Do Collingwood and Trescothick represent the last of the true county pros?

Veteran batsmen are among a dying breed of experienced ex-international leaders on the county circuit; but can Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott follow suit?

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Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick share a moment together earlier this summer. (Photo Credit: Getty Images.)

To witness Somerset’s Marcus Trescothick pull apart a Test-quality Pakistani attack on the way to his 61st first-class hundred this week brought a certain warmth to the heart.

For men like Trescothick, who will turn 41 years old this Christmas, don’t litter the outfields of county cricket like they once did. In fact for sheer age, longevity and leadership qualities perhaps only Durham’s own elder statesman Paul Collingwood, five months Trescothick’s junior, can rival the inspiration offered by the man known as Tresco.

There’s something much underappreciated about the old county pro. If English cricket is to continue its upward curve on the international scene then the influence of such men must not be simply brushed aside. Without their vacuum of knowledge the county game could suffer immeasurably.

With restrictions on the number of Kolpak players allowed and tidy financial incentives being offered to Counties who blood English-qualified youngsters into their systems, the number of former international stalwarts in county cricket is slowly dwindling.

In decades gone by many former England cricketers would have jumped at the chance to finish their careers with their respective home counties, but the landscape is vastly changing. The cricket world is now filled with endless T20 league opportunities, well-paid media openings and attractive coaching roles that tussle for both time and attraction.

Indeed, England’s three previous Test captains Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss each showed little-to-no interest in carrying on their county careers once the international limelight had fizzled away.

There are exceptions of course. Mark Butcher played on for Surrey five years after his international career had ground to a halt in 2004 and Mark Ramprakash continued to dominate the county scene for a decade after his England days were numbered in 2002.

While injuries have prevented the likes of Graeme Swann and Matt Prior from continuing in the county game, the blow seems to have been somewhat softened by Swann’s media work with TMS and Prior’s indulge into the world of cycling. Kevin Pietersen, despite a brief return to county cricket with Surrey last summer, was never likely to spend his final playing days out in the pastures of Arundel Castle or Scarborough.

Of course different players are motivated by different things. Be it the monetary aspects, lifestyle choices or simply the need to give something back to the game that has given them so much. Each player has his own reasons for playing on or taking an early retirement.

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Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell both have the desire and experience to become sucessful county pro’s at Warwickshire. (Photo Credit: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

With 170 Test caps between them Warwickshire’s Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott represent a new generation of county statesmen. With other batsmen now seemingly ahead of him, Bell’s chances of an England recall appear to be evaporating with each squad announcement. But with the Bears captaincy now in tow and a demanding respect in the county game, Bell could well prolong his career for a good few years yet. On the other hand Trott, much like Trescothick, is just happy to be playing the game he loves away from the international spotlight.

Recently axed by England, Middlesex’s Nick Compton is currently taking time away from the game to reassess his career ambitions. Given that his international career seems to have ended after its second reincarnation, Compton must now decide if he’s keen on the life of a county pro or if opportunities elsewhere jump out as more appealing.

Another man recently faced with the similar decision was Michael Carberry. Jettisoned from the England Test side after the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14, Carberry has since gone on reinvent himself as a number four with Hampshire, having predominantly opened the batting throughout his career.

It can’t be underestimated the fine work both Trescothick and Collingwood have done in recent years. With the bat both men can still provide measurable contributions. Prior to recently breaking his thumb against Yorkshire, Collingwood has added 402 County Championship runs at 57.42. Trescothick has also continued to roll back the years in the West Country with 557 runs at 42.80.

While their inputs with the bat allow for them to continue playing at county level, it’s their abilities to transfer knowledge that continues to be most invaluable asset.

Trescothick, captain of the Somerset first-class side until this summer, has overseen the recent development of the likes of Jos Buttler, Tom Abell and the Overton twins Craig and Jamie.

Since taking over as captain four years ago, Collingwood has performed miracles in the North East. Durham, a county beset by financial cripple in recent times, are now down to the bare bones of a playing squad that keeps punching above its weight when logic predicts otherwise.

The tenure of Colly has instead coincided with the emergence of recent England players Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood. While promising England U19 batsman Jack Burnham could hardly ask for a better mentor than Collingwood.

Others warrant a mention too. Nottinghamshire’s Chris Read and Gareth Batty of Surrey deserve huge credit for giving back to the county game. Read, even at 37, remains one of the country’s outstanding glovesmen, while Batty’s leadership of the dressing room after the death of Tom Maynard has been second to none. The 38-year-old now combines his time captaining Surrey with the mentorship of potential England Test player Zafar Ansari.

When players such as Collingwood and Trescothick eventually decide to call it a day, how easily will they be replaced?

That’s a question for later. For now we must sit back and appreciate the county pros of today before they are gone.

 

Ten under twenty 2016

With 2015 champions Yorkshire kick-starting another summer of County Cricket with defeat against the MCC in the annual curtain-raiser fixture in Abu Dhabi this week, I take a look to the future with ten young names under-20 to watch out for in 2016.

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At just 18, Yorkshire’s Matthew Fisher looks set to have a long international future in front of him. (Photo Credit: Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Saif Zaib (Age 17) – Northamptonshire

A stylish left-handed batsman who also bowls left-arm spin, Zaib is highly regarded by many at Wantage Road. In July 2014 – just months after becoming the youngest man ever to represent Northants in an unofficial match against Durham UCCE – he made his much anticipated senior limited overs debut against a touring New Zealand A side aged just 16 and 70 days old.

While he saw his opportunities diminish somewhat thereafter, an impressive string of second XI knocks during the middle of last summer saw him break into the first XI – making both his Royal London Cup and County Championship bows in the process. Despite registering a 12-ball duck on first-class debut, he impressed not long after with an assured 21 off 26 deliveries against a strong touring Australian attack.

What 2016 holds in store?

After signing a new three-year contract prior to last summer, the future looks bright for Zaib. With the departures of club stalwarts Stephen Peters (retired) and Kyle Coetzer (released), there should be more opportunities for him to earn a regular berth in the middle order and follow the likes of Ben Duckett and Olly Stone in graduating through the system in recent years.

With former England spinner Monty Panesar also training with the club during pre-season, expect some of his wisdom and experience to rub off on Zaib’s own left-arm tweakers.

Matthew Fisher (18) – Yorkshire

Still only just 18 years old, It’s hard to believe that almost three years have passed since this strapping fast bowler made his first team debut for the White Rose. Then just 15 years and 212 days old, he became the youngest post-war County cricketer when representing Yorkshire in a Yorkshire Bank 40 fixture against Leicestershire in June 2013. Whilst he scored just ten and returned figures of 1-40 from seven overs, it was clear for all to see – this was a special cricketer in the making.

With a fast bowling battery that’s unrivalled across the country for its sheer depth and variety, its understandable that regular opportunities haven’t been so easy to grasp for Fisher. That said, 2015 did represent a breakout season for the right-arm quick as he made both his first-class and T20 debuts for the county.

After a spate of early season injuries and England call-ups decimated the Yorkshire attack, Fisher was called upon to make his County Championship bow against Nottinghamshire in April – earning high plaudits in the process as he claimed former Zimbabwe batsman Brendan Taylor as his maiden victim in first-class cricket.

Further opportunities arrived in the form of the limited overs competitions too – where he became a regular across the summer after taking a dreamy 5-22 against Derbyshire on T20 debut. He would go on to claim 16 wickets in 13 T20 matches and eight wickets in as many matches in the one-day format.

What 2016 holds in store?

With David Willey arriving from Northamptonshire during the winter, and sighting a burning desire to fight his way into the England Test setup as a key factor, Fisher’s first-class exposure may have to put on hold for a little longer as Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan and Steven Pattinson also still stand above him on the depth chart.

Limited overs cricket remains a different prospect though. Yorkshire’s recent philosophy of blooding youngsters in the T20 Blast and Royal London one-day competitions will surely see Fisher earn more opportunities to further enhance his rapidly developing reputation.

Daniel Lawrence (18) – Essex

Right-handed batsman Lawrence burst onto the scene with a chanceless 161 against Surrey last April, in doing so he became the third youngest batsman to register a Championship hundred at just 17 years and 290 days old.

His 2015 Championship fast-tracking was based on a strong winter campaign down under with Geelong side Newton and Chilwell and backed up with a string of impressive pre-season performances for Essex.

While his County form tapered off as the summer wore on, he reinstated his rich promise with two hundreds in three innings for the England U19’s against their Australian counterparts in August and continued to dominate during the winter with further impressive campaigns both in Sri Lanka and during the U19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

What 2016 holds in store?

The tides are turning in Chelmsford. After years of underachievement finally caught up with head coach Paul Grayson he left the club by mutual consent late last summer and has since been replaced by former England bowler Chris Silverwood.

Following Grayson out of the door over the winter were batsman Mark Pettini and Greg Smith, which is sure to spell more opportunities for Lawrence. While Alastair Cook will open the batting for Essex before England duties arrive in May, Lawrence is thereafter likely to slot in alongside Nick Browne at the top of the order with Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Jaik Mickleburgh and Jesse Ryder rounding out the top six.

Aneurin Donald (19) – Glamorgan

Not since Simon Jones arrived onto the scene in the late nineties has there been as much fanfare over a cricketer heralding from the land of the red dragon.

Like Jones, former England U19 captain Donald hails from the Welsh city of Swansea and like Jones, and Robert Croft before him, there is hope that he can one day represent the senior England side.

A middle-order batsman of huge potential, Donald made his Glamorgan debut in a first-class match at the backend of the 2014 summer and progressed further last year with five more Championship appearances including a career-best score of 98 to conclude the season in fine style against Gloucestershire.

Despite having played five limited over fixtures for Glamorgan last summer and being a former captain of the side he was initially left out of the England U19 setup throughout the winter before returning to play two unsuccessful matches during the disappointing World Cup campaign in February.

Prior to the tournament Donald spent time honing his batting at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide, where he also played grade cricket with mixed success.

What 2016 holds in store?

After finished the 2015 summer as the incumbent number four in the Glamorgan side, Donald will be hoping he retains his place for the beginning of the 2016 season.

Without the added pressures of academic work to concentrate on during the 2016 campaign, the whole of Wales will be hoping Donald can graduate into a regular contributor in the middle order, scoring his maiden first-class hundred in the process would also be a major goal.

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Durham’s Jack Burnham topped the run-scoring charts at the recent U19 World Cup with 420 runs at 84. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Jack Burnham (19) – Durham

Unlike Donald, Durham’s Burnham had a excellent World Cup. His three hundreds in just six innings were enough to see him top the batting charts with 420 runs at 84.

In recent times the Championship’s most northerly county appear to be the gift that keeps on giving. Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have all progressed through the Durham ranks into the England side recently and Burnham could become next off the conveyer belt.

After batting at number six and making 0 and 50 against Yorkshire at Scarborough on his first-class debut in August, Burnham struggled thereafter after being asked to open alongside Mark Stoneman in his remaining three matches.

Despite having success opening for Northumberland in Minor Counties cricket, Chester-le-Street -with its green wickets and overcast skies – is at times an unforgiving task, especially for an inexperienced rookie.

What 2016 holds in store?

With finances still tight in the North East, substantial player recruitment has been consigned to the back burner in recent times – leading to a major need for developing talent from within. This will again mean more opportunities in 2016 for Burnham and other young batsman such as Ryan Pringle, Graham Clark and Keaton Jennings.

Despite opening last summer and batting at number three in the U19’s World Cup, skipper Paul Collingwood would do much worse than letting Burnham develop his game further down the order.

Haseeb Hameed (19) – Lancashire 

Bolton-born Hameed made huge strides in 2015. After making his first-class debut for the Red Rose in August he went onto establish himself at the top of the order as Lancashire earned immediate promotion back to the top flight.

Those inside Old Trafford were not entirely surprised by the way Hameed took to Championship cricket with relative comfort. After all he had been earmarked as a player of special talent for quite some time.

A right-handed batsman with an excellent defensive technique and sound temperament, Hameed -who has represented the County since he was nine – was recently awarded with a new four-year contract for his progress in 2015, which included a career-best 91 against Surrey in September.

What 2016 holds in store?

After the disappointment of missing out on a place in the England U19 World Cup squad, Hameed will make the step up to Division One cricket with an extra motivation to prove a few people wrong.

He will make the step up seemingly in pole position to partner Karl Brown at the top of the Lancashire order after club stalwart Paul Horton was released during the fall.

As fellow young teammate Luis Reece will testify though, opening against Division One bowling attacks is a totally different proposition to that encountered in the Second Division. Facing international-quality attacks in early season conditions will test Hameed’s technique and temperament more than ever before – but many say he’s got the game to prosper in such circumstances.

Saqib Mahmood (19) – Lancashire

Much like Hameed, Lancashire also have high hopes for right-arm quick Mahmood. Born in Birmingham but raised in the Lancs’ town of Rochdale, he’s progressed through the youth ranks at both county and international level – impressing many along the way.

A strong fast bowler who stands at 6’3, Mahmood has endured a memorable year. After signing his first professional contact with Lancashire at the beginning of last summer and winning the England Development Programme cricketer of the year award in May, he went onto play three T20 matches in June before recently excelling with the England U19 side in their World Cup campaign.

His 13 wickets at just 12.69 in that tournament were six more than any of his teammates individually managed and only bettered throughout by Fritz Coetzee of Namibia (15 wickets) and Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane (14).

What 2016 holds in store?

Like rivals Yorkshire, Lancashire aren’t short of fast bowling options. Breaking into a side that’s likely to include several options in Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, George Edwards, Kyle Jarvis, Neil Wagner and the evergreen Glen Chapple won’t be an easy task for Mahmood.

But like with any side hoping to challenge on all three fronts over the course of the summer, injuries and rotation are expected to play there part, meaning that Mahmood could once again become involved across the shorter formats.

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Could Mason Crane of Hampshire be England’s next great legspinning hope? (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Mason Crane (19) – Hampshire

Crane is a rare commodity in English cricket, a highly promising young legspinner with a well disguised googly.

Such is the current concern over English spin bowling, that when an 18-year-old Crane took ten wickets at 33 across his first three first-class matches last summer – he was being heralded as a saviour to the country’s spin crisis.

Many, including former England batman Mark Butcher, were even going as far as suggesting he should have being picked for England’s tour of the UAE in October. In retrospect, Crane must be given a longer chance to learn his craft at county level before he’s considered for the international scene.

Growing up watching Shane Warne play for Hampshire during the 2000’s, Crane has been a member of the academy since he was 14 and has developed soundly under the tutelage of Rajesh Maru and Darren Flint.

Like Mahmood, he impressed during the U19 World Cup. As well as taking seven wickets at 23, his economy rate of just 3.97 suggests he can also play a holding role with the ball.

What 2016 holds in store?

With longtime first choice spinner Danny Briggs seeking pastures new by moving east to Sussex, Crane could be given plenty of opportunities to be the number one spinner across all formats for Hampshire. That is if they decide to play the extra slow option to accompany spinning allrounder Liam Dawson.

Either way, Crane is regarded as a special talent who will definitely be given opportunities later in the summer once the pitches begin to dry out.

Matthew Carter (19) – Nottinghamshire

Much like Crane for Hampshire, offspinner Carter arrived onto the first-class scene with a bang. Making his bow at Taunton in July, he returned first innings figures of 7-56 – the best by a spin bowler on Championship debut since Leicestershire’s Jack Walsh took 7-46 against Northamptonshire in 1938.

Although he went onto turn the first innings seven-for into match figures of 10-195, he was unable to starve off defeat for Notts as Somerset squeezed home by two-wickets.

Despite his exploits at the County Ground Carter, the younger brother of former-Notts bowler Andy, wasn’t called upon again for the remainder of the summer. Instead he combined his playing time between the Notts Second XI and Minor Counties action with Lincolnshire.

A tall, but slender offspinner with a classical action he was awarded with a new two-year contract at the conclusion of he 2015 season.

What 2016 holds in store?

Whilst one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the impact of Carter’s debut performance at Taunton has led to a real long-term hope that he can one day replace Graeme Swann at Trent Bridge.

The major problem facing Carter though is that Notts play half of their matches at the seamer-friendly Trent Bridge. In recent years they have preferred to get by with four fast-men and the part time left-arm spin of Samit Patel.

His great hope for more playing could lie with the new ‘no toss ruling’ that could result in the Trent Bridge ground staff producing more even surfaces as the summer wears on.

Sam Curran (17) – Surrey

At 17, Curran is perhaps the best of the lot. A quick left-armer with the ability to swing the ball back into the right handers, his rapid rise in 2015 was nothing short of miraculous. From Wellington Collage pupil to Surrey match-winner in the blink of an eye.

Opening the bowling on debut alongside his older brother Tom, Sam Curran became the youngest player ever to take a County Championship five-wicket haul when he claimed 5-101 against Kent in July, aged just 17 and 40 days old.

After such an impressive debut, Curran went onto finish the season with 22 first-class wickets at 26 – helping Surrey win the Second Division title and finish runners up in the Royal London Cup in the progress.

Also a very capable batsman, Curran has followed in the career footsteps of his not just his brother Tom but also their late father Kevin, who was a professional cricketer for Northants, Gloucestershire and Zimbabwe. Thankfully for England both Sam and Tom have rebuffed advances to represent Zimbabwe and pledged their futures with the Three Lions.

What 2016 holds in store?

Despite the arrivals of West Indian Ravi Rampaul and Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt and the presence of Matt Dunn, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, both Curran brothers should be among the first names on the Surrey team sheet in the County Championship this summer. Making the step up from Division Two will ensure plenty challenges along the way, most notably the greater standard of batting and quality in pitches prepared.

After a stand out U19 World Cup campaign, further England opportunities such as the England Lions would represent a successful summer for this hugely exciting talent.

Also look out for…

Joe Clarke (19) – Worcestershire, Karl Carver (19) – Yorkshire, Matt Critchley (19) – Derbyshire, Brad Taylor (19) – Hampshire.

Can Mitchell Marsh emulate the successes of Ben Stokes?

While both hard-hitting allrounders are of a similar age – Stokes’ international career has taken off spectacularly in recent times. Marsh meanwhile remains, for now, a project player.

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Mitchell Marsh celebrates his maiden international hundred against India last month.

Mitchell Marsh will struggle to remember a better day than Saturday 6th February 2016. It began with news of a gigantic cheque arriving from the IPL, involved a tidy bowling spell of 2-30, and concluded with an unbeaten series-levelling knock of 69.

Whilst Marsh watched on at the non-strikers end as big John Hastings hit the winning runs in Wellington, I instead found myself 5,258 kms away observing another game of cricket. A far simpler encounter between two WACA: 1st Grade sides at the picturesque Stevens Reserve ground in South Fremantle, Western Australia.

The first day skirmish between Fremantle District CC and Perth CC, played under the unrelenting WA sun, seemed a world away from the Chappell-Hadlee duel at the ‘Cake Tin’, even if it did include a pair of highly impressive youngsters in Tom Abell and Jhye Richardson.

So what’s the link you may ask?

Well, Fremantle is where it had all began for the Perth-born Marsh. The international recognition and IPL paycheque (Marsh was bought by new franchise Pune Rising Supergiants in Saturday’s auction IPL for INR 4 crores – around $1 million AUD) are both just rewards for an upbringing that began, like many Australian cricketers before him, in Grade cricket.

While a busy international schedule has contrived to restrict Marsh to just two Grade appearances for Freo this summer (the last of which was in early December) and accumulated in him contributing just eight runs, he remains a player still highly regarded among his contemporaries at the club.

After making his First Grade bow in 2006/07, Marsh lived up to his enormous potential two summers later when, as a 17-year-old, he made 208 from 171-deliveries when batting at number five against Gosnells. A week later he became the youngest Australian to play in the country’s domestic one-day competition, debuting for Western Australia against South Australia at Bunbury.

Such lofty heights were followed with more success in the U19’s – where he captained the side to World Cup success in New Zealand in 2010. Among his compatriots in that side were current limited-overs teammates Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa.

Whilst Marsh was ascending through the ranks in Australian cricket, at the other end of the planet Ashes rivals England were unearthing a promising allrounder of their own.

Like Marsh, Ben Stokes also played in the 2010 U19 World Cup – impressing with a century against India in the process. The similarities run much deeper than that too. Both men were initially introduced into the international game via the limited overs route, with Stokes’ ODI debut preceding that of Marsh’s by just two months in August 2011.

They also both made their Test bows in trying circumstances. Stokes in the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14 and Marsh a year later as Australia were demolished 2-0 by Pakistan in the UAE.

While they share several comparisons, what currently sets them apart is the impact that Stokes has already had in Test cricket. With 23 Tests to his name, the Englishman has contributed three centuries (including a double), Marsh, on the other hand has just one fifty across his 13 matches – an 87 in his second Test at Abu Dhabi.

Up until securing his maiden century in his 44th international appearance (an unbeaten 102 off 84 deliveries against India at the SCG), Marsh had encountered a difficult summer with the bat.

Unable to pass fifty before that joyous occasion at the SCG, he spent most of the summer in the dressing room nursing pad-rash after the top five all scored a glut of runs in series against New Zealand and the West Indies. His 88 runs across five Tests owed as much to a lack of opportunity than to any particularly poor form.

Even so he’s spent the summer keeping the wolves at bay as both the tabloids and social media alike took turns to jump on his back – something which Shane Watson had himself once become accustomed to.

So desperate to get his premier allrounder some time in the middle, captain Steve Smith contrived to promote Marsh up the order in both the rain affected new year Test in Sydney and the fourth ODI against India in Canberra.

Twice promoted to bat at number three, he endured relatively subdued knocks of 21 off 63 (against the West Indies) and a 42-ball 33 (against India), stalling the earlier progress of the openers on both occasions. Only later in the ODI series did Smith’s plan come to fruition when Marsh ended his four-year wait for an international ton.

Were it not for his bowling – once seen as his weaker suit – he could well have found himself out of the side. After initial doubts over his ability to hold up an end, his bowling has come on leaps and bounds in both control and pace. This has allowed Smith to use both Mitchell’s (Johnson and Starc), along with James Pattinson, to attack in short bursts.

With both Johnson and Starc absent for the duration of the West Indies series, Marsh eventually found himself as the side’s enforcer. Regularly clocking up speeds in excess of 140kph during the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, he finished the match with career-best figures of 4-61.

After initially taking four matches and seven innings to take his first Test wicket, Marsh’s record of 21 wickets at 31.61 are a solid return for essentially a fourth seamer. That 12 of those wickets have come in his six matches this summer shows of the hard work he’s put in with bowling coach Craig McDermott.

Marsh’s upturn in fortunes have occurred at a time when Stokes is rightfully being showered in appraisals. Coming off the back of a breakthrough series in South Africa, Stokes’ stock has never been higher. Australians across the land must be left wondering if their own 24-year-old allrounder can develop into such an attacking match winner.

The Man-of-the-series performance against the formerly number-one ranked South African’s bookended a year in which Stokes has played an enterprising part in a new beginning for English cricket.

He finished the series second to only Hashim Amla on the run scoring charts with 411 runs at 58.71 and fourth on the wickets tally with 12 victims at 29.16. His thunderous innings of 258 at Cape Town was brutality and insouciance at its very best.

Despite Stokes taking a little while to find his feet at the international level (he made three successive ducks against India in his second series in 2014) his Test performances in the past year have been highly impressive. Sitting alongside the Cape Town 258 are the 92 & 101 he made against New Zealand at Lords and the second innings 6-36 against Australia at Trent Bridge – both in the past twelve months.

On the surface combined Test batting (33.73) and bowling (38.07) averages hardly suggest a pathway to greatness for Stokes. But similar to both Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff before him, it’s his ability to stand up and be counted that marks the redhead out as a dangerous customer in all forms of the game.

His inclusion adds much needed balance to an England side, not only ensuring Alastair Cook can play five bowlers, but also allowing Moeen Ali (a man with 14 first-class hundreds to his name) to bat at number eight. Rod Marsh and his selection committee will hope Marsh can soon fulfil a similar role for Australia.

While Marsh has a poor batting average of 24.64 throughout the 21 times he’s walked to the middle in Test cricket, it must be noted that at times, he’s been asked to perform a selfless act when batting with a declaration looming.

Despite his often infuriating ability to throw his wicket away when well set, Australia must resist the urge to drop Marsh down to number seven and bat keeper Peter Nevill ahead of him. Such theories were muted at the conclusion of November’s day/night Test in Adelaide – where Nevill scored an accomplished first-innings 66 in trying conditions. Thankfully for Marsh’s development those ideas were soon quickly forgotten.

After started out as a number six, Stokes was briefly shifted down to number seven during England’s tour of the Caribbean last spring. The move, aided by a strong desire to promote Moeen up the order, only truly resulted in Stokes adopting a reckless attitude to batting.

“If you pick someone to bat in a certain place they’ll bat that way” – words of former Durham teammate Stephen Harmison on describing Stokes’ demotion in the order last year.

Fortunately for Stokes’ development as a batsman, the dismissal of coach Peter Moores – following that disastrous series in the West Indies – abetted his return up the order. The decision to reinstate him at six – made by then interim-coach Paul Farbrace – has since being vindicated with the Left-hander excelling under on the added responsibility.

For Marsh the forthcoming two-Test series in New Zealand looms as a potentially defining one. With the ball expected to swing and seam as it did in England last winter, Trent Boult and co are sure to demand a thorough test of his defensive technique. A technique previously found wanting in such conditions.

With the ball, he also has a huge role to play for skipper Smith. With Starc still out injured and doubts over the short term fitness of both Pattinson and Peter Siddle, expect Marsh to bowl his fair share of tough overs.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about both Stokes and Marsh. In an era when allrounders in Test cricket are often portrayed as something that closely resembles gold dust, having one equipped to bat in a positive manner at number six, whilst also being able to bowl 140kph-plus as a fourth-change seamer, is invaluable.

Could next year’s Ashes campaign be a battle of the allrounders?

World Cup ecstasy to Ashes agony

Australian cricket review 2015

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.

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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.

Australia 60ao getty
The Trent Bridge scoreboard says it all. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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.

Adelaide Oval day-night Test
A lit up Adelaide Oval plays host to the inaugural day/night Test match in November. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

High point: World Cup glory

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.

Low point: 60 all out at Trent Bridge.

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.

Richie Benaud getty
2015 saw Richie Benaud sign off for one last time. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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.

 

Pace, perseverance and pantomime villain: the tale of Mitchell Johnson

Steady decline and fading desire lead to 34-year-old’s retirement; he departs the game with 313 Test and 239 ODI wickets.

Mitchell Johnson retires 3

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.

Mitchell Johnson Portrait Session
Mitchell Johnson poses during a portrait session at Newlands Stadium, South Africa (Photo Credit: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

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.

Farewell Mitch.

 

Rewind – When Lara ruled the world, again

Six months after losing his world record, The Prince of Port-of-Spain was back leading redemption over England to the small tune of 400 not out.

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

When Brian Lara broke Sir Garfield Sobers 36-year-old world record Test score in 1994, he achieved something all of us could only ever dream of. When he regained his own record ten years later, he achieved greatness.

It was the Easter weekend of 2004; War-torn Iraq was implicated in more conflict as it marked the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall as president, Nepal witnessed protestors lining the streets of Kathmandu pleading against the suspension of democracy and Phil Mickelson celebrated victory in the 68th Golf Masters at Augusta.

Meanwhile over in Antigua, Brian Charles Lara, a month shy of his 35th birthday, was once again being hailed as the saviour of West Indies cricket. Maybe it was fate. How else can you explain the freaky circumstances in which he regained the world record Test score? It was ten years to the week since he first achieved the feat, at the same ground and against the same opposition.

Much had changed in West Indian cricket since Lara made 375 in 1994. They entered that series a domineering presence under the guidance of Richie Richardson, however just a year down the line they began a steady decline towards the lower reaches of the cricketing hierarchy, which was now dominated by the Australians.

Revisiting a young Lara back in 1994 and it was already abundantly clear that here was a batsman destine for great things. Already four years into his international career, he was certainly no stranger to big scores. His maiden Test hundred, in early 1993, was a monumental 277 against a strong Australian attack in Sydney and his appetite for batting long and scoring heavily was already evident among those in the game.

This was eminently underlined during his epic 538-ball knock in Antigua, an innings that was compiled against a solid English attack including; Angus Fraser, Andrew Caddick, Chris Lewis and Phil Tufnell. It shot the talented Trinidadian to instant international recognition and fame, and just two months later he followed it up with another record marathon innings.

Batting for county side Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston, he belted an unbeaten 501. Twenty years on and Lara still remains the only player to pass 500 in the history of first-class cricket. An individual innings of half a thousand runs still defies belief, even in a day and age when batting usually tips the balance of fairness in the sport.

Lara’s highest Test score record of 375 would go on to last for 3,464 days before it was eventually broken by Australian Matthew Hayden. The powerful Queenslander contrived a brutal 380 against a weak Zimbabwean attack at Perth in October 2003.

The 2004 Brian Lara vintage was a markedly different proposition to the model of 1994. The classy southpaw had endured a decade of West Indian decline that was intertwined with board interferences, heavy expectation and several difficult stints as team captain and spokesman.

In early 2004, they came up against a quickly improving English outfit. Under the relatively new stewardship of Michael Vaughan, the English were at the start of their 18-month ascendency towards the top table of Test cricket.

After three heavy defeats in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, West Indies cricket was in complete chaos. Never had the Windies been whitewashed by the mother country, however this was now a realistic proposition heading into the fourth and final Test in Antigua. Furthermore it coincided with Lara being in the midst of a rare barren patch, with his six previous innings yielding just a combined 100 runs.

Stephen Harmison had the wood over Lara and the West Indians. His 7-12 had destroyed the home side for just 47 at Kingston, and he returned to contribute heavily to English success in Port-of-Spain, this time dismissing Lara for two single figure scores. While the West Indies captain improved his form at Bridgetown, hitting a pair of gutsy 30’s, he was still looking a far cry from the fluent strokemaker we had become to expect.

But that was all to change at the Antigua Recreation Ground. Lara would be no Easter bunny for Harmison and co on this occasion. Instead he would unfurl misery on a tired English attack and send the streets of the Antiguan capital into utter jubilation. In the process he became the first man to pass 400 in 127 years of Test cricket history.

***

Good Friday April 10th 2004 – Antigua Recreation Ground, St. Johns, Antigua

Brian Lara strolls out to bat at the fall of the first wicket as opener Darren Ganga is dismissed an hour into the fourth and final Test of the series with the score on 33.

He looks calm and determined, as if to say: “Today is gonna be my day!”

Greeting The Prince to the crease is his nemesis Harmison.

The wicket looks as flat as a pancake, typically with the Recreation Ground of late; England needs to strike while the ball is still hard and newish.

After an early optimistic LBW shout from Harmison, he has Lara nicking off fourth-ball. Or so he thought. So convinced is Harmison that the batsman has feathered through to the keeper, he doesn’t even turn around to check Darrell Hair’s finger go up before celebrating.

Hair, an umpire who would go on to surround himself with controversy in later years, is having none of it and duly rebuffs the bowler’s pleas.

Lara turns away and looks suspiciously back at a despondent Harmison and England’s chances of a second dismissal have disappeared.

Typically with such passages of play, the very next ball is put away through backward point. Lara is away with his first boundary.

He begins toying with the English bowlers, regularly cutting them to the vacant third man boundary before and after a rain delay scuppers the start of the second session until just after 4pm.

A fierce cut shot is slashed through the covers as Lara begins to show more authority in moving through the 30’s

He canters to a half century just moments later with a crushing pull through midwicket from his 61st delivery. Simon Jones is the bowler taking the punishment on this occasion.

As the twilight closes in on the picturesque Caribbean venue, play is abandoned for the first day with a relieved Lara trudging off with 86 unbeaten runs to his name.

 

Saturday April 11th 2004

A healthy crowd gathers into the ground as Lara begins day two greeting Matthew Hoggard with a dreamy off drive down the ground. One ball in and Lara moves into the 90’s.

He moves along to 98, bisecting midwicket with a clip off Hoggard and a 25th Test hundred follows shortly with a couple into the offside against the same bowler. Lara raises the bat with a brief smile – but you can tell he’s not nearly satisfied with just a hundred.

One hundred runs in and already comparisons are being made amongst the commentators of Lara’s previous record on this ground; there is a resounding sense that something special is once again unfolding.

With Lara on 127, this notion is briefly forgotten as Hoggard fires in a direct hit from the deep. For a moment it looks as though his innings will be cut short. Lara doesn’t show the mannerisms of a worried man, but direct hits are often closer than they first appear to the batsman…

Turns out he was in by an inch, maybe two inches.

Another Hoggard throw, this time much more wayward, brings Lara a bonus five runs and the two-hundred-run partnership is soon brought up between himself and Ramnaresh Sarwan, its shortly followed by 150 for the skipper.

Like the first ball of the morning, Lara starts the afternoon session by dispatching Hoggard to the fence, this time through point.

His first six of the innings is a supremely timed straight hit down the ground off spinner Gareth Batty. It was vintage Lara, all majestic high back lift and whistle clean follow-through – it pushes him into the 190’s.

Just two balls later and Lara is leaping for joy as a clip into the legside takes him past two hundred for the seventh time. This one comes off just 260 deliveries.

With England now a bowler short after a stomach bug struck down Hoggard; they are forced into using the military medium bowling of Marcus Trescothick, alongside the even friendlier offerings of captain Vaughan’s offspin.

Flat-pitch, dead rubber and a bowler light – if ever there were at time to make hay as a batsman, it was now.

And Lara duly delivers by blazing his second maximum – a near on replica of his previous effort against Batty.

The procession continues as he begins to sweep everything the spinners have to offer into submission. At one stage he his strike rate is over 150.0 while playing such strokes.

Two hundred and fifty comes and goes, with Batty bearing the brunt of the carnage once again. This time Lara shimmies down the track before backing away to leg and driving inside out over the covers.

He takes 12 off an Andrew Flintoff over including consecutive boundaries, the first a pull in front of square and the second a textbook square drive. Three hundred approaches.

Just seven runs shy, Lara blasts a fierce one through the fingertips of Batty. To call it a chance would be to shameful. It was simply too fierce.

A quick single brings 299. The great Martin Crowe once made 299, so did Sir Donald Bradman. Crowe never made a triple hundred. Bradman made two.

Lara makes sure he joins The Don; a second triple century is secured. Another single brings the elation. It takes him just 404 balls.

He celebrates a third hundred with a third six to finish the day – Vaughan the unfortunate soul this time around. 313 not out.

Photo Credit: AFP
Photo Credit: AFP

Easter Sunday April 12th 2004

An electric buzz enriches the ARG on this fine Sunday morning. Anticipation is high and the excitement is one of a nervous kind.

The 330’s are an intriguing beast in cricket.

Hanif Mohammad, Walter Hammond, Mark Taylor, Graham Gooch, Chris Gayle and Bradman – are all names who have never gone on beyond the 330’s. Perhaps there is a curse.

As Lara reaches the 330’s on this occasion he is greeted with a bouncer brigade from Harmison armed with the third new cherry.

As he breaks through the curse of the 330’s, he now has his sights set on 350. This is achieved 494 balls and 681 minutes into his innings with a couple through the onside.

The atmosphere begins to anticipate further. The locals can touch the tumbling records. Sir Leonard Hutton’s 364 is next in his sights. The field now has an ODI feel to it, there are ones and twos aplenty.

He goes past Sobers again, and then toys with Vaughan’s mind and the field once more.

Now the nerves begin to set in. On any other given day, he could well have nicked Batty to the keeper, on this day he missed it by a whisker.

It must then have been simply nervous energy/tension when he launches Batty downtown for a fourth six – 380 not out. He equals Hayden’s record.

A sweep, a beautiful sweep down to the fine leg boundary and HE’S DONE IT. Brian Charles Lara has retained his world record highest Test score.

The ARG erupts. Lara is greeted on the field by the great Sir Vivian Richards and Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.

He fist bumps with partner Ridley Jacobs, but this isn’t over, he wants 400.

England’s bowlers are understandably spent by now. Harmison is forced out of the attack after repeatedly running on the pitch, while Hoggard is back at the team hotel trying to convince the doctors he’s still unwell.

It is quite fitting in a way when Lara finally brings up his 400th run with another well timed sweep off the unfortunate Batty.

Five hundred and eighty two balls later and Brian Lara is 400 not out.

***

What happened next?

  • Upon reaching 400, Lara duly declared the innings in a bid get the game moving along, but despite following on, England clung on for a draw to win the series 3-0.
  • Lara received criticism from some quarters, including Australian captain Ricky Ponting – who claimed he was selfish in batting too long instead of pursuing victory for his side.
  • Lara would go on to play international cricket for another three years before he retired from all formats after he captained the WI during a home World Cup in early 2007.
  • His record of the highest Test score is still intact, with Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene since coming the closest to breaking it with 374 against South Africa in 2006.

England’s bowlers win key moments

Investec Ashes 2015 review

In a bizarre Ashes series of one sided matches, (not to mention the shortest ever five match Test series in terms of number of day’s play), it was England who won the key important moments – despite only having one player in each of the top four run makers and wicket takers.

Stuart Broad topped the Ashes wickets column with 21 victims at 20.
Stuart Broad celebrates his fifth victim during his 8-15 at Trent Bridge.

However, when you look at the contributions of those two players: Joe Root (460 runs at 57) and Stuart Broad (21 wickets at 20) then it’s easier to put England’s series victory into perspective. Root top scored in the first innings in each of the three Tests that England won, including hundreds at both Cardiff and Nottingham. Broad on the other hand was easily England’s most impressive bowler throughout. His breathtaking 8-15 at Trent Bridge was ample reward for his efforts earlier in the series – where he didn’t necessary get the riches he deserved.

Where England really dominated the Australians was with each of their fast bowler’s abilities to come to the party at critical junctions of the series. During the two week period where the Ashes were won and lost at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, England restricted Australia to totals of just: 136, 265, 60 and 253. Across those four innings, four different bowlers took at least six wicket hauls. At Edgbaston James Anderson took 6-47 and the returning Steven Finn 6-79, while at Trent Bridge, Broad shrugged off the absence of the injured Anderson to blast out the Australians with a career best 8-15. Ben Stokes also claimed his Test finest figures whilst wrapping the Ashes up with a second innings haul of 6-36.

England’s 2015 Ashes campaign very much mirrors that of 2009 – where they prevailed despite being very much behind the Australians on individual honours. But in a series where both sides by and large lacked the hunger and technique to bat long periods when behind the game, England found enough runs in three out of the five matches.

Moeen Ali, who is a regular no.3 for Worcestershire, made a huge difference to the balance of the England side whilst batting at number eight. Batting when his country found themselves under the cosh he snatched the game away from Australia at both Cardiff and Birmingham, where he blazed first innings knocks of 77 and 59. That his batting partnerships with Broad were England’s most fruitful of this freakish series, tells its own story.

How did they win the Ashes?

Despite going into the series as relative underdogs, a disciplined yet courageous England took advantage at Cardiff, where they played the type of aggressive cricket they had promised before the series began. After winning the toss and finding themselves in a spot of bother at 3-43, England breathed a huge sigh of relief when Brad Haddin dropped Root on nought. It would be a turning point in not just the match but also the series as Root went onto make 134 and England 430. Despite five of the Australian top six making at least 30, a procession of starts were not built upon and they could only muster 308 in reply. A pair of 60’s from Ian Bell and Root set the Australians a difficult 412 to win but they collapsed to 6-122 before Mitchell Johnson’s brisk 77 delayed the inevitable for the visitors as they eventually succumbed to a 169-run defeat.

ROOOOOOT. England's Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world's best.
ROOOOOOT. England’s Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world’s best.

After a huge 405-run mauling at the hands of a rejuvenated Australia at Lords, both coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Alastair Cook summoned for more “English type” wickets after their fast bowlers struggled on a flat deck at the home of cricket. Their wish was granted at Edgbaston as they were confronted with a heavily green tinged wicket and grey overhead conditions. It was a good toss to lose for Cook as Michael Clarke opted for first use on a rain hit morning in Birmingham. It all started to go wrong for Clarke and his men thereafter as Anderson, along with help from Broad and Finn, made perfect use of the conditions to bundle the tourists out for just 136.

In reply both Bell and Root again made half centuries but the innings was beginning to fizzle out until Moeen and Broad batted the Australians out of the contest with an eight-wicket stand of 87. Finn then took over, reducing Australia to 5-92 before some late order resistance from Peter Nevill and Mitchell Starc eventually set England 121. After both openers fell cheaply it was Bell and Root again doing the damage as they put on an unbroken 73 to seal an eight-wicket victory.

After seeing the Australians struggle to play the moving ball at Edgbaston, Cook had no hesitation in inserting the visitors under grey skies at Trent Bridge. What followed next was one of the most outlandish first sessions in Test history. The ciaos began when Australia were reduced to 2-10 after just one over from Broad and things soon went from bad to worse as Broad and England jumped all over Australia’s feeble middle order to dismiss them for just 60 – their lowest Ashes total since 1936.

England found themselves batting half an hour before lunch and eventually finished the day with a 214-run lead thanks to an unbeaten hundred from Root – who added 173 with Jonny Bairstow for the fourth wicket. Facing a first innings deficit of 331, Australia’s openers Chris Rogers and David Warner put on a solid hundred partnership for the first wicket before Stokes removed them both amidst a superb spell of swing bowling – that eventually reaped him his second six-wicket Ashes haul. The last rites were orchestrated by Mark Wood who bowled both Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon to hand underdogs England redemption.

What next for England?

Despite seemingly winning the Ashes at ease with a match to spare, there remain a few questions to be answered over the performances of some players.

There’s no doubting that it was a bowlers series and England will be pleased with the efforts of their fast men in particular. Anderson, Broad, Finn, Stokes and Wood all form a solid pace battery featuring both experience and youth and barring injury they should all go on to play Test cricket for at least another year.

Beneath them in the standings there also remains decent depth: Liam Plunkett, Chris Jordan, Mark Footitt and Chris Woakes have all not being called upon to make an appearance during the Ashes, but England will be confident that each of them wouldn’t let the side down if they were given a chance for future assignments.

But with a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE next up, the fast bowling shouldn’t be so much an issue as that of the spin resources. While Moeen has provided England with valuable depth in the batting order at number eight, his primary role is as front line spinner and his performances in the past six months haven’t quite been up to the standards required to bowl sides out in Test cricket. The problem for England is who else they can turn to when they will need to play two spinners in the UAE?

Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook's opening Test partner in the not too distant future.
Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook’s opening Test partner in the not too distant future.

Legspinner Adil Rashid will be in the reckoning to play alongside Moeen in the UAE, but it will be a daunting task for a man who will be expected to bowl out Pakistani batsman despite not being given any previous Test experience this year. In hindsight Rashid should have played in the West Indies on England’s there earlier this year, when he wasn’t given an opportunity then, it looked very unlikely that he would have been given a chance during the Ashes unless it was as a last resort if England were going badly.

Other names that have been doing the rounds as potential touring inclusions in the past week are 18-year-old Hampshire legspinner Mason Crane and Surrey’s Zafar Ansari, 23. Out of the pair Ansari, a Cambridge University graduate who is capable of batting in the middle order and bowling tidy slow left arm, looks the most likely to be selected after earning good reviews from many who have watched him at Surrey this summer. As for Crane, it seems highly unlikely that a usually conservative English selection panel would go with an 18-year-old legspinner who has at the time of writing only played two first-class matches in his short career thus far.

After the recent failings of Adam Lyth, it looks like the England merry-go-round search for a second opener to accompany Cook, will go on. Since Andrew Strauss retired after the summer of 2012, six men have been asked to fill his void and so far none have made a sustainable case for themselves. Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott have all been tried and jettisoned, while Root has quite rightly moved back down the order, and with Lyth seemingly not have taken his chance, the search continues.

One option that remains a real possibility for the Pakistan tour at least is to move Moeen up from eight to open alongside Cook. This would of course be a short term measure to allow England to play either Rashid or Ansari at number eight as a second spinner whilst not weakening the batting. While Moeen might thrive opening the batting on the slow and low pitches of the UAE, England’s next assignment to South Africa at Christmas might not be so forthcoming for the flashy left-hander. That’s where Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales comes into the equation. The tall right-hander has already cemented his place in England’s limited overs sides and another strong showing in the ODI series with Australia, coupled with his fine recent first-class form for his county and he could well be given a Test debut this winter in either the Emirates or South Africa.

Australia set to miss Rogers/Warner association

Investec Ashes 2015

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.

“Bull” and “Bucky” have enjoyed a fruitful two-year opening partnership together for Australia.

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.

The left-handed pair walk out ,for what could be the final time together, during The Oval Test.
The left-handed pair walk out, for what could be the final time together, during The Oval Test.

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.

Australia capitulates to swing and seam, again.

The Investec Ashes 2015

If spin won’t get them then swing and seam surely will.

The Australian total of 136 all out on the first day of the third Ashes Test reads all too familiar for this side on their travels in the recent past. Make no mistake about it, this is no aberration for Australia, they have been notoriously bad tourists for a long time now.

voges goes
Adam Voges is caught behind trying to leave a James Anderson delivery as Australia’s recent woes against swing and seam bowling continued at Edgbaston.

Too many times their top order batting has collapsed in the face of decent spin or swing bowling – on many occasions they have been bailed out by their lower order, but not on this occasion as even though their final three batsmen all made double figures (the same total the top eight managed) they look sure to surrender the advantage they gained in the series with a thumping victory at Lords ten days previous.

If it not for Chris Rogers, who just a few days ago looked uncertain to even play in this match, then they would have struggled to have even past three figures – all on a pitch that had Michael Clarke grinning with glee upon winning the toss at 10:30 this morning.

It was hardly a surprise that Rogers was the most accustomed batsman in trying but not treacherous conditions as James Anderson and co made use of the overcast conditions to send the Australians back to the shed almost quicker than their teammates could open their kit bags.

Rogers, almost certainly due to retire at the conclusion of this series, is the only Australian batsman who looks comfortable when the ball is seaming and swinging like it did in Birmingham today. Part of this is of course because he has enjoyed over a decade of service in County cricket, where he has represented Derbyshire, Northants, Leicestershire and Middlesex – scoring over 15,000 first-class runs in due course. But another way in which Rogers has succeeded is that he has been particularly strong at waiting for the ball to come to him as much as possible and playing it as late as he can – many of his teammates should take notice.

David Warner received a good one first up from Anderson, a ball that nipped back to trap him in front before Steven Smith, fresh off a double hundred at Lords, played too aggressively at one from the returning Steven Finn that left him a touch to be caught in the slips. One soon became two for Finn as he yorked the horribly out of form Clarke with a delivery that he seemed slow to pick up.

As the rain came and went, Australia post-lunch batting was a precession of ordinary shot play on a pitch that was no minefield. Adam Voges nicked off after trying to leave a ball from Anderson and the same man soon picked up Mitchell Marsh, playing an expansive drive to one he should have left to be out for nought.

Peter Nevill, chosen ahead of the more experienced Brad Haddin for this encounter, left one he should have played only to see his off stump knocked back and Anderson was soon celebrating his five-for with the wicket of Mitchell Johnson, who was caught low down in the gully. Anderson’s 6-47 were his best figures against Australia.

When Stuart Broad returned to finally nail Rogers for 52 with a straight one that he seemed to completely miss, the damage was well and truly done, Australia will have their work cut out to not find themselves 2-1 down with two to play.

Much was made of England’s inability to leave the ball well while they were being rolled over for just 103 in their second innings at Lords, and much of the same can be directed towards their Australian counterparts. England lasted just 37 overs in that innings. Here Australia lasted two balls less than that.

It’s not the first time the Australian batting has collapsed away from home to either quality pace or spin. Times such as the 47 all out at Cape Town in 2011 spring to mind as does the 128 they managed against England at Lords in 2013 from which they never recovered from in the series as they lost their third successive away Ashes campaign. The same could be said of their capitulation here – a potential series turner perhaps.

In the grand scheme of things this latest setback should not be a surprise to those who follow Australian cricket closely. Since they won a two-Test series in New Zealand in early 2010, they have only won back-to-back Test matches once on the road, and that once came in the West Indies last month against a poor side ranked eighth in the world.

Since, they have struggled against the wobbling ball in England and South Africa and against the spinning ball on their two previous tours to the subcontinent, in India 2013 and the UAE last year.

This is not a great batting outfit when taken out of their own conditions. Rogers has struggled hugely in spinning conditions, whilst the likes of Warner, Smith and Shane Watson have all previously struggled against the swinging ball, when you also throw in that Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Nevill are fresh to Test cricket and Clarke is ridiculously out of form then it doesn’t read for pretty reading. If Clarke continues to struggle in this series, it’s not inconceivable that it could be his last – certainly as captain and maybe even as player.

Anderson claimed his best figures against Australia as the tourists were routed for just 136.
Anderson claims his best figures against Australia as the tourists were routed for just 136.

But it’s hard to find alternatives at this stage. Shaun Marsh has also previously struggled against the new swinging ball and is next in line among the batsman on this tour whilst Joe Burns, another who has debuted in Test cricket recently, has just finished a stint with Middlesex, in English conditions without a whole heap of success. The end line of it is that there just isn’t enough quality young batsmen knocking on the door in Australia who are accustomed at playing the swinging ball – hence the reason that 37-year-old Rogers and 35-year-old Voges are still donning the baggy green this series.

For England, they finally got the pitch they have been crying out for since the series began in Cardiff – one with something in it for their fast bowlers. This pitch had both more grass and pace in it than the previous two offerings at Cardiff and Lords. In a nutshell it was tailor made for Anderson.

After their 169-run defeat at Cardiff, Australian coach Darren Lehmann was suggesting if not moaning about the lack of pace in the wicket produced in south Wales, at Lords a similar wicket was rolled out with the Australian’s coaxing far more out of it than their English counterparts.

On that occasion Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, (all generally quicker bowlers than any of the English), used the conditions far better to their advantage and suggestions in the England camp were that they needed to make better use of their home comforts and start producing English wickets to aid the likes of Anderson and Broad.

Low and behold it was an English wicket and standard English cloud cover at Edgbaston, to their detriment the Australian’s played it the way they have been playing on seamer-friendly wickets far too often on their recent travels – very badly. Advantage England.

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

The Investec Ashes 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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