Overwhelmed Cricket Australia XI not helping anyone

In theory the idea to include a Cricket Australia XI for the ongoing Matador Cup was a great concept, but in hindsight the blueprint was all wrong.

James Pattinson claims another wicket as the CA XI were bowled out for just 79 against Victoria. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
James Pattinson claims another wicket as the CA XI were bowled out for just 79 against Victoria. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Yes, justifiably, we’re only two matches into the existence of the new CA XI – a two-year trial project side – but still, it’s already difficult to vindicate what good can to be gained from record thrashings at the hands of international-laden New South Wales and Victorian sides.

Sure, exposure to international-quality opposition isn’t a bad thing for this group of youngsters, but will they really benefit from being overwhelmed by the superior qualities of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson on a regular basis?

While no one was expecting the CA XI to pull up any trees in their first couple of outings, to be bowled out for just 59 and 79 in their two innings just goes to show the vast bridge in quality and more importantly experience between themselves and the rest of the field.

The team that took to the paddock for Monday’s fixture with New South Wales consisted of an average age of just 21. Five of those men were making their List-A debuts with Ryan Lees also debuting against Victoria in the second fixture. While the CA XI boasted just 67 List-A appearances between them, the Victorian’s collective count was 884, in fact six members of their side had individually played more matches than the entire CA XI playing eleven.

Furthermore, Victoria included ten players with international experience with a further two in Peter Siddle and Clint McKay who couldn’t make the side. Fawad Ahmed, an Ashes tourist just two months ago, wasn’t even included in the squad.

Although the postponement of Australia’s Test tour to Bangladesh has strengthened the overall standard of the Matador Cup, it has also heavily disrupted the preparations of the teams with players selected for that tour. This left many players unsure of whom they were going to represent up until a few days before the competition began on Monday.

For the CA XI squad; Will Bosisto, Marcus Harris and Lees were not part of the original squad, while Jimmy Peirson was sent back to Queensland for injury cover before returning when Joe Burns was declared available.

One also wonders if the squad selected was anything near as strong as what Cricket Australia National Talent Manager Greg Chappell had envisaged before its original make up. He practically said as much upon the squad’s announcement last month:

“There are probably three or four players that we thought we might have in the CA XI side who have gone on and been selected by their states and would expect to play prominent roles in their state squad.

“So maybe we have frightened some of the states into thinking they needed to pick some of their young players and, if that’s the case, that’s terrific.”

But while captain Bosisto was adamant that his side would improve in their final four fixtures, it’s hard not to foresee further mismatches if the squad remains the same.

“We’ve got the talent, we just haven’t performed to the best of our ability,” said Bosisto after top-scoring with 21 against Victoria.

“I’ve heard people say ‘do you need an experienced player in your line-up?’ and I guess that would be one approach.

“But I think the whole idea of having a Cricket Australia XI in the tournament is to give 11 young guys exposure and the opportunity to see what it’s like at the next level and what we need to do to be able to perform at this level.”

It’s abundantly clear the CA XI could benefit from further guidance in their side – starting with the inclusion of a few more experienced faces along the way – something in which Cricket Australia will inevitably look into at the conclusion of this year’s tournament.

Surely more could have been done to include the likes of veteran legspinner Fawad Ahmed and batsman Mark Cosgrove who were both omitted from their respective State squads.

Cosgrove, who has just returned from the UK after captaining Leicestershire in the County Championship, could certainly have offered plenty of support and guidance to the young CA XI squad. Likewise, could names such as David Hussey or Chris Rogers – still active players – have been sort out by Cricket Australia to play a role in the development of a youthful and inexperienced CA XI outfit?

Another route Cricket Australia could go down is to follow a concept derived by the ECB. The model was based under the name ‘Unicorns,’ and was a team made up of the best Minor Counties players along with promising youngsters and un-contracted County pros. By including Minor Counties players, the most of whom have at some point played County cricket, the team at least had some experience and knowhow to guide them through the difficult times that often occur against stronger opposition.

While the Unicorns no longer participate in the English one-day cup tournament – they instead exist in the County second XI competition – they are a model in which Cricket Australia could at the very least acknowledge going forward.

In the meanwhile it is hoped that the current CA XI will start to show greater signs of improvement as the tournament progresses into its second week – although it won’t get any easier as they face a Tasmanian side, containing three World Cup winners in their ranks, next.

Improvement is needed, if only just for the creditability of the tournament or else the CA XI’s name could one day become a trivia question like that of the Canberra Comets.

Australian cricket set for summer of change and intrigue

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

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

New captain and deputy

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

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

A return to Bangladesh

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

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

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

New opening partner for Warner

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

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

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

Bowling attack changes

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

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

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

New glovesmen

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

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

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

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

A return to the Trans-Tasman rivalry

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

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

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

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

The first day-night Test match

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

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

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

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

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

New Matador Cup team

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

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

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

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

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

Cricket set to leave The WACA for Burswood

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

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

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

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