From the Blog
Australia needs to take the same XI to Lord’s
Date: August 07, 2019 / Posted by control
“Don’t change a winning team”. It is an age old adage in sport. If I was selecting the Australian team for the second Test I would be running with that mantra. Much debate surrounded the composition of the XI for Edgbaston and it will no doubt burble around prior to the Lord’s Test. In the end, the tourists won by 251 runs. The performance of both David Warner and Cameron Bancroft at the top of the order was perhaps the only real negative from the opening encounter. Bancroft will no doubt be working diligently between matches with batting coach, Graeme Hick endeavouring to eradicate the fall to the off-side. He needs to return to the clarity of footwork he displayed in his unbeaten 93 against an attack that included Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood in the intra-squad match that preceded the naming of the Ashes squad. Warner failed to transfer his prolific run-scoring in the World Cup to the red ball. His Test figures in the Old Dart are well shy of his overall career numbers but England would much prefer him out of the side than in it so he will be given an opportunity to enhance his stats. Whilst Usman Khawaja failed in the first innings, his counter-attacking rapid fire 40 off 48 balls early in the second helped set the tone as Australia looked to erase the 90-run deficit. Steve Smith was, well Steve Smith. He capped his return with two contrasting centuries and was once again the bedrock. Once again England will go back to the drawing board and spend the majority of its team meetings trying to devise a way to quell his genius. Travis Head was solid in both innings for scores of 35 and 51. He appears totally unflustered and unfazed at the crease. If there is a knock on him in the nascent stages of his Test career it is the inability to turn starts into imposing innings with just one of his seven half-centuries being transferred into three figures. Matthew Wade provided a cause for celebration for the faithful while simultaneously silencing the naysayers. Whilst all the talk was around Smith’s mastery with the willow, Wade’s second innings 110 was critical to Australia’s prospects. After falling for just one on the opening day after waiting so long for a recall he could have been excused for a tentative start in the second innings. When he joined Smith at 4-205, Australia’s lead was a tenuous 115. From ball one his footwork was crisp and he batted with authority, especially his driving on the up through the off-side. Tim Paine fell early to a poor shot in the first innings and made 35 in the second. He needs to turn starts into substantial totals. His keeping was neat and punctuated by two outstanding catches up over the stumps to Lyon. I cannot see the top seven changing. Australia was handed a gift when James Anderson went down inside the first hour. It not only dented the host’s potency but also increased the workload on the remaining bowlers – factors that no doubt significantly contributed to Australia’s mammoth 7-487 in the third innings. With Ben Stokes in the line-up England was still able to rotate three quicks alongside Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes. While Australia continues to select three pace bowlers it will walk a tightrope with respect to injury. The tourists do have Mitch Marsh in the squad but given the performances of Wade and Head in the opening Test omitting either for his inclusion as a safety net with the ball is not a viable option. The four bowlers selected for Edgbaston all did their job. Cummins started slowly but worked his way into the match. On a slow pitch om the final day he was still able to muscle out Rory Burns, Johnnie Bairstow and Woakes with short deliveries. James Pattinson was the pick of the bowlers in the first innings while used sparingly in the second, bowling just eight of the 53 overs. Crucially, he got through his first Test in 42 months unscathed. Given there is an eight-day break between Tests he should be fine to go around at Lord’s. The second and third Tests are then back-to-back. There may be a case at that point for rotating him out if his workload is deemed a concern but given he was judged to be in the best XI for the opening Test there is no reason to rest him just one match into the series. Peter Siddle bowled beautifully, if for little reward in the wicket column. He finished with figures of 27-8-52-2 and 12-2-28-0. The dismissal of Joe Root in the first innings was a key blow. His opening spell on the final day was arguably the best by a quick in the Test. Rather than bowling seam up he scrambled it with various cutters to generate subtle movement off the deck. He repeatedly went passed the outside edge of both Root and Jason Roy’s bat. The way he befuddled and tied down Roy no doubt contributed to the opener’s brain fade against Lyon. A wrong-footed Paine and a grassed catch by Smith left Siddle’s good work unrewarded. There is talk that either Starc or Hazlewood would be a better fit for Lord’s. Siddle had done nothing to warrant his exclusion, and indeed the recent performance by Ireland’s Tim Murtagh (5-13) in England’s first innings at Lord’s shows the value of a nagging line and length approach on that surface. The slope at the famous old ground may play into his hands. Starc has a good record at Lord’s in one-day cricket but his only Test match at the venue in 2015 produced 2-102. Hazelwood showed during the Australia A games and the intra-squad match that he is still working his way back to his best following a long injury lay-off. I would leave both he and Starc in the wings currently pending the performance at Lord’s and the quick turnaround. Nathan Lyon exploited the last day conditions perfectly at Edgbaston. Long gone are the days where he struggled to get the job done on fifth day pitches. His 6-49 took him to within three wickets of Dennis Lillee’s career haul of 355. Sometime during the second Test we can expect Lyon to move up to number three all-time behind Shane Warne (708) and Glenn McGrath (563). Moeen Ali has surely played his last Test in this series. No matter who replaces him, the tourists will hold the upper hand in the spin stakes. Australia humbled England at ‘Fortress Edgbaston’ and the same XI should be accorded the opportunity of doing likewise next week at Lord’s. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 7 August 2019, soliciting 135 commentsRead More →
Normal transmission restored for Steve Smith
Date: August 06, 2019 / Posted by control
As sports fans we are used to seeing our heroes struggle. Injury and age are often a more formidable hurdle than the opponent. A long-term lay-off due to injury has fans questioning whether greatness can be retrieved. For female athletes, motherhood reshapes people’s expectations. As fans, we watch and wait. Will we see that same level of output? Will both mind and body behave as it once did? Those questions have been circling Steve Smith for the best part of the last 16 months. While myriad questions were being asked when he was handed his year long ban, one of the most common surrounded what impact it would have on his performance. At the time he began his self-inflicted 12 months in sporting purgatory he boasted a record that few could contemplate – 64 Tests which produced 6199 runs, 23 centuries and an average of 61.4. Such was his dominance, he had earned from many the oft-used, ‘Best Since Bradman’ tag. Could he recapture those lofty heights? Or would it be a case of forever wondering what could have been had it not been for the moment of madness at Cape Town? We got a glimpse at the World Cup – 379 runs across ten innings with four half-centuries. Solid, but not great. But greatness in the limited-overs environment was not the norm for Smith anyway. He was always good in coloured clothing, but it was in creams that he was great. Smith has a reputation for having a monastic devotion to his craft. Vision emerged of him in the nets an hour before his teammates arrived for the intra-squad game at Southampton ahead of the Test squad being finalised. He has spoken of the hundreds of balls that the team’s batting coach, Graeme Hick hurled down at him ahead of the first Test. It was not long before Smith’s mettle was put to the test. After winning the toss in the series opener the tourists had been torn asunder at 8-122. In a not unfamiliar role, Smith stood at one end as his batting partners impersonated lemmings. When Peter Siddle joined Smith in the middle the fate of Australia’s first innings – and largely its prospects in the match – rested on the former captain’s bat. In concert with Siddle, and subsequently Lyon, Smith took the total to 284. His was an innings of pure class. The reaction on Smith’s face and the body language exhibited when he breached 100 spoke of a man who had fought many an internal demon during his exile. Even the hostility of the partisan crowd softened as his innings developed. The boos and jeers that greeted him went he went out to bat were still there when he posted his fifty but by the time he reached his century they had given away, in the main, to respectful applause. It was a case of regular transmission being restored. And, as if to totally replace the question mark with an exclamation point, Smith followed his 144 with a ton in the second innings. This was a more flowing knock. As his team reached a point of comfortability Smith played with a more expansive freedom. When he finally fell – for 142 – he departed the middle safe in the knowledge that he had put his team in a position where a victory was the favoured result. Throughout his 426 balls at the crease across both innings there again seemed little semblance of a concerted game plan designed to claim Smith’s wicket. The unique features of his game remained as strong as ever – the manic fidgeting, exaggerated footwork, rapier like leaves outside off-stump. Also present was the less obvious traits that help set him apart – unwavering patience and concentration. Any attempt to set him up failed to last the distance. Intermittently, England would set a field and try to bowl to it. At times it was a leg slip and a line short of a length outside off-stump. It was a holding pattern of sorts. The bowler waiting for a lapse in concentration. The batsman waiting for the ball to stray into his zone. Seemingly, as night follows day, as it has so often in Smith’s career the bowlers patience erodes before his. Smith is the master of the stare-off. He seemingly never blinks. That is left to the opposing bowler and his skipper. His ability to access pretty much every of the outfield sets him apart. The pronounced walk across his stumps again brought a mountain of runs on the leg side. The opening Test of this series has laid to rest any prospect of a meek return to Test cricket by Smith. He started the match with 23 centuries and an average of 61.4 He ends it with 25 centuries and an average of 63.0. The key now for Australia is to not to become too Smith reliant. In the first innings he was largely left to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Matthew Wade’s second innings 110 and Travis Head’s patient 51 is something that Australia needs more of. In his last ten innings against England Smith has made six centuries – including an innings of 239 – and scored 1116 runs at 139.5. The way he batted at Edgbaston, it would not be beyond him to give Bradman’s all-time series record a fright. In 1930, The Don ground England into the dust with an aggregate of 974 runs – the highest by any player in Test history. Smith already has 286 in the bank with the possibility of a further eight innings. Next stop for the Ashes caravan is Lord’s. In his last Test there, in 2015, Smith peeled off scores of 215 and 58. First published on The Roar - theroar.co.au - on 6 August 2019, soliciting five commentsRead More →
New concussion rule will give ICC a headache
Date: July 30, 2019 / Posted by control
The new concussion rule in Test cricket comes into vogue as of the first Ashes Test tomorrow. Its application may well prove to be a headache for match referees as they will be the sole arbiter as to who is allowed to replace a concussed player. The new ICC regulation states that the replacement has to be ‘like for like’. The match referee therefore has to decide what ‘like for like’ is. Let’s use a hypothetical. If Nathan Lyon is concussed while batting on day one could he be replaced? If Marnus Labuschagne was not in the playing XI would he in fact be granted permission from the match referee to take his place? To date, Labuschagne has played five Tests in which his leg-spin has claimed nine wickets at 27.1. They are handy figures. Lyon captured 12 wickets at 34.6 in his first five Tests. But are Labuschagne’s figures enough to sway Ranjan Madugalle – the match referee for this Ashes series – to allow him to slot in for Lyon who is seen as a ‘specialist’ spinner? Does Labuschagne come in or does Australia play one short for the remainder of the match because there is no ‘like for like’ replacement? It would be a tricky question for Madugalle – even more so if it happens to occur during the final Test of the series with the score line locked at 2-2. If he was to give Labuschagne the nod he would have to bat, no doubt, in Lyon’s regular position which would likely be number eleven. And then, what happens if when the ninth wicket falls he joins Steve Smith at the crease with just another 30 runs remaining to win the Test and the series? For a man who would normally bat in the top-six, with a first-class average of 37.4 and nine centuries, it would be a handy bonus for Australia. Again, it all comes down to the match referee’s decision as to whether Labuschagne actually checks into the game in the first place. It is a lot of pressure to drop on the shoulders of the match referee. Another example, let’s say given the fact he has played no red ball cricket on the tour so far, Usman Khawaja is omitted from the opening Test and Cameron Bancroft who is opening the batting gets concussed. Is Khawaja seen as a ‘like for like’ replacement? Both are specialist batsmen but would Khawaja be assessed as being too experienced? What process does the match referee go through? It will be Bancroft’s ninth Test if he plays tomorrow and he averages 30.9 and is yet to make a century. Khawaja has played 41 Tests, averages 42.5 and has scored eight centuries. Does that mean that the replacement has to be Marcus Harris because he has played only six Tests, is yet to score a century and averages 32.7? Yet both Khawaja and Harris were both deemed as unsuitable by the selectors prior to the match. If Peter Siddle is concussed can you replace a 130km/h right-armer with the 150km/h left-arm Mitchell Starc? Just what is ‘like for like’ and how broad is the interpretation? All sport is ideally as fair and equitable as it can be. The new concussion rule however could at times favour touring sides. Traditionally, during Test matches in Australia the selectors name a 12 with one player missing out. More often than not he is a bowler. Let’s say the Test is being played in Perth and a batsman gets concussed. If the WA Shield team is playing an away game that week where do they source a replacement player from? If the WA Shield team is not playing that week does Justin Langer need to ring someone on a golf course and ask if he could head home and get his creams and kit and high tail it to Optus Stadium? Yet, if the same happened to a 17-man England tour party it would have a batsman at the ground ready to check into the game immediately. When playing in Perth will Australia need to have a squad of similar size with a reserve spinner, fast bowler and a top and middle order batsman thus potentially denying those players match practice if their respective states are in action concurrently in the Shield competition? The ICC’s operations manager, Geoff Allardice has stated, “There will be a period where we’re going to find out if there are any loopholes with the rules”. I think that is bound to be the case. Surely the simplest thing would have been to allow the 12th man to slot straight into the game when a player is ruled out through concussion and to allow him to fulfil any role in the game that he is equipped to do. That way there is no judgement call to be made by the match referee and both teams know they have one specific player in reserve. Yes, it may mean a bowler replacing a batsman or vice versa but you name a 12 at the toss and you are stuck with that as a consequence. That way a team is at least guaranteed an active substitute whereas the way the concussion rule is written nowadays the match referee will decide whether you continue on with either ten or eleven players. Either that or you simply continue to treat concussion as you do any other injury incurred during a match. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - 30 July 2019, soliciting 44 commentsRead More →
Sure things and surprises in my Aussie Ashes team
Date: July 29, 2019 / Posted by control
Come Thursday, Australia is guaranteed to field a Test team that will contain at least four changes to the one that played against Sri Lanka at the end of last summer. Everyone has an opinion on what the XI should look like, so here’s my take. We are entering a unique Ashes series with the first ball to be bowled in August. For many months we have trumpeted the fact that Australia would be in the rare position of having so many players being tested in English conditions in the lead in. Those playing county cricket have had the opportunity to turn out in as many as ten first-class matches while the Australia A squad has been in England since mid-June. The form of those players needs to strongly come into consideration for who plays the opening Test of the series. Let’s start at the top. David Warner is an automatic inclusion, as are several others. His reintegration into the international fold has been seamless. The hoots and jeers of the English crowds failed to have an impact during the World Cup as he went within one run of being the tournament’s leading run-scorer. In ten matches he accumulated 647 runs at 71.9 with three centuries and three fifties. He did so in a far more measured fashion than we are used to seeing in the white ball arena. Transitioning to the red ball he was only one of two players to score a half-century in the intra-squad match at Southampton. The choice of his opening partner is between Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris after Joe Burns unluckily failed to make the cut. Both have similar records in the nascent stages of their Test career. Bancroft’s eight Tests have produced 402 runs at 30.9 while Harris has compiled 327 runs at 32.7 in his first six appearances. Neither has gone onto reach three figures with Bancroft’s best an unbeaten 82 on debut against England at the Gabba in November 2017 and Harris 79 last summer at the SCG against India. Harris is the incumbent, but then again, so was Burns. Harris has played six red ball innings in England in the past three weeks for 226 runs at 45.2 – 109 of those coming in his first innings against Sussex. That is a solid return but I would be selecting Bancroft. On a seemingly treacherous pitch for batting at Southampton he scored an unbeaten 93 against an attack that included Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Peter Siddle. Across both innings he scored 110 runs off 242 balls. It is that sort of approach that will be needed to blunt the English attack. His knock was easily the dominant performance in an innings of 6-156. That came on the back of nine county matches for Durham in which he scored 726 runs at 45.4 with two centuries. Against the Lancashire attack, led by James Anderson, he made 77 and 92no. His last stint in county cricket with Gloucestershire in 2017 ended with an unbeaten double century. Usman Khawaja, at the time of penning this column, had still not been declared fit for Thursday although it appears he will pass his fitness test. Having said that, I would actually not be selecting him. He has not had an innings against the red Dukes ball prior to the series and whilst he was serviceable during the World Cup – 316 runs at 35.1 from nine appearances – having no first-class warm-up is a concern. Considerable water has flowed under the bridge since his last Ashes series in England in 2013 in which he scored just 114 runs at 19.0 in six innings. He had a four-match stint with Glamorgan last year during which he scored 420 runs at 52.5. It is the same county that Marnus Labuschagne played for this season. His form was impeccable. In ten matches he scored 1114 runs at 65.5 with five centuries – including two in the match against Worcestershire. Yes, Glamorgan is in the second division but form is form and Labuschagne has spent an inordinate amount of time at the crease against the red ball. Next best, with 885 runs, is 15-Test England batsman Dawid Malan. Most importantly, the bulk of Labuschagne’s innings for Glamorgan have come at number three. It is the same spot he batted in the intra-squad match. On the opening morning, when conditions were at their most challenging, he was the standout as others fell around him. Whilst his innings amounted to only 41 by the time he was dismissed the score was a calamitous 6-70. By day’s end with 17 wickets having fallen his innings was clearly the highest. It indicated that the technique he has honed in English conditions this season has him in good stead. His leg-spin bowling has claimed nine Test wickets at 27.1 making him an obvious choice to send down some overs in support of the primary attack. Khawaja will have an opportunity to get some red ball practice in the three-day match against Worcestershire between the first and second Tests. There is a second first-class fixture against Derbyshire slated between the third and fourth Tests. Steve Smith is a certainty at number four. He had dual single figure scores in the intra-squad match but made four half-centuries in the World Cup on his return to international cricket, including 85 against England in the semi-final. He averages 43.3 in 12 Tests in England. Discounting his first two Tests when selected as a leg-spinner in 2010 that average climbs to 47.4. Travis Head has done little wrong through his first eight Tests with 663 runs at 51.0, highlighted by a knock of 161 against Sri Lanka at Canberra. He has passed 50 on five other occasions. In the Australia A fixture against the English Lions – in which Ashes squad member Sam Curran took 6-95 in the first innings – he made an unbeaten 139. In the same match, Matthew Wade made 114. It continued an incredible purple patch in first-class ranks for a man whose last of 22 Tests was in September 2017. His Test average may be 28.6 but his recent mountain of runs means he cannot be denied. In his past 11 first-class matches he has scored 1137 runs at 63.2. Tim Paine clearly slots in at number seven. His selection is a lay down misere as skipper but his form with the bat has been lean in the lead-in with first-class scores of 20, 0 and 38 followed by 2 and 8no in the intra-squad match. In his last eight Test innings he has past 20 six times but his best has been 45no. He needs to start going big. In the bowling department Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon are must-picks. Cummins has assumed the mantle as the leader of the attack in recent times. Since overcoming his injury woes his performances have been of the highest order. His record of 94 wickets at 22.0 sits comfortably alongside anyone in the game. Pattinson, like Cummins, has had a well-chronicled history with injury. In recent times he has recaptured his best form. He finished his seven-match Sheffield Shield season with 26 wickets at 18.9. By all accounts he was near unplayable in the first innings of the intra-squad match, beating the bat with regularity. He finished the game with 4-35 from 23 overs. Player-of-the-match in two of his first three Tests – albeit way back in 2011 – he could be one of the trump cards this series. Lyon continues to get better with age. He enters the series 12 wickets shy of Dennis Lillee’s career haul of 355. He will surely pass it and when he does only Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne will be ahead of him on the Australian hit parade. His skills should see Australia hold the advantage in the spin battle. The last pace position is a fight between four – Starc, Hazlewood, Siddle and Michael Neser. Hazelwood has a good record in England – 16 wickets at 25.8 in his four Tests in 2015 – but he has been off the boil in his last two Test series. In his last eight Tests, away against South Africa and home versus India, he captured 25 wickets at 34.8. He missed the home series against Sri Lanka at the end of last summer due to injury, was not able to get back for the World Cup and has had lean pickings for Australia A with 3-141 across the three List A games, 0-53 in the first-class game against Sussex and 2-56 on the bowler friendly pitch in the intra-squad match. He is no simply a walk-up start. Neser is coming off a fine Shield season having snared 33 wickets at 23.0 and scoring 481 runs at 43.7. He bowled well in the intra-squad game with match figures of 4-42. Whilst his ability with the bat is enticing, his experience in England is limited. Starc is best suited to flatter pitches where he can use his raw pace to blast out opponents. He may not be the best option on seaming pitches where line and length rather than out-and-out speed is often a more effective method. Ireland’s Tim Murtagh underline that when his 5-13 humbled England on the opening day of last week’s Lord’s Test. Siddle has a distinct edge in this area. His probing line in the channel on and around off-stump has regularly borne fruit in England. Before signing on for the intra-squad match he claimed 34 first-class wickets at 20.0 for Essex. That comes on the back of 37 wickets at 16.4 in his seven-game county stint last year. His last Test in England was the final Test in 2015 – his only appearance in the series – where he picked up 2-32 and 4-35. With the Edgbaston pitch expected to be lively, Siddle would be my choice to round out the attack. So, there you have it, my XI for the opening Test is: Warner, Bancroft, Labuschagne, Smith, Head, Wade, Paine, Cummins, Pattinson, Siddle and Lyon. I am sure it will not meet with universal approval, but then again, debate is what makes this website what it is. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 29 July 2019, soliciting 62 commentsRead More →
Selectors have to opt for Siddle over Starc in first Ashes Test
Date: July 24, 2019 / Posted by control
The National Selection Panel is due to announce its Ashes squad on Saturday, six days ahead of the opening Test at Edgbaston. For mine, Peter Siddle needs to be amongst the names read out by chief selector, Trevor Hohns. I would have him in the 17 alongside Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and comeback man, James Pattinson as the five-man pace arsenal. Jhye Richardson would likely have been a walk up start had it not been for injury. He is set to play his first match since damaging his shoulder in the UAE in March this weekend in a Twenty20 tournament in the Northern Territory. A week out from the first Ashes Test he is no chance of making the cut. Pattinson has been in rampant form since returning from his most recent injury woe. He played the last seven matches of the Sheffield Shield season for Victoria, claiming 26 wickets at 18.9. In 2017, squeezed in around his seemingly ever present injuries, he cut a swathe through the English County Championship during a brief five match first-class stint, capturing 32 wickets at 12.0. By all accounts he bowled beautifully in the first innings of the current intra-squad match at Southampton, beating the bat with regularity and claiming 1-16 off ten overs and removed Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne in his opening spell in the second innings. His first-class record is impeccable with 261 wickets at 21.6. He was a dominant force in Test ranks before injury cut him down. After being player of the match in two of his first three Tests he amassed 17 Tests in which he claimed 70 wickets at 26.1. He may not be as sharp as his early days but his place in the squad, and I would think the first Test, is secure. Cummins is an automatic selection. He has assumed the mantle as Australia’s premier red-ball bowler since throwing off his persistent injury issues. Twenty Tests have netted 94 wickets at 22.0. He was at his lethal best again in the current intra-squad match with 5-24 in his first stint at the bowling crease with a red ball this campaign. Hazlewood has also been a victim of the Australian injury curse. Diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back at the end of the India Test series last summer he failed in his bid to be fit for the World Cup. He has been nursed back into the fold through the recent AUS A tour of England. His returns have been modest but his previous record in England – 16 wickets in four Tests at 25.7 – should he him selected in the squad. His high action and stump to stump line should again be effective at stages throughout the series if he is in the eleven. Starc is coming off a personally exhilarating and record breaking World Cup. After a summer largely of discontent, he recaptured his best red-ball form in the final Test of the Australian summer with match figures of 10-100 against Sri Lanka at Canberra. Seemingly, he is back at the peak of his powers. However, I see his selection in this Ashes series as a genuine case of horses for courses. And that is where I feel Siddle comes firmly into the equation. His style is perfectly suited to England conditions and his record in the Old Dart shows that. He is a seam up bowler who works the channel on and around off-stump. If there is anything in the pitch he will exploit it with his nagging style. Before joining the current expanded squad he turned out in eight matches for Essex where he captured 34 wickets at 20.0. Last county season his seven-match stint with Essex produced 37 wickets at 16.4. In the first innings of the intra-squad match he took 4-31 off 14 overs. His Test record on English soil has been solid – 43 wickets at 28.4 in 11 Tests. His last Test appearance in England came in the final match of the 2015 campaign at The Oval – his only game of the series – where he took 2-32 and 4-35. While other pace bowlers in the expanded pre-Ashes squad have put in some solid performances ahead of the final squad being named none have the body of work in England that Siddle possesses. Jackson Bird had planned to play county cricket for Northamptonshire in 2014 but was forced to withdraw with injury. After being overlooked for the 2015 Ashes series he had a six-game stint that year with Hampshire during which he claimed 19 wickets at 39.7. His one Test in England was at Chester-le-Street in 2013 where he returned figures of 2-125 in a 74-run loss. Chris Tremain has been the leading wicket-taker across the past three Sheffield Shield seasons and Michael Neser is coming off a fine season for Queensland in which he took 33 wickets at 22.0 but neither of the pair have been tested in English conditions prior to this current Australia A tour. This will be an interesting Ashes series pitch wise at will be the latest one has ever been held. It could be expected that the pitches will lack the traditional green tinge that England decks are renowned for being so late in the summer. Yet, the opening day of the England-Ireland Test at Lord’s overnight provide plenty of assistance for the quicks. If any of the upcoming Tests are played on green seaming pitches I would have Siddle in the eleven alongside both Cummins and Pattinson, ahead of both Starc and Hazelwood. Siddle’s approach could prove influential on conducive surfaces and more penetrative than Starc’s full throttle approach. On more docile pitches I would lean towards Starc and his more explosive pace and potentially a greater prospect of old ball swing. When 17 wickets fell for just 201 runs on a green seamer on the opening day of the intra-squad match Starc was the least successful and the most expensive of the quicks with figures of 0-38 off nine overs. Across the board, all out pace bowling in English conditions has not proved overly effective for Australia. Mitchell Johnson’s 12 Tests produced 38 wickets at 36.6; Brett Lee’s ten Tests 29 wickets at 45.4; and to date, Starc has taken 29 wickets at 31.2. There will likely be a time to unleash Starc during this Ashes series but I would not discount using Siddle in his place when the pitches carry a tinge. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 24 July 2019, soliciting 134 commentsRead More →
It’s time for Glenn Maxwell to step up
Date: July 09, 2019 / Posted by control
Glenn Maxwell’s World Cup has been lukewarm. His performance has to heat up as Australia enters the finals. Yes, he boasts the third highest strike rate in the tournament and is the best of the Australians at 163.1. But unfortunately that strike rate has been accumulated across an aggregate of just 95 balls from nine innings during which he has scored 155 runs at 22.1. Facing on average just ten balls each innings is simply not good enough regardless of the strike rate. When I outlined those stats on social media a few days back I was met with some responses along the lines of, “He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities”. I have seen similar comments elsewhere. They are blatantly wrong. Maxwell has had ample opportunity to go big – not by distance of shot, but by the number runs on the scoreboard. His first appearance of the tournament against Afghanistan was always going to be brief as he struck his only delivery faced to the boundary as Australia secured a comfortable victory. Against Sri Lanka, he was unbeaten on 46 from 25 deliveries as the team posted 7-334. The only innings where he was dismissed inside the last few overs was against Bangladesh when he was run out for 32 off ten balls in the 47th over. In his other innings, he has squandered opportunities when time and overs were on his side. Against the West Indies he was out in the 8th over; the 41st against India; the 34th against Pakistan; the 39th against England; the 22nd against New Zealand; and the 25th against South Africa. In those matches he had the chance to build an innings. There was no need to go full throttle from ball one. His dismissal against the West Indies was his nadir, coming when a responsible and watchful knock was needed. He fell to a top-edged pull shot off a bouncer from Sheldon Cottrell – the second ball he had faced – leaving Australia teetering at 4-38. The scoreboard demanded that that was not the shot to play but play it he did. Aaron Finch has used him at various spots in the order. He came in at number five in the first three matches before alternating between there and number four in the next four games. In his last two innings – against New Zealand and South Africa – he was held back, coming in at number six. It was perhaps a sign that the camp was concerned about his approach when time was not an issue. In the latter stages of the preliminary round he was exposed by some heady fast bowling. Against England, he was caught behind off Mark Wood while attempting to run a bouncer to third man. He was out to a top-edged hook shot off Kagiso Rabada in the game against the Proteas. Safe to say when he comes to the centre in his remaining appearances the opposing skipper will turn to his principal strike bowlers in an endeavour to rough him up. Given the order of the call-ups as members of the squad have fallen to injury it appears likely that Peter Handscomb will get the nod ahead of Matthew Wade for the spot vacated by Usman Khawaja due to a hamstring strain. With Marcus Stoinis suffering a second side strain in a few weeks in the loss to South Africa Mitchell Marsh will probably suit-up in the semi-final against England. It then remains to be seen how Australia will structure its batting order. Finch and David Warner should be followed by Steve Smith, who must surely move to number three. The former skipper has had a modest World Cup – his nine innings producing 294 runs at 32.7 with a strike rate of 91 – but now is the time for him to take the pivotal first drop position. Handscomb will slot in at four and from there it gets interesting. Alex Carey has been a revelation at number seven. He has been totally unfazed while accumulating 329 runs at 65.8 on the back of a strike rate of 113. There have been calls for him to move up the order, some saying as high as number five. For me, it should either be Carey or Marsh at five with the other at six. I would be holding Maxwell back for the last dozen overs or so. He could still be used as a floater if the top order gets off to a flyer and bats deep into the innings but given the way he has imploded when given significant overs to face I would be holding him back towards the end of the innings. Wherever he bats, he has to be more selective in his approach if he does come in with ample overs remaining. Ten to 15 ball cameos in the semi-final and decider – should Australia get there – will see him depart England having had minimal impact on the tournament. His bowling has yet to provide a wicket with his 49 overs producing 0-295 with an economy rate of 6.0. But it his batting that is the most important ingredient for Australia. The time has come to display his wares on the biggest stage by mixing controlled aggression in concert with the state of the game. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 9 July 2019, soliciting 71 commentsRead More →
Mitch Starc may retire as Australia’s greatest ever ODI bowler
Date: July 01, 2019 / Posted by control
Mitchell Starc is building a body of work that may soon see him as Australia’s premier one-day bowler of all-time. He is also on a trajectory that will see him mentioned in the same breath as the best from any nation. His form at this World Cup has him in the frame for Player of the Tournament honours. With a last preliminary game against South Africa, a guaranteed semi-final appearance and the possibility of a final he will surely rewrite the World Cup record books. This, on the back of being awarded Player of the Tournament four years ago. In the 2015 addition, jointly held in Australia and New Zealand, Starc cut a swathe through the opposition to finish with 22 wickets at 10.2, tying him at the top of the wicket aggregate with Kiwi Trent Boult. His stunning 6-28 in Auckland against the Black Caps was the highlight with the hosts nine down when they reached the victory target of just 152. His 2-20 off eight overs against the same opponent in the final at the MCG concluded an outstanding tournament. Move forward four years and it is a case of Groundhog Day. Starc currently heads up the wicket aggregate with 24 scalps at 15.5 through eight games. Next best is Kiwi quick, Lockie Ferguson who has produced 17 wickets in his seven matches. Starc has claimed a wicket every 18 deliveries. Two more victims will see him equal Glenn McGrath’s 2007 record of 26 wickets at a single World Cup, which he achieved in a dozen matches. No player has ever topped the wicket aggregate at a World Cup twice. At this stage, Starc appears odds-on to achieve that feat. He has already claimed two five-wicket hauls this time around – against West Indies and New Zealand – to make him the first man to register three five-fors in World Cups. For good measure, he also has three four-wicket hauls to his credit. Thus far, across two outings in the sport’s premier white ball tournament he has 46 wickets at the phenomenal average of 13.0 and with a strike rate of just 18 – all from just 16 matches. That places him sixth all-time on the wicket-taking list. McGrath is at the top of the tree with 71 wickets from 39 appearances. If Starc maintains his current strike rate for the remainder of this tournament, and at 29 years of age, he will be well positioned to surpass McGrath’s record with another solid performance in India in 2023. While Starc was rightly ranked number one in the world around the period of the last World Cup heading into this year’s addition he looked well short of those lofty heights. Injuries restricted him to just seven appearances in 2018 during which he claimed 11 wickets at 37.4 on the back of a strike rate of 36.5. The lethal swing – at both ends of the innings – which had been the hallmark to his success was absent. He started this year with three matches at home against South Africa in which he claimed just four wickets at 38.8. In essence, few could have foreseen the destruction he has wreaked during this tournament. The swing is back and allied to his famed yorker he has quite literally proved unplayable at times. England’s Ben Stokes can certainly lay testament to that having been shot out by one of the deliveries of the tournament at Lord’s. It has not been just his yorker that has had batsmen on the hop. His high octane short deliveries have the venom of old. England skipper, Eoin Morgan was clearly unsettled by Starc’s well focused bouncers. At his best, Starc is Australia’s talisman. When on-song his bowling makes him a one-man weapon of mass destruction. His value at this tournament to skipper, Aaron Finch is best summed up by looking at the spread of his wickets throughout the matches played to date. Of his 24 wickets, he has dismissed the openers five times, numbers eight to ten in the order three times each and numbers three to seven twice each. Whether it has been his opening or closing spells, or those wedged in the middle, he has provided Finch with regular breakthroughs. It is a luxury that few captains have possessed. Starc has played 83 games although it feels he has donned the coloured uniform far more often which is testament to his destructive nature. His career record stacks up well when compared with the all-time great one-day exponents. To date, he has captured 169 wickets at 20.6 with a strike rate of 24.8. McGrath is the most prolific Australian, having taken 380 wickets at 22.0 His strike rate however is 34.0. Brett Lee is second on the list with 380 wickets at 23.4 and a strike rate of 29.4. Lee has also claimed the most five-wicket hauls by an Australian – nine in 221 matches. McGrath and Starc are equal second with seven. McGrath achieved his across 249 games while Starc has done so in a mere 83. Globally, of the 74 bowlers to have claimed 150 or more wickets Starc has both the best average and strike rate. Whilst others can claim greater longevity, Starc is well on the way to sitting alongside the very cream of the crop in the coming years. In fact, he deserves to be in the discussion now. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 1 July 2019, soliciting 96 commentsRead More →
It’s Groundhog Day for the Proteas
Date: June 24, 2019 / Posted by control
“It’s a little bit embarrassing.” Those were the words uttered by South African skipper, Faf du Plessis after his side lost by 49 runs to Pakistan at Lord’s. That result saw the life support system on the Proteas’ World Cup campaign switched off. The South African team has won just one of its seven matches. Only Afghanistan sits below them on the table. Their last two games will have no impact on their future as they are heading home early regardless. Alas, for South African fans, failure at the World Cup is something they are used to. Since re-entering the international arena post-Apartheid, the country has contested eight World Cups. They have made the semi-finals four times, only to be denied a finals berth on each occasion. Along the way the most unwanted sobriquet in sport – ‘chokers’ – has been applied at various times. None more so than 2003, when South Africa hosted the tournament. A fourth-place finish in their pool saw them miss out on the super six stage. This time around, the current team was seen as a legitimate semi-final prospect. Most saw England, India and Australia filling three of the four slots in the semis with New Zealand and South Africa the most favoured to make up the final four. As it has turned out, the Black Caps are currently sitting atop the tree with five wins from six starts. In a bid to end its World Cup drought, Cricket South Africa produced what it called ‘Vision 2019’, a concerted effort to produce a team with the ability and wherewithal to lift the silverware. A major snag was hit in May 2018 when the side’s talisman, A B de Villiers made the shock announcement that he was retiring from all forms of international cricket, effective immediately. It was expected that he would pull the pin on his Proteas career after the World Cup having said numerous times in the previous few years that winning the trophy was his ultimate aim. Bizarrely, on the day that South Africa finalised its squad for this year’s tournament, de Villiers approached the captain and coach and said he wished to make a comeback. The skipper reportedly was keen to have de Villiers back but the selectors thought otherwise. News of his plans to abandon his international retirement at the eleventh hour became public after South Africa had lost its opening three matches of the tournament. It provided a substantial distraction to a team that was firmly under the pump. The selectors did take a risk, however, with the selections of pacemen Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi. Both were sidelined with injury in the lead-in to the tournament. While Steyn has been a great of the game, he has barely donned the coloured uniform in recent years. Since January 2016, he has played just 13 one-day internationals. Not surprisingly, he was withdrawn from the squad with his ongoing shoulder problem before he could bowl a single delivery. Ngidi, who was suffering a side strain in the build-up, has missed three games with a hamstring injury. For much of the tournament, quick Kagiso Rabada and 40-year-old leg-spinner Imran Tahir have been required to shoulder the bulk of the load. Both have toiled manfully and done their best to keep their side in games. But it is the batting that has been particularly lacklustre. Quinton de Kock is the leading run-scorer with 238 runs from seven innings at 39.7, considerably down on his career average of 45.2. His strike rate has been a rather pedestrian 84 against a career mark of 95. His 68 against Afghanistan is the highest of his team’s seven half-centuries. Hashim Amla has had a woeful tournament. His six innings have netted 123 runs at 24.6 with a strike rate of 59. Compared to his career average and strike rate of 49.0 and 89 respectively it underlines his fall from grace. His last 22 ODIs have produced a meagre average of 32.6. He has been kept in the side more on sentiment than performance. At 36, this World Cup will surely be his last hurrah. J P Duminy, at 35, is likely to follow him on the ride into the sunset. He has contributed 56 runs in three innings. The captain may be a casualty of this campaign as well. While du Plessis has stated that he wishes to bow out following the T20 World Cup in Australia next October, he may not be accorded that luxury. Throughout the tournament, South Africa has appeared to be tentative, almost afraid to take risks. There has been a distinct lack of flair with the willow. This is not the way the modern game is played. They have played a brand of cricket more akin to the way the game was played a decade ago before T20 reinvigorated the one-day game and brought to it a more expansive 360-degree approach. With every loss, the collective body language has appeared more and more fraught. The pressure of expectation from a desperate supporter base appears to have ground them down. South Africa will face a significant rebuild following this World Cup. Successive sides have carried healthy expectations to the sports premier white ball tournament, often far greater than this time around. Each time they have fallen short. They have four years to get it right ahead of the next World Cup in India. History indicates that it will be a monumental task. First published on The Roar - theroar.com.au - on 24 June 2019, soliciting 29 commentsRead More →
In the media
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CPA Australia State Congress
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