Category Archives: 2017-18 Ashes in Aus

Got That Right

In the eyes of cricket fans, the selectors can doing very little right. The howling noise over the selection of Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh for the Ashes was deafening.

Now, with Australia 2-0 up in the series, it seems fitting to give the selectors a pat on the back not only for the selection of Paine and Marsh, who have played well, but for the contenders they did not pick.

Many felt Matthew Renshaw was hard done by when discarded in favour of Cameron Bancroft, but the truth is it was an excellent call by the selectors. In the first five games of the Sheffield Shield this season, Renshaw has scored 111 runs in 10 innings at an average of 12.33 and with a top score of 19. At 21, he is young enough to work on his game and regain his Test spot at some point, but he has a lot of work to do.

None of the prospective wicketkeeper candidates have shown they should have been picked over Paine. Peter Nevill has scored 221 runs at 31.57 in 8 innings, with a single half-century. Matthew Wade’s form with the bat has not improved appreciably; he has 154 runs at 22.00 in this year’s Shield, with only one half-century (72 not out in Round Five). Excluding that innings, he has not passed 30.  Alex Carey scored his maiden first-class ton (139) in Round Five, and has 301 runs at 43.00 so far for the season. Promising, but more evidence is required. Jimmy Pierson scored an 82 not out in Round Five but has scored only 156 runs at 22.29 in 8 innings.

First, top order contenders: Hilton Cartwright was considered for the Ashes but has done poorly in the Shield; he has scored 216 runs at 21.60 this Shield season, suggesting the decision to omit him from the Test squad was the correct one. Nic Maddinson was not seriously in contention for the Ashes, and a good thing, too, with only 177 runs at 17.70 so far this season. Why his name gets mentioned for a Test recall is a mystery to me.

Middle order contenders Kurtis Patterson (260 runs at 28.89) and Jake Lehmann (336 runs at 37.33) have not demonstrated that they should have been selected over Shaun Marsh. Lehmann in particular has seen his scores fall away after his scores of 103 and 93 in Round Two nearly got him a Baggy Green. Since then, his scores have been 13, 24, 1, 17, 43 and 26. Good call, selectors.  Marcus Stoinis has only batted five times this season and has only 103 runs at 20.60. Again, well done, selectors.

Travis Head is not far away, with Shield scores of 67, 80, 132 and 65 so far this season. He has scored 421 runs at 42.10 and must remain in contention but is probably slightly behind Glenn Maxwell in the race for a Test spot in the middle order (see ‘Zombies Live!’).

All in all, the selectors deserve some credit as much for the players they didn’t pick as for those they did. But they probably won’t get it.




Zombies Live!

The zombie cricketers are alive and kicking.

By zombies, I mean those players who refuse to die. They have tried and failed at Test cricket, then gone back to state cricket and performed well enough to at least come back into contention for a Test recall.

Tim Paine is perhaps the greatest zombie of them all, having been dead and buried until his shock recall for the Ashes. He fluffed a catch in Brisbane but also pulled off an excellent stumping and made a stylish 57 in the first innings in Adelaide. There would appear to be life in the old boy yet. At the very least, he has not embarrassed the selectors.

The other obvious zombie, of course, is Shaun Marsh, who not only won a recall for the Ashes but won player of the match in the 2nd Test in Adelaide with an excellent ton. Trevor Hohns and Team must be enormously relieved.

Elsewhere, discarded Test opener Joe Burns has lurched back into the selectors’ sights with 514 runs at 57.11 in his first ten Sheffield Shield innings this season, including scores of 70, 81, 103 and finally 202 not out against South Australia in Round Four.  But Cameron Bancroft is likely to get a few more games yet, so Burns will probably have to bide his time.

Perennial zombie Glenn Maxwell has cracked 590 runs at 73.75 so far this Shield season, with scores of 60, 64, 278 and 96. One would have to think Maxwell has his eye on the No. 5 Test slot currently occupied by the hopelessly out-of-form Peter Handscomb.  Will the selectors let Handscomb play out the series as they did with George Bailey four years ago? As it was with Bailey, they might if the team keeps winning.

And lastly there is Mitchell Marsh, arguably the most disappointing Test cricketer of the past half-decade. Finally sent back to WA after 21 Tests in which he averaged only 21.74 with the bat and took only 29 wickets at 37.48, Mitchell has scored 402 runs at 44.67 in the Shield this season, including scores of 95 and 141. The selectors took a lot of stick for persevering with Mitchell for so long, so one wonders how well he must do at state level – and for how long – before he gets another chance at Test cricket.

Feed them braaains….


Khawaja’s Comments Deserve Wider Coverage

Usman Khawaja’s blog post today is important.  He wrote a piece on Players Voice describing his experiences as an expatriate Pakistani coming up through the ranks of Australian cricket, and describing the extent to which he was racially vilified.

SBS carried the story, citing a Reuters article, but I have not seen Khawaja’s comments reported by other major media outlets in Australia. I did not actually see the SBS report, but instead became aware of Khawaja’s comments via reports by the UK’s Daily Mail and Telegraph and India’s Indian Express.

This blog has no interest in politics. It wants to discuss cricket. But this stuff matters.

I can’t say I was surprised to learn of the racial vilification Khawaja has endured, but I am no less saddened by it. Racism in any and all forms is ugly, destructive, and must be condemned whenever and wherever it occurs. Only then can we move closer to a world in which it is eradicated altogether.

Khawaja wrote “Australian cricket is slowly changing and will finally have a chance to reflect what Australia really is.”

Let’s hope so.

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.

Prepare For the Ashes By Not Playing?

Has anybody else noticed how little preparation Australia’s Test cricketers will have for the Ashes?

I mean, like, almost none.

Australia started out very well in India, winning the First Test in Pune in February against all expectations and fighting hard to stand at 1-1 going into the Fourth Test in Dharamsala in the last week of March 2017. In that match, it all proved too much and Australia fell in a heap to lose the series 2-1.

Afterwards, most of the Australians went off to the IPL. Most then showed up at the Champions Trophy but their heads were obviously not in the game and they crashed out (much like South Africa).

Since then, there has been no cricket for the Aussies.

Instead, the players have been entangled in a bitter pay dispute with Cricket Australia (CA) that has dragged on for months. Claims by the likes of Smith and Warner that they were not distracted by the bizarre fight with CA are simply not believable (but they could hardly say otherwise publicly).

So what remains before the Ashes? A brief tour to Bangladesh, where the Australians will play two Tests. Now, the Bangladeshis are a much improved side, and playing on their home turf could be a real handful. In fact, if Australia does not look out, I would not be surprised to see them get beaten. But the point I’m making is that it’s only two Tests. It’s not a lot of match practice, and the conditions will be utterly dissimilar to what they will face back home in Australia.

After Bangladesh, Australia has no Test cricket to play between 8 September and 23 November. An ODI tour to India is allegedly planned, but the details don’t seem to be available yet. And anyway, what value is there in a tour that includes only ODI matches?

Meanwhile, England has just played a four Test series against South Africa and is about to commence a three Test series against West Indies.

By the time the coin is tossed at the First Ashes Test in Brisbane, Australia will have played two Test matches in eight months.

England will have played seven Tests across two series.

I notice the England press is lamenting the instability of the England top order but I suspect they can afford to be a little more sanguine as Australia currently has similar issues to wrestle with. And if one excludes the top order batting issues, there are other areas in which the England team is looking more formidable than Australia (more about that in the next post).

For now, though, if Australia loses in Brisbane, I can already see the headlines:

“Why did Australia play virtually no Test cricket in the eight months before the Ashes?”

And yet every summer the cricketers say their schedule is too busy and they’re playing too much cricket.

I don’t get it.