Monthly Archives: November 2015

Post-NZ Tweaking

Demote M Marsh, Promote Nevill

Mitchell Marsh is not a No. 6 Test batsman. This was made abundantly clear during the 2015 Ashes series, when he looked all at sea. He lacks technique, and has yet to prove he can graft an innings on anything other than a hard Aussie pitch. You need a proper batsman at No. 6. Mitchell Marsh is not that; he’s a reasonably talented slugger. It was well worth giving him a try as the batting all-rounder and I can’t fault the selectors for that, but after three Tests against New Zealand, it’s time to face facts. Although Marsh barely had a chance to bat in the first two games, he again struggled in the 3rd Test against the moving ball. His defenders might say he wasn’t the only one to struggle but it’s more about how he looks at the crease when under pressure; uncomfortable and short on technique.

Darren Lehmann has once again raised the possibility of promoting Peter Nevill to No. 6. This is a very good idea. Although regarding himself as a batting all-rounder, Mitchell Marsh is only justifying his selection at present as a zippy first-change medium-fast bowler. Dropping him to No. 7 would take some of the pressure off him and might help lead to an improvement in his batting average. Moreover, the numbers make sense; Mitchell Marsh’s first-class batting average of 31.00 (55 matches) doesn’t measure up to Nevill’s 41.01 (65 matches). Nevill should bat higher.

Sids on Borrowed Time

In the 3rd Test against NZ, Peter Siddle reminded the selectors why they had overlooked him for much of the previous year. The Adelaide Oval was supposed to be the place where Siddle would shine, taking wickets on a flattish pitch with his accurate line and length. It didn’t happen. This is not necessarily Siddle’s fault; after all, the pitch did not resemble Adelaide pitches of the past due to the introduction of the pink ball and the decision to leave more grass on it than usual. But Siddle looked very average to me. The selectors left him out for months due to their preference for faster bowlers, and sure enough, with his pace below 130 kph much of the time, Siddle simply did not look threatening. He was fortunate to achieve his (richly deserved) 200-wicket milestone in NZ’s first innings but did not look like taking a wicket in the second innings (and indeed did not).

With James Pattinson coming into the team to replace the injured Mitchell Starc for the West Indies series, Siddle looks likely to hold his place for a while, but it’s due more to good fortune than form. After his prolonged injury problems, Jackson Bird is back in form with 18 wickets from his first four Sheffield Shield matches this season, and will surely attract some attention from selectors. Even the evergreen Dougie Bollinger is taking wickets for NSW (12 of them in his first two Shield games), but at 34 he faces an uphill battle for Test selection.

If Pattinson performs and remains injury-free (two big ‘ifs’ there), I would expect to see Siddle dropped when Starc returns from injury.

Shaun Marsh Shouldn’t Stay

Shaun Marsh’s innings of 49 in the second innings in Adelaide, which helped Australia defeat New Zealand, probably won’t help him keep his place in the team. Although assisted by two benign pitches, Usman Khajawa batted superbly in the first two Tests against New Zealand and should slot back in when he returns from injury. I remain a big Shaun Marsh skeptic. If one more commentator tells me Marsh is ‘very talented’, my head will explode. The stats just don’t back it up. Marsh’s first-class average of 38.35 after 114 matches is mediocre. Moreover, it is Marsh’s repeated failure of nerve that should be cause for concern. True, his second innings performance in Adelaide probably rescued his team, but he is renowned for failing in pressure situations. The amateurish way in which he ran himself out for 2 in the first innings in Adelaide suggests nothing much has changed. This guy has been playing first-class cricket for fifteen years – if he hasn’t discovered a way to manage his nerves and get through tough scrapes, he is hardly likely to do so now.


Where Have the Good Test Wickets Gone?

We have our problems in Australia lately with ridiculously flat pitches that flatter the batsmen’s averages and literally force fast bowlers into retirement (see ‘Flat Pitch Emergency’), but in India the reverse is happening. India struggle to win overseas and are desperate to win at home, so they cook up pitches that turn square from the first day. They open the bowling with Ashwin and Jadeja and don’t even need a first change bowler! South Africa bowled out today for 79 – the lowest ever Test total against India. What a complete and utter waste of time. Sure, all host teams probably nudge their home wickets in their own favour, but honestly, is it really that difficult to prepare a proper Test wicket that at least gives a sniff to the visitors or to the team that loses the toss? This is getting out of hand. It’s going to kill the game. Not happy. Not happy at all.

Stupendous Stanlake

It’s always a bit risky to get overly excited by new young players before they have had a chance to establish themselves, but it’s difficult not to be excited by Queensland’s Billy Stanlake. A former Australia U-19 representative, the 204 cm (6’7”) pace bowler debuted for Queensland in the Matador Cup in October, when he collected 7 wickets in 4 matches.

The 21-year old then made his first-class debut against South Australia last month, collecting 3 wickets in the first innings and 4 in the second. Of these 7 wickets, four were caught behind by ‘keeper Chris Hartley and two were bowled. With his great height and slinging action, Stanlake is apparently capable of generating plenty of heat, bounce and swing.

Stanlake has already experienced injury problems, missing the 2013-14 season due to stress fractures in his back, so it may be premature to predict big things for him. Still, he is one to watch.

Flat Pitch Emergency

Is it over yet? Geez, the 2nd Test against New Zealand was the dullest Test I’ve watched in years.

John Townsend of the West Australian notes “it is the first time in 45 years of WACA Tests that each wicket has cost more than 60 runs. And only twice before in Test history have opposing batsmen managed to reach 250 in the same game.”

Surely something must be done about the dead flat wickets we’re seeing in Australia.

Here’s a question for you: In the past six Test matches Australia’s cricketers have played on home soil, how many times do you think they have racked up 500 runs or more in the first innings?

The answer is….six. Every time. On average, during the first innings of those six Tests, Australia has scored 540 runs. The opposition hasn’t been too shabby either: in the four Tests against India and two to date against New Zealand, Australia’s opponents have scored an average of 456 in the first innings.

Here’s another one: in those six Tests at home, how many times has Australia been bowled out twice in the match?

Answer: none. On average Australia has lost eight wickets in the first innings and six in the second.

And the results from those six Tests? Three wins for Australia and three draws. In the decade prior to 2014, only six Tests out of 56 played at home (11% of the total) ended in draws. In other words, in the past year alone, we’ve had half as many draws as in the previous ten years combined.

The implications are alarming. For a start, the cricket is really dull. Crowds at the recent WACA Test against New Zealand were at one point chanting ‘booooring’ and they were right. There was no contest whatsoever between bat and ball in Perth. For Pete’s sake, no less than six centuries were scored in that game, with two scores of 250 or more! The bowlers didn’t stand a chance.

Moreover, the flat wickets are killing our fast bowlers. Nobody is suggesting every pitch must be a raging seamer, but without a sensible balance offering opportunities for both bowlers and batsmen, the bowlers will inevitably suffer both physically and emotionally.

As the man himself noted, Mitchell Johnson’s retirement was largely a natural function of age and burnout, but he also conceded that he felt like a bowling machine out there at the WACA. It was just too hard, and at his age the prospect of slogging it out for no return was just not enticing. He said he wasn’t enjoying it and who can blame him? Ryan Harris was more direct in his assessment, saying “I am sure that was part of his decision making. I am sure there are probably a few other bowlers around thinking the same thing.” He added “I think the wickets are ridiculously flat, especially when you are playing a home series.”

Some in the media are suggesting both Peter Siddle and Pattinson will play in the 3rd Test in Adelaide because Josh Hazlewood is worn out after bowling 79 overs in the space of a week on flat unresponsive wickets.  Similarly, Mitchell Starc bowled 79.5 overs in the first two Tests, and he has bone spurs in his ankle that will require surgery at some point! It doesn’t sound like a sensible way to prolong Australia’s fast bowling potency.

Now we have Victoria’s coach David Saker warning that if recalled paceman James Pattinson is asked to bowl long spells on flat pitches, he is likely to break down again. Presumably the same could be said of any bowler.

One theory suggests Australia’s flat pitches are the result of a directive from Cricket Australia a couple of years ago, who wanted to give batsmen more opportunities to improve their games and compete more effectively at Test level. “Green tops were denying batsmen the chance to develop their techniques, went the CA theory.” This makes no sense to me at all. Won’t you merely end up with a bunch of batsmen lacking the skills to perform on seaming or spinning wickets? The poor performance of Australia’s batsmen in recent years in the UAE, India and England might lead one to conclude this is already happening.

Or is the problem of flat pitches all a function of viewer ratings and money?  One can’t help but wonder if something changed after the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia. Assisted by a freakish performance from Mitchell Johnson, Australia prevailed 5-0. The problem, however, for promoters, advertisers, broadcasters and stadium proprietors was that only two of the five Ashes Tests saw play last until the fifth day. The final Test ended in three days, the First and Fourth in less than four days. Was a demand for flat wickets issued to Australia’s groundsmen by those who revenues are only maximized when Test matches last five days? If so, was such a directive endorsed (either tacitly or overtly) by Cricket Australia?

And so we are left with boring Test matches, batsmen racking up centuries with unnatural frequency and bowlers so fed up they are breaking down or quitting all together.

When the West Indies arrives for three Tests soon, how much higher will David Warner and Steve Smith push their batting averages? And will we have any fast bowlers left at the end of it all?