Category Archives: 2021-22 Ashes

Yesterday’s Hero

David Warner will turn 35 on 27 October, 2021. Will the selectors really pick him to open the batting in the Ashes?

Warner is the Bruce Willis of Australia’s Test team: an aged film star phoning in his performances without providing much evidence to suggest he is still up to the job. He abdicated his position as Australia’s Test opener long ago. Warner has played a grand total of THREE red-ball games since January 2020, and played unconvincingly even then. He played in only the final two Tests of the four-Test series against India in January 2021, scoring 67 runs across four innings at an average of 16.75. He then played a single Sheffield Shield match in March 2021 season, scoring 24 and 69 against South Australia on the billiard table otherwise known as the Adelaide Oval.

Warner has played 86 Test matches and made 7,311 runs at an average of 48.09, with 24 Test centuries. It’s a good record, but look closer. In his most recent 20 Tests, he has made only 533 runs at an average of 16.15. He has reached three figures only four times in that period, twice against a weak Pakistan side in Australia, and once against New Zealand (also in Australia).

There are many cricketers who choose to prioritise the white-ball game in order to prolong their careers, and I don’t blame them for it. Many of them (e.g. Shane Watson, George Bailey, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, and many more) are much more suited to the white-ball game and should never be (or should have been) considered for Test cricket. Good luck to them. They must make hay while their bodies hold up. But it’s when such players masquerade as Test cricketers – and when the selectors indulge them – that Australia loses Test matches. Warner has straddled the two formats with more success than most, but at 35 years of age his time as Australia’s Test opener is surely up. And, no, he doesn’t ‘deserve’ a final swansong just because he has served the team well for a long time. As the saying goes (and I’m paraphrasing), this the Ashes, not tiddlywinks.

If the Australian selectors pick Warner for the Ashes, they will be trotting out an aged warhorse who is a very long way past his prime and who has played virtually no first-class cricket for nearly two years. England, for their part, are likely to ask Stuart Broad to bowl at him around the wicket from the first over. Australia’s wickets may not seam as much as England’s, but I think I would bet on Broad.

Time to Let Starc Go

Cricket Australia has awarded Mitchell Starc a CA contract for 2021. This decision appears to reflect an assumption that Starc should remain the spearhead of the bowling attack.

If so, there is little persuasive evidence to support this notion.

Don’t get me wrong, in the first five overs of a pink ball Test or ODI, Starc is the man you want. His ability to swing the new ball back into the right hander is renowned, but once the shine goes off the ball – be it pink, white or red – Starc simply doesn’t threaten batsmen like he used to. A team’s strike bowler needs to perform throughout an entire innings, not just in the first half-dozen overs.

Starc has never had many strings to his bow. If he is on song, he will grab a wicket or two in the first few overs, but if he isn’t, he will drop too short or spray the ball wide, giving batsmen plenty of opportunity to score. This continues to happen far more often than it should. Batsmen both at home and abroad have figured him out, and he hasn’t adjusted. If they can see off his first few overs, they can pick him off and they know it.

With international opportunities curtailed by Covid-19, the recent 2020-21 Sheffield Shield season gave all players an opportunity to strut their stuff in the domestic competition. Starc ended up with only 16 Shield wickets in 7 matches at an ugly average of 47.31. It was hardly inspiring stuff. No fewer than eighteen bowlers took more wickets than Starc in the competition, including the 36-year old Peter Siddle (18 wickets at 28.16 in 6 matches) and 35-year old Trent Copeland (20 wickets at 27.70 in 8 matches). Excluding spinners Nathan Lyon (42 wickets at 25.97 in 9 matches) and Mitch Swepson (32 wickets at 23.40 in only FIVE matches), seamers such as Jackson Bird (35 wickets at 22.17 in 8 matches) and Scott Boland (30 wickets at 24.00 in 8 matches) showed how lacklustre Starc’s returns were.

Bird and Boland are now too old to be considered for selection as Test bowlers, but a number of the younger quicks, especially Brendan Doggett (22 wickets at 26.81 in 6 matches), Sean Abbott (21 wickets at 29.14 in 8 matches) and Queensland’s most exciting prospect, 22-year old Xavier Bartlett (19 wickets at 31.31 in 6 matches) left Starc in the dust. Add to this group the impressive Jhye Richardson, who played two Tests before a shoulder injury forced him to miss most of the past two years (including the entire 2020-21 Shield season).

In the four Tests against India in 2020-21, Starc’s 11 wickets left him well behind Pat Cummins (21 wickets) and Josh Hazlewood (17 wickets). After several years of Cummins coming on as first change, it is now beyond doubt he should open the bowling with Hazlewood.

Starc’s recent white ball performances are no more encouraging. In the year to mid-2019, he played 10 ODIs and took 27 wickets at 18.59. Since January 2020, he has played 11 ODIs and taken 12 wickets at 54.25. The wind has gone out of his sails.

Australia has plenty of quick bowlers. They don’t need to retain Starc as the opening bowler anymore, and the numbers suggest they should not. Cummins and Hazlewood could be better supported by Abbott (whose form with both bat and ball in the 2020-21 season makes him increasingly difficult to omit). But if Abbott, who is 29, is deemed too old, there are plenty of other options. The 24-year old Jhye Richardson is probably the best bet now that his shoulder is (apparently) mended, but the 27-year old Doggett is not a bad option, either. It’s a bit early for Bartlett.

Selectors have often erred by retaining once-great players for too long after their best form is well and truly behind them. Starc has been playing Test cricket for a decade and deserves plenty of credit for his 255 Test wickets at 27.57, but he’s not that calibre of bowler anymore and by pretending he is, the selectors are not fielding their best possible team.