I’ve become weary of writing about the failings of David Warner and his dead weight on the team, but his comments in the press today can’t be ignored. He is living in denial.

He’s quoted as saying: ‘I’ve played a lot better than what I did last time [in 2019]. I’ve got in good positions, I’m looking to score, I’ve had a couple of unlucky dismissals and then dismissals where I’ve tried to negate the swing or the seam and it’s caught the outside edge of the bat.’

So that’s it. He’s been ‘unlucky’.

‘I’m looking to score,’ he says. Then SCORE! Please!

And playing better? Yes, his average of 25.13 so far this series does indeed surpass the 9.50 he recorded in the 2019 Ashes series, but it’s hardly good enough for Australia’s Test opener in one of the toughest series the team could wish to play. In a team of only eleven, Warner is the sixth highest run scorer. Even Mitchell Marsh has outscored Warner, and he’s played only four innings versus Warner’s eight. Warner’s average for the series is on a par with that of Carey (23.14), Starc (25.00) and Cummins (23.40), and he is supposed to be one of the team’s best players.

Warner isn’t the only Australia batter to underperform – Smith and Green are guilty, too – but Warner’s lack of runs stretches back several years and yet he keeps getting picked. One wonders if and how the selectors will take responsibility for choosing him and keeping Marcus Harris, who averaged 57.13 for Glamorgan this summer, on the bench.

Make Johnson a Selector

I couldn’t agree more with Mitchell Johnson in his selection of the playing XI for the Fourth Test; i.e.

M Harris

U Khawaja

M Labuchschagne

S Smith

T Head

M Marsh

A Carey

M Neser

M Starc

P Cummins

T Murphy

Johnson writes, “Put simply, Warner goes out because he’s out of form, Michael Neser comes in because he’s in form and Mitch Marsh retains his place for the same reason.

I would opt for Marcus Harris to open the batting with Usman Khawaja and Neser to replace Scott Boland, with Cam Green missing out despite declaring himself fit to play.”

How easy was that? The arguments for omitting Warner are too obvious to repeat (just see our last three or so posts). Neser has been on fire in England his summer, and while Hazlewood is a great bowler, Neser’s form with both bat and ball should not be ignored any longer. I’ve always been a Mitchell Marsh skeptic but Green hasn’t nailed it and Marsh played a blinder in the Third Test so why not turn him loose again? Green remains the future of the team, you would think, but some time out of the XI won’t hurt him and might even help.

Sure, Harris, Neser and Marsh may or may not fire in the Fourth Test, but they are likely to give Australia the best chance in a must-win game.

Anyone But Him

Oh, for Pete’s sake. After Ricky Ponting, now Greg Chappell has joined the chorus of ‘experts’ backing David Warner despite the absence of any evidence to suggest he is capable of performing as Australia’s Test opener.

“I think with a champion – and I consider David a champion – you give a champion one game too many rather than one game too few,” Chappell is reported to have said.

He’s had one game too many already, Greg. More than one.

It’s not enough to say ‘we think he’ll come good’ (no he won’t).

It’s facile to say ‘he performs well when his back’s against the wall’ (no, he doesn’t).

It’s meaningless to say ‘he’s batting well in the nets’ (Tests aren’t played in the nets).

It’s true there is no like-for-like replacement for Warner. It’s also true that whoever is chosen to open the batting may indeed fail, whether it’s Marsh, Green, Head, Harris or Renshaw. I don’t care. Pick one of them. I don’t care which one. With Warner barely averaging 23 on a very good day if the pitch is flat, and failing to last a single over against Broad when there is any kind of lateral movement, it doesn’t matter who you pick. Any of the candidates has at least as good as chance as Warner and is likely as not to do better. Anyone but Warner.

If anyone is interested, a spot poll in the Fairfax press today produced the following results from readers:

Looking for Excuses?

Look, I have tremendous respect for Ricky Ponting. His career speaks for itself and I think he is usually an incisive analyst of the game. But comments like those he made today recommending the selectors stick with David Warner are positively damaging.

An article on Cricket Australia’s website reads as follows:

“I’m probably more inclined to give David another opportunity and hope he can get through Stuart Broad and go on and make a big score,” Ponting said in an International Cricket Council podcast.

“When someone’s got you out 17 times, it does become as much a mental – or probably more of a mental – battle than it does a technical battle.

“But just thinking about the series, I’d be inclined to stick with David Warner.”

Seriously, how many more opportunities does Warner need? We’re reduced to ‘hoping’ now. Is it just me or is Ponting saying two diametrically opposed things at once here? He seems to be admitting Warner can’t hold his own against Broad but Ponting ‘hopes he can get through’ because he is ‘just thinking about the series’. What does that even mean?

We here at Aussie Cricket Lover have been harsh critics of both Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Marsh, both of whom have performed very well in this Ashes series. Contrary to our expectations, Starc has been reasonably accurate, and Marsh, well, enormous kudos to him. He appears to have embraced his inner Bison and decided it’s now or never, I’ll be a beast and if it doesn’t work, I’ll have no regrets. Maybe he’s decided the Bazball approach is the way to go. It’s only been one Test so far, but it worked at Headingley, even though Australia lost.

It’s wonderful to be proved wrong. It’s one of the best perks of being an armchair critic. But Warner’s form is terminal. For Ponting to be urging his retention in the team with no justification is downright irresponsible.

The Millstone Gets Heavier

I’ve been ranting for at least two years (e.g here and here) about the selectors’ stubborn insistence on picking David Warner despite precious little evidence that he justifies his place in the team. The selectors appear not to care, deciding instead the 36-year old deserves his spot for runs he made so many years ago that many younger cricket fans don’t even remember.

It’s a bizarre stance for the selectors to take. If nothing else, the Bairstow fracas demonstrates the huge significance of the Ashes in the sporting culture of both nations. You want to maximise your chances, don’t you? Why would you deliberately go into such a massive series with a such a prominent millstone around your neck? It’s difficult to understand.

It’s true Marcus Harris has fluffed the opportunities he’s had at Test level thus far (average of 25.29 in 14 Tests). No question about it. But it’s just as true that his performances over the past two years have conspicuously eclipsed those of Warner. In the 2023 country cricket season, Harris made 457 runs for Gloucestershire at an average of 57.13, with two centuries and two fifties in nine innings. The year before that, he made 726 runs at 42.71 for Gloucestershire across 17 innings. In the 2022-23 Sheffield Shield, he made 601 runs at 37.56 in the 2022-23 Sheffield Shield (i.e. okay but not stellar).

How does Warner compare? Let’s assume for a moment that Warner’s historically abysmal Ashes tour of England in 2019 (95 runs across five Tests at an average of 9.50, including three ducks and five single-digit scores) was some sort of aberration. (It wasn’t, but let’s for a moment say it was.)

He played two of the four Tests in the subsequent home series against India (which Australia lost), making 67 runs at 16.75 across four innings. In the 2021-22 home Ashes series, he rebounded a little, with 273 runs at 34.13 including two 90+ scores but no tons. In the three Test series in Pakistan (which Australia won 1-0), he maintained that level, averaging 33.80 across 5 innings, nearly achieving the bare minimum Australia requires of its Test opener. His highest score in the two away Tests against Sri Lanka was 25 (series drawn 1-1).

In two Tests against West Indies and three against a very lacklustre and dispirited South Africa during the 2022-23 Australian summer, he made 315 runs at 39.38, but the data needs close examination. Those 315 runs included one innings of 200 against a totally demoralized South African attack. I’m not saying that knock must be dismissed, just heavily discounted. After all, Alex Carey made 111, Smith 85, Head 51 and Green 51 not out in the same innings (Australia made 575 for 8). Not the most challenging of conditions, you’d have to say. Stripping out that one big score, Warner made 115 runs at 16.43 in his other seven innings that summer. He then made scores of 1, 10 and 15 (average 8.67) in three innings on the tour of India before getting injured. And then he walks into the Ashes team.

Why? It doesn’t make sense.

In addition to everything else, it isn’t fair. The selectors always tell players they’ll be rewarded for performances. Tell that to players like Harris and Neser, who can’t get a game even after doing all that’s asked of them.

Warner, meanwhile, has a history of failures in English conditions. Did he play county cricket like Harris? No, he played IPL. The selectors picked him anyway, despite little evidence that he can play in England, and despite a recent history of deteriorating performances.

So far across the World Test Championship final against India and the first three Ashes Tests, Warner has 185 runs at an average of 23.13 but has failed to reach double figures fifty percent of the time (4 innings out of 8). His top score of 66 in the Second Test was on a slow, flat pitch on which Smith made 110, Head 77 and Labuschagne 47, not to mention Stokes’ 155 and Duckett’s two scores of 98 and 83. You could say Warner underperformed in that game, too. The pitch in the Third Test at Headingley is much harder and faster than in the first two Tests and batting clearly is more challenging for all players, but once again Warner’s failures were conspicuous. He lasted only five balls in both innings, falling to Broad yet again. It’s painful to watch. The selectors seem to cherry-pick data points such as his 200 against South Africa to justify Warner’s inclusion, but they fail to acknowledge that it’s Warner’s occasional decent score that is the aberration. The failures are the norm.

Meanwhile, the selectors and his teammates (bless ’em) tell us they ‘back Davey to come good’ and he’s ‘batting better than ever in the nets’. Terrific. The next time a Test match is played in the nets, I’ll put some money on him.

I have no idea whether Harris would succeed if given another chance, but isn’t it common sense to pick the best players you have available, then hope for the best? Australia needs its best openers for the Ashes. Warner is not that. He simply isn’t, and hasn’t been for some time.

I don’t get it. Where is Trevor Hohns when you need him?

Starc ‘second to none’?

In an article on Cricket Australia’s website today, team management appears anxious to justify selecting Mitchell Starc after a pretty indifferent performance with the ball in the World Test Championship.

Coach Andrew McDonald concedes that Starc tends to leak runs in comparison to the other Australian seamers, but claims this is acceptable because he takes lots of wickets: “His wicket-taking ability is second-to-none. We’ve got to weigh all that up when we make decisions.”

This argument seems a bit dubious to me. Second to none? Yes, he takes some wickets, but is it enough to compensate for the runs he gives away? It doesn’t look like it.

I took a look at Starc’s returns in seamer-friendly conditions since 2019 (i.e. excluding Australia’s three tours to the subcontinent [Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2022, India in 2023] where spinners took most of the wickets). This analysis takes in

  • the 2019 Ashes in England,
  • the 2019-20 home summer against Pakistan then New Zealand,
  • the 2020 home series against India,
  • the 2021-22 home Ashes series and
  • the 2022-23 home summer against West Indies and South Africa.

Across these five series, Starc took an average of 2.05 wickets per innings versus 2.41 for Cummins, 2.15 for Hazlewood and 2.33 for Boland. In doing so, he conceded 3.11 runs per over, more than any other Australian bowler (even Cameron Green).

** Data includes returns for the 2019 Ashes, 2019-20 home summer, 2020 home series vs India, 2021-22 home Ashes and the 2022-23 home summer. ^Neser’s data is taken from his aggregate wicket tally in the 2022-23 Sheffield Shield and his 2023 season in England with Glamorgan.

McDonald’s assertion that Starc’s wicket-taking ability is second to none simply isn’t supported by the data. Perhaps he’s speaking of a different data set. If Starc took more wickets than the other seamers, his poor economy rate would be fine. But he doesn’t.

It seems likely England’s batters will come hard at Australia’s seamers. If Australia wants to win one or both of the first two Ashes Tests, it will need extreme accuracy from its seamers to put the England batters under pressure and force mistakes from them. Cummins, Hazlewood and Boland are likely to provide that pressure. If Starc has one of his off days and can’t control his line and length, he could give away a huge number of runs and potentially put Australia in a losing position. Personally, I would hold Starc back until at least the Third Test and allow Australia’s best seamers to do the job in the first two.

More Recalls Than a Takata Airbag

Seriously? Mitchell Marsh has earned a recall to the Test squad? Again?

Except it hasn’t been earned. They have handed it to him. And on what basis? Test selection is supposed to be justified by performance. There needs to be some logic and consistency to it. With Marsh, there isn’t.

Look, Marsh is one of the world’s best white ball batters. He is one heck of a slogger. Few players have his brute strength. If you’re playing T20, you want him on your team. He could (and absolutely should) tour the world playing in T20 tournaments and making lots of money.

But Marsh is NOT a Test cricketer.

He lacks the technique to play the red ball that moves through the air or off the seam, and his dismal Test record provides ample evidence of this. You can bet the ball will swing in England, so where’s the logic for selecting a batter who has played the grand total of THREE first-class (i.e. red ball) games in the past three and a half years (and only ONE in the past sixteen months). It’s a tremendous insult to those state cricketers who have toiled away in the Sheffield Shield, having been told by the selectors that if they put results on the board they would be considered for elevation to the Test team.

No doubt the selectors will point to Marsh’s recent white ball form to justify his inclusion, but how many times must we remind them the skill sets for Test cricket and T20 are very different? We’ve been here so many times before. George Bailey should know this better than most. He failed at Test cricket (5 Tests, average 26.14) after being picked on his excellent white ball form. So did Aaron Finch (5 Tests, average 27.80) and Glenn Maxwell (7 Tests, average 26.07). Marsh has already been gifted 32 Tests but his average languishes at 25.20. At one point he was rated the worst No. 6 in Test history. Recalling him to the Test squad makes no sense, especially as he has played almost no first-class cricket lately.

Oh, the selectors might say, but he made a century in the recent Shield match against Tasmania in March, when he made 108 not out. Well, sure, yes he did. So…..they have selected him on the strength of a single innings? Other players must post a couple of years of strong results in the Shield to even be considered for Test selection.

Oh, but, Australia must have him because it can’t rely too much on Cameron Green as the all-rounder.

Actually, that’s a fair point. But there are better options as the back-up for Green. Australia actually has an unusually good crop of good all-rounders at present. Michael Neser and Sean Abbott are both better bowlers than Marsh, and although they are bowling all-rounders, their first-class batting averages aren’t that different from Marsh’s Test average (Neser: 23.44, Abbot: 23.13). In the 2022-23 Shield, Neser took 40 wickets at 16.73 and made 357 runs at 32.45. Why is Marsh preferred to him?

Then there are the younger emerging all-rounders who the selectors could blood if for some reason they overlooked Neser and Abbott. Will Sutherland had a blowout year in the 2022-23 Shield (41 wickets at 19.93 and 467 runs at 29.19) and he’s only 23 years old! Why wouldn’t you take him to England as back-up? (FYI, Marsh will be 32 in October.)

And why is Marsh included as an all- rounder anyway when apparently he no longer bowls? He didn’t bowl a single ball in the recent 3-match ODI series against India, nor did he bowl in the single Sheffield Shield match he played in March. Are we to assume a guy who has hardly rolled his arm over for three years is the second-best all-rounder in the country? Again, it doesn’t stack up. Okay, his ability to bowl has been crimped by injury lately. Is he recovered? Do the selectors even know? And even if he is, his Test bowling record is pretty ordinary (42 wickets at 38.64) and definitely inferior to any of the abovementioned options.

By all accounts, Marsh is a very nice bloke. It’s lucky for him, because if I was another promising cricketer witnessing the special treatment he receives, I’d be seriously pissed off.

Warner: Enough Already

Enough is enough. David Warner must not be picked for the WTC final or the Ashes. It’s been fifteen months since we last called on the selectors to put Warner out to pasture (see Yesterday’s Hero). He’s still here, and dragging down the team’s chances every time he walks out to bat. It was alarming to see Andrew Macdonald quoted as saying “[a]t the moment Dave’s fully in our plans for the World Test Championship” after the end of the India Test series. He needs to explain the logic underlying that statement.

Ricky Ponting, too, seemed to share this sentiment, saying “I think they’ll definitely want to play him in the World Test Championship match” without giving a reason. Even Ponting, however, seems confused, saying in the same interview that he thinks Warner missed a chance to retire during the Australian summer and that “David’s record in the UK is not as strong as it is in some other places around the world”. Ricky, if he should have retired and plays poorly in England, why on earth would they select him for England? It makes no sense.

In 28 Test innings in 17 Tests since December 2021, Warner has made 847 runs at an average of 31.37. This is already mediocre for a Test opener, but if you strip out his aberrant 200 against a weak South African team in the first innings of the Second Test of the 2022-23 home series, it drops to 24.88. And it’s worth noting Alex Carey also made 111 in that same innings, while Steve Smith made 85 and both Travis Head and Cameron Green each made 51. So not the toughest of assignments, really.

If you look only at his most recent 7 Tests (11 innings) from the beginning of the 2022-23 home summer to the Second Test against India in Delhi when he retired hurt, he’s made 341 runs at 31.00. Strip out that one-off double ton against the Proteas, and his average for that period drops to 12.82. And this is the guy who averaged 9.50 across ten Test innings (including three consecutive ducks) in the most recent Ashes series in England in 2019 when he became Stuart Broad’s bunny.

It’s delusional to imagine Warner will do well in England this summer. And there are – for a change – a number of compelling alternatives.

*Renshaw’s number include Sheffield Shield, PM’s XI vs West Indies and three Tests. ^Harris’ numbers include Sheffield Shield and PM’s XI.

The most obvious is Cameron Bancroft, who deserves a Test recall several years after Sandpapergate. He’s the leading run-scorer in the 2022-23 Sheffield Shield, with 849 runs at 60.64, including four centuries. And while I don’t recommend picking Test players based on white ball, it doesn’t hurt his case that he’s made 327 runs at 65.40 in this season’s Marsh One Day Cup.

Or there’s Matt Renshaw. Although Renshaw failed in the three innings he played in India this time, it’s worth remembering he made a match-winning 68 in the first innings of the First Test in Pune in 2017 (when Steve O’Keefe cleaned up with 12 wickets). He’s had only an average sort of red ball season in 2022-23 with 501 runs at 41.75 including 81 and 101 not out for the PM’s XI against the West Indies but made 194 runs at 64.67 in the Marsh One Day Cup. He also made 620 runs at 47.69 for Somerset in the England County Championship in 2022, so he knowns English conditions.

Then there’s Marcus Harris, who continues to fall short when he gets his opportunities but who still represents a better bet than Warner. Harris only played 7 Shield games this season, making 468 runs at 39.00, but scoring two centuries and two 50s. Like Renshaw, he did well in the Marsh One Day Cup (315 runs at 63.00) and knows English conditions , making 726 runs at 42.70 for Gloucestershire in 2022.

Any one of these guys, who have all played Test cricket, could do a better job than Warner in England, although Bancroft is the obvious chance given the numbers he has racked up recently.

Call the Doctor!

Finally, I understand how Australia can win in India! Visiting teams like Australia should hope the grounds staff doctor the wickets MORE, not less. This is what the Third Test in Indore suggests. They called the Indore pitch ‘poor’? I reckon it was pretty darn good in terms of providing an even contest.

When Indian pitches are excessively doctored to take spin, thereby favouring India’s spinners on decks that visiting teams aren’t used to, the visitors don’t stand a chance of making runs. But here’s the thing: neither do the Indians! It levels the playing field (pun intended).

What’s the ‘right’ amount of turn in a wicket as far as India is concerned? It’s enough turn to make batting difficult for visiting teams who aren’t accustomed to it, but not quite enough to present the Indian batters with something completely alien. It’s a ‘Goldilocks’ wicket: not too little turn, not too much, but juuuuust right.

I have no idea how to quantify this ‘Goldilocks’ degree of spin, but the pitches in Nagpur and Delhi certainly seemed to exhibit it. The batting of Rohit Sharma and Axar Patel was outstanding in the First Test, and the home team won easily. With scores level after the first innings of the Second Test, Australia was competitive at 2-85 in the second innings before dropping their bundle and losing 8 wickets for 38. Most seem to agree that Australia was close to making a game of it before everything fell apart. Would have, could have, should have.

Indore was different.

If you over-egg the pudding, if you put too much spice in the mix, it becomes a nightmare for both teams. But at least both teams have a 50-50 shot. Sure, the matches are over within three days, but as Rohit Sharma observed after the Indore Test, this happens in many places outside India as well. And the contest is more equal.

It has happened before. In the First Test in Pune in 2017, Australia batted first and made 260, with Renshaw making 68 and Starc 61. As they always say, you never know what’s a good score until both teams bat on it. Never was that more true than at Pune. It turns out 260 was an outstanding score. Steve O’Keefe then ripped through India with his left-arm orthodox, taking 6-35 and bowling them out for 105. Steve Smith contributed an astonishing 109 in the second innings, but remarkably it wasn’t even needed: O’Keefe repeated his effort in the second innings – another 6-35 to bowl out India for 107 and give Australian a stonking and entirely unexpected 333-run victory. (Side note: Renshaw’s 68 in the first innings at Pune set up Australia’s victory. Sure, he looked out of his depth in the current series with scores of 0, 2 and 2 in Nagpur and Delhi, but I feel sorry for him because no one has mentioned that he’s won a Test in India for his team before.)

The Indore pitch was a rank turner. This (allegedly) was due to it being prepared for a Test match at short notice because the wicket at Dharamsala wasn’t ready. I assume the ground staff were instructed to ensure the pitch would take spin, so they obliged.

Boy, did they oblige. After Matt Kuhnemann ripped through India with 5-16, Usman Khawaja’s first innings 60 turned out to be a match winner, leaving Lyon to do his stuff in the second innings. I don’t know anything about preparing a Test wicket, but I suspect that achieving that ‘Goldilocks’ degree of turn is not necessarily easy to do. It’s not difficult to accidentally go too far and administer a bit too much stimulant.

I’m fascinated to see what sort of wicket is prepared for the Fourth Test at Ahmedabad. Conventional wisdom was that India, expecting to be up 3-0, would be unconcerned about the risk of a loss and ask for a green seamer to help them prepare for the World Test Championship at the Oval in June. But, stung by their loss at Indore, perhaps India is out for blood and will ask for another turner at Ahmedabad.

Call the doctor!

One-in-Ten Chance

India have gone 2-0 up after the Second Test in Delhi, preserving their perfect record at the ground since 1959.

Poor batting by Australia? Certainly. Can touring teams like Australia’s learn to bat on wickets that are prepared to be low, slow and turning? Evidence would suggest they just don’t know how.

Based on the data since 2010, India have a 75-80% chance of winning a Test played at home. A visiting team has perhaps a 1-in-10 chance.

Is this because the Indian authorities have issued strict instructions to grounds staff to prepare wickets that will give India’s spinners an overwhelming advantage? In other words, are the wickets doctored more now than they used to be?

Or is it something else entirely?

Is it more a case of India having not one but two once-in-a-generation spinners in Ashwin and Jadeja? Will we look back after they retire and regard the past decade as a golden age for Indian spinners in the same way as we think of the 1980s as a golden age for West Indian fast bowlers?

* up to and including the Second Test in Delhi, Feb 2023

I wish I knew.