Category Archives: 2018-19 India in Aus

Doctor, Is It Contagious?

For several years now – and from before Steve Smith and David Warner were sanctioned – Australia’s batting in Test matches has been poor. It has been characterised by batsmen throwing their hands at the ball, failing to rotate the strike, trying to hit every ball to the boundary and failing utterly to master the Art of the Leave. Darren Lehmann used to say this was okay because the batsmen were ‘playing their natural game’. I always thought this was dumb. He apparently failed to realize their ‘natural game’ was very short in tenure because they were getting out very quickly. Some folks have said this phenomenon is due to the batsmen playing too much white ball (especially T20 cricket). I never really understood how this could be the root cause of Australia’s malaise because all cricketing nations were playing just as much T20 cricket as Australia but still seemed to bat far better than Australia in Test matches.

Perhaps Australia was just ahead of the curve. On the first day of the First Test against Australia in Adelaide today, most of the Indian batsmen played like……well… Australians. On a fairly benign wicket, all of the Indian top six except Cheteshwar Pujara tried from the outset to dominate. They tried to drive. They did not leave the ball. They got out, mostly caught behind the wicket. Rohit Sharma (who is to India what Aaron Finch is to Australia) is a white ball specialist whose dismissal was nothing short of moronic. I had never seen Rishabh Pant bat before, but if he approaches Test batting in the same casual and carefree manner that he played with today, I doubt he will be in the Test team for long.

Pujara’s fine century was a textbook example of how a Test batsman should drop anchor, disregard his strike rate and wear down the bowlers, then cash in later in the day. Apparently he is regarded as such a Test specialist that he doesn’t have an IPL contract. Commentator Harsha Bogle mentioned that Sunil Gavaskar used to tell other Indian batsmen, “Give them the first session, then you take the next two.” Brilliant advice. Why are so few Test batsmen able to do it? Australia’s Test batsmen have failed in this regard for some years now (Chris Rogers was arguably the last successful opening batsman to bat like a snail), but today’s performance by India makes me wonder if the white ball sickness has now spread to the Indians.

Make no mistake: Australia’s batting is very brittle and India’s score of 9-250 may yet turn out to be competitive thanks entirely to Pujara. But any self-respecting Test side should make at least 350-400 on that Adelaide pitch, if only they can see off the new ball, dig in and tire out the bowlers. If Australia wants to show they have learned anything at all about Test batting, Day Two will be their chance. I’m not sure they have, but we’ll see.

Selectors Colour Blind on Finch

One of the biggest criticisms of Australia’s Test selectors is that they are inconsistent in their selection criteria. They imply that performance in red ball cricket is of paramount importance, yet they have in recent years rolled the dice on untested youngsters (e.g. Ashton Agar) or on players who have done well in white ball cricket. (e.g. George Bailey).

The Test squad selected for the first two Tests of the 2018-19 Indian summer is a reasonably sound one. It faces an uphill battle to defeat India because there is so little batting talent in Australia to choose from, but at least it’s consistent in that most of the batsmen can justify their selection on the strength of their red ball cricket, if for no other reason that there is nobody better to take their place.

Khawaja? Yes, fine. Travis Head? Well….I suppose so. Just. He’s been unconvincing but has done just well enough to get another chance given his youth. Marcus Harris is not a ‘bolter’ as the media has said. He has averaged north of 40 for both of the past two completed Shield seasons and is averaging 86.40 so far this season. He deserves his shot, and 26 is a good age to have learned his craft and to hit the accelerator. I hope Matt Renshaw gets his act together because he has youth on his side and just seems to ooze potential from every pore, but Harris edged him out, fair and square. Peter Handscomb might not make the starting eleven on 6 December but he, too, has a good combination of track record and recent performance. Even the hellishly inconsistent Shaun Marsh deserves his position based on recent performances. His brother, Mitchell, more assuredly does not deserve his, but the selectors have made it clear Mitchell Marsh will be picked if he can more or less stand upright. Yes, he made 151 against Queensland at Allan Border Field recently but who hasn’t made a score like that on that wicket? It’s a road. Put me in on that wicket. I’ll make 150, too.

But I digress.

The glaring exception is Aaron Finch. Why on earth is he described by all and sundry as a ‘lock’ for the First Test? Finch is a nice bloke and an experienced hand, but there is no evidence (and I mean none) to suggest he is among Australia’s top six red ball batsmen. After 79 first-class matches, he averages 36.58 and has made a mere 7 centuries from 131 innings. In the 2017-18 Shield season, he played 8 matches but averaged only 35.28 with only a single century. His selection is being described by the coaches as justfied based on innings of 62, 49, 39 and 31 in the 2-Test series against Pakistan in the UAE. Not long ago, Glenn Maxwell was denied a Test spot because it was said he needed to make hundreds. Now, personally I think Maxwell is overrated and does not necessarily deserve to be in the Test team, but if that is the rule for selection, why on earth is Finch a ‘lock’? It makes no sense. He currently appears to be out of form, but Finch is primarily a white ball specialist who swings hard for the fences without moving his feet. C’mon, he is not a Test batsman. I hope very much to be proven wrong, but if he opens for Australia on 6 December, I suspect he will fail against what is the best Indian pace attack to visit these shores for a long time.

If one is honest and logical, there is no place for Finch.

If the selectors really mean what they say and wish to strike the proper balance between performance and potential in red ball cricket, and if they absolutely insist on retaining M Marsh, the top six should be:

M Harris
M Renshaw
U Khawaja
S Marsh
T Head or P Handscomb
M Marsh
T Paine
P Cummins
M Starc
N Lyon
J Hazlewood

Personally, I would jettison M Marsh and play both Head and Handscomb with four bowlers (after all, Head can bowl some part-time offies), but as I said, the selectors appear illogically committed to M Marsh.

Paine’s position deserves plenty of debate, but we’ll save that for another post.