Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Big Show is Past It

I have never been convinced that Glenn Maxwell deserved his nickname ‘The Big Show’. To be fair, I don’t think he cares for it himself. I certainly believed it was a huge mistake to elevate him to the Test team, and nothing I’ve seen in his seven Tests to date leads me to change that view. If he is retained at No. 6 for the Ashes, he will be a major liability for the Australian team.

But in the shorter format, Maxwell always seemed to have more going for him. He seemed able to get away with a little more than in the red ball game.

Not anymore.

For me, Maxwell forfeited any claim to a place in the Australian ODI team on 24 September during the third ODI against India. Coming to the wicket with 12 overs to go, Maxwell could barely lay bat on ball, crawling to 5 runs off 13 balls.

Enter the leggie, Yuzvendra Chahal. Picture the scene. Steve Smith had gotten out the PREVIOUS DELIVERY.

The Indians knew Maxwell would do it. Fans watching the game knew he would do it.

So he did it.

He charged down the wicket almost before the bowl was bowled. Chahal threw it wide. Maxwell missed it. MS Dhoni whipped off the bails. Stumped. Gone.

How did we know this would happen?

BECAUSE MAXWELL DID EXACTLY THE SAME THING IN THE PREVIOUS GAME! I don’t blame the Indians for grinning their heads off. Maxwell made it so easy for them.

After Maxwell fell, Travis Head panicked and Peter Handscomb didn’t have enough time to rescue the situation. Australia failed to make enough runs in the last ten overs and lost the game. Maxwell’s failure was the single greatest reason for the loss.

Maxwell has been around for a long time. He’s been playing first-class cricket for six years. He has played 80 ODIs for Australia. And yet he was utterly unable to respond appropriately to the situation. The team has every reason to expect a player of Maxwell’s experience NOT to throw his wicket away unnecessarily. But he does so time after time, trying for the Big Shot.

Opposition bowlers have worked Maxwell out. Although his batting average in 80 ODIs is 32.30, in his most recent 21 innings since January 2016, Maxwell has made only 500 runs at an average of 26.32. 

The truth is Maxwell’s skill set is sorely limited. His ability to slap a ball over deep mid-wicket is amazing, but an international cricketer needs more in his or her armoury than the ability to slog across the line of the ball, because – believe it or not – the slog sweep is not the best shot for each delivery. And don’t get me started on Maxwell’s reverse sweep. Most of the time it doesn’t work anyway, and he just looks foolish. Most of the time, a batsman just needs to play proper cricket shots, and not try to do anything too fancy. But if that player lacks the technique to play those proper cricket shots, he should not be out there.

Maxwell will be 29 years old in two weeks’ time. If he has not learned how to play by now, he is not going to. His lack of proper technique is alarming and the selectors should be weary of waiting for him to acquire it. Canny bowlers now know that if they vary their pace he can’t score, and if they throw it wide, there’s a good chance Maxwell will get himself out in short order.

Maxwell should limit himself to the 20-over format. He’ll do fine there.

Keepers’ Curse

Since Brad Haddin was dropped from the Test team, the selectors have been cursed when picking a replacement for him. Each time they pick a guy, his form tanks.

Peter Nevill of NSW seemed like the right guy. When Brad Haddin was dropped, Nevill was arguably the best wicketkeeper in the country, and averaged over 40 with the bat in first-class cricket. It made perfect sense to pick him , and I’ve always thought Rod Marsh did the right thing by sacking Haddin when he did (many others disagreed).

But Nevill was a huge disappointment. It made just as much sense to drop him after 17 Tests in which he averaged only 22.28 with the bat and scored over 50 only three times in 23 innings. It was nowhere near adequate.

To make matters worse, Nevill returned to NSW and finished the 2016-17 Sheffield Shield season with 625 runs at 56.81, including three centuries and a top score of 179 not out. The selectors have a right to be peeved. Why couldn’t he play like that during his time in the Test team?

Matthew Wade then seemed like the right guy. He had averaged a respectable 34.61 in his first 12 Tests in 2012 and 2013, scoring two centuries and three half-centuries. Australia needed more runs from the  ‘keeper at No. 7, so they dropped Nevill and went back to Wade. Once again, a fair call under the circumstances.

In his 9 Tests since then,  however, Wade has displayed an alarming deterioration in form with the bat. He has made 255 runs at 21.25, passing 50 only once in 15 innings. In seven of those 15 innings, he has failed to reached double figures. Wade is not the man he was, and it’s REALLY hurting the team.

Pity the selectors. What are they supposed to do now? Wade is a dead weight at No. 7, and with England’s ‘keeper-batsman Johnny Bairstow now at No. 13 on the ICC Test batting rankings, Australia is at a huge disadvantage.

As Allan Border suggests, they could ask Handscomb to take the gloves, which would give the selectors a chance to add another batsman, which is desperately needed. Trouble is, Handscomb doesn’t really want to be the Test ‘keeper and Steven Smith doesn’t seem overly keen, either. But Australia needs runs badly.

The other option is to once again use the opening two or three rounds of the Sheffield Shield in October-November as an audition. If Nevill does well and Wade does not, there would be strong case for reinstating the NSW gloveman.

If Wade gets a score either in Chittagong or in the early Shield rounds, he’ll probably save his spot, but only because there are so few alternatives.

Tasmania’s Tim Paine was once expected to be a shoo-in to replace Haddin, playing four Tests and 26 ODIs. But Paine suffered a catastrophic finger injury which cost him two years out of the game. When he came back, he was never the same player, and at nearly 33 years of age, is unlikely to be selected.

South Australia’s Alex Carey is yet to impress.

Queensland’s Jimmy Pierson has played well for the Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash but he has played only five first-class games because he was frozen out by the presence of Chris Hartley, who despite good form was never in contention for Test selection due to his age. With Hartley now retired, it’s too late for him but also too early for Pierson.

Still only 25, WA’s Sam Whiteman debuted at 20 years of age and has had a relatively lengthy first-class career (50 games) in which he has averaged a useful 34.64 with three centuries and 15 half-centuries. Unfortunately, he had a poor year in 2016-17, in which he played only 5 Shield games and averaged 25.55.

What To Do With Khawaja?

What should the selectors do with Usman Khawaja?


From time to time there are players who seem to tick all the boxes but simply fail to deliver in the Test arena for reasons nobody seems able to put their finger on. Khawaja is certainly one of those.

Given his weakness against spin bowling, the selectors kept him out of the Indian tour early in 2017. It is therefore easy to question why they picked him for Bangladesh but the answer seems simple: after keeping him hanging around in the wings for so long, they felt they had to either pick him to drop him permanently. So they picked him. I understand that, as far as it goes. But it did not go well in Mirpur.

Perhaps Khawaja will be jettisoned for the 2nd Test in Chittagong, perhaps not. But even if he is retained, what will the selectors do for the Ashes? Let’s mull the issues.

First of all, there’s the problem of age. i was surprised to realize that Khawaja will turn 31 in December. Frankly, I thought he was younger, but that’s how long he’s been hanging around since his 2011 Test debut without stamping his mark on the team. Obviously, the older a player becomes, the fewer chances the selectors are likely to give him. And Hilton Cartwright, who averages 52.07 in an albeit brief first-class career of 22 matches, is only 25. If the selectors are going to punt, they’ll pick the younger bloke, won’t they? It’s what they did with Renshaw and Handscomb.

Secondly, Khawaja is a home track specialist. Nearly half (20 out of 42) of his Test Innings have been played outside Australia. In Asia he averages 14.63 and at other away venues his average is 36.36.

In Australia, Khawaja’s average is 63.74 across 22 innings. But let’s dig a little deeper.

Three of Khawaja’s four Test centuries in Australia were scored in the summer of 2015-16, when the pitches served up – especially in Brisbane and Perth – were among the deadest, flattest and most batsman-friendly wickets ever seen in this country.

I watched Khawaja make his highest Test score of 174 in the 1st Test against NZ in Brisbane in November 2015. However, everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – made big runs in that game (Warner 163 & 126, Burns 71 & 129, Voges 83, Williamson 140 & 59, McCullum 80). I’ve never seen such a flat pitch at the Gabba. The local under-12s would have been making tons.

The 2nd Test in Perth was even worse. The pitch was so flat, it broke Mitchell Johnson’s spirit and helped convince him to retire. Khawaja made 121, but underperformed. Warner made 253, Williamson 166, Taylor 290, Smith 138 and Voges 119. Needless to say, the match was drawn.

Khawaja then went on to make 144 in the Boxing Day Test of the same year against the West Indies. However, against the West Indies’ popgun attack, Burns scored 128 in the same innings, Smith 134 not out, and Voges 106 not out as Australia declared at 551/3 and romped home by 177 runs.

Khawaja’s 140 against NZ in Wellington in Feb 2016 was unquestionably a good knock, but it came after Hazlewood, Siddle and Lyon had rolled the home team for 183 and was overshadowed by Voges’ 239 and supported by Smith’s 71. But we’ll give Uzzy a tick for that one.

Khawaja’s best innings – and really the only time he has set the game up for his team in a tough situation – was in November 2016. Australia had lost the first two Tests to South Africa, including the Hobart disaster in which Australia was bowled out for 85. The selectors dumped Burns, Voges, Ferguson, Mennie and Nevill and brought in Renshaw, Handscomb, and Maddinson while reinstating Wade. Khawaja’s 145 in the first innings was instrumental in posting a total of 383 that was enough to put the Proteas on the defensive. Australia won by 7 wickets. Interestingly, though, Khawaja succumbed for a second-ball duck in the second innings, trapped in front by a left arm Chinaman making his Test debut (Tabraiz Shamsi).

Khawaja made 97 against Pakistan in Melbourne in December 2016, but again, he was overshadowed by Warner (144) and Smith (165 not out) and Azhar Ali (205 not out).

Unfortunately, his track record strongly suggests Khawaja is the sort of Test batsman who performs only when there are plenty of runs in the wicket or if the bowling attack is weak or if he is batting with little pressure after the bowlers have blown away the opposition for a low score. He has generally failed when under pressure or when facing good bowlers.

Surely the mark of a Test batsman is the ability to occasionally dig deep and either set up a match or rescue one for the team when the chips are down. In the current team, only Smith and Warner have proven beyond doubt their capacity to do this on any sort of regular basis. Renshaw’s 68 in the first innings in Pune in Feb 2017 was crucial is setting up that victory over India, and Handscomb’s 72 not out in Ranchi the following month was responsible for the team salvaging an important draw. These performances (and their youth) are why the selectors will persevere with these players, although more is obviously required from both.

With Khawaja’s 31st birthday around the corner, it is getting increasingly difficult to see what the selectors hope to gain by giving him more opportunities when they could roll the dice on promising players five years his junior. I don’t know if he’ll be retained for the Ashes, but if he is, he should consider himself very fortunate.