Monthly Archives: March 2023

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!