious back injuries sustained within the space of 10 months following the 2013 Ashes in England. Deterred by back complains and determined to correct his action, from front to side-on, he in turn injured his hamstring.
But injuries are nothing new for Pattinson. In November 2012, a year after making his Test debut, he suffered a rib injury so severe that, for a while, he was unable to breathe properly.
Despite all of this, he has fought his way back this summer, with the new action in tow. He has Impressed enough in both the Matador Cup and Sheffield Shield, to receive another opportunity in the wake of Johnson’s retirement.
Nathan Coulter-Nile (28)
Coulter-Nile could soon become just the second “double-barrelled” name to represent Australia in Test cricket since Chuck Fleetwood-Smith was handed Baggy Green number 153 in 1935.
Despite averaging a solid 28.97 with the ball across his 35 first-class fixtures, he’s only been used as a limited overs specialist for his country thus far, impressing in a smattering of ODI appearances. However, like most before him, he has suffered his fair share of injuries.
Plagued mainly by hamstring injures over the past couple of years, it’s in fact a shoulder injury which has kept him out of any Shield cricket so far this summer. He has also recently suffered the raff of the match referee – missing Western Australia’s latest fixture for his troubles – this indiscipline could cost him a place in the squad for Hobart next week.
Jackson Bird (28) Tests: 3 (13 wickets at 23.30)
Despite playing his last Test during the 2013 Ashes tour of England, Bird, unsurprisingly another man who has regularly struggled with injuries, could be set to benefit from the misfortune of others and gain a place in next week’s squad.
Rumours are suggesting that Bird’s previous Test experience and solid recent form could give him the nod ahead of Coulter-Nile as he seeks to revive his fledgling international career.
This summer tally of 18 wickets at 24.77, including a timely 5-69 against South Australia this week, his first five-wicket haul in 18 months, have certainly reminded the selectors of his worth as a third seamer. Recent English experience, where he took 19 wickets at 39.73 during an injury-marred spell for Hampshire this winter, could also count in his favour.
Pat Cummins (22) Tests: 1 (7 wickets at 16.71)
It’s easy to forget that Cummins is still only 22-years-old. Four years after taking 7-117 during a man-of-the-match winning debut in Johannesburg, he’s yet to play another Test.
That his crooked body has allowed him to play just eight first-class matches in his near five-year long career tells its own story. Currently back in rehabilitation with an early stage lumbar bone stress fracture sustained during a rare period on the park in England, he is expected to miss the entire summer.
But like Pattinson, who incidentally debuted a Test later, missing a home summer is nothing new for the youngster. He hasn’t played a Sheffield Shield match since suffering a stress fracture in the final back in March 2011.
Since then the injuries have stacked up. Soon after his Test debut, he suffered a stress fracture of the foot, before another back stress fracture put pay to his 2012 summer. After initially recovering from that injury, it again flared up during an A tour of South Africa in August 2013.
However, after contributing to the World Cup success in March, it seemed he had finally turned a corner, before the back finally gave in once more. He may well have to follow Pattinson’s suit and change his action before it all becomes too late.
James Faulkner (25) Tests: 1 (6 wickets at 16.33)
A limited-overs regular, Faulkner was called into the squad to tour Bangladesh after the injury to Cummins, but with that tour postponed he hasn’t yet had chance to add to his one Test appearance, earned more than two years ago. A none-too-serious toe injury, relating to a knee complaint, kept him out of Tasmania’s recent Shield fixture but a quick return is expected.
An allrounder in many senses, he has impressive first-class bowling (179 wickets at 23.97) and batting (2202 runs at 31.01) figures. Like Bird, he also gained valuable overseas experience with Lancashire over the winter.
Should Mitchell Marsh continue to blow hot and cold as the Test allrounder then expect him to challenge Moises Henriques for the a place in the side. Without Johnson and Starc, his left arm option could add variety to the current predominantly right-armed attack.
Jason Behrendorff (25)
Like Coulter-Nile, left-armer Behrendorff is another member of the strong current Western Australia fast-bowling cartel. But like his state teammate he has also struggled with injuries so far this summer, restricting his Shield appearances to just two.
A contributor across all formats, he currently averages 25.22 with the ball in first-class cricket, and has recently gained the backing of former Australian players Dirk Nannes and Michael Slater – who both believe he is a serious contender for one of the vacant Test berths.
After a strong start to last summer, his bowling was brought to an abrupt and premature end when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the right side of his lower back, whilst playing for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash in early February.
When back to full-fitness he will certainly remain on the periphery of national honours as shown by his selections for both the Prime Minister’s and Cricket Australia XI’s recently.
With Starc out injured, expect a limited over call up once India arrive in January – at the very least.
Andrew Fekete (30)
The 30-year-old was called up from the relatively unknown for October’s subsequently postponed tour of Bangladesh, leading to many newspapers running the headline: “Who the Fek is he?”
Good question. His call up for that tour was on the back of a stellar Sheffield Shield season for Tasmania last summer – where he finished with 34 wickets at 24. He followed this up with an impressive showing during the A tour of India over the winter.
After the disappointment of not boarding a plane to Bangladesh, his form has tailed away dramatically. Despite a steady Matador Cup, his early season Shield form has underwhelmed massively. Dropped after two poor performances, he was lucky to earn a recallafter Faulkner went down injured last week. Unfortunatly he again underperformed, going at well over five-an-over during his 4-151 in South Australia’s massive 7-600d.
Although picked for the Bangladesh tour as a subcontinent specialist, he was never a realist contender for a Test berth in home conditions. With younger and quicker men seemingly ahead of him, it appears his dreams of a Baggy Green could well be fading into obscurity.
Also worthy of a mention: Gurinder Sandhu (New South Wales), Chadd Sayers (South Australia), Scott Boland (Victoria).
After three years of trails, tribulations, debates and suspicion, the inaugural Day/Night Test match is now just a matter of hours away from taking place at the Adelaide Oval.
In this piece I look at the five burning questions facing the match.
Will the pink ball hold up for 80 overs?
After a “Cricket Australia and Kookaburra nightmare” occurred during last month’s Prime Minister’s XI fixture at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, the longevity of the pink ball appeared a serious cause for concern.
Many doubts were raised during that 50-over fixture, none more so than when the pink ball appeared to lose its lacquer and colour very quickly – turning it from pink to a greenish colour – long before the end of the allotted 50-overs.
Such deterioration was largely blamed on the abrasive Manuka Oval wicket and outfield, which took large pieces of lacquer off the ball when it was either bowled into the pitch or thrown into the wicketkeeper on the bounce. Measures to counter such issues have since been put into place.
To compensate for this Damian Hough, the Adelaide Oval’s chief curator, is working closely with the Cricket Australia hierarchy to maintain that the wicket for Friday’s fixture is set to include an extra couple of millimetres of grass than what would usually be prescribed for a Test match at the venue.
Hough’s will also be creating a smaller square than usual too – with just two wickets either side of the main strip. This, further coupled with a lush green outfield, should ensure that the ball keeps its shape and colour throughout the innings, albeit nullifying any possible reverse swing in the same instance.
This concept was trailed and found largely successful during the recent Adelaide Oval day/night Sheffield Shield fixture between South Australia and New South Wales, allying many of the fears first raised in Canberra a month ago.
Likewise, ball manufacturers Kookaburra have spent the best part of three years researching and developing the pink ball to ensure it resembles the similar mannerisms of its red counterpart.
Will the pink ball make for good cricket?
Victorian seamer John Hastings didn’t seem to think so after his side’s recent day/night Shield fixture with Queensland at the MCG.
The former Australian bowler dismissed the pink ball as being conclusive to a “boring brand of cricket”, with his main concerns being over the lack of hardness, movement or swing once the ball had reached the 15-over mark.
Hastings, no neophyte to the pink ball format, has suggested that changing the ball after 50-55 overs instead of the mandatory 80-over mark, which is currently in place in Test cricket, would allow captains to engage in more attacking field placings instead of asking their bowlers to bowl to straight fields.
With a lack of conventional swing available after the ball starts to soften during the 15-20 over mark, it’s difficult to imagine a way in which the quick bowlers will succeed during the afternoon session at least. With the lack of reverse-swing also a factor once the ball softens, it could lead to a period of attritional cricket – where both run scoring and wicket taking becomes predominantly difficult.
However, curator Hough has this week allied those fears by suggesting the added grass on the wicket will allow for an entertaining battle between bat and ball – something that can’t be said for the wickets on offer at the Gabba and the WACA in recent weeks.
Do the twilight and evening periods give the bowlers an unfair advantage?
Like ODI cricket with the white ball, its pink equivalent has been known to swing more under the lights.
As well as swinging more once the daylight subsides and the floodlights take over – the pink ball, notably a discoloured pink ball, can also be difficult to pick up for both batsmen and fieldsmen once the sun begins to set.
This has raised debate over whether the ball will favour the quick bowlers much more in the second and third sessions, than it would do in the afternoon session. Early suggestions are that it almost certainly will – especially judging by the recent round of day/night Shield matches.
This issue was raised at the Adelaide Oval earlier this month. When Australian captain Steven Smith, at the time skippering NSW, made an interesting declaration on the first evening, he perhaps set a precedent for future captains in this new format.
Once Smith and David Warner were dismissed after a century-stand for the second wicket, it began a collapse as NSW lost eight wickets for 90 runs during the twilight and evening period. With just one wicket remaining Smith had seen enough and declared with the chance to have a bowl at South Australia, in the few remaining overs of the day, simply too good to refuse.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood duly delivered for their captain, leaving the home side precariously placed overnight at 3-3.
Faced with a similar situation, expect other captains to follow suit in the search for late evening wickets. It could well give a whole new meaning to the term “nightwatchman”.
Will the pink ball favour spin too?
It was once perceived that the pink ball would hinder spin bowling during a Test match, but recent statistics have suggested to the contrary.
NSW left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe has excelled during his three day/night Shield matches at the Adelaide Oval – so much so that he has been added to the squad for the inaugural Test.
In three matches at the venue O’Keefe has taken 18 wickets, including 5-89 and 6-70 in his first day/night fixture there two years ago. And although Australia are likely to favour Nathan Lyon and three seamers, his inclusion at least gives the selectors further options heading into the unknown on a wicket that Hough believes will take “some spin” due to its “coarse and thatchy grass covering”.
Another area which can benefit the spin bowlers is the green seam-stitching on the pink ball. On the surface it seems irrelevant what colour the stitching is, but the issue was this week raised by Smith who insisted that he had particular difficulty in picking up the green seam on the spinning ball whilst facing South Australian part-timer Travis Head during a recent Shield match.
Will it attract more fans to the ground and on television?
The early indications are that ticket sales have been good and a crowd of around 40,000 is expected for the first couple of days. If as expected a crowd of around 40,000 does indeed turn up, then it would surpass the first day totals for the two most recent Ashes matches at the ground in both 2010 and 2013.
The match is not just attracting the locals either, around 60% of the non-member ticket sales have been to fans from interstate or overseas – leading to global interest and intrigue over the new concept.
Certainly the introduction of “After work” or “Twilight” tickets have added another dimension to the fan’s cricket experience in the local area. The tickets to be priced at $20 for adults and $10 for children – will allow access into the ground from 4pm onwards, meaning that fans can attend play for the final two sessions of the day at a discounted rate.
Such concepts are sure to engage the public interest with both workers and school children being offered the chance to still see their hero’s after a busy day elsewhere.
For television and more specifically Channel 9, the plan to host the match in Adelaide works perfectly as the network hope to capture primetime viewers in the highly populated Eastern states, similar to the way a Perth Test match would do so.
Steady decline and fading desire lead to 34-year-old’s retirement; he departs the game with 313 Test and 239 ODI wickets.
The end is upon us. Batsmen around the world can breath a sigh of relief. Mitchell Johnson has hung up his spikes for the 73rd and final time.
In the end his retirement had become public knowledge long before his announcement ahead of the final day’s play at the WACA. The whispers had grown louder; the desire had grown no longer and the career of a great enigma had reached its conclusion.
Ahead of this week’s WACA Test, Johnson had mooted the possibility that it could be his last. When he was blazed around the park by Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor on a scorching third day, he knew it was a wrap. First innings figures of 1-157 from 28 overs (the most expensive by an Australian bowler at the venue) certainly didn’t advocate for pretty viewing or a fairytale finish. However, as often symbolic with Johnson, his perseverance eventually came to the fore. In one final hurrah both Tom Latham and Martin Guptill were bumped out in emblematic fashion.
Once the doubts over retirement had set in during the six weeks preceding the failed Ashes retention, it appeared only a matter of time before the cricketing spark would fizzle away in favour of an easier life spent at home with both wife and daughter.
After deep discussions with wife Jessica and his mentor Dennis Lillee had taken place, it was decided that the opportunity to go past his idol Brett Lee’s haul of 310 Test wickets, would prove too enticing to walk directly away from.
Evidently, after passing Lee’s mark during his treacherous bowling display on Monday, the lack of desire to re-approach his bowling style – that has seen him only ever bowl fast and intimidating – came over in waves. He decided to pull the curtains on a career that had spanned 73 Tests and seen him take an impressive 313 Test wickets at 28.40.
Fittingly it would all end at the WACA. Over the years Perth and its famous old cricket ground have become a home from home for Johnson. His record there is outstanding too. After relocating to Western Australia from Queensland in 2007, his seven Tests at the venue have fetched him 45 wickets at just 22.77.
But the flatness of the wicket during this November match with New Zealand, along with the emergence of Mitchell Starc as the team’s new go-to-man, had both conspired to leave the Townsville-native somewhat underwhelmed.
It’s been difficult times for Johnson of late. His 1-157 at the WACA was the sixth time in the past cricketing year and the second time in just three innings that he had conceded more than 100 runs. In fact since his heroic efforts against both England and South Africa – now 20 months and 14 Tests ago – his average, strike rate and economy rate have all risen sharply in a sure sign his star was on the wane.
Sure, there have been glimpses of that magical time since, but only glimpses. During this year’s Ashes, the fourth afternoon at Lord’s springs to mind, as do the consecutive ripsnorters to fell Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow at Edgbaston. Likewise in more recent times the deliveries to dismiss Taylor, BJ Watling and James Neesham at the Gabba also stood out for their intimidating qualities.
This past year, though, has taken a huge emotional toll on Johnson. His aggression and general demeanour were both understandably down after the death of teammate Phillip Hughes last summer, while he also admitted to considering retirement after lifting the World Cup in early April.
Nevertheless he carried on alongside a corpse of aging teammates, with the shared burning desire to retain the Ashes on British soil – something which hadn’t been achieved by his fellow countrymen since 2001.
But despite glimmers of light along the way, he never did quite conquer England or the English crowds. For a tearaway bowler – who relies on aggression, pace and bounce – the slow seaming conditions conjured up in the motherland were never truly to his taste.
In the eyes of the English supporters Johnson was most commonly renowned as the ultimate pantomime villain. At times the Barmy Army stood in awe, at others they derided, heckled, abused and mocked him until his confidence and bowling action were shot to the ground.
And when the action fell away, things rapidly spiralled out of control. If the chips were down, his natural slingy low-arm action would creep even further off and the radar would disappear completely. The once threat of wicket taking deliveries would simply turn into an incomprehensive haemorrhaging of runs.
His bowling against England certainly fluctuated from the sublime to the ridiculous. Regardless, his overall numbers certainly speak volumes among modern day Ashes contemporaries: In 19 Tests he captured 87 wickets at 25.21.
But those numbers only tell half of the story. For three out of the four Ashes campaigns he was bordering ordinary, for the other, he was quite simply breathtaking.
Johnson’s Ashes series
2009 in England. (5 Tests, 20 wickets at 32.55)
2010/11 in Australia. (4 Tests, 15 wickets at 36.93)
2013/14 in Australia. (5 Tests, 37 wickets at 13.97)
2015 in England. (5 Tests, 15 wickets at 34.93)
With Johnson, nostalgia will always harp back to the 5-0 whitewash series of 2013/14. The fear inside the eyes of the English can still clearly be pictured to this day. The left-armer simply couldn’t put a foot wrong. Bone-shattering accuracy was mixed with a fierce determination to right previous Ashes wrongs and of course pace, serious pace.
With a throwback-handlebar-moustache – drawing back to the good old days of Lillee and Merv Hughes, Johnson terrorised the England batsmen – neither top order nor tailender were spared his jaw dropping velocity.
Johnson, with some help from Brad Haddin along the way, fired Australia to their second Ashes whitewash in three home campaigns. He would later be awarded both the Allan Border Medal and the ICC International player of the year accolades for his achievements.
Showing this new found confidence was no fluke, he destroyed the South Africans in their own backyard just months later. Spread across the aforementioned eight Tests, he had hustled 59 wickets at an average of just 15.23 including five 5-wicket hauls.
This sudden resurgence was all the more remarkable given that he faced five months out enduring a lengthy rehabilitation following toe surgery in 2011. During which at times he even questioned whether he had the ability or desire to return to international cricket.
While he would never again scale such heights as he did in those few months against England and South Africa, Johnson had done enough to ensure he would go down in Australian fast-bowling folklore alongside the likes of Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
Although it’s been a tremendous journey, it certainly hasn’t been an easy one. His perseverance shown during the times of adversity should serve as inspiration to any young fast bowler out there.
Growing up in the northeast Queensland coastal town of Townsville, for a while as a teenager, he had aspirations of becoming a professional tennis player. Bourne out of his admiration for American Pete Sampras, he would regularly put tennis ahead of cricket in the sporting ranks. Aged 14 he was offered a tennis scholarship in Brisbane, eventually turning it down to concentrate on becoming a scary fast bowler – Oh how many batsmen, the world over, would have wished he’d chosen the racket avenue?
At 17, he was spotted by Lillee at a fast bowling camp in Brisbane. The former Australian quick was so impressed that he immediately arranged for Johnson to spend time with Rod Marsh at the Australian cricket academy in Adelaide, from there he progressed to the U19’s before injury struck.
He went on to suffer four separate back stress fractures – symptomatic with fast bowlers in the modern era – either side of making his first-class debut for Queensland during the 2001/02 summer. Although Queensland knew they had a talent on their hands, he was still raw and very much injury plagued so it was no real surprise when he was released from his playing contract in 2004.
Never one to quit, Johnson persevered; driving a plumbing van whilst often playing as a specialist batsman in the Brisbane Grade scenes, all the while getting himself fit and firing before re-entering state cricket with Queensland.
The hard yakka and resilience paid off in late 2005 when he made his ODI debut against New Zealand at Christchurch. His first introduction to Test cricket was during the 5-0 Whitewash Ashes campaign of 2006/07. Although, intitally, he couldn’t force his way into the side ahead alumni’s such as Glenn McGrath, Stuart Clark and Lee, he did eventually made his debut against Sri Lanka at the Gabba in November 2007.
Aside from the devastating spells produced in 2013/14, he will also look back with fondness at other memorable bowling displays such as the 11-159 against South Africa at Perth in 2008 and the 8-137 against the same opponents in Johannesburg, just months later.
Johnson can certainly sit down with wife Jessica and daughter Rubika and be proud of his career. He’s been a mercurial force, an enigma, a thoroughbred, a champion, at times a lost soul, at others a throwback moustache-wielding destroyer.
And he leaves the game trailing only Shane Warne (708), McGrath (563) and Lillee (355) as the most prolific Test wicket-taker in the history of Australian cricket.
In what was being heralded as a new beginning for Australian cricket, the home side portrayed similar qualities of old to dominate the visiting New Zealanders during a 208-run victory at the Gabba.
What was all the fuss about Eh?
This was supposed to be a new summer, a new beginning, and a new era in Australian cricket. The five post-Ashes retirements wouldn’t be easily replaced overnight and the Blackcaps genuinely had their best chance to end a 30-year wait without a series win over their Tasman rivals. But in the end it was the “same old” for Australia as they clinically demoralised yet another visitor at the “Gabbatoir”.
Their record at the Gabba is unrivalled by any nation, at any venue. Not since the great West Indies side triumphed there by nine-wickets in 1988, have the home side been defeated in Brisbane. That was 27 years ago. The stats make for profound reading: 27 matches, 20 wins, seven draws and zero defeats.
This was a textbook Gabba performance from the Australians too – the batting in particular. Win the toss – check. Bat first – check. Solid opening foundation – check. Accelerate – check. Grind the opposition into the dirt – check. And then declare 550-600 runs to the good – check.
The bowling held up well too. If it weren’t for the exceptional Kane Williamson (140 & 59) then it could well have been far worse for the visitors. Especially in the first innings where he looked to be playing on a different wicket to his compatriots, regularly repelling the Australian quicks as often as the wickets tumbled around him.
So far ahead was Australia after three days that even the inclement Brisbane weather – which wiped out big chunks of the fourth day – couldn’t hold them back. In the end a 208-run victory, achieved around lunchtime on the fifth day, was a fair reflection of the gulf between the two sides in this Test match.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum will rue the failure to make inroads with the new ball on the opening morning as paramount to his side’s failings in the match. He certainly wasn’t helped with injuries to both spearhead Tim Southee and allrounder James Neesham along the way, while not many would have forecasted such inept bowling displays from both Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell.
But a large portion of credit must go to Joe Burns, David Warner and Usman Khawaja at the top of the Australian order. The first day’s play really set the tone for further dominance across the course of the remaining four. Never has Australia had a better first day’s batting at the Gabba than the 2-389 they racked up here.
Khawaja was without doubt the biggest positive to emerge from the Gabba success. The 28-year-old, beginning his third stint in the side after failed launches in both 2011 and 2013, began this summer very much at the crossroads of a career that has regularly promised much but seldom produced enough.
It’s a well known fact that Australia has gone almost five years without an established number three. Since Khawaja debuted in January 2011, thirteen players (excluding nightwatchman) have tried and subsequently failed to hold down the position. But while Steven Smith could have carried on in the role after batting there with reasonable success during the winter tours of the West Indies and England, promoting Khawaja, instead, was justified with verve against the Kiwi’s. The languid left-hander’s style and class made him perfectly suited to the number three berth; although his real test will come when he has to walk out at 1-0 and not the untroubled 1-161 and 1-237 he was duly provided with here.
The victory, in its entirety, has acted as a huge fillip for Rod Marsh and his selection panel. Marginal calls were made to bolt for Burns and Khawaja, as opener and number three, ahead of Western Australian pair Cameron Bancroft and Shaun Marsh. Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing, but these judgements are now looking particularly vindicated, as is the call to keep faith with Adam Voges at number five after much clamour was made to jettison him in favour of fellow veteran Michael Klinger.
As the aforementioned trio were “getting their feet under the Test cricket table,” over in Adelaide, Bancroft (111) and Marsh (92) were putting on 172 for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield. South Australian captain Travis Head, profoundly built up by both Darren Lehmann and Ricky Ponting prior to the summer, won that match with his maiden first-class hundred and he too remains firmly on the periphery of national honours. Maybe there is more batting depth than many of us had originally considered.
The bowling too reaffirmed the Australian swagger of old. A key quandary going into the first Test of the summer was the debate over whether both Mitchell’s could line up in the same bowling attack. While both Johnson and Starc possessed moments of brilliance during the Ashes, they at times, also leaked runs at an alarming rate. Even though Johnson went at over five-runs-an-over in the first innings here, he did snare the vital wickets of McCullum, Ross Taylor and BJ Watling with his usual emblematic aggression.
Quite how long Johnson, 34, continues in the Test side is a question for another day. With inconsistency still often following Starc and Josh Hazelwood and injuries still blighting the young careers of James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, Australia and Smith very much need their spearhead to continue a little longer yet.
Starc’s six wickets were a match high and moreover his economy rate of 3.32 was an improvement on the 3.85 he averaged across five Ashes Tests earlier in the year. As mentioned on these pages before, this could very much be a breakout summer in Test cricket for the quick.
Often an afterthought in the Australian side, Nathan Lyon continued to quietly do his thing in Brisbane. He’s come a long way since bowling his country to success against India in Adelaide last summer. His new found fourth-innings confidence was there for all to see as he removed the obdurate Martin Guptill, the enterprising Williamson and the regularly dependable Watling. Outside of perhaps Ravichandran Ashwin, it’s difficult to reason of a finer current offspinner in the world game.
Lyon is becoming a reliable and instrumental figure in this new Australia set up. He’s now not just a senior in the side, only Johnson (72) and Peter Siddle (57) among the current setup have more Test caps than his 47, but also a senior member of the leadership group governed by Smith and Warner.
While this Australian side is by no means the finished article, they have made significant strides over the first Test of the summer to suggest that the old swagger isn’t far away, on their own turf anyhow.
Ridiculed by many, the Australian selectors find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place as they try to find the right balance in their batting lineup.
At a time when Michael Cheika and the Wallabies’ coaching staff face potential life changing selection dramas ahead of their World Cup final showdown with the All Blacks, back home their compatriots of the cricketing kind are faced with their own selection issues as they try to regenerate a team with the present and future in mind.
Chairman of selectors Rod Marsh and his four-man committee comprising of himself, Mark Waugh, Trevor Hohns and coach Darren Lehmann were faced with difficult selection decisions to make ahead of their three-match Test series with Tasman rivals New Zealand.
While they were never likely to please everybody with their 12-man squad for the first two Tests of the series, one has to symphonize with the panel after they came in for criticism over their decisions to omit Western Australian duo Cameron Bancroft and Michael Klinger in favour of Queenslanders Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja.
It’s been a tough year for Marsh and his panel. The former Test wicketkeeper admitted to making some fundamental selection blunders during the catastrophic Ashes campaign earlier this year. Now he and his fellow selectors must make sure they make the correct calls during a vital period for Test cricket in the country.
But while Marsh must now “live and die” by his selection decisions made in the wake of a huge transitional period in Australian cricket, you can’t help but have some symphony towards him and his fellow selectors. Especially at a time when all and sundry have had their say on who should replace the five retiring mainstays of Australia’s recent past.
While the four quicks somewhat pick themselves for the first two Tests after solid recent domestic form. Getting just three from the four of Siddle, Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, won’t be such a no brainer.
This decision was of course made easier due to injuries sustained to Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile, as well as the continuous workload concerns surrounding James Pattinson. Although where Andrew Fekete now stands in the pecking order, is anybody’s guess.
On the other hand, selecting the batting order is, and has been of much greater concern in recent years.
The batting has for long been a contentious source for debate ever since Chris Rogers, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin decided to call it a day at the conclusion of the recent Ashes disappointment.
In fact, it most probably goes back much further to a time when Australia could call upon many batsmen regularly churning out 1,000 run Sheffield Shield seasons. Men like Stuart Law, Jamie Siddons and Brad Hodge would undoubtedly all have been mainstays of this current Australian batting outfit.
Sadly for Marsh and co the current domestic system is not in such rude heath. The selectors have in recent times found themselves stuck between and a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, they wish to have an eye to the future. On the other, they need in-form batsmen who can perform in the present. Bancroft and Klinger are two batsmen at different ends of this spectrum.
On the third hand, there is Burns and Khawaja. Where Shaun Marsh now fits into this way of thinking is perhaps still unclear. I’d have a guess at somewhere between the veteran’s Klinger and Adam Voges and the mid-twenty something’s Burns and Khawaja.
There is almost a good argument for each category of batsmen.
Bancroft is a solid opener in the mould of his mentor Justin Langer. At just 22-years-of-age, he has the potential to open the batting for Australia for over a decade – What’s not to like about that? On the flipside, has he done enough to warrant instant selection? (An average of just 36.25 across 25 first-class matches, suggests perhaps not).
There is definitely evidence of something promising there though. You don’t score a first-class double hundred against New South Wales or a 150 in India, without having something about you as a batsman.
Bancroft’s time will come. It would have come earlier than expected had the Test tour of Bangladesh not been postponed, but with David Warner now fully recovered from a thumb injury and Burns getting the nod to be his opening partner; instead Bancroft will have to head back to Shield cricket to improve on his game. Perhaps it’s not such a bad move.
Klinger’s case is an interesting one. If selection was based purely on runs and hundreds scored across the past year, then he would be a shoo-in. But there’s the age factor to take into account.
He was clearly in the discussion – Rod Marsh said as much. His sheer volume of recent runs across all formats demanded it would be impossible not to discuss him. Only Steven Smith and Kumar Sangakkara have scored more runs in the past twelve months.
Despite these highly impressive feats, you can understand why the selectors would be weary of picking another veteran in the top five.
With Voges, 36, already cemented in at five for the time being at least, justifying a place for Klinger in the top order would have been problematic for the selectors. If both men were to be selected and then fail, it would place the selectors in a difficult position. After all, when in bad form, older players are spared much less leeway.
Picking older players has worked for Australia in the recent past, most noticeably with Rogers and to an extent Voges, but now is the perfect opportunity to introduce the mid-twenty something’s – otherwise Australia will constantly find themselves in a phase of transition.
And Marsh was adamant he and his selection committee had chosen the right options in selecting Burns and Khawaja, whilst looking beyond Klinger:
“Of course we’ve looked at Michael Klinger,” Marsh said. “He’s got to keep making runs.
“Have you looked at Michael Klinger’s batting average in first-class cricket? It’s not as good as the other boys.
“Part of our selection policy is if you’ve got two blokes that are absolutely equal, you go for the younger bloke and I think that’s very fair.
“If one bloke is noticeably better and is more likely to influence the outcome of a game, then you pick the old bloke.
“But if they’re not noticeably better and they’re not likely to influence the outcome of a game, then you must always go with your youth.
“That’s our policy and whether you agree with it or not, it’s irrelevant.”
In many ways, it’s certainly hard to argue against such a policy. But what now for Burns and Khawaja?
Both are solid and relatively unsurprising selections. Burns was unfortunate to be overlooked (in favour of Voges) for the winter touring parties to the West Indies and England after scoring back-to-back fifties in his second Test against India last summer.
After starting out as a middle-order batsman for Queensland, it’s at the top of the order in which Burns has impressed in recent times. Opening for the Bulls he averages 46.58 compared to his overall first-class average of 40.40.
Furthermore the 26-year-old has already gained two-years of experience in English conditions after county stints with Leicestershire and Middlesex – A deed that won’t have been overlooked by the selectors.
Khawaja, 28, on the other hand is a relative veteran of Test cricket. Having debuted against England almost five years ago, the classy left-hander has long been earmarked as a potential star, but he never quite being able to reach the heights many have expected of him, playing his last Test during the 2013 Ashes campaign in England.
After fighting his way back from a serious knee injury, sustained last summer, Khawaja has impressed the selectors with his run scoring and leadership qualities and will now primed to add to his nine Tests – with the potential to finally make the number three position his own this summer.
While there will still be those who criticise the selectors for their decisions to look beyond Klinger, arguably the country’s most in-form batsman after Smith, and the younger and rawer Bancroft – the expectations have to be realistic. Young batsmen are no longer growing on the Sheffield Shield trees they once were 15 years ago.
Since Rogers played his first Test in early 2008 – then as a 30-year-old, a total of 13 specialist batsmen have debuted for Australia with an average age of over 27.
Between them Burns and Khawaja have an average age of 27. While in an ideal world the selectors would love to pick batsmen in their early twenties, circumstances deem they can’t.
Marsh and his men seem damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
In theory the idea to include a Cricket Australia XI for the ongoing Matador Cup was a great concept, but in hindsight the blueprint was all wrong.
Yes, justifiably, we’re only two matches into the existence of the new CA XI – a two-year trial project side – but still, it’s already difficult to vindicate what good can to be gained from record thrashings at the hands of international-laden New South Wales and Victorian sides.
Sure, exposure to international-quality opposition isn’t a bad thing for this group of youngsters, but will they really benefit from being overwhelmed by the superior qualities of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson on a regular basis?
While no one was expecting the CA XI to pull up any trees in their first couple of outings, to be bowled out for just 59 and 79 in their two innings just goes to show the vast bridge in quality and more importantly experience between themselves and the rest of the field.
The team that took to the paddock for Monday’s fixture with New South Wales consisted of an average age of just 21. Five of those men were making their List-A debuts with Ryan Lees also debuting against Victoria in the second fixture. While the CA XI boasted just 67 List-A appearances between them, the Victorian’s collective count was 884, in fact six members of their side had individually played more matches than the entire CA XI playing eleven.
Furthermore, Victoria included ten players with international experience with a further two in Peter Siddle and Clint McKay who couldn’t make the side. Fawad Ahmed, an Ashes tourist just two months ago, wasn’t even included in the squad.
Although the postponement of Australia’s Test tour to Bangladesh has strengthened the overall standard of the Matador Cup, it has also heavily disrupted the preparations of the teams with players selected for that tour. This left many players unsure of whom they were going to represent up until a few days before the competition began on Monday.
For the CA XI squad; Will Bosisto, Marcus Harris and Lees were not part of the original squad, while Jimmy Peirson was sent back to Queensland for injury cover before returning when Joe Burns was declared available.
One also wonders if the squad selected was anything near as strong as what Cricket Australia National Talent Manager Greg Chappell had envisaged before its original make up. He practically said as much upon the squad’s announcement last month:
“There are probably three or four players that we thought we might have in the CA XI side who have gone on and been selected by their states and would expect to play prominent roles in their state squad.
“So maybe we have frightened some of the states into thinking they needed to pick some of their young players and, if that’s the case, that’s terrific.”
But while captain Bosisto was adamant that his side would improve in their final four fixtures, it’s hard not to foresee further mismatches if the squad remains the same.
“We’ve got the talent, we just haven’t performed to the best of our ability,” said Bosisto after top-scoring with 21 against Victoria.
“I’ve heard people say ‘do you need an experienced player in your line-up?’ and I guess that would be one approach.
“But I think the whole idea of having a Cricket Australia XI in the tournament is to give 11 young guys exposure and the opportunity to see what it’s like at the next level and what we need to do to be able to perform at this level.”
It’s abundantly clear the CA XI could benefit from further guidance in their side – starting with the inclusion of a few more experienced faces along the way – something in which Cricket Australia will inevitably look into at the conclusion of this year’s tournament.
Surely more could have been done to include the likes of veteran legspinner Fawad Ahmed and batsman Mark Cosgrove who were both omitted from their respective State squads.
Cosgrove, who has just returned from the UK after captaining Leicestershire in the County Championship, could certainly have offered plenty of support and guidance to the young CA XI squad. Likewise, could names such as David Hussey or Chris Rogers – still active players – have been sort out by Cricket Australia to play a role in the development of a youthful and inexperienced CA XI outfit?
Another route Cricket Australia could go down is to follow a concept derived by the ECB. The model was based under the name ‘Unicorns,’ and was a team made up of the best Minor Counties players along with promising youngsters and un-contracted County pros. By including Minor Counties players, the most of whom have at some point played County cricket, the team at least had some experience and knowhow to guide them through the difficult times that often occur against stronger opposition.
While the Unicorns no longer participate in the English one-day cup tournament – they instead exist in the County second XI competition – they are a model in which Cricket Australia could at the very least acknowledge going forward.
In the meanwhile it is hoped that the current CA XI will start to show greater signs of improvement as the tournament progresses into its second week – although it won’t get any easier as they face a Tasmanian side, containing three World Cup winners in their ranks, next.
Improvement is needed, if only just for the creditability of the tournament or else the CA XI’s name could one day become a trivia question like that of the Canberra Comets.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Both Warner and his country will feel Rogers’ retirement.
As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, for Australia and David Warner, the same could be said of the brief, but successful Test career of Christopher John Llewellyn Rogers.
On the first day at The Oval, a day when Test cricket returned to its former self, wickets were earned and the run rate hovered at under four-an-over again, Australia were reminded what they will miss when opener Rogers calls it a day upon the conclusion of this match.
The 37-year-old only made 43, just one run higher than his Test average, but it was a typical Rogers innings, made alongside his opening partner of two years Warner, that laid the bedrock of the Australian batting effort after two first innings capitulations at both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.
While much has been made of Captain Michael Clarke’s decision to retire at the end of this match, Rogers’ own retirement has gone somewhat under the radar – much like his career as a whole, but one man who will surely miss “Bucky” when he is retired is Warner.
The hole left by the veteran left-hander will be a significant one for Warner. Alongside Rogers, he has enjoyed the most prolific batting form of his career. His career was beginning to spiral out of control after he was suspended for an altercation with Joe Root in a Birmingham bar before the adjacent Ashes tour two years ago before he found a perfect ally at the top of the order. His first association with Rogers started later on that same tour as the pair recorded their first hundred stand together in a narrow defeat at Chester-le-Street.
The impact that Rogers has had on his younger partner’s game has been substantial. Since opening alongside Rogers, Warner’s batting average has increased from 38 to the 46 it is currently. But it’s not just the numbers that mean everything in this alliance. Warner’s stint alongside Rogers has coincided with a greater maturity in not just his game but also in his general life.
Warner was named as Steve Smith’s new Test deputy this week as a sign of his greater maturity and understanding of the game in the past year. While much of that greater maturity and responsibility in his game has stemmed from his new calmer lifestyle – coinciding with his marriage and the birth of his first child, some credit must also go to Rogers, who has been a calming influence from 22-yards for the past two years.
In a fairly brief but plentiful affair, the pair has added 2053 runs together in 41 innings, spanning across Africa, Asia, Australia and the United Kingdom, all at an average partnership of 51.32. Sitting alongside Bill Lawry/Bob Simpson, only Matthew Hayden/Justin Langer (14) and Michael Slater/Mark Taylor (10) have tallied more than their nine century opening partnerships for Australia.
Since they came together, their 2053 runs in unison for the opening partnership is miles ahead of the next best pair among their contemporises with Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva second best, having combined for 944 runs with just two hundred stands.
While Australia’s batting has on average been hugely disappointing this series, effectively losing them the third and fourth Tests, if it not for the Rogers/Warner association at the top of the order then it could have been even worse. The pair has contributed 514 runs together at an average of 62.77 – This stacks up favourably against England’s problems at the top of the order, where Alastair Cook and Adam Lyth’s opening partnership has added just 128 runs at 16.
Although they are diverse figures, with personalities that could not be much different – Rogers enjoys crosswords and Warner more confrontation – their contrasting batting styles have been married successfully. Rogers is a blocker, who in general likes to nudge and nurdle the ball around for ones and twos, while occasionally branching out with boundaries through the off side when set. His fellow comrade Warner is a man brought up through the T20 era of heavy bats and big muscles – a “see-ball-hit-ball” opener in the mould of Virender Sehwag.
The fascinating part of their relationship though is their different personalities. Never huge ones to socialise much away from the field as Hayden and Langer famously did on many occasions, there has been wide of the mark media talk during this series that the pair don’t particularly get along away from the middle. Such talk was soon shot down by Warner as he posted a picture of the two together on his Instagram account.
Nevertheless, Rogers has stuck to his guns by announcing his widely expected retirement at the conclusion of this series, which leaves the Australian selectors with an opening post to fill before their series with Bangladesh in October. Suggestions are that Joe Burns will be given the first opportunity to stake claim to the opening spot vacated by Rogers.
The 25-year-old, from Queensland, has been given the nod, ahead of Usman Khawaja, to open alongside Warner in the ODI series that follows the Ashes and will see the opportunity as a opening to secure his place in the Test side. Another candidate is Western Australia’s Cameron Bancroft. A young opener in the Langer and Rogers mould, Bancroft has had success on the recent A tour of India and could be given a run in the side as Australia’s batting overhaul is set to continue.
But before all that can begin, Australia will look to cherish the careers of both Clarke and Rogers with a victory at The Oval as they look to finish a series of farewells on a positive note.
For Rogers, originally brought into the side as a short term stop gap with experience in English conditions, he can be quietly satisfied with his two-year 25 Test career, in which he has amassed 2006 runs at an average of 42.87 – Australia and Warner will be sad to see him go.