Fallible batting line-ups set to be at the mercy of formidable pace units as English conditions will likely ensure a series for the bowlers.
And so, the Ashes have arrived again. With cricket very much in the public spotlight once more, the sport’s greatest rivalry is set to resume in Birmingham on Thursday morning – just a mere 18 days after England lifted their first World Cup on home soil.
Because of that home World Cup, the 2019 version of the Ashes is very much cricket in the fast lane with five Tests – spread across four cities – arriving in just six weeks.
And with such a short turnaround between matches, this series could well hinge on how each side handles their squad rotation and fast bowling depth.
With the English wickets expected to offer plenty of swing and seam, coupled with the obvious batting frailties on either side, it looms as a low scoring series set to be dominated by the ball.
Thankfully for each side they’re stacked in that department. Between them England and Australia have both opted to include six front line seamers in their respective squads.
England will again rely on the evergreen pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad as chief destroyers alongside the dependable Chris Woakes, the all-round package of Sam Curran and the new speed merchants Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone.
While Australia have the veteran UK specialist Peter Siddle, the World Cup’s leading wicket taker Mitchell Starc, the ever-reliable Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and are rounded off with the hustling seam of Michael Neser and the trump card James Pattinson.
After almost five years of frustration, Australia finally has the ‘Big Four’ of Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Starc all fit and available for selection. This, once distant, dream dates back to late 2014 when Hazlewood was the last of the quartet to make his Test debut.
A combination of injuries, both minor and serious, have meant that, until now, the four have never simultaneously been available. However, with Hazlewood having recovered from the back injury that’s ruled him out since January and Pattinson also seemingly over his own back troubles, they suddenly have an abundance of riches.
Now the visitors must stick to the fundamentals of succeeding in English climes and pick accordingly to the varying conditions. Their 2019 squad make-up suggests they have learnt plenty of lessons from their flawed 2015 Ashes campaign.
After a successful 2013-14 campaign, in which a fiery Mitchell Johnson blow England away, Australia entered English shores in 2015 intent on following a similar pathway.
However, although a pre-tour career ending injury to Ryan Harris scuppered their plans somewhat, an attack of Johnson, Starc and an off-colour Hazlewood was quickly found out across the series despite Johnson’s match winning contribution at Lords.
The 2015 surfaces of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, in particular, were crying out for the wiles of Siddle, however he was only turned to once the series was already decided in England’s favour.
Siddle, now entering his twilight at 34, is again included in the touring party. And after a successful recent spell in county cricket with Essex, where he’s reaped 34 Championship wickets at 20.08, he’s likely to play a larger role from the get-go this time around.
With Pattinson and Cummins already etched into the starting XI for Edgbaston, Siddle’s in a three-way battle with Hazlewood and Starc for the remaining seamers role.
For England there were similar dilemmas regarding the third seamers role. With Anderson and Broad already certain to begin the series, Woakes has edged out Archer for the final spot.
With his strong Edgbaston connections and figures of 6-17 against Ireland last week, Woakes was the obvious candidate for the role, however, Archer’s inclusion is likely to come later in the series.
Despite a fine start to his international career, Archer has been carrying a slight side injury since his World Cup final exploits and is also short of red-ball practice, having not played a first-class match for ten months.
In the batting, Australia must decide whether Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft will open the batting alongside David Warner. Despite Harris being the incumbent, it’s likely that Bancroft will get the nod after his steady runscoring feats with Durham and match-winning contribution of 93 not out in the Australian inter-squad match last week.
England captain Joe Root has already confirmed that he will swap places with Joe Denly in the order and bat at number three. After pressure from parts of the English media and also his coach Trevor Bayliss, Root has decided to make the jump to add more experience to a top three also containing Surrey pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy – who have a combined eight Tests between them.
So, where does this leave us?
England are perhaps slight favourites at this stage with home conditions taken into account and the simple fact that not many current Australian batsmen are very equipped at playing the moving ball.
However, England’s own frailties in the batting department will concern them too. While they pride themselves on batting all the way down to number 10, their top order is a serious worry. After getting bundled out for 85 on a green Lords wicket by 37-year-old county stalwart Tim Murtagh – there are plenty of issues to iron out.
Burns is averaging just 22.28 after 14 Test innings and Denly isn’t fairing much better with 24.16 across six innings. It’s beginning to appear that a lot will rest on Roy’s ability to transform his limited overs form into the Test arena as England continue their long quest to replace Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook at the top of the order.
Keep an eye on:
Now 29, Pattinson’s only previous Ashes experience was as far back as six years ago when he played in the opening two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series before breaking down with yet another unfortunate injury setback.
After career-threatening back surgery in late 2017, Pattinson has finally returned to his fearsome best this summer during a county spell at Nottinghamshire and the recent Australia A fixtures.
While its doubtful he will play in all five matches, Pattinson’s ability to swing and seam the ball at high speed whilst also offering control will make him a tough proportion to face for the English batsmen.
While England have a number of talented batsmen in their ranks, only Root can claim to be truly world class.
After stating for much of the past year that he prefers to bat at number four, Root has finally budged and moved up one.
The number three spot has been problematic for England ever since Jonathan Trott departed from the international scene in 2015 and despite Root averaging 40.47 batting there instead of the 48.00 he averages at four, it’s a decision made with the best interests of the team at heart.
How Root handles the responsibility of captaincy with the added burden of batting at first drop will likely define the series.
A strong and athletically gifted right-arm fast bowler capable of touching the 90mph barrier, Henry Brookes rose to promise for Warwickshire last summer before a stress-fracture to his back put his fledgling career on hold in mid-July.
By that point, the then 18-year-old had already received a maiden callup to train with the England Lions setup despite having appeared in only six first-class fixtures. Since making his Championship debut in late 2017, he’s captured 21 wickets at 21.38 and looked set to make further strides before his 2018 ending injury.
Also, a capable lower-order batsman – he’s registered two fifties in just eight first-class innings – Brookes has made a huge impression on former Warwickshire sport director, and current England director of cricket Ashley Giles in his so-far nascent career.
The Solihull-born teenager has been with the Midlands county since he was just nine-years-old and recently reaffirmed his commitment to the cause by signing a new contract in December, keeping him at Edgbaston until after the 2021 season.
A former regular with the England U19’s before breaking into the Warwickshire senior setup, he also impressed in both limited-overs formats last summer and looks set for a long and fruitful career for both county and country.
What 2019 holds in store?
Brookes has recently returned to full training and has participated in warm-up matches during Warwickshire’s pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi.
It’s likely that his workload will be managed early season to aid his still-developing body back to full fitness after suffering such a serious back injury.
With former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace replacing Giles as sport director with an emphasis on developing more youth at Edgbaston, Brookes can be expected to make more strides in 2019, especially with Chris Woakes likely to be unavailable for most of the summer and fellow club stalwarts Keith Barker and Chris Wright having recently left for pastures new.
New bowling reinforcements have arrived in the form of Gloucestershire pair Craig Miles and Liam Norwood, while Ollie Stone should shortly return from his own injury issues to bolster the newly promoted side.
But while Division One opponents and pitches will be a step up for Brookes, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue his rapid rise and work his way back into England Lions consideration during the summer.
Ben Charlesworth (18) – Gloucestershire
A prodigiously talented 18-year-old seam-bowling allrounder, Ben Charlesworth provided a shining light at the end of a disappointing 2018 summer for Gloucestershire.
Taking time out from his A-Level studies at St Edwards School in Oxford, Charlesworth made his first-class bow in August aged just 17. Despite scoring just 1 and 5 and failing to take a wicket on his debut against Warwickshire, it wasn’t long before he began to turn heads in Bristol.
In just his second fixture against Leicestershire, he took the winning wicket with his first delivery of the match and took that confidence into his next match against Middlesex, where he scored a composed first-innings 77 not out and followed it up by taking 3-25 from 13 tight overs with the ball.
In scoring his maiden Championship fifty he became the youngest Gloucestershire player to do so in over 70 years. He soon followed it up with another, when he scored 72 against Glamorgan in Cardiff in another match that his side managed to win.
Although predominantly seen as a bowler first and a batsman second (He batted at seven and eight throughout his six Championship matches for Gloucestershire) It’s his batting that has impressed the most during his blossoming young career.
Following a strong finish to the County season, Charlesworth took his form into the winter with the England U19 side during their tour of Bangladesh.
After making 115 out of a total of 203 in the third YODI he scored 188 runs at 47.00 across the two Youth Tests including first-innings scores of 99 and 63 whilst opening the batting.
What 2019 holds in store?
Having enjoyed a fruitful winter with the England U19’s and also signing a new three-year professional contract with Gloucestershire in October, the future looks bright for Charlesworth.
With Miles and Norwood moving to Warwickshire and fellow seam-bowling allrounder Kieran Noema-Barnett having returned to New Zealand, the first team opportunities are likely to remain for Charlesworth as the summer progresses.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to balance his time between the Gloucestershire First and Second XI’s and his school commitments as shown recently when he skipped the County’s pre-season tour of La Manga to concentrate on his studies.
Jamie Smith (18) – Surrey
A modern-day wicketkeeper batsman with all the strokes, Jamie Smith recently enjoyed a memorable first-class debut for Surrey during their County Champion Match at the ICC Academy in Dubai.
After impressing behind the stumps with a stumping, a catch and a run out, Smith then hit 127 in his maiden first-class knock. Batting at number six, he put on 266 with Ollie Pope for the fifth wicket.
It certainly didn’t go unnoticed that Smith forged such a hefty partnership with Pope – a man he one day hopes to emulate. A fellow wicketkeeper-batsman, Pope made his first-class debut for Surrey in 2017, aged 19 and was representing England at Test cricket just a year later.
Like Pope, Smith is an innovative and attacking batsman capable of playing a variety of diverse innings across the different formats.
Born in Epsom and educated at nearby Whitgift School, he has featured for Surrey since under 10 level and made his T20 debut against fierce rival Middlesex at a packed Lords last summer.
He went onto play a further match against Kent in July before enjoyed success with the England U19 during their winter tour of Bangladesh.
After a pair of low scores in the first Youth Test he relinquished the gloves for the second and scored 90 and 104 batting at number three.
What 2019 holds in store?
With recently jettisoned England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes due to return as the Championship season nears, Smith is certain to again relinquish the gloves and fight for a batting spot in the middle order.
Despite his debut hundred he’s certainly not guaranteed a place in the first XI and it’s likely he’ll be fighting with fellow youngsters Will Jacks and Ryan Patel and new signing Jordan Clark for the final batting spot at number six/seven as the defending County champions retain great strength in depth going into 2019.
However, with injuries and international callups expected throughout the summer, Smith will likely see some first team action across the three formats as well as time representing the Surrey Second XI and club side Sutton CC of the Surrey Premier League.
Liam Trevaskis (19) – Durham
Spinning allrounder Liam Trevaskis shot to fame in a T20 match against Lancashire last August when he took three wickets and defended six runs off the final over to bowl Durham to victory.
Seen largely as a batsman who also bowls some slow left-arm spinners, he’d hitherto taken only one wicket in his prior seven T20 matches leading in, so when he took 4-16 on that Manchester evening it was quite the unexpected coup for Durham.
Carlisle-born and raised in nearby Penrith, the 19-year-old made his T20 and first-class debuts in 2017. However, he’s yet to add to his solitary Championship appearance earned against Worcestershire in September 2017 – despite being named in a several squads throughout 2018.
His spin bowling progressed last summer after having worked with South African legspinner Imran Tahir – who was over representing the Durham Jets in the Vitality Blast and he now has genuine hopes of playing as an allrounder across all formats.
Trevaskis also experienced England U19 honours during the 2017 summer; where he opened the batting in a YODI series against India with reasonable success.
What 2019 holds in store?
With new management at Durham, (Marcus North as Director of Cricket and James Franklin as head coach) Trevaskis could see more first-team action.
He was left out during the recent MCC Universities match against Durham MCCU in favour of the more experienced Ryan Pringle, but he’s likely to rival Pringle for the spinning-allrounder role in the Championship side.
Opportunities for a debut in the Royal London one-day cup are also likely to be forthcoming with Durham kicking off their tournament against Northamptonshire on April 17th.
Perhaps pigeonholed as more of a limited-overs player at this stage of his career, Trevaskis will no doubt look for more openings in the longer format as the summer progresses. In the meantime, he’ll continue to represent the county’s Second XI and South Northumberland CC in the North East Premier League.
Ethan Bamber (20) – Middlesex
A right-arm fast bowler who burst onto the County scene last summer, Ethan Barber impressed with 28 wickets at 20.25 for Middlesex spread across his initial six first-class appearances.
The former England U19 standout made his first-class debut against Northants in August and was a mainstay through to the conclusion of the season, taking a career best of 4-81 against Gloucestershire.
The son of two actors (David Bamber and Julia Swift) and a current Theology student at the University of Exeter, Bamber isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill cricketer.
The Westminster-born youngster, who turned 20 in December, was a late starter to the game after his brother, seven years his senior, had taught him in the family garden and he only began taking it more seriously when he first represented Middlesex at U15 level.
Just a few years later he was playing at the U19 World Cup in New Zealand where he finished England’s joint leading wicket taker with eight wickets in four matches at 13.50 apiece.
What 2019 holds in store?
Middlesex are once again stacked in the fast bowling department with onetime England pair Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones both fit again after long-term injuries and the evergreen Tim Murtagh still going strong at 37, that’s before mentioning the likes of James Harris, Tom Helm and Martin Andersson who all contributed last summer.
With such bowling options, Middlesex are firm favourites to gain promotion back to Division One. However, Bamber looks certain to be relegated back to the Second XI while he continues his studies.
Although he impressed in the most part during his maiden summer, he also lacked consistency – as to be expected for any young bowler, but his development will certainly be aided by the presence of new bowling coach Dimitri Mascarenhas.
Jack Haynes (18) – Worcestershire
A highly-rated young batsman who Worcestershire have great hopes for to eventually replace another prize batting asset in Joe Clarke who joined Nottinghamshire in the offseason.
The right-handed Haynes – whose father Gavin made 100 first-class appearances for Worcestershire in the 1990’s – made his Worcestershire List-A debut against a touring West Indian A side last June, scoring 33 in a narrow defeat.
Shortly after his debut he signed his first professional contract to stay at New Road until after the 2020 season and has continued to be closely mentored by Academy coach Elliot Wilson.
After making his Second XI debut in 2017, he was given further opportunities to develop in the seconds last summer where he scored a match-winning 131 against Notts in the Second Eleven Trophy.
A former captain of the England U16 side, he made his international U19 debut against South Africa last July playing two Youth Tests and two YODI’s with a top score of 74.
He was then named in the Young Lions training camp during the winter – where he briefly worked with former England batsman Ian Bell at the ECB high performance centre in Loughborough – but didn’t make the 15-man squad that went onto tour Bangladesh.
What 2019 holds in store?
Haynes looks set to complete his studies with Malvern College in Worcester before then joining the club on a fulltime basis later in the summer.
Back in Division Two of the Championship, Worcestershire have re-shuffled the coaching setup with Alex Gidman now in charge of the first-team and Kevin Sharp returning to the seconds.
Sharp, who gave Haynes his Second XI debut in 2017, is again likely to have a positive impact on his fledgling career this summer with the 18-year-old primed for plenty more playing time.
Although Clarke has left and Moeen Ali will be absent for long stretches, it’s unlikely that Haynes will immediately oust experienced campaigners like Callum Ferguson, Rikki Wessels and Brett D’Oliveira from the side. He is though, expected to rival fellow rookies Ollie Westbury, Josh Dell and Alex Milton for some playing time across the three formats.
And with a three-day tour match against Australia pencilled in for early August, expect Haynes to feature. He’s also set to continue playing for Ombersley CC in the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League throughout the summer.
Adam Finch (18) – Worcestershire
Like Haynes, right-arm fast bowler Adam Finch is another great example of the excellent work done by the Worcestershire Academy in developing their own talent in recent years.
The promising 18-year-old only turned to cricket at 14 when he was asked to make up the numbers in a soft-ball match, just three years later he was representing his country in the 2018 U19 World Cup in New Zealand.
Finch has often been praised by the County’s hierarchy for his fantastic work ethic and willingness to learn as well as the vast improvements he’s made to his tall physique.
Under the tutelage of bowling coach and former Pears seamer Alan Richardson, Finch has recently followed fellow young quicks Ed Barnard, Josh Tongue, Pat Brown, George Scrimshaw and Dillon Pennington into the Worcestershire setup.
He made his England U19 debut against India in 2017 after impressing in his first few outings for the Worcestershire Second XI – where he took 5-19 against Yorkshire seconds.
A regular for the England U19 side since his 2017 debut, he impressed with match figures of 8-69 against his South African counterparts in a Youth Test last summer and also represented the team during their winter tour of Bangladesh.
The next step of his development will be to break into the Worcestershire first XI.
What 2019 holds in store?
Worcestershire have recently signed former South African seamer Wayne Parnell to a Kolpak contract to replace the retiring Steve Magoffin – pushing Finch further down the ranks behind Barnard, Tongue, Brown and the currently injured pair Pennington and captain Joe Leech who are both due to return to bowling soon.
Finch and 21-year-old Scrimshaw – who missed all of 2018 with a stress-fracture – will likely be pushing for a reserve roll alongside Charlie Morris who also remains on the fringes of the first-team squad.
Finch remains very highly thought of at New Road and a first-team debut looks imminent after he was involved in many of the County’s pre-season fixtures.
Tom Lammonby (18) – Somerset & Devon
Allrounder Tom Lammonby, a left-handed batsman and left-arm fast bowler, has yet to make his Somerset first-team debut, but big things are expected in the West Country.
Despite not yet having represented Somerset, Lammonby, who doesn’t turn 19 until June, has plenty of other cricketing experience to fall back on.
Last summer he scored three consecutive hundreds for Devon CCC in the Minor Counties League – becoming the first player to achieve the feat for Devon, while he also spent time representing the University of Exeter alongside former England U19 teammate Ethan Bamber of Middlesex.
He certainly didn’t have 2018 all his own way though, as a couple of untimely injuries cost him dear on the international front. Firstly, he suffered a broken hand in the nets which ruled him out of England’s U19 World Cup squad in the winter before he injured his heel when due to captain the U19’s against South Africa in July. He did, however return to skipper the side against Bangladesh recently with mixed fortunes.
Born and raised in Devon, he joined the Somerset Academy in 2015 before signing a two-year professional contract in June 2018 and scoring his first Second XI hundred against The Unicorns.
What 2019 holds in store?
Somerset are not averse to giving youth a chance when they believe the timing is right. Recent examples include Dom Bess, Eddie Byrom, George Bartlett and Tom Banton who have all debuted for the County in the past few years.
Lammonby will have to initially bide his time for first-team opportunities in 2019 as fellow youngsters Byrom, Bartlett and Banton and experienced campaigners like Steven Davies, James Hildreth and Tom Abell and Lewis Gregory all remain ahead of him on the depth chart.
He did, however, recently spent time with the first-team squad during their pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi before taking his place back in the Second XI for their friendly game against Gloucestershire. So, a First XI callup might not be out of the question this summer.
In the meanwhile, he will keep looking to represent the England U19 side along with his Second XI commitments and fixtures for Devon CCC and club side Exeter CC of the Devon Cricket League.
Jack Plom (19) – Essex
A right-arm opening bowler of genuine pace, Jack Plom could well become the next bright young thing to graduate from the Essex academy.
The 19-year-old joined the academy at 15 after current England bowling coach Chris Silverwood, then Essex assistant coach, identified him at a local U15 tournament.
Now he’s looking to join the likes of Aaron Beard, Sam Cook and Dan Lawrence who have all impressed at Chelmsford after making their first-team bows in recent summers.
The Basildon-born Plom made his first-class debut against Cambridge MCCU in early 2018 but did not bat or bowl in a weather affected match, however, he’ll be looking for further opportunities in 2019.
After taking 18 wickets in seven Second Eleven Championship fixtures last summer with a best of 6-33, he signed his first professional contract with Essex in October – committing his future to the County Ground until after the 2020 season.
He also impressed while representing the England U19’s against South Africa last summer where he topped the bowling charts in the Youth Test series with 12 wickets at 14.16.
What 2019 holds in store?
Plom looks set for another summer in and around Anthony McGrath’s first-team setup where he’ll relish the opportunity to work with former South African paceman Andre Nel who has joined as assistant and bowling coach.
He was recently involved in the club’s pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi where he played for a Combined XI against Somerset and took three wickets from his 10 overs.
Although, with such depth in the bowling department, he’s got plenty of hard work ahead to immediately dislodge the likes of Jamie Porter, Peter Siddle, Matt Coles, Matt Quinn, Beard, Cook and Paul Walter from the starting Championship XI.
However, with international callups and the inevitable injuries that plague fast bowlers, there are likely to be opportunities for Plom as the summer rides on, especially in the one-day formats.
George Balderson (18) – Lancashire
It wasn’t so long ago that fans of Lancashire and England were salivating over the talents of a young opening batsman by the name of Haseeb Hameed.
Hameed burst onto the scene three years ago and was representing England shortly after, but the weight of expectation and an enormous dip in form saw him average just 9.71 last summer.
So perhaps a more cautionary approach should be taken when championing the skills of another young opener in 18-year-old George Balderson.
The Stockport-born left-hander, who lists Alastair Cook as his cricketing idol, made excellent strides in the academy and Second XI setups last summer where he helped the County win the Second XI T20 competition despite missing several weeks with a hand injury.
After impressing when captaining the North in the ECB Super 4s, he made his England U19 debut against South Africa at Scarborough last July before being selected for the
Young Lions programme over the winter where he went onto play five times against Bangladesh U19s with a top score of 65.
Also, a useful right-arm fast bowler, he signed a two-year professional contract to stay at Old Trafford in December.
What 2019 holds in store?
Balderson was recently involved during Lancashire’s pre-season trip to Dubai where he took 3-37 against a UAE Men’s 1 side and he will officially join Lancashire fulltime at the conclusion of his A-Levels in June.
In the meantime, he’ll look to continue impressing head coach Glen Chapple, assistant Mark Chilton and the Second XI coaches as he looks to plot a pathway into the first-team setup.
That will be no mean feat though as Hameed, Joe Burns, Keaton Jennings, Alex Davies and Rob Jones are all vying for the top three spots and fellow youngster Josh Bohannon impressed in the allrounder’s role at the end of last season.
Balderson will continue to represent club side Hyde CC in the Cheshire County League where he hit 800 runs last summer.
When observing Australia’s disastrous ODI form of 2018, it seems hard to believe they entered 2019 as a team hoping to defend the World Cup crown they secured in Melbourne four years ago.
Such was the disarray in their ODI side, that they’d won only two of the 13 matches they played in 2018. But even more concerning was the brand of cricket they were producing. Their 1990’s version of the ODI format looked seriously dated and off the pace when compared to the new heights being set by the likes of England and India.
To make matters worse they even seemed behind more balanced sides like South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies who were all packing more of a punch than Australia. After dominating the one-day scene for much of the 90’s and 2000’s, they have spent the past few years unsure of their ODI identity. This has been summed up by a series of jumbled moves and poor selections designed to find a solution to their prolonged form slump.
Those such moves included the recall of 34-year-old seamer Peter Siddle in January, despite him having not played limited-overs cricket for Australia for almost nine years. His recall was based, like many, on his form in the Big Bash – where he helped Adelaide Strikers win the 2017/18 version of the tournament.
With the domestic one-day tournament shoved into a short window at the beginning of the Australian summer its often the Big Bash that provides Australia with one-day players as it runs parallel to the home ODI’s that traditionally occur throughout January and early February.
Other dubious examples of pigeonholing Big Bash bowling stars into the ODI setup were epitomized by the inclusions of the Adelaide Strikers’ giant quick Billy Stanlake and the death-specialist Andrew Tye of the Perth Scorchers. Both were given brief spells in the side before being displaced alongside the likes of Michael Neser and Ashton Agar.
Likewise, with the batting missing the power of David Warner, the selectors took a punt on a pair of recent Big Bash stars hoping they’d be able to sustain strong opening support for captain Aaron Finch.
D’arcy Short and Chris Lynn were both trialled (for four ODI’s each) as top order hitters expected to exploit the early powerplay overs. When both failed to take their T20 form into the international arena, Australia quickly returned to the more traditional approaches of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb, as they sort a different means of scoring the runs required to topple the power-hitting nations that now await in ODI cricket.
However, after many had begun writing off their chances of retaining the World Cup at Lords on July 14th, the Australians showed signs of rejuvenation during the recent limited overs victories in India.
First Pat Cummins and then Glenn Maxwell led them to a 2-0 win in the T20I’s, before they came from 0-2 down to win 3-2 in the ODI series – the first time they have ever achieved such a feat. It was also their first ODI series victory in seven attempts dating back to January 2017.
Suddenly a once unbalanced side, shorn of the banned duo Steve Smith and Warner and the injured fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, are beginning to regroup and peak with the World Cup just around the corner.
Led by the batting of Khawaja, and then finished off by the superb bowling of Cummins and Adam Zampa, Finch’s men overcame a fancied home side to win their first ODI series in India since November 2009.
After entering India with a number of question marks over key areas of the side, they now find themselves having to make some tough selection decisions when taking into account the returns of Smith, Warner, Starc and Hazlewood and the fine form shown by Khawaja, Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Jhye Richardson and Nathan Lyon.
And they only have a five-match series against Pakistan in the UAE remaining before they have to announce their preliminary 15-man World Cup squad to the ICC on April 23rd. They will then have a World Cup training camp in Brisbane in early May prior to finalizing the 15-man squad by May 22nd.
With the Pakistan series beginning in Sharjah on Friday; Who’s entering the run-in certain of a place in the World Cup 15 and who’s looking over their shoulder hoping for a final chance to impress?
Aaron Finch – Despite wrestling with his own batting form recently, Finch has shown great calm and composure as skipper of the side. While his form remains a slight concern – he registered two ducks against India and has just one fifty (93 in Ranchi) in eleven innings since taking over the ODI captaincy in November – he’s a fine player who will no doubt recapture the form that’s seen him hit 11 centuries in 100 ODI innings.
Glenn Maxwell – A vital clog in the Australian limited overs side and someone with undeniable X-factor, Maxwell began the year unsure of his place or role in the side after being shunted down the order to bat as a pure finisher at number 7. But after a recent match-winning T20I hundred in India, he’s impressed further up the ODI order with vital hard-hitting cameos and useful spells with the ball. Add in his terrific fielding and leadership qualities he’s now a sure bet for the WC 15.
David Warner – A key fixture in the side before his 12-month ban, Warner is due to be briefly reintegrated back into the set-up at the beginning of the UAE tour before regaining his fitness with Hyderabad Sunrisers in the IPL. Although he won’t play for Australia before the WC squad announcement on April 23rd, he’s a certain pick for the tournament.
Usman Khawaja – The real winner from the India series. Khawaja – opening the batting – scored his maiden ODI hundred (104) in Ranchi and followed it up with 91 in the record run-chase in Mohali, before rounding out the series with another match winning hundred in Delhi. Although likely to drop down to number three to facilitate the return of Warner, he finally looks a permanent fixture in the ODI side – six years after debuting in the format.
Pat Cummins – One of first names on the team sheet, Cummins continues to go from strength to strength in all forms of cricket, no more so than when he recently topped the wickets tally in the India series with 14 victims at 15.71.
Mitchell Starc – Currently out with a pectoral muscle injury, Starc missed the tour of India and will also miss the Pakistan series after initially being hopeful of recovering in time. But given his recent history and pedigree in ODI cricket, he’s almost guaranteed to return to the XI once he’s back to full fitness.
Adam Zampa – Now the undisputed number one spinner in Australia’s ODI side, Zampa has endured a stop start few years in the national side but has now finally nailed down his spot with his legspin trailing only Cummins in India with 11 wickets as he both attacked and defended when required.
The very likely
Peter Handscomb – Scored a maiden ODI hundred (117) in the successful fourth ODI run-chase, before scoring an equally important 52 in the decider. Freshly dropped from the Test side, Handscomb was a leftfield pick when recalled to the ODI side to play India in January after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus from the limited over set-up. An excellent player of spin and a useful backup wicketkeeping option, he looks likely to battle with Smith for a place in the XI.
Alex Carey – After establishing himself as the number one limited-overs gloveman ahead of Tim Paine last year, Carey has generally batted down the order at six and seven but also opened, with little success, against India in January. A fine glovesman and good late innings finisher, he’s likely to begin the WC behind the stumps, although a spell of poor form could see Handscomb take over the gloves.
Marcus Stoinis – After starting the India series in good touch, Stoinis suffered a broken thumb, leading the way for fellow Western Australian Turner to come into the side and perform heroics. Capable of hard hitting towards the end of the innings but has been criticized for heaping pressure on the run-rate by playing out too many dot balls. Can also perform a solid role as the side’s fifth bowling option as seen when he recently dismissed Virat Kohli. Has taken over the allrounder role fulltime from previous incumbent Mitchell Marsh.
Steve Smith – Like Warner, Smith has been nursing an elbow injury in recent times, putting his planned comeback in doubt. After a brief reintegration back into the national setup, his next involvement in top level cricket is due to be the IPL with Rajasthan Royals where he will need to prove his fitness and form before the squad announcement. There is a thought that he could be left alone until the Ashes, given his importance to the Test side.
Josh Hazlewood – Still recovering from a stress-fracture of the back he suffered against India in January, Hazlewood is on a race against time to put himself firmly back in the WC reckoning. Having taken 72 wickets in 44 matches and established himself as a key figure in the ODI setup, he’s likely to be given every chance to fully recover from the injury and earn a place in the WC 15 even though he won’t play any cricket before May. His inclusion in the squad is likely to be determined by his ability to play in the warm-up matches.
Jhye Richardson – A fine tour of India in which he took eight wickets in three matches has likely elevated Richardson ahead of the likes of Coulter-Nile and Behrendorff in the pecking order. Still only 22 and fairly raw, he looks to have a bright future across formats for Australia having also made his Test debut in January deputising for the injured Hazlewood. If the latter fails to recover from his aforementioned injury then Richardson could also find himself in the WC starting XI.
Ashton Turner – Brought into the squad for his abilities to hit a long ball and his excellent running between the wickets, Turner was drafted into the starting XI in India due to Stoinis’ misfortune and made the most of his chance scoring a magnificent unbeaten 43-ball 84 to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat in the four ODI. He will have the Pakistan series and then the IPL to prove he is worthy of a place in the WC 15. He can also bowl useful offspin and is excellent in the field.
Shaun Marsh – A big favourite of Justin Langer and a shining light during a poor 2018 for Australia, he’s scored four ODI hundreds in the past year against strong opposition (2 x England, South Africa and India) but his recent dry spell in India (scores of 16, 7 and 6) after he missed the series opener due to the birth of his second child, have tied in with similar players like Handscomb and Khawaja having timely success meaning Marsh’s spot suddenly looks vulnerable. Was left out for the series decider against India after Stoinis recovered from his thumb injury.
Nathan Lyon – Behind Zampa in the spinning ranks, Lyon is only likely to make the WC squad if Finch and the selectors decide they want to play two spinners during the tournament. He impressed bowling in tandem with Zampa in India where he offered his side much needed control during the middle overs.
Nathan Coulter-Nile – Played the first two India ODI’s before sitting out the remaining matches when Richardson came into the side. Capable of hitting a long ball down the order, his recent injury record could well count against him when Australia decide on their final 15.
Jason Behrendorff – Another injury-prone Western Australian quick, the left-armer originally came into the side after impressing in a handful of T20I matches and has let no one down without yet taking the hatful of wickets to fully cement his place in the WC 15. His left-arm angle and ability to swing the new ball are certainly in his favour but with Starc due to return soon, might he become redundant?
On the outside looking in
D’Arcy Short – A regular T20 performer, Short was recently called into the ODI squad to cover for Marsh who briefly went home on paternity leave. However, he failed to feature in any of the games and was already back playing in the Sheffield Shield before the tour finished.
Travis Head – A veteran of 42 ODI’s, Head was dropped in January after an underwhelming two-year spell in the side, where he scored one hundred and 10 fifties batting throughout the top and middle order. He remains unlikely to be re-visited before the WC.
Kane Richardson – The South Australian has played only 18 ODI’s in six years and is likely to remain on the outside unless a couple of the other fast bowlers are stricken down with injury. The leading wicket taker in this year’s Big Bash, he was called up for the India and Pakistan series when Starc was ruled out.
The Cape Town ball-tampering saga was the beginning of the end for a host of hugely significant figures in Australian cricket as the country endured its toughest year in living memory.
Australian cricket review 2018
It had all begun so well. The Australian cricket team started 2018 with an innings and 123-run victory over England to seal a 4-0 Ashes triumph.
There were smiles aplenty as the Sydney sun shone down brightly on Steve Smith and Darren Lehmann’s men after they’d made relatively light work of the old enemy. There was even time for a “classless” trophy presentation to follow – featuring a giant blue hand decorated in the Aussie flag and holding up four fingers next to the St George’s flag of England that featured a clenched fist to resemble the four-nil score line.
However, that was all a big masquerade by Cricket Australia. Behind the scenes the wider public were starting to grow tired of the way the Australian cricket team acted on and off the field. Whether it was the crude sledging or the ongoing arrogance of certain members of the team, tensions were starting to boil up.
There was talk of exhaustion in the camp as an unrelenting schedule that included a full Ashes series of five Tests, five ODIs and a T20I tri-series was then swiftly followed by a four-Test tour of South Africa. And it was beginning to take its toll on several high-profile members of the side – not least captain and vice-captain Smith and David Warner.
Smith citied potential burnout as his reasoning behind skipping part of the ODI series that proceeded the Ashes, while Warner was thrust into the captaincy for the T20I tri-series as both men continued to live their lives firmly inside the international “Cricket Bubble”.
Inside that “Cricket Bubble” the side had begun to develop a win-at-all-costs mentality as the demands of international cricket and a wider growing arrogance led to exaggerated aggression, and at times a sense of invincibility.
While no-one ever expected the Australians to cheat as blatantly as they did on that infamous Saturday afternoon at Newlands in late March, there were earlier warning signs that their conduct had started to spiral rapidly out of control. Not least, the continuing on and off field angst between the Australians and their hosts South Africa which had begun in Durban with an ugly staircase altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock that set the tone for the poor behaviour that followed throughout the series.
However, things certainly hit the nadir during the third Test in Cape Town. Not only did Warner instruct Cameron Bancroft to use sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball, but then when Smith and Bancroft subsequently tried to cover up the tampering they also lied to the Australian public.
The backlash was severe. “Sandpapergate” spared no one. Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull felt the need to get involved and the incident made worldwide news. Smith and Warner were immediately stepped down from leadership duties while investigations commenced. They would later both be handed one-year suspensions from CA while Bancroft was handed nine months.
Coach Lehmann was spared the axe but resigned days later, while CEO James Sutherland quickly announced there was to be a review of the “culture and conduct” of Australia’s professional cricket teams.
Newly reinstated wicketkeeper Tim Paine was handed the permanent Test captaincy, with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Marsh appointed his joint vice-captains. Meanwhile, long-time candidate Justin Langer replaced Lehmann as head coach. Langer’s first task was to preside over a 5-0 ODI series loss in England as Australia’s one-day side lived up to its ongoing mediocrity of recent years.
Without the batting prowess of Smith and Warner and, at times, a host of leading fast bowlers due to injury, Australia were being shown up as the ordinary side they’d now become. A T20I tri-series final was lost to Pakistan in Zimbabwe to continue a difficult beginning to the Langer-reign before a sense of pride was restored with a hard-earned Test draw against Pakistan in Dubai. Despite that draw the series was lost with a 373-run defeat in Abu Dhabi as familiar batting struggles were again very evident.
While the team were trying to win back the public with their new-found respectful behaviour, a host of changes were happening at the boardroom level. In June, James Sutherland announced that he was stepping down as CEO after seventeen years at the helm and he was replaced by former CA director Kevin Roberts.
Roberts was a long-time ally of CA chairman David Peever and it appeared the pair would continue working together when Peever was voted back in for a second term just days before the findings of the cultural review were made public to the state boards in late October. However, just one week into his three-year tenure Peever resigned after increasing pressure from New South Wales chairman John Knox.
Former captain Mark Taylor followed shortly after, resigning from his position on the board despite being many people’s choice to succeed Peever as chairman. That role eventually went to Earl Eddings who had originally taken up the role on a temporary basis following Peever’s swift exit.
Two more high-profile names followed Peever and Taylor out CA’s Jolimont headquarters on November 7th when Roberts used his new-found authority to fire both Pat Howard and Ben Amarfio. Howard, the Head of Team Performance, was due to leave after the 2019 Ashes but was shown the door early and replaced by former Australian cricketer Belinda Clark – who took the role on an interim basis.
Amarfio, meanwhile was the CA General Manager of Media and reportedly had to be escorted from the building by security after being made aware of his dismissal. He was replaced by Anthony Everard in a reshuffle of the CA media arm.
Much like the boardroom, things on the field continued to be rocky as the ODI side, now led by Aaron Finch, were beaten 2-1 at home to South Africa. They finished the year winning just two of their 13 matches and with only five months left to finetune for next year’s World Cup, their hopes of retaining the trophy they won in 2015 look particularly slim.
The Test side has also endured a tough year too. After beginning the year with back-to-back wins in Sydney and Durban they won just once thereafter. That win came in Perth during the ongoing series with India where Australia find now themselves unable to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after the visitors secured wins in both Adelaide and Melbourne. They finish the year with three wins, one draw and six defeats.
Predictably, the side are currently missing the runs of Smith and Warner. Their current run of nine Tests with just a single century scored is the country’s worst drought in more than 100 years. Taking out the hundreds scored by Usman Khawaja, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh in Sydney in January, only Khawaja has been able to pass three figures since. Collectively, Australia’s batting in 2018 has averaged around 26 runs per dismissal – their lowest since 1978.
Without Smith and Warner, the Test side needed senior duo Khawaja and Shaun Marsh to step up but neither have done enough to ensure Australia regularly post competitive totals. Khawaja has certainly faired the better of the pair with 732 runs at 40.66 in 10 Tests while Marsh has struggled averaging just 25.89.
Pat Cummins has led the bowling with 44 wickets at 19.97, while Mitchell Starc (31 wickets at 33.35) and Hazlewood (26 wickets at 33.26) have endured slightly disappointing returns compared with previous years as Nathan Lyon again led the wickets column with 49 victims at 34.02.
Elsewhere, another farewell was announced in April as a new television deal was agreed with Seven and Fox Sports worth $1.182 billion – replacing Channel 9 who had shown all international cricket in Australia since Kerry Packer led a television sports revolution 40 years ago.
After a miserable few months in Australian cricket, Usman Khawaja – filling the opening void vacated by Bancroft and Warner – scored a masterful final day 141 to marshal his side towards safety in their first Test since that fateful South African series in March.
Faced with a gigantic run chase of 462 and 140 overs to bat out, Khawaja held out for 522 minutes across day’s four and five, putting on stands of 132 with Travis Head and 79 with Tim Paine as the visitors finished eight down when Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed finally offered his hand to opposite number Paine.
The innings (and subsequent draw) restored some much-needed pride in Australian cricket whilst also putting pay to the theory that Khawaja couldn’t bat against spin bowling in Asian conditions.
Low Point: Sandpapergate, Newlands
While it’s been a year of great lows in Australian cricket, nothing compares to incident in Cape Town when Warner, Smith and Bancroft decided that the only way of getting the ball to reverse swing was to scuff it with sandpaper.
What followed will tarnish the aforementioned trio for the rest of their careers. But at least some good did come out of the episode with the trio being forced to turn out for club sides Randwick Petersham, Sutherland and Willetton.
New Kid on the block: Billy Stanlake
Although the 24-year-old Queenslander, made his international debut almost two years ago, he really shot to promise as a white-ball specialist in 2018.
Standing at 204 cm’s tall, Stanlake made his international debut on the back of some impressive displays for BBL side Adelaide Strikers and has since continued a steady rise in both the T20I and ODI formats.
His pace and awkward bounce have regularly asked questions of opposite batsmen such as when he took figures of 4-8 and 3-21 against Pakistan during a T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe in July.
He also had some success in ODI cricket too, going for just 5.75 in a high scoring series against England which included 3-35 from his 10 overs at Old Trafford.
However, with Hazlewood, Starc, Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile all ahead of him in the ODI setup a place in Australia’s 15-man 2019 World Cup squad may be currently out of reach.
Frequent back issues have resulted in Stanlake going down the limited-overs route as he’s yet to add to his two first-class appearances both made for Queensland in 2014.
Fading Star: Shaun Marsh
Could Trevor Hohns and his selection panel finally be running out of patience with the 35-year-old batsman who has averaged just 25.89 this year? – Taking away his hundred in the new year’s Test that average drops to 18.66 in his previous nine Tests.
There are ongoing whispers that Marsh’s Test future could be over if he fails to make runs against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
A talented lefthander, Marsh has endured a stop-start Test career since debuting against Sri Lanka in 2011. Five of his six Test hundreds have been made in Australian victories, including two in last summer’s Ashes.
What 2019 holds:
After failing to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in the ongoing series with India, nothing less than an impressive showing against a weak Sri Lankan side in their two-Test series in late January, would be seen as a disaster.
The Sri Lanka series, which includes a maiden Test at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, follows a three-match ODI series against India which will begin Australia’s countdown to their World Cup defence.
India then return the favour by hosting Australia in a five-match ODI series in late February and early March before a potential yet-to-be-confirmed ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE that is expected to accommodate the return of Smith and Warner sometime after March 29th.
The World Cup preparation will then ramp up in May ahead of Australia’s opening match with Afghanistan on June 1st. Should the Aussies progress to the final (July 14th) then they’ll have just nine days rest before playing a pre-Ashes tour match against an Australian A side in Southampton.
The five-Test Ashes campaign, the first series in the new World Test Championship, then begins in Birmingham on August 1st, before rolling onto Lords, Leeds, Manchester and concluding at The Oval on September 12th.
They then round out the year with home series against Pakistan (2 Tests, 3 T20Is) and New Zealand (3 Tests, 3 ODIs).
With another season of the County Championship set to begin on Friday, CaughtOutCricket profiles ten future prospects under the age of twenty to follow the teens of 2016 and 2017
Harry Brook (Age 19) – Yorkshire
Nineteen-year-old Harry Brook is yet another young batsman to fall off the highly regarded Yorkshire production line. A breakout 2017 has led to many suggesting the talented right-hander has all the tools to take his game to the next level.
Despite his tender age he’s already gained a wealth of experience in his nascent career. Be it breaking the Yorkshire Schools record for the most runs in a season while at Ilkey Grammar School in 2013, making his county bow last summer or recently captaining his country in the U19 World Cup in New Zealand – there’s a lot to admire about this youngster.
Brought up playing cricket at his local Burley-In-Whalfedale club alongside his father and uncle, Brook was soon breaking records and turning heads on his way to representing the various Yorkshire underage sides.
After registering a golden duck on first-class debut against the visiting Pakistani’s in 2016, a run of impressive second XI scores (127, 47no, 112 and 161) led to a much-anticipated Championship debut against Middlesex at Lords last summer. Batting at number three he showed great composure in making a first-innings 38 as wicket tumbled around him.
Although he managed only modest returns thereafter – He finished the season out of the side after just 82 runs at 13.66 spread across six innings – his unflustered approach at the crease drew many admirers in the Yorkshire set-up.
He carried on his progression by leading England at the U19 World Cup and topping the team batting averages with 239 runs at 119.50 including two fifties and one hundred. However, despite a fine personal tournament where he was dismissed just twice in five innings, he ended on a sour note when he was dropped for the final match after breaking a team rule.
What 2018 holds in store?
Despite a disappointing end to his U19 World Cup campaign, Brook has begun his 2018 season with Yorkshire in superb fashion. He kickstarted the club’s pre-season tour of South Africa off with a bang, making a magnificent 154 against a Nottinghamshire attack including Mark Footitt and Harry Gurney.
Having said that, he still faces stiff competition to regain his place in the side once the season commences in mid-April. With Indian rock Cheteshwar Pujara arriving for the beginning of the season to supplement the experienced guard of Adam Lyth, Alex Lees and Gary Ballance, it appears that Brook will be fighting it out with Jack Leaning and Tom Kohler-Cadmore for a batting spot.
Brook’s predicament becomes even more complicated when England stars Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow return for Yorkshire’s third Championship match.
It remains likely that he’ll again have to remain patient for his opportunity whilst continuing to score heavily for the Second XI and the Yorkshire Academy.
Matthew Potts (19) – Durham
Matty Potts’ emergence as a talented seam-bowling allrounder has coincided with another traumatic offseason in the northeast.
The Sunderland-born teen shone brightly in a handful of first team opportunities in 2017 and looks set to inherit more responsibility this summer after the club lost senior players Graham Onions, Paul Coughlin and Keaton Jennings to First Division counties and promising batsman Jack Burnham to a one-year drugs ban.
Nineteen-year-old Potts made his first-class debut against Kent last June where despite collecting only one wicket he was entrusted to bowl the final over with just one Kent wicket required. Although he failed to claim the final scalp he had impressed captain Paul Collingwood enough to earn further opportunities.
The wickets began to flow for Potts thereafter as he took ten wickets across matches against Glamorgan and Derbyshire before finishing the season off with a maiden Championship fifty against Derbyshire.
He was rewarded with a three-year professional contract to keep him at the club until after the 2020 season after finishing the year with 14 wickets at 33.21.
What 2018 holds in store?
With club stalwarts Onions and Paul Coughlin heading to pastures new in Lancashire and Nottinghamshire respectively, the door is certainly open for Potts to continue his development in a first team environment.
Veteran Australian Nathan Rimmington has arrived to reinforce the seam bowling options and will join the likes of Potts, James Weighell, Barry McCarthy and Brydon Carse as potential options to supplement first choice pair Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood (should international and IPL commitments allow).
After impressing in limited overs cricket with the England U19’s last summer Potts will also be looking to break into the Durham one-day and T20 sides this year with the Royal London Cup beginning in late May.
Hamidullah Qadri (17) – Derbyshire
Nicknamed “The Magician” offspinner Hamidullah Qadri burst onto the county scene last summer continuing a remarkable personal story that has seen him flee war-torn Afghanistan at the age of ten to become the youngest ever county player to represent Derbyshire at just sixteen.
His story added a significant chapter last June when, just two weeks after completing his GCSE exams, he put in a man-of-the-match performance on first-class debut to bowl Derbyshire to their first Championship victory in nearly two years.
After displaying impressive control in conceding just 16 runs from 15 first-innings overs he turned matchwinner in the second dig. Opening the bowling he returned figures of 26.3-8-60-5 as he tore through the Glamorgan lower order on a turning Cardiff wicket.
More success in Championship matches against Durham and Sussex further enhanced his growing potential as he finished his maiden season with 10 wickets at 28.80.
County cricket’s first millennium child had made an immediate impact and it wasn’t long before he was representing his adopted nation at U19 level. Although he was overlooked for the 2018 U19 World Cup he intends to commit his international future to England.
What 2018 holds in store?
After learning from Derbyshire’s experienced overseas spinners Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir last summer, Qadri looked set to continue his education under Mitchell Santner this summer.
Santner was due to arrive later in the summer to replace South African quick Duane Oliver however a severe knee injury to the Kiwi spinner has subsequently put pay to that deal.
While the club have recently confirmed they are seeking a replacement for Santner, they’re currently left with only two specialist tweakers in Qadri and legspinner Matt Critchley alongside the part time offerings of Wayne Madsen.
While it’s likely that Billy Godleman’s side will see the all-round skills of Critchley and Madsen as adequate spin options in early season conditions, Qadri’s time will come later in the summer when the pitches begin to take more turn.
In the meantime, the youngster will be left splitting his time between the Second XI Championship and Derbyshire Premier Cricket League side Alvaston and Boulton CC.
Amar Virdi (19) – Surrey
An offspinner of Indian-heritage, Amar Virdi broke into the Surrey four-day side last summer acting as a second spinner alongside Gareth Batty after the shock early-season retirement of former England allrounder Zafar Ansari.
Virdi impressed on his first-class debut against eventual Championship winners Essex when he bowled former England wicketkeeper James Foster as his maiden victim on his way to collecting first-innings returns of 3-82.
With Surrey regularly opting for a solitary spinner, Virdi had to wait before receiving further opportunities later in the summer with appearances against Hampshire and Middlesex sandwiched between two youth Tests against the Indian U19 side.
While he didn’t pick up a hatful of wickets in his three Championship performances (six wickets at 45.16) he caught the eye of the England selectors and was rewarded with a place on the England Lions winter tour of Australia.
He performed admirably in his one appearance Down Under. Bowling in tandem with fellow England spin aspirant Jack Leach he took 4-70 from 18 overs against a strong Queensland XI side.
What 2018 holds in store?
Despite being in his fortieth year and recently relinquishing the captaincy, veteran Batty has showed no signs of winding down just yet so its again likely that Virdi will be contrived to settle for a second spinners role with perhaps more first XI opportunities coming later in the summer.
Alongside left-armer Freddie van den Bergh, Virdi will offer quality backup for Batty whilst also continuing to learn his trade under the sound stewardship of Alec Stewart and Michael Di Vanuto.
He will also hope to gain further overs under his belt in the Second XI Championship and with Sunbury CC in the Surrey Premier Division.
Will Jacks (19) – Surrey
Another member of the recent Surrey youth-movement alongside Virdi, Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Ryan Patel, aggressive allrounder Will Jacks hopes to become next in line to wow the crowds in South London.
A hard-hitting batsman, who holds Kevin Pietersen as his idol, Jacks has appeared in several first team squads without yet making his Surrey debut. However, the 2017 Academy player of the year is highly regarded by the club’s hierarchy and was rewarded with a two-year professional contract in October.
Despite not yet making his county first XI, Jacks has built up an impressive resume with the England U19 side. His 102 against India in a Youth Test last summer was a particularly assertive innings that included nine fours and six sixes.
He has also captained the side and acted as vice-captain to Harry Brook in the recently concluded U19 World Cup.
A more than handy offspinner, especially in the shorter formats, he topped the England bowling averages at the U19 World Cup with 7 wickets at 21.57 to go with his 194 runs at 38.60 which included a century against Canada.
What 2018 holds in store?
Although Jacks is yet to make his first XI bow, there’s hope that he’ll be involved with the Surrey one-day teams this summer.
His powerful batting and offspin bowling have him earmarked as a limited-overs specialist and he’s already been involved with the club’s T20 side in pre-season – making 5 against Lancashire in Dubai.
With injury ruling out overseas signing Mitchell Marsh and Jason Roy competing in the IPL, there could well be a Championship opportunity for Jacks at the season edges closer with Surrey yet to replace either man. With a top three of Rory Burns, Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick likely set in stone, Jacks is likely to be competing with Ryan Patel, Ollie Pope, Rikki Clarke for a spot in the middle order.
With Roy due to return after the IPL commences and Virat Kohli rumoured to be signing to play for the club in June, Jacks is likely to return to play in the various second XI competitions as well as representing club side Guildford CC.
Liam Banks (18) – Warwickshire
In what was a desperate overall season for Warwickshire, 18-year-old opener Liam Banks offered a sign of brighter times ahead.
With relegation inevitable towards the latter part of the season, Banks was one of two 18-year-olds (fast bowler Henry Brookes was the other) given a taste of first team action ahead of life in Division Two.
Banks made his first-class debut against Yorkshire at Headingley in September making 13 and 29 before rounding out the season with scores of 1 and 14 against Hampshire at Edgbaston.
Although he managed only four low scores, the Newcastle-under-Lyme-born man is held in high regard in Birmingham having joined the club’s Academy from Staffordshire at the age of 13. He was recently rewarded with a two-year contract extension after a series of impressive performances in the Second XI Championship.
A regular for Staffordshire in the Minor Counties League, Banks also excelled for the England U19 side in the recent World Cup. Splitting time between opening and batting in the middle order he made 207 runs at 51.75 including 120 against Canada and 74 against Bangladesh.
What 2018 holds in store?
After years of overreliance on the veteran batting presence of Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Rikki Clarke and Tim Ambrose, Warwickshire have finally injected some youthful exuberance into their batting with Dominic Sibley (22), Sam Hain (22), Matthew Lamb (21), Andrew Umeed (21) and Ed Pollock (22) joining Banks in the ranks.
Despite finishing last summer in possession of the openers position, it’s expected that Banks will be battling it out with Scotsman Umeed and former Yorkshire allrounder Will Rhodes for the chance to open with the established Sibley.
Rhodes started the recent MCCU match against Durham University and therefore looks likely to begin the Championship season ahead of Banks.
For now, Banks will return to Second XI duty whilst also representing West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham & District Premier League.
Pat Brown (19) – Worcestershire
Nineteen-year-old Pat Brown followed fellow young quick Josh Tongue (20) into the Worcestershire first team during a successful 2017 for the county.
The Peterborough-born Brown, a right-arm fast bowler with huge potential, was recruited by Worcestershire in 2015 after being spotted at a Pace Factor open day at Wellington School whilst he was then representing Lincolnshire Premier League side Market Deeping.
A regular for the club’s Second XI, he made his first team debut in a T20 match against Nottinghamshire in July before playing a further five NatWest Blast matches with limited success.
He proved much more adept with red ball in hand, making his Championship debut against Sussex in August he claimed Joffra Archer as his maiden first-class victim as he ended the campaign with six wickets at 33.16 across four matches.
What 2018 holds in store?
With the Pears sealing promotion after two years in the Second Division, the whole playing staff face tougher times ahead.
However, the New Road-based side have an abundance of up-and-coming fast bowlers to compliment the club’s veteran performers.
The 2017 ever-present pace trio of Tongue, Joe Leach and Ed Barnard are certain to begin the season in possession of a starting role after sharing 163 Championship wickets between them last summer.
Elsewhere, fans favourite Jack Shantry and experienced newcomer Steve Magoffin will be in the mix to supplement the first-choice trio, leaving Brown to battle it out with fellow young quicks George Scrimshaw, Dillon Pennington and Adam Finch for a backup role.
Although Brown could initially struggle to cement a first XI spot, it remains a long season with three competitions to compete for so he’s likely to see some action down the line.
Tom Banton (19) – Somerset
An attacking top-order batsman and occasional wicketkeeper, Tom Banton is looking to follow in the footsteps of Tom Abell and George Bartlett in graduating from the Somerset academy into becoming a first-choice batsman.
The 19-year-old started out in the Warwickshire academy before moving south to Taunton in 2015 and recently signing a two-year professional contract to remain at the club until the end of the 2019 season.
He made Somerset debut last summer playing back-to-back T20 matches against Middlesex where he caught the eye with the sharp legside stumping of England batsman Dawid Malan.
Banton spent the winter in South Africa playing a tri-series with the hosts and Namibia alongside Somerset teammates Fin Trenouth (see below) and Tom Lammonby before they headed to the U19 World Cup in New Zealand.
Opening the batting alongside both Brook and Banks, Banton acuminated 233 runs at 38.83 with a superb 112 against the hosts New Zealand in England’s final match of the tournament.
What 2018 holds in store?
Eddie Byrom, Marcus Trescothick, Abell, Bartlett, James Hildreth started the recent four-day pre-season match with Ireland with the experienced Steven Davies keeping wicket and rounding out the top six.
With the recent arrival of Australian opener Matt Renshaw now confirmed, its likely that Byrom will give way to start the Championship season against Worcestershire on April 20th with Roelof van der Merve, Peter Trego and Lewis Gregory fighting it out for the allrounders role at number seven.
Such depth is likely to leave Banton and fellow youngsters Trenouth and Lammonby on the margins of the Championship side this summer.
However, after the departure of reserve wicketkeeper Ryan Davies over the winter, Banton is set to backup Steven Davies this year with plenty of limited-overs opportunities likely to be heading his way in the Royal London Cup and the Vitality Blast.
Finlay Trenouth (19) – Somerset
A hard-hitting batsman with enormous potential, 19-year-old Fin Trenouth has yet to play a senior match for his county but is already been talked up across the Quantock Hills.
The academy product shot to fame in 2016 when he scored an unbeaten 330 for the Somerset U17 side in a U17 Championship match against Hampshire.
A lively character with the ability to hit a clean ball, he’s currently signed to a summer contract at Taunton after graduating from the academy but its surely only a matter of time before the right-hander breaks into the first team setup.
Also capable of keeping wicket, he’s a product of the prestigious Millfield School – which has also produced the likes of James Hildreth, Craig Kieswetter and Daniel Bell-Drummond.
Trenouth made his England U19 debut against India last summer and also represented the team at the U19 World Cup in January but struggled to live up to his potential with just 27 runs at 6.75.
What 2018 holds in store?
It’s a big year for the exciting Trenouth. Only currently on a one-year deal with the county, he’ll be keen to impress in the second XI championship to earn a longer stay at the County Ground.
With Somerset deep in their batting heading into the season, Trenouth will be battling it out with fellow youngsters Bartlett, Banton and Lammonby for first XI opportunities.
He will also look to continue his apprenticeship with Devon in the Minor Counties League and club side Bristol CC in the West of England Premier League.
Felix Organ (18) – Hampshire
Offspinning-allrounder, Felix Organ broke into the Hampshire first XI last summer after string of impressive performances for the academy side.
Born in Sydney but raised in the south of England where he attended both Twyford and Canford schools, Organ’s 536 academy runs at 39.07 saw him earn his maiden first-class callup against Middlesex at Uxbridge.
Despite the inadequate Uxbridge drainage system, which saw the match dwindle into a bore draw, Organ managed to make 16 from 36 deliveries in his sole innings batting at number five.
Earlier in the summer he had represented the England U19 side in their limited overs series with India where he top-scored with 61 in the fourth match. However, he was overlooked for the U19 World Cup squad after a disappointing winter tri-series in South Africa.
He signed a two-year academy contract towards the end of the year and is very much a part of Hampshire’s longer-term plans going forward.
What 2018 holds in store?
Organ has already begun his 2018 campaign by playing four one-day matches for Hampshire during their pre-season participation in the Super50 Cup in Barbados in February.
After recording two ducks and taking just two wickets across the four matches, it’s safe to say Organ didn’t have the immediate impact he would have desired but he will be better off for the experience gained playing on turning Caribbean wickets.
Looking ahead to the county season, it already been confirmed that the 18-year-old will spend the majority of the season playing for the academy and in the Second XI championship.
With fellow allrounder Liam Dawson, recent England cap Mason Crane and young offspinner Brad Taylor ahead of him with the ball and the club recruiting top batting talent in Hashim Amla and Sam Northeast, it’s unlikely any first XI opportunities are forthcoming in 2018.
Also look out for… Jack Plom (18) – Essex, Liam Trevaskis (18) – Durham, Ollie Robinson (19) – Kent, James Taylor (17) – Derbyshire
Australia showed plenty of grit and resolve in Test series against India, Bangladesh and England, but their limited-overs performances took a nose-drive as off field issues clouded much of the year.
In the midst of another successful home Ashes campaign it’s easy to assume that everything in 2017 was rosy Down Under. However, just a few months ago Australian cricket found itself draped in a deep power struggle with potentially lasting consequences.
A contract pay dispute between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) had become so serious that mediation was called for and government influence was on standby should the dispute not be resolved before the Ashes.
Whether the Ashes would have ever become compromised is up for debate. However, that it ever got to that stage was a major concern for all involved.
With the CA board wanting to break up the previous revenue sharing model – which had effectively been in place since 1998 – and the ACA wanting to keep the same memorandum of understanding (MoU) in place there was bound to be a conflict of interests – but the way it played out in public didn’t reflect well on either party.
With 230 of the 300 contracted Australian cricketers essentially unemployed throughout July, it raised concerns that some players would turn their backs on CA altogether and instead join the T20 circuits around the world.
After months of public squabbling between CA and the ACA it took the rational intervention of long-time CA CEO James Sutherland to finally bring the two parties together and a new MoU was eventually agreed on August 3rd. The players would keep their revenue sharing model with a few compromises and CA would ensure no more cricket was lost with tours of Bangladesh and India looming on the horizon.
On the field the Test side, marshalled by the increasingly influential Steve Smith, enjoyed relative success. In all, they finished the year with six wins, two draws and three defeats spread across four series. In January they romped to 220-run win over Pakistan in Sydney to seal a 3-0 whitewash over the visitors before heading to India in February.
Despite a spectacular 333-run victory in the first Test in Pune, Australia went onto lose the four-Test series 2-1 with defeats in Bengaluru and Dharamsala sandwiched between a draw in Ranchi. Despite another series defeat on the subcontinent – this felt like a watershed moment.
Led by the excellent Smith, who scored three centuries in the series on his way to 499 runs at 71.28, Australia competed well in each of the matches and were unlucky to come out second best against a fine Indian side.
For Smith it was just the beginning in another extraordinary year in Test cricket. He’d go onto finish the year as the leading run-maker with 1305 runs at 76.76 – the fourth successive year he’s passed the 1000+ run mark. Not satisfied with only three centuries in India he also scored another three in the first four Ashes Tests later in the year. Match winning efforts in Brisbane and Perth were joined by a match-saving vigil in Melbourne.
Like Smith, Nathan Lyon also finished the year on top of the world. His 63 wickets at 23.55 were more than any other bowler and his evolution as a world-class spinner played a major part in Australia’s Test fortunes.
Lyon certainly played a huge role in Australia’s two match tour of Bangladesh in August. His 22 wickets at 14.31 included three five-wicket hauls in just four innings as the visitors fought back from a 20-run defeat in Mirpur to level the series with a seven-wicket victory in Chittagong. The series also witnessed the return to form of David Warner who scored back-to-back centuries after struggling in similar conditions in India.
The return of Pat Cummins to the Test side was also a major boost. A spate of injuries had meant that 1946 days had elapsed between his debut in December 2011 and his return to the side in March. His return meant that Australia could finally field their pace attack of choice, for an Ashes series no less, with Cummins joining Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
The Ashes were regained with the minimum amount of fuss. Despite many, this author included, predicting a tighter series it took just 15 days and three Tests for the Urn to return Down Under.
Led by the runs of Smith and the shared wickets of Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon and Starc they blow England away whenever the visitors appeared to be in the contest. While it wasn’t as brutal as the Mitchell Johnson-led effort of four years previous, the short-pitched bowling was enough to regularly dislodge a weak England batting line-up.
Don’t be mistaken though, this still isn’t a great Australian Test side. They are, though, an improving side who should still have their best years ahead of them. In fact, of the current side only Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh are entering their latter years.
The selectors deserve a great deal of credit for their sensible and brave selection calls ahead of the series with veteran’s Paine and Marsh recalled to the side ahead of underperforming duo Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell. Likewise, Cameron Bancroft and Mitchell Marsh both made vital contributions when called upon to replace the out-of-touch Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb.
In the limited overs formats, it was a poor year. They started the year with a 4-1 series victory at home to Pakistan but struggled to replicate that form away from home. A 2-0 series defeat in New Zealand was followed by a disappointing Champions Trophy campaign.
Not helped by the wet English weather they saw their opening two matches both abandoned before they were knocked out of the tournament by hosts England. Although news has recently broken that shows them somewhat unfortunate to have exited the tournament so early, their displays against New Zealand and England were sub-par.
They were then defeated 4-1 in India to round out a disappointing year in ODI cricket. Finding the right balance remains a key issue going forward for a side looking to defend their World Cup crown in 2019.
In T20 cricket they won just two of the six matches they played. Despite the growing success of the Big Bash, it remains a format which the national side has yet to master. Although they weren’t helped earlier in the year when a scheduling farce forced them to pick a weakened side for a three-match home series with Sri Lanka.
With the Test side over in India preparing for their series opener in Pune – a T20I match was being played at the Adelaide Oval just 15hrs and 50mins beforehand.
High Point: Victory in Pune.
Despite winning the Ashes back on the final day of Test cricket at Perth’s famous WACA ground, Australia’s best moment of the year came in Pune in late February.
Going into the series against India as huge underdogs – owing mainly to their terrible recent record on the subcontinent – Australia turned the tables (quite literally!!) to beat a fancied Indian side and go one-nil up in the series.
For the Aussies it was their first Test victory on Indian soil since an Adam Gilchrist-led side won 2-1 there in 2004.
Led by the 12 wickets of left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe and a fine second-innings hundred by Smith they bowled out the Indians for just 105 and 107 on a raging turner to win by a gigantic 333 runs.
Although they still went onto lose the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, it showed that they could achieve success in subcontinental conditions.
Low Point: Public pay disputes.
While their 20-run defeat to Bangladesh in Mirpur in August – their first ever Test loss to the Asian nation – was the low point on the field, the significance of the pay dispute and its effect on the perception of cricket in Australia was particularly damning.
As the whole episode played out in a public slanging match, the way Australian cricket was being ran – often the envy of other cricket boards across the world – had been severely tarnished.
Despite not being a kid anymore at 25, Bancroft made his first serious foray into the international game when he was drafted in to open the batting for the Ashes.
Set to make his Test debut in Bangladesh in 2015 before the tour was postponed on security grounds, he was finally rewarded with a place in the side at the expense of an out-of-form Renshaw.
When others were failing to make an impression, Bancroft hit 442 runs at 110.50 for Western Australia in the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield. His 76no and 86 against a full strength New South Wales attack was a particularly significant factor in his callup.
After a superb unbeaten second-innings 82 on Test debut in Brisbane his form has thus far been patchy with 179 runs at just 29.84, although he’s sure to be granted a prolonged run in the side.
There was a time – after he endured a mixed tour of India and subsequently lost his CA contract – that Shaun Marsh looked like becoming the 2017 fading star of Australian cricket.
However, a fine Ashes series has seen the 34-year-old batsman remain a pivotal part of Smith’s side – instead its Peter Siddle who has seen his eight-year international career drift towards its conclusion.
The 33-year-old Siddle last played a Test for his country against South Africa in Perth last November before succumbing to a back injury which ruled him out of action until October. After a slump in form for Victoria – He’s taken just five first-class wickets at 75.20 in four matches this summer – he was dropped for the most recent Shield match against Western Australia.
Barring a huge turnaround in form and a spate of injuries to the current Australian quicks, it’s likely that Siddle’s played the last of his 62 Tests. An accurate seamer bowler in his prime, “Sidds” has taken 211 wickets at 29.92 since making his debut in India in 2008.
Nathan Lyon heads into his fourth Ashes campaign full of confidence after a career defining 2017 has seen him reach the top of his game.
It’s Boxing Day 2016 and 63,478 people are packed inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground eagerly anticipating the spell of a certain Australian bowler. No, it’s not the fearsome pace of Mitchell Starc or the unerring accuracy of Josh Hazlewood they’re after, it’s the offspin of Nathan Lyon.
They were there to witness a phenomenon. The “Nice, Garry!” phenomenon. It had begun weeks earlier during a day/night Test match at the Adelaide Oval when wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, recently recalled to the side for his chirpiness behind the stumps, devised the rallying cry in a throwback similar to Ian Healy’s famous “Bowling Shane!” tagline witnessed throughout the 1990’s.
Wade’s catchphrase quickly went viral and soon escalated into a nationwide Nathan Lyon-love fest, so much so that it now had its own Facebook page. Heading into the Melbourne Test over 22,000 Facebook users signed a petition campaigning for the MCG crowd to collectively yell the, now famous, slogan whenever Lyon delivered the third ball of his opening spell.
Lo and behold, Lyon’s cult following grew to further heights when, right on cue, he sent the festive crowd into a frenzy by having Pakistani opener Sami Aslam caught at slip halfway through his opening over.
The once unheralded Lyon had now become a fully-fledged Australian cult hero. However, things could easily have turned out much different…
Just weeks earlier, Lyon’s 2016 was heading towards an uncertain end. He was on the verge of being dropped from the Test side after a disastrous defeat to South Africa in Hobart coincided with his own slump in form and confidence. At one point he’d failed to take a single wicket in 660 first-class deliveries split between the Sheffield Shield and Test cricket.
If not for an untimely calf niggle suffered by New South Wales teammate Steve O’Keefe then Lyon would certainly have swapped places with his fellow spinner, thus finishing the year in domestic cricket.
Despite the memorable dismissal of Sami Aslam, his place in the side was once again in jeopardy heading into the final day of the Boxing Day fixture. The fanfare of that first-innings dismissal masked over his poor returns of 1-115 in the first dig. Then came the turning point. Faced with a straight forward looking final day survival act on a flat wicket, Pakistan collapsed in a heap to lose the match by an innings and 18 runs. Lyon’s contributions were massive. It was his scalps of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq that broke the back of a strong Pakistani middle order.
For Lyon, things had started to fall back into place – his roar was back!
Despite an up-and-down year with the ball – in which the nadir came when he was largely held accountable for a 3-0 series reverse in Sri Lanka – he still managed to conclude 2016 with a respectable 41 Test wickets at 36.34.
After a difficult 2016, Lyon entered this year with plenty to prove, not least to himself. His biggest challenge was always likely to be how he performed on the spin friendly subcontinental wickets of India and Bangladesh. He has since dispelled all the doubts surrounding his place in the side and propelled himself into the elite bracket of spin bowlers across world cricket.
Heading into Australia’s four-Test tour of India in February, Lyon held an unflattering bowling record in Asia. Spread across 11 Tests his 42 wickets had cost him 42.57 apiece. Since then his six matches have yielded a further 41 wickets at just 19.39.
After playing second fiddle to O’Keefe during Australia’s opening Test victory in Pune, he burst into life in Bengaluru taking first innings returns of 8-50 before following up with 5-92 in the final Test in Dharamsala. Despite finishing the series on the losing side, Lyon (with 19 wickets at 25.26) had finally conquered his final frontier with success on Asian soil.
Further success was enjoyed throughout Lyon’s first tour of Bangladesh where he claimed 9-161 during a losing cause in Dhaka before bowling Australia to a series-levelling victory in Chittagong with excellent match figures of 13-154.
His superb form across 2017 has seen him rewarded with a place in the ICC’s top ten bowling rankings for the first time in his Test career.
And so, ten years after his retirement, Australia finally appear to have a worthy spin successor to Shane Warne. He might not carry the same – on and off field – swagger as Warne, but six years after his Test debut, Nathan Michael Lyon is now enjoying a purple patch that is rapidly elevating him into Australian cricketing folklore.
For years his Test career often slipped under the radar. It easy to forget he was handed his Baggy Green as far back as 2011 and equally surprising that he’ll play his 70th Test match at the Gabba against England in two weeks’ time. And yet his numbers stack up against the very best in the modern era – (to date his 69 Tests have yielded 269 Test wickets at a highly respectable average of 31.83).
An unassuming character and very much a ‘team first’ man, he hasn’t got the X-factor of a David Warner, Mitchell Starc or Pat Cummins. Instead he’s his own man. Nathan Lyon is just… Well…Nathan Lyon – or perhaps Lyono, Garry, Gaz or the Goat if you’d prefer.
He earned his latest nickname The Goat after passing Hugh Trumble’s tally of 141 Test wickets in 2015 to become Australia’s greatest offspinner of all time. Before that he was more commonly known as Garry after the legendary AFL player Garry Lyon. Either way, he now stands behind only the great man Warne as Australian’s leading Test spin bowler.
A former Adelaide Oval groundskeeper turned Aussie team song leader, he’s been through more ups and downs in his 69-Test career than most. In 2013, he was dropped from the side twice in the space of three matches. For the Australian selectors it seemed there was always a sexier spin bowling option around the corner, except it turned out there wasn’t.
Until recently, Lyon’s relationship with the Australian public hasn’t always been all that smooth. There were times they forgot he was playing. There were times they wished he wasn’t playing. There were times they wished he was playing. There were times they wished he was Warnie, then the times they were just pleased he wasn’t just another Beau Casson or Jason Krejza. There were times they hated on him, times they loved him, and then the bizarre times they simply worshiped him.
Yet Lyon doesn’t get too high or low, he simply gets on with the task in hand. Bowling offspin in Australia is hard enough art without worrying about the uncontrollable. In fact, for a bowler with no particular mystery to talk of, his numbers on home soil (118 wickets at 34.55) compare admirably against his away record (151 wickets at 29.71).
Earlier in his career, his inability to dismiss Faf du Plessis and his South African colleagues on a fifth day wicket at the Adelaide Oval in 2012 carried a heavy weight on his slender shoulders. It took two years before he was remotely forgiven for this misdemeanour. His breakout performance came at an incredibly sad juncture in Australian cricket, when in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes’, Lyon took 12 wickets to bowl the Aussies to a last-gasp victory against India in Adelaide.
Since then he’s been a fixture in the side without ever feeling truly safe over his place until earlier this year.
So, what does the future hold for Lyon?
Only due to turn 30 three days before the Ashes begin, there appears plenty of bowling left in Lyon yet. It could be said that Warne enjoyed the best years of his Test career after turning 30. In fact, he took 386 of his 708 Test wickets after hitting the big 3-0 as he continued to add nous and guile to his already impressive repertoire of skills.
While Lyon has established himself as an excellent Test bowler, he’ll be eager to revive his stop-start limited overs career with a view to being involved in Australia’s World Cup defence in 2019. Despite making his ODI debut in March 2012, he’s earned just 13 caps and a solitary T20I appearance as others such as legspinner Adam Zampa have been preferred.
However, right now the ODI renaissance can wait for another day, there’s an Ashes series to be won.
England’s latest Ashes squad represents further muddled thinking from the selectors who appear to have run out of batting ideas.
In the backdrop of the Ben Stokes brawling scandal, England’s Ashes squad announcement has played second fiddle in the public interest despite several curious and underwhelming choices from the selectors.
The inclusion of Hampshire batsman James Vince has raised the most eyebrows with the right-hander being recalled to the Test side in place of the jettisoned Tom Westley, despite averaging just 32.94 in this summer’s recently concluded County Championship. There’s also a return for Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance and first Ashes call-ups for Surrey’s Ben Foakes, Hampshire’s Mason Crane and Craig Overton of Somerset.
Vince, who played seven Test matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan last summer, now looks likely to become England’s new number three after Westley became the latest England batsman to be thrown on the scrapheap following a disappointing five-match spell in the side. Having tried and disregarded a host of options in recent years including the likes of Sam Robson, Adam Lyth, Keaton Jennings, Alex Hales, Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett, Jos Buttler and Nick Compton – the England hierarchy have simply found themselves nowhere left to turn other than to recall the previously overwhelmed pair of Ballance and Vince.
The return of Vince, despite no recent County form to speak of and an unpleasant Test record that reads: 7 Tests, 11 innings, 212 runs at 19.27 and a highest score of 42, is another instance of muddled thinking from James Whitaker and his fellow selectors. Vince, although a talented batsman with a dreamy cover drive, was shown to be heavily suspect outside his off stump during his brief Test exposure last summer. His willingness to chase at wide deliveries he should be leaving alone could come back to haunt the England hierarchy if, as expected, he is the man chosen to bat at number three come the first Test on November 23rd.
While Ballance enjoyed a fine start to the summer with Yorkshire – eventually finishing with 951 runs at 67.92 – he has struggled for runs since breaking his finger against South Africa in July. This latest opportunity represents the third time he has returned to the Test set-up after been dropped during the 2015 Ashes and again in Bangladesh last winter. Ballance, a tough and resilient character, will look upon the opportunity as “Third time lucky”, although the cynics might suggest it’s more a case of “Last chance saloon” as his Test career reaches a major crossroads after averaging just 19 in his previous 12 matches.
Like Vince, Ballance has shown technical vulnerabilities throughout his international career. Whereas the Hampshire-man’s downfall is his love for the drive, Ballance has refused to change a technique that sees him shuffle back into the crease rather than getting onto the front foot. Despite both men’s flaws, it’s difficult to imagine who the selectors could have possibly turned to instead.
Hameed has struggled to make runs for Lancashire after returning from a thumb injury at the beginning of the summer, likewise Jennings has failed to pass 20 in the twelve innings he’s played for Durham since his Test axing in August. Hales and Buttler don’t play enough first-class cricket to form any valuable consistency in the format and the likes of Compton (season average – 26.23) Duckett (42.05) Lyth (25.22) and Robson (39.25) just haven’t pulled up enough trees this summer.
In a way you simply have to feel sorry for the selectors. Who else REALLY can they pick? They just can’t find the correct batting formula to compliment Alastair Cook and Joe Root. Since Root debuted in late 2012 there’s been thirteen batting debutants with only Hameed and Root himself managing to average over 40. Perhaps further down the line youngsters such as Joe Clarke of Worcestershire and Essex’s Daniel Lawrence should be given an opportunity but an Ashes tour is no place to blood adolescents.
Elsewhere, Somerset’s Craig Overton was included ahead of the unfit Mark Wood and injured Toby Roland-Jones. The call-up of Overton is England’s Ashes bolter and could well be an inspired one. Although he lacks the pace of his, currently injured, twin brother Jamie, Craig Overton is a fine cricketer who uses his tall frame to generate speed in the high 80’s as well being a more than capable batsman and sharp fielder. Many will suggest that he’s fortunate his brother is currently laid low, like Roland-Jones, with an early stage stress fracture of the back or he, instead, may have come under consideration. However, 46 County Championship wickets at 22.39 cannot be sniffed at and he’ll look to use the early tour matches as an opportunity to stake a claim alongside Jake Ball.
The decision to pick Mason Crane as the backup spinner is a risky one. It was certainly a decision based on two factors; Potential and recent exposure down under. Unquestionably, Crane has great potential as a young legspinner, however, he’s played second fiddle to the steady left-arm offerings of Liam Dawson at Hampshire this summer. Playing in just half of his side’s Championship fixtures, he’s mustered the unflattering returns of 16 wickets at 44.68. The big appeal for the selectors lies with his recent experience in Australian conditions after he spent winter playing Sydney Grade cricket with Gordon – a move that saw him rewarded with a Sheffield Shield debut for New South Wales.
Many have called it the weakest England squad to tour Australia in recent memory but with world-class batsmen in Cook and Root, a middle order packed with quality allrounders and the pace pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, it’s far too early to be calling 5-0 to the Aussies.
And yet, for England this could all pale into insignificance if Ben Stokes is an Ashes absentee.
With another year of the County Championship kicking off recently, I follow up last year’s list of the most exciting talent under the age of 20 with a new group of players ready to take the County scene by storm.
Aaron Beard (Age 19) – Essex
A right-arm fast bowler who has spent the winter with the England U19’s in India, Aaron Beard has impressed many at Chelmsford after rising through the ranks into the first XI during the 2016 season.
He was rewarded for a strong showing with a new one year extension at the end of last summer. After impressing with 4-62 on his first-class debut against the touring Sri Lankans in May last year he went on to play two further Championship matches later that month before dropping back into Second XI and U19 cricket.
But 2016 wasn’t the beginning of Beard’s journey as a known cricketer. In 2013, he hit the headlines as a 15-year-old schoolboy, when he was asked to field for the England side during a pre-Ashes scrimmage against Essex. Luckily for Beard his school gave him permission to skip class for a day out in the field instead.
What 2017 holds in store?
With a bit of luck on his side, Beard will have a regular chance to pit his wits against First Division batsmen for the first time after Essex earned promotion last summer. He began well with 3-47 and 2-45 in the season opener against Lancashire before dropping out of the side for the next match against Somerset in Taunton.
Essex’s first season in the top flight since 2010 has seen them reinforce the fast bowling stocks with the arrivals of both Mohammed Amir and Neil Wagner – who will share the overseas responsibly. With club legends Graham Napier and David Masters having hung up their boots following stellar careers, bowling places are up for grabs at the County Ground. Beard will be vying with the likes of Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn and Matt Dixon for a place alongside either of the overseas duo.
Dominic Bess (19) – Somerset
An offspin bowler of enormous potential, Devon-born Dominic Bess burst onto the scene with 6-28 on his County Championship debut against Warwickshire last September. This was no ordinary debut. His wickets included the former England batsmen Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell with successive deliveries as he ripped apart the Bears middle order.
Bowling in tandem with fellow spinner Jack Leach, Bess followed up his dream debut with an equally polished display against Nottinghamshire later the same month. This time his first-innings figures read an impressive 22.5-10-43-5. He also showed an ability with bat in hand too, striking 41 when others struggled to adapt to a turning Taunton wicket.
Bess was one of the key beneficiaries of the ECB’s new 2016 initiative to introduce more spin bowlers to the County game via a no-toss rule. Without the rule in place it’s doubtful he would have been given the chance to bowl alongside fellow spinners Leach and Roedolf van der Merve.
After a successful first foray into County Cricket, he spent most his winter Down Under playing grade cricket for the West Torrens Cricket Club in Adelaide.
What 2017 holds in store?
With more than half (8 out of 14) of Somerset’s Championship fixtures being played before the NatWest Blast kicks off in early July, its likely – with both Leach and van der Merve ahead of him in the spin ranks – that Bess doesn’t see any Championship action until at least August.
That could mean a summer of Second XI cricket awaits Bess unless he can break into either of the two limited overs formats. That said, if Leach continues to take mountains of wickets and England are looking for another spin option for their Test series with South Africa and the West Indies then Bess could well find a first team spot available.
Ollie Pope (19) – Surrey
A talented wicketkeeper/batsman, Ollie Pope broke into the Surrey setup late last summer after some impressive performances with both the County’s Second XI and the England U19’s.
He made his Surrey debut in an important fixture too. With a place in the Royal London Cup final at stake, Pope was thrust into the spotlight at Headingley as his Surrey side defeated Yorkshire to reach the Lords showpiece. Batting at seven, he made 20 0ff 23 before being runout on the final ball of the innings.
One of many wicketkeeper/batsmen to have been on the Surrey books in recent times, Pope was rewarded with a two-year professional contract last August having represented the club since he was nine-years-old.
Before signing a professional contract, he combined his days in the Surrey academy with a prolific run-scoring spell at Cranleigh School.
He made his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture against Oxford University at The Parks.
What 2017 holds in store?
With former wicketkeepers Steven Davies and Gary Wilson having left for pastures new with Somerset and Derbyshire respectively, Pope suddenly finds himself further up the pecking order at The Oval.
He will still start the season as deputy to regular glovesman Ben Foakes, though. Nevertheless, with Foakes attracting series interest from the England selectors, there could still be a chance that Pope will battle with Rory Burns to see some time behind the stumps.
As for seeing time in front of the stumps, that will be a difficult task – especially as Surrey have further strengthened the batting with ex-Durham pair Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick.
Even if he doesn’t see much first-team action in 2017, Pope will at least get the opportunity to improve his skills by again working alongside former England wicketkeeper Alec Stewart.
Josh Coughlin (19) – Durham
Sunderland-born fast bowler Josh Coughlin is another to fall off the long conveyer belt of North East talent in recent times.
The 19-year-old made his first-class bow against a touring Sri Lanka A side last June – in doing so he joined his brother Paul in having represented the county. He followed that up a month later by debuting for the England U19 side against their Sri Lankan counterparts before succumbing to a knee injury.
He returned later in the season to help Durham capture the 2016 Second XI Championship, whilst also continuing to represent Durham Academy in the North East Premier League.
After captaining the Academy side to the NEPL T20 cup last year, he was rewarded with a one-year summer development contract ahead of the 2017 season.
What 2017 holds in store?
Despite Durham’s well-documented financial problems leading to a flurry of departures in the offseason, the quick bowling has remained relatively intact with only Asher Hart (Hampshire) and Jamie Harrison (Released) leaving the club.
That means that Coughlin will be very much fighting it out for a place in the team. The experienced trio of Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood will no doubt start the season in the side so Coughlin will be left to compete for playing time alongside the likes of his brother Paul, James Weighell, Brydon Carse, Barry McCarthy, Gavin Main and Usman Arshad.
Cracking a first-team spot in 2017 will be difficult with such an array of bowling talent available to Durham. However, it only takes a few injuries and likely international call-ups for the likes of Wood and McCarthy to lead to the resources being stretched and opportunities arising. In the meanwhile, Coughlin will continue his development with the county’s Second XI and club side Hetton Lyons.
Delray Rawlins (19) – Sussex
A hard-hitting batsman and left-arm spinner, Delray Rawlins certainly comes with an interesting story.
In 2013, he made his international debut for his country of birth Bermuda at the tender age of 15. In 2014, he earned a scholarship at the prestigious St Bede’s School in East Sussex as part of a programme organised by the Bermudian cricket board and just a year later he joined the Sussex Academy after a successful trial.
After impressing in Second XI cricket, where he was often the sole spinner in the side as well as batting in the top order, he signed a one-year professional contract with the Hove-based club last October before recently adding an extra year onto that to stay until the end of 2018.
Despite representing Bermuda as recently as November – when he played in the World Cricket League Division Four matches in Los Angeles – Rawlins had pledged his future alliance to his adopted country.
And in doing so he made an immediate impression with a debut hundred for the England U19 programme in India in January. That unbeaten 109 was followed by scores of: 46, 96, 9, 17, 70*, 15, 140 and 49 as he established himself as a young man for all occasions across the five ODI and two Youth Test matches.
What does 2017 hold in store?
After making his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture with Cardiff University, Rawlins was selected for Sussex’s opening 2017 County Championship fixture with Kent at Hove.
Batting at number three he made a gritty 78-ball 22 after coming to the crease with his side in early trouble. He will be looking to cement his place in the side before veterans Ed Joyce, Luke Wells and Matt Machen all become available for selection again.
Going forward, Rawlins could well be battling it out for an allrounders role with the likes of captain Luke Wright, Chris Jordan and new Kolpak signing David Wiese.
His power hitting and tidy spin could well become useful in both the Royal London Cup and NatWest Blast.
George Bartlett (19) – Somerset
George Bartlett could well be the best batting talent to emerge at Taunton since current captain Tom Abell.
A right-handed batsman with a bright future, Bartlett graduated from the Somerset Academy last summer before signing a one-year professional contract in October after impressing in the club’s Second XI competitions.
He’s also been a regular contributor for the England U19 side in recent years. None more so that when he was part of a gigantic stand worth 321 in 82 overs with Max Holden in India earlier this year. Bartlett’s contribution was a huge 179 (The highest score by an England U19 batsman overseas, beating the 170 made by Nasser Hassain in Sri Lanka in 1987) and he added further scores of 68, 0 and 76 to round out a successful Youth Test series on the subcontinent.
What does 2017 hold in store?
Despite the retirement of Chris Rogers (Who returns as batting coach this summer) finding a spot for Bartlett in a crowded middle order looks initially impossible. With Marcus Trescothick and Dean Elgar likely to open the batting, Abell will move down to three and will likely be followed by James Hildreth at four, Steven Davies at five and then two of Roedolf van der Merve, Jim Allenby, Peter Trego or Lewis Gregory at six and seven.
And that lineup doesn’t include promising wicketkeeper Ryan Davies who is likely to perhaps miss out due to the signing of Steven Davies.
So, it’s likely that Bartlett must continue knocking down the door with Second XI runs as he waits for an opportunity further down the line.
Max Holden (19) – Northamptonshire (on loan from Middlesex)
A left-handed middle-order batsman – who’s also capable of opening – Max Holden moved on loan to Northamptonshire until the end of June after finding opportunities limited at parent club Middlesex.
That’s not to say that he’s not held in high esteem at Lords. He just finds himself behind the likes of Adam Voges, Sam Robson, Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Nick Compton in a stacked Middlesex batting unit.
Cambridgeshire-born Holden signed a four-year contract with Middlesex in 2016 after graduating from their Academy and age-group systems.
A regular captain with the England U19 side in recent years, he was part of that huge stand of 321 with Bartlett in Nagpur – a new record for any wicket for England which has only been beaten once in all international Under-19 cricket. Holden’s contribution was 170.
What does 2017 hold in store?
He will be available in both the Specsavers Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup until the end of June, and looks to have secured a middle order spot at Wantage Road – a ground where he made a century for the England U19’s last summer.
He made 19 and 75 not out against Loughborough MCCU on his first-class debut earlier this month, before bagging a duck on his Championship bow against Glamorgan.
George Garton (19) – Sussex
A tall left-arm fast bowler, George Garton made major strides in 2016. He started the year playing for England in the U19 World Cup before representing Sussex across all formats and tasting further international honours with the England Lions.
The Brighton-born man made his first-class debut a year ago against Leeds/Bradford MCCU – taking a wicket with his first ball – and went on to play four further Championship fixtures for Sussex taking 10 wickets at 35.20.
He also made an impression in the Royal London and NatWest Blast competitions too. His immediate impact in the short formats for Sussex earned him a shock call up to the England Lions squad for a tri-series also involving the Pakistan and Sri Lanka A sides. Garton played in three of the fixtures, impressing with 4-43 against the Sri Lankans at Canterbury.
His international aspirations were further enhanced when he was selected as part of the England Pace Programme for a two-week training camp in South Africa at the beginning of the year.
What does 2017 hold in store?
With experienced South African Vernon Philander having been brought in as an overseas player, thus joining a fast-bowling arsenal that also includes Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, David Wiese, Ollie Robinson, Stu Whittingham and Steve Magoffin, finding a place in the side for Garton will prove initially difficult for coach Mark Davis.
Having said that, Garton – who turns 20 on April 15th – has impressed bowling coach Jon Lewis aplenty during his time with the club and with his left-arm quick bowling he offers something different to any other bowler at the club with fellow left-armer Tymal Mills now just a T20 specialist.
Kiran Carlson (18) – Glamorgan
One of two young Welshmen on this year’s list, Kiran Carlson is part of an exciting crop of youngsters currently on the Glamorgan staff that also includes Owen Morgan, Aneurin Donald, Nick Selman and Lukas Carey (see below).
A right-handed middle-order batsman and handy offspin bowler, Carlson became the youngest player to record a first-class hundred for Glamorgan when he made 119 against eventual champions Essex at Chelmsford aged just 18-years and 119 days.
Despite batting being his primary forte, he originally made his name with the ball. Turning his arm over on a spinning Northampton track he took 5-18 on debut – including the wicket of England batsman Ben Duckett.
Whilst completing his maiden hundred, he became the youngest player in English county first-class cricket to record the double of a five-for and century.
He finished off 2016 with an unbeaten run-a-ball 74 against Leicestershire and, at just 18, he promises to reach further milestones in 2017.
What does 2017 hold in store?
Now a permanent fixture in a young Glamorgan lower middle-order, Carlson will hope his first summer of first-class cricket wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
His season didn’t get off to the best start. Batting at number seven he registered a first-innings duck against Northamptonshire before making 30 in the second dig.
Although he will likely face many ups and downs during his first full season of senior cricket, with the backing of coach Robert Croft he’s likely to be given ample opportunities to find his feet.
Lukas Carey (19) – Glamorgan
Like Carlson, 19-year-old Carey is a product of the Glamorgan/Wales Minor County pathways system that has helped produce a clutch of talented players over recent seasons.
Carey, a right-arm medium fast bowler from Pontarddulais, has the potential to become the most exciting bowler to emerge from Wales since James Harris first broke through a decade ago.
He made his mark last August with a fiery Championship debut spell against Northamptonshire in Swansea. Opening the bowling, Carey tore through the visitor’s top order with three wickets in his first six overs. Like Carlson he also claimed Duckett as his maiden first-class victim.
In all he took 13 wickets at 25.38 in three Championship matches last summer to kickstart a promising career.
What does 2017 hold in store?
Carey begun the 2017 County Championship season well when he claimed 4-85 in Glamorgan’s opening defeat at Northamptonshire. He followed that up with 3-85 and 1-13 in his second game against Worcestershire and looks to have established a solid opening partnership with veteran Australian Michael Hogan.
Also look out for…
Tom Haines (18) – Sussex, George Panayi (19) – Warwickshire, Harry Brook (18) – Yorkshire, Josh Tongue (19) – Worcestershire
The past year was a mixed bag for Australian cricket. After topping the Test rankings in February, they contrived to lose their next five Test matches, this led to an upheaval not seen Down Under since the Argus review in 2011.
Australian cricket’s 2016 could be categorized into three segments. The Good, The Bad and The Recovery.
The stats would suggest a middle of the road year for the Australians. 17 victories in 28 ODI’s is a decent return but it also included a 5-0 whitewash in South Africa. Five Test wins out of eleven matches isn’t great, but three of those victories have come at the end of the year – suggesting a brighter future.
Steven Smith’s men started the year on the front foot, continuing the progress they had made in late 2015. An 4-1 ODI series victory against a powerful Indian side in January was followed up a month later when they regaining both the Test Mace and the Trans-Tasman Trophy with a dominant 2-0 series win in New Zealand. From there on things started to go pear shaped.
Defeats to both New Zealand and India in the World T20, meant that Australia were eliminated at the Super 10 group stage in another disappointing showcase edition of the game’s shortest format. It continues to remain the only global international tournament they are yet to win.
After a brief renaissance in the Caribbean – where Australia beat both the hosts West Indies and South Africa to capture the ODI tri-series – They headed to their least favourite part of the world…The Subcontinent.
Some made the Australians favourites against an inexperienced and transitional Sri Lanka outfit still yet to replace the once in a generation batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But others looked at their recent Test failures in Asia (Played six, lost six since 2013) and knew there would be pain ahead. And so it transpired. Despite being well placed in each of the three Tests, Australia lost them all.
Old failings came home to roost. Batsmen were stuck in two minds whether the ball was going to spin big or just skid on, while Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland looked out of their depth when matched up against Rangana Herath and co. Played six, lost six soon became played nine lost nine. With a four-Test series in India lined up for late February, what chances do Australia have of avoiding; played thirteen, lost thirteen?
They would go onto suffer in ODI cricket too. A weakened pace attack, minus Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, was taught a lesson in South Africa – where despite David Warner scoring two centuries in the series, the hosts secured a 5-0 whitewash against the world’s number one ranked side.
The confidence of such an achievement clearly rubbed off on the Proteas as they brushed aside a struggling Australian side in the opening two Tests of the summer. In Perth, they capitalised on a dramatic batting collapse to open with a 177-run victory, and they then secured the series with a comprehensive innings and 80-run drubbing in Hobart.
It was at this point where Australia had reached its nadir. Changes had to be made and chairman of selectors Rod Marsh was the first to go ahead of his scheduled May 2017 departure. Marsh’s time was certainly up, the decision to hand Test debuts to South Australia duo Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie rose many an eyebrow and he was replaced by fellow selector Trevor Hohns on an interim basis.
Following Ferguson and Mennie out of the side after the Hobart calamity were previous incumbents Joe Burns, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill. The quartet had started the year as key components of a side looking for quick fixes following a host retirements throughout 2015, but a severe lack of late order runs from the likes of Marsh and Nevill meant they were replaced by Nic Maddinson and Matthew Wade, whereas Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb replaced Burns and Voges as the selectors started another rebuilding of the batting order. Lyon could also find himself somewhat fortunate to have stayed in the side too. Barring an injury to Steve O’Keefe he would have been dropped, instead he earned himself ‘cult hero’ status among the Australian fans.
The freshening up of the side had instant rewards as they won the dead rubber against South Africa before finishing the year with last day victories against Pakistan in both Brisbane and Melbourne. Both Handscomb and Renshaw made impressive contributions to the three victories, although the jury remains out on Maddinson and Wade following a string of low scores.
In both Test and ODI cricket the batting suffered an overreliance on both Smith and Warner. The senior pair coped well enough with Smith passing 1000 Test runs for the third straight year and Warner scoring seven centuries among his 1388 ODI runs at 63.09. But it was a strange year for Warner, ODI cricket was once seen as his weakest format but it was by far his strongest in 2016. His Test form suffered for the most part despite bookending the year with scores of 122no and 144 he scored just 748 runs at 41.55 – his worse returns since his debut year of 2011.
Australian pair Adam Zampa and Travis Head made the leap from domestic cricket to the limited overs sides with a fair degree of success. Zampa, who claimed 30 wickets at 27.80, was preferred to Lyon as the number one spinner and Head, 416 runs at 29.71, was often chosen ahead of the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell.
Day/Night cricket took another step toward becoming the future of the Test calendar, so much so that an Ashes fixture has been pencilled in for the Adelaide Oval next summer. This summer’s two day/night Test crowds were again successful mirroring the 123,736 that turned up for the inaugural pink-ball fixture last summer. The Adelaide Oval invited in 125,993 punters across four days of the Test against South Africa, while Brisbane saw 78,085 people flock to it’s Test match against Pakistan at The Gabba.
Elsewhere, the KFC Big Bash continued its march towards overtaking the international game in audience figures and public interest. On January 2nd, the Melbourne derby between the Stars and the Renegades attracted a BBL attendance record of 80,883 at the MCG.
High Point: Top of the Test world.
After beating Tasman neighbours New Zealand 2-0 in their own backyard in February, the Aussies moved above India in the Test rankings and received the Test mace for the first time in two years.
At the time, it felt like a new bright beginning was occurring in Australian cricket. Captain Smith had yet to lose a Test match and his side included a new settled batting line up blooded earlier in the summer. The likes of Khawaja, Burns, Voges, Nevill and Mitchell Marsh were seemingly finding their way in international cricket with relative ease. During some stage of five Test defeats in succession each man would be dropped.
Little did they known about what was to happen next! Despite only receiving the Test mace in an underwhelming ceremony on arrival in Sri Lanka. A 3-0 whitewash to the hosts saw them slide below both India and Pakistan into third position in the rankings.
Low Point: 87 all out in Hobart.
Despite losing five Test matches in a row for the first time since 2013, they hit rock bottom during the first morning of their second Test against South Africa in Hobart.
Much like the 60 all out at Trent Bridge last year, it’s impossible to look beyond 2016’s own addition of the great Australian batting horror show. For Hobart 2016 read Headingley 2010 or Newlands 2011, or perhaps Lords 2013.
Put into bat on a green and juicy looking Tasmanian wicket, the hosts ran into an inspired Proteas attack including Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. The rest was an ugly nightmare for anyone of Australian persuasion.
Both openers were back in the sheds before the second over was complete and the middle order fared no better as Smith was left stranded on 48 as he watched his troops collapse around him. Besides Smith, only debutant fast bowler Mennie made it into double figures as the innings lasted just 32.5 overs.
Unfortunately for Smith and his men this was no aberration either. In the four previous matches leading up to Hobart, Australia had contrived to lose 10-86 in Perth, 10-83 at Colombo, 9-52 at Galle and 6-22 at Pallekele.
The significance of Matt Renshaw’s arrival onto the Test scene cannot be underestimated. While he only scored 10 and 34no on debut, it was the way in which he scored his runs that will remembered in Australian cricketing folklore for years to come.
Coming off the back of five consecutive Test defeats – which included countless batting collapses of gigantic proportions – Australia needed some fight at the top of the order. Despite having just 12 first-class matches under his belt, 20-year-old Renshaw was just the man for the job.
Taking guard against the pink ball during the notoriously difficult evening session Renshaw – batting alongside regular number three Khawaja – showed composure and determination beyond his years to keep out a pumped up South African attack as the opening day lay on a knife edge. Despite frequently playing and missing he managed to blunt the new ball for 46 deliveries. This did not go unnoticed by a raucous Adelaide crowd – who cheered every time the ball beat the left-hander’s bat.
His unbeaten 137-ball 34 ensured Australia comfortably chased down their victory target of 127 in the fourth innings. After five defeats on the trot, a new-look side has stopped the rot and Renshaw was at the forefront of a new beginning.
After earning plaudits for his steely qualities on debut, in his next Test he showed a greater expansion to his batting with an accomplished first innings 71 in front of his home crowd in Brisbane. While greater challenges await away from home, Renshaw has shown he may well have the technique and character to meet them head on.
After a brief period of doing his best Sir Donald Bradman’s impression, Voges, as an underperforming veteran of the side, quietly bore the brunt of five successive Test defeats.
At 37-years-old, any sustained period of bad form was always likely to result in him being put out to pasture. And when that bad form happened to coincide with such a disastrous run for the team, any leeway reserved for Voges quickly evaporated.
With the selector’s already keen to freshen up the batting with some younger faces, Voges’ contribution to five Test defeats (148 runs at 14.8) was simply not sustainable. In Sri Lanka, he was found out by the turning (and non-turning) ball. However, the pace and movement of South Africa’s new-ball attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
His final ten Test innings were indeed much inferior to the previous 21. After first donning the baggy green in June 2015, he plundered 1337 runs at a Bradman-esque 95.50 before running into the Sri Lankans in July.
Regardless of his decline, he still leaves the international scene with a batting average of 61.87 across 20 Tests. Expect him to continue to serve both Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers with renewed success for the years to come.
Affectionally known as ‘Tangles’ due to his wrong-footed bowling action, Max Walker was not just a successful fast bowler, but also a highly skilled AFL footballer, writer and commentator too.
His death to cancer in September, aged just 68, was felt keenly across the world as many rushed to tell their stories of past meetings with the popular Tasmanian.
He played all of his international cricket during the 1970’s, amassing 34 Test matches during a successful era of Australian cricket under the Chappell brothers. His 138 wickets at 27.47 were taken alongside the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Bob Massie.
John Gleeson had already played his final Test match by the time Walker made his debut in December 1972, but his influence on Australian cricket was equally important.
Known as a ‘mystery’ spinner at a time when orthodox ruled, Gleeson only took to first-class cricket for New South Wales at the relatively old age of 27. But after impressing then Australian captain Richie Benaud as a net bowler he was handed a Test debut in 1967, he went on to play 29 Tests for his country claiming 93 wickets at 36.20. He sadly passed away in Tamworth in October, aged 78.
What 2017 holds:
For the Australians, two major Test series highlight the 2017 international schedule. Firstly, they travel to India for a four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in February, then later in the year they host England in a home Ashes campaign.
Tours to India and Ashes campaigns are where reputations are forged and legacies are written. History would suggest that given their continuous struggles against the turning ball and India’s impeccable recent home record, it’s hard to see Smith’s men gaining many positives from that series.
The 2017/18 Ashes campaign could be an intriguing one. Both teams are, at the time of writing, equally skilful and highly flawed.
Other fixtures to take place in early 2017 include; ODI series against Pakistan and New Zealand and a T20 series against Sri Lanka before the team heads off to India at the end of February.
June brings another version of the Champions Trophy to be held in England. Australia are drawn in a group alongside the hosts, Bangladesh and New Zealand.
A rescheduled two-Test tour of Bangladesh has been muted to take place in August – providing the required security concerns are adhered to.