Monthly Archives: July 2015

Ban(croft) For Your Buck

With the Australian Test side imploding so dreadfully at Edgbaston, one performance yesterday by an Australian batsman escaped the attention of many.

Yesterday, Cameron Bancroft, the 22-year old Western Australian opener, scored 150 off 267 balls for Australia A against India A in Chennai. Bancroft’s innings was all the more impressive considering it was part of a team score of 9/329 and was made against former Indian Test bowlers such as Varun Aaron and Pragyan Ohja. No other batsman in the Australia A team scored higher than 54, and India A had already been bowled out for 135. This was no batsman’s paradise. Bancroft’s big ton came after scores of 2 and 51 in Australia A’s first tour match last week.

Bancroft’s innings could be timely. Since the beginning of the current Ashes series, Chris ‘Buck’ Rogers has clearly regretted mentioning the likelihood of his retirement at the end of the series as it has created a distraction for him, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Bancroft may have just stormed to the front of the queue of players competing to replace Rogers. He has only played 23 first class matches to date, but was the third highest run scorer in the 2013-14 Sheffield Shield with 896 runs at 47.15 with 3 centuries and a top score of 211. It was this performance that won him selection for the current tour of India by Australia A.

With Adam Voges (who, incidentally, was the Shield’s top scorer in 2014-15 with 1,358 runs at 104.46) struggling to retain his Test place, one would think the selectors will give Shaun Marsh first crack. Personally, I wouldn’t – I think both Marsh brothers are almost as over-rated by the selectors as Shane Watson was, although Mitchell Marsh, at only 23, shows promise if given enough time to develop. Unfortunately, in the current Ashes squad there are no other batting alternatives to Shaun.

Assuming Rogers retires this year and Voges is dropped, a vacancy will open up (possibly two, if Michael Clarke retires, but’s that for another post).

In fairness, Joe Burns is almost certainly the next batsman to be picked. He’s already played two Tests and didn’t do badly (two half centuries in the second of his two Tests in the summer of 2014-15). Burns earned his Test debut against India in Australia last summer batting at No. 6, mostly because the selectors couldn’t squeeze him in anywhere else. But I think it’s fair to say they envision him batting at the top of the order (he opens the batting for Queensland, after all) once Rogers retires. Moreover, Burns, who will be 26 in September, is a little further advanced than Bancroft, with 3,799 first class runs at 41.29 from 59 matches. In the 2014-15 Sheffield Shield, he was the sixth highest run scorer with 793 runs at 52.86 with 2 centuries and a top score of 183.

But nothing is certain. Burns is currently on the Australia A tour of India as well but was out for only 8 in yesterday’s game (in which Bancroft made 150). He did not play in the first match last week. Moreover, he has had a less than stellar season playing for Middlesex this year, where he has made only 320 runs at 29.09, with a top score of 87.

You’re only as good as your last season. Once Buck retires, Burns might need to look over his shoulder for Bancroft.

(So you do get the headline for this post? Bancroft for your Buck; i.e. Buck Rogers? Well, I thought it was almost clever. Wow, there’s no pleasing some people. )

Nevill’s Numbers

A quick look at the first-class career of Australia’s newest Test wicketkeeper, Peter Nevill:

Peter Nevill's First-Class Career


Source: Cricket Archive

Fountain of Youth

At 23, Mitchell Marsh is 10.3 years younger than the man he is likely to replace in the Second Test, Shane Watson.

Peter Nevill, meanwhile, at 29 years and 275 days, is 8 years younger than Brad Haddin, whom he will replace at Lord’s.

This means the median age of the Australian eleven will fall by 15% from 33.7 to 28.7, and the number of players aged 30 or more will fall from 6 to 4.

Dad’s Army no more? At the very least, the Australians are reducing the number of excuses they can use if they lose at Lord’s.

Why Cummins, Not Pattinson?

One minute Australia has plenty of fast bowling options, the next it doesn’t.

I haven’t seen many pundits express surprise at the addition of Pat Cummins to the Ashes squad after Ryan Harris’ retirement, but I for one am pretty gobsmacked. It’s not that I have anything against Cummins (I do not) but it’s just…….how do you know how he’ll perform if he gets a game?

I mean, this is a guy who has played one famous Test and no more than six first-class matches in his entire career. After his man-of-the-match Test debut in South Africa three and half years ago, he has spent most of his time injured. He has scraped together 12 ODI appearances (19 wickets at 30.36) and 14 T20s (19 wickets at 19.47), none of which sheds any light on his likely ability in Test cricket.

The guy may be the best thing since sliced bread, but how does one make that determination? I hope the selectors know something we don’t.

I do wonder why the selectors didn’t opt for James Pattinson, who has also spent most of his time injured but has actually played 13 Tests and has 51 wickets at 27.07. Pattinson is currently fit once more, and will front up for Australia A in its tour of India, which commences on Wednesday, 15 July. He missed the 2014-15 Shield season through injury so perhaps the selectors want to see him play some red ball cricket, but all of that (i.e. the recent lack of cricket) is even more true for Cummins than for Pattinson.

Jackson Bird appears to have dropped off the radar after his promising Test debut against Sri Lanka in 2012 was also followed by a prolonged injury layoff. He took 18 wickets at 33.27 in 7 matches during the 2014-15 Sheffield Shield competition, and is currently playing for Hampshire where he has taken 14 wickets in four first class games this season. Not completely shabby, but not enough to demand Test selection, one would think.

The selectors could also have considered Tasmania’s Andrew Fekete (57 wickets at 26.94 in 16 first-class games) but Fekete recently turned 30 so perhaps his age put them off. His 37 wickets in the 2014-15 Shield competition was, however, enough to earn him a berth on the same Australia A tour of India that Pattinson is about to embark on. Also on the Australia A tour of India is Sean Abbott, who is still only 23. He has 55 first-class wickets at 31.16 and must be in the frame, although not at the top of the list.

Nathan Coulter-Nile has never really managed to knock the selectors’ socks off (I think he bowls far too short too often). Other leading Sheffield Shield wicket-takers Nathan Rimmington, Doug Bollinger and Mick Hogan are all too old (32, almost 34 and 34 respectively). Ben Hilfenhaus is 32 and not the man he was. Besides, he has just injured his hip after taking 7 wickets in three county games for Nottinghamshire, and is returning to Australia.

Personally I would love to see James Faulkner in the Test team. I think he is precisely the feisty character the team needs AND he is in England currently playing for Lancashire. Moreover, he’s in form, having taken 18 wickets in his past four county games. Only a week ago he took 5-39 and made 68 against Essex. But assuming the selectors drop Watson for Mitchell Marsh, it will presumably be difficult to find room for a second all-rounder.

There are other names one could ponder but none of them are in danger of imminent selection.

So if Mitchell Starc doesn’t play in the Second Test, or if he or Mitchell Johnson breaks down during the Ashes, it will be Peter Siddle or Cummins.

Siddle may do well, but it’s hard to say. I haven’t got a clue. He lacks the pace of Johnson and Starc but is more accurate. He took 17 wickets during the last Ashes series in England two years ago, but eight of those came in the First Test at Trent Bridge. The Aussie coaches say he has regained some of the pace he lost; if that is really true, Siddle may be just the ticket.

If not, then it’s Cummins.

And then what happens?


Ashes status: England 1, Australia nil.

Let’s look at some of the myths doing the rounds after Australia’s loss in Cardiff:

Myth #1: Australia is missing Ryan Harris.

No, I don’t think so. Harris’ presence would not have helped much in Cardiff. I loved the Rhino as much as any cricket fan but when folks say Australia is missing him, what they’re really saying is that they’re missing the Harris of 2013-14. Harris wouldn’t have cut it. He was coming off six months of rehab with no cricket under his belt, and – more importantly – was eighteen months older. One only needs to look at the impact those eighteen months have had on Brad Haddin. No, Harris was lucky to have dodged it all. I’d rather remember him the way he was.

Myth #2: The Aussie quicks were nobbled by the slow pitch

The Cardiff curator may have Mitch-proofed the wicket but the greater problem was that Johnson and Starc did not bowl accurately. England’s bowlers demonstrated that line and length was both possible and effective. Pitches are slow everywhere – India, the UAE, the West Indies and England – but good bowling discipline is still good bowling discipline.

Myth #3: Aussie batsmen should play their natural game. 

No, no, and no. If Michael Clarke says this one more time, I’ll scream. Raised on hard bouncy wickets on which the ball comes on to the bat, Aussie batsmen tend to adopt an attacking approach which simply doesn’t work on slow pitches. The reason they lose so heavily overseas is precisely because they continue to play the same way when they should alter their approach, build an innings, bat with patience, occupy the crease, and keep the opposition in the field. So, no, they should play anything BUT their natural game. Learning to adjust to all conditions is surely what makes a good international cricketer. I sometimes wonder if there some sort of misplaced machismo at work here – the likes of Clarke and Lehmann usually smile and wink and promise us the Australians will play their ‘natural game’ as if there was some unspoken shame in batting conservatively. Is it not manly to occupy the crease and grind out runs? I thought winning was the objective.

Myth #4: Watson’s inclusion in the side adds ‘balance’.

Baloney – I’ve included this as a myth but nobody other than the Australian selectors really believes it. It hasn’t been true for at least three years. What you have is a washed-up batsman who can never be relied upon when the pressure is on, and a pedestrian medium-pacer who looks so unlikely to take wickets that his skipper barely gives him a bowl. Of course he must be dropped. This is now consensus so there seems little point in dwelling any further on it here.

Myth #5: Peter Nevill is too inexperienced to risk

Well, that’s just silly. What’s he doing in the touring party then? Let’s face it, Haddin’s form is grim. I don’t condemn him for the dropped catch off Root in Cardiff – after all, he’s taken plenty of blinders in recent times – but his lack of runs is alarming. Since the end of the 2013-14 Ashes series, Haddin has made 259 runs at 15.24 with a top score of 55 and just the one half-century. Nevill, on the other hand, made 764 runs in fourteen innings at 76.40 in the 2014-15 Sheffield Shield competition, with two centuries and three 50s. The year before he made 461 runs at 51.22 with one ton and two half-centuries. The guy can clearly play, is in better form than Haddin and eight years younger. On balance, Nevill should clearly replace Haddin. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see the selectors biting this particular bullet. One suspects they will allow Haddin to stagger on out of loyalty or because he ‘deserves’ to ‘go out on his own terms’ or some such malarkey.