Category Archives: 2017 Aus in Bangladesh

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.

Not Rocket Science

The post-mortem from the 1st Test against Bangladesh in Mirpur doesn’t need to be long. In fact, it would be a mistake to over-analyse it.

1) Bangladesh are not the easy-beats they used to be. They’ve beaten England and Sri Lanka in the past year. Any cricket ‘writer’ who was surprised by Bangladesh’s victory probably covers the rugby league in the off season.

2) Australia did not prepare. Australia started well in India in February then fell in a steaming heap thereafter. A few of them went off to the IPL, and a few participated in a very half-hearted Champions Trophy campaign. None played red ball cricket for five months. And don’t anyone try and claim that a brief training camp in Darwin represented serious preparation. It was better than nothing, but not by much.

3) Australia is only a mediocre team. Its only world-class Test cricketers are Smith, Starc (currently absent), Hazlewood and Lyon. Warner could arguably now join that list, but if it wasn’t for his 2nd-innings ton in Mirpur, I would not have included him. Warner is mostly a flat track bully who has always struggled against spin, so he actually deserves a lot of kudos for being the only batsman to dig deep and produce a good innings in Mirpur. I honestly didn’t think he was capable of that knock. I would go as far as to speculate that it might prolong his career, coming at a time when his confidence must have been starting to flag after a string of low scores.

4) Bangladesh didn’t play all that well, but Australia played really really badly. I don’t want to be mean to Bangladesh, but they didn’t really play above-average cricket. It’s just that Australia played awfully, specifically with the bat. The spinners on both teams bowled adequately, with the spectacularly uneven bounce helping them a lot. Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al-Hasan, Renshaw and Warner proved that runs could be scored if only one was prepared to work for them, but the Australian batsmen again lacked the skill and discipline. As Smith admitted after the match, they forgot whatever they had learned in India. Why? See Points 2) and 3) above.

The changes required for the 2nd Test in Chittagong are pretty obvious (which doesn’t mean the selectors will make them).

Matthew Wade must go. I don’t blame him one bit for letting through a lot of byes on that nightmare Mirpur pitch but his batting is nothing short of abysmal. He is now a dead weight, and nowhere near the player he once was. Peter Handscomb is by no means a long-term Test ‘keeper, but Australia needs batsmen, and it needs them NOW. Wade must be dropped and Handscomb given the gloves in Chittagong, thereby allowing Hilton Cartwright an audition. Before the Ashes begin in November, the selectors can observe the leading contenders for ‘keeper-batsman in the first three rounds of the Sheffield Shield. Maybe they’ll go back to Peter Nevill, maybe they’ll try someone else, but to pretend Wade is Test standard is to indulge dangerous self-delusion.

Other than that, the only other change to make appears to have been made; i.e. bring in a third spinner and have Cummins as the sole quick.

Glenn Maxwell must also go but that can wait until after this series.