Cruel But Fair

There’s a bit of debate in the press about Ashton Agar’s omission from the Second Test XI and the last-minute inclusion of Matt Kuhnemann. Some are suggesting Agar was poorly treated and should have played.

Respectfully, I question that.

Selectors often make mistakes. Omitting Head for Renshaw in the First Test was one, although I doubt it would have altered the outcome of that game. Bringing Agar on the Indian tour instead of Kuhnemann in the first place was, I suspect, another mistake. In both cases, however, the selectors have tried to rectify their errors in the Second Test by including Head and Kuhnemann. Correcting mistakes is what they should be doing. It’s their job.

Why did they bring Agar, then, if they weren’t going to play him?

Completely fair question. It’s difficult to speculate when one isn’t privy to the inner workings of the Australian squad, but that’s never stopped me before so let’s get into it:

Agar has been kept in and around the squad for a couple of years. I’ve always assumed the selectors were hoping he would develop into a threatening bowler who could make some useful runs down the order.

Trouble is, it hasn’t happened.

Like some other players like Michael Neser and Glenn Maxwell before him, Agar has been denied the chance to play much first-class cricket because he’s been kept on the bench for the Test team. It’s the Black Hole of Broken Dreams for many an aspiring Test cricketer – you’re not quite good enough for the Test team but good enough that you’re kept in reserve and thus can’t play red ball cricket for your state. Neser finally managed to get out of the Black Hole, managing a Test debut and six Sheffield Shield games in 2022-23, but Agar has remained stuck in limbo.

More importantly, when he does play, he doesn’t take wickets.

Agar played two ODIs for Australia vs England in November 2022, going wicketless in both. Then he took 2-107 across both innings for the PM’s XI against the West Indies a week later. Agar’s had just a single Shield match in 2022-23, when he took 1-105 across both innings against Queensland in early December 2022. He was finally given a Test guernsey when he played in the Third Test against South Africa in January, but didn’t take a wicket in either innings. Not the sort of returns that demand a Test call-up. And he took only 6 wickets in 10 Big Bash games for the Perth Scorchers (average 45.16, strike rate 37). Agar did take 7 wickets across two Tests in Bangladesh, but that was five and a half years ago.

Based on these returns, then, Agar probably shouldn’t have been taken to India in the first place.

Why Kuhnemann, then? Well, he can turn the ball, for a start. I don’t mean to be overly harsh on Agar, but I don’t remember ever seeing him actually spin the ball. Plenty of slow bowlers have done well in white ball cricket by bowling flat at the stumps without getting much turn (remember the likes of Xavier Doherty? Johan Botha?) but in Test cricket in India, a bit of spin is surely required. Kuhnemann is new and inexperienced, but he’s three years younger than Agar. He’s taken 4 wickets at 38.25 in two Shield games for Queensland this summer, but it was probably his 16 wickets from 18 games in the 2022-23 Big Bash (average 26.50, strike rate 21) that made the selectors (belatedly) sit up and say to themselves, hang on a tic, we’ve actually got a better option here than Agar.

And I suspect that’s exactly what happened. It’s their job to pick the player they think will give Australia the best chance, so they did.

According to the ABC, Selector Tony Dodemaide is reported to have said Agar’s “red-ball game” was not where the spinner “wants it to be”. Sometimes it’s that simple. He wasn’t bowling well enough.

Was it tough on Agar? Sure. I feel for him. I’m sure I wouldn’t have the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with the vicissitudes of elite sport. Sadly, though, this is Test cricket, not tiddlywinks. Retired spinner Nathan Hauritz claims Agar was ‘unfairly treated’. Fairness has got nothing to do with it, I’m afraid. Hauritz went on to say of Agar, “If you’re going to take this guy over, you’ve got to play him.”

No. You don’t.

Now if only the selectors would take the same practical, hard-nosed approach to David Warner and force him into retirement, we might manage an opening partnership in double figures.

India: A Bridge Too Far?

Humiliating! Embarrassing!

The critics have their knives out for Australia’s cricketers after their crushing loss in the First Test in Nagpur. And yes, many of the criticisms are valid. Australia played poorly, no question about it.

But hang on a moment. Australia is the No. 1 Test team in the world, at least for now (perhaps not after this series). Did a good team suddenly become a bad team overnight? It’s not that simple.

To those who wish to criticise Australia’s batters for meekly capitulating in the First Test in Nagpur, I have a question:

What did you expect?

You might want to cut the Australian players some slack and adjust your expectations.

Everything was set up for India to win in Nagpur. Every. Single. Thing.

Look, I get it. Australia’s batting was rubbish, it’s true. I, too, have lambasted Australia’s batters in the past for falling in a heap in India. But while the players change, the same thing keeps happening to Australian teams – and other touring teams, for that matter – in India. Which begs the question: WHY?

Is it because Australia’s players are useless? No, they are clearly not, and it’s simply inaccurate to say so. Australia has a good team. It has won seven of its past ten series, including a 1-0 series win in Pakistan and a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka. These are not insignificant achievements. Australia had lost BOTH of its previous away series to Pakistan (played in the UAE) and its previous away series against Sri Lanka (six Tests in total) without winning a single game. And then there’s the 2-2 drawn Ashes series in England in 2019, which was none too shabby, either. This Australian team has done very well.

I suspect Australia loses in India for one simple reason: to compete on India’s turning pitches, you must grow up playing cricket on them. It’s a set of skills that can’t be acquired later if you’ve grown up on fast bouncy pitches. It simply can’t. No amount of wishing will change that. We’re wasting our time demanding Australia’s batters do that when they only get to play in India once every four years. You think it’s easy? You try it.

Each time Australia goes to India, the coaches and players say they’ve studied the conditions, they know what to expect, they’re prepared. They prepare mock wickets intended to mimic Indian conditions. They conduct training camps. They’re ready.

Except they are clearly not. Of course they have to say they are. You can’t fly overseas saying, ‘sorry, folks, we’re probably going to get caned’.

Don’t get me wrong, India are a very strong team and hard to beat at the best of times (they are No. 2 in the world rankings, after all). And they have won both of their recent series in Australia by a 2-1 margin, which is a phenomenal achievement for players not brought up on fast, bouncy wickets. (Mind you, Smith and Warner were missing in 2018-19 and Labuschagne, who hadn’t yet arrived as a serious Test cricketer, only played the Fourth Test, by which time the series was already lost. India’s 2020-21 series win in Australia was arguably their greatest achievement, posted on the back of a fine century by Ajinkya Rahane in the Boxing Day Test in December 2020 and Rishabh Pant’s brilliant 89 not out in the second innings of the Fourth Test at the Gabba the following month.)

But I digress.

The Indian authorities demand that the home team wins. Period. Pitches are blatantly doctored to ensure this.

Yes, of course, this sort of thing does indeed happen in other countries, too (the raging green-top prepared for the Gabba Test against South Africa in December 2022 was an absolute disgrace and heads should have rolled for it). But everybody knows the hardest of conditions to prepare for are India’s dry, turning wickets. They are just in a different category altogether. Batsmen don’t know whether to play forward or back. They don’t know which way the ball will spin, or if it will spin at all. There is simply nothing quite like an Indian turner.

This is common knowledge and one reason why India has won 81% of its home Tests in the past decade, which according to the ABC is a higher proportion of home wins than any other major cricketing nation (Australia 71%, South Africa 65%, New Zealand 63%, England 58%). For Pete’s sake, India has lost only two of 42 Tests played at home in the past decade (one to Australia in 2017 when Steve O’Keefe took 12 wickets).

But as far as the current series is concerned, Australia has another batting problem apart from the fact that its batters can’t play spin. As Axar Patel’s fine innings demonstrated, India bats down to No. 9. In comparison, Australia has only six batters capable of scoring runs. David Warner’s reflexes are shot and he should retire immediately. He will not succeed in India, nor in England if the selectors are foolish enough to pick him for the Ashes. Meanwhile, Pat Cummins’ batting form is atrocious and has been for the past few years, and the batters below him can’t contribute with the bat either. So Australia is three batters short compared to India. In recent years, Australia’s decent lower-order batting has been a strength, but it’s not at the moment. This is a massive handicap.

Then there is Ashwin and Jadeja. These guys are all-time greats, at least in their home conditions. As the media correctly pointed out prior to the series, Ravichandran Ashwin is an India specialist and preys on left-handers, of which Australia has four batters in the top seven (he got all four in the second innings in Nagpur). Put another way, Ashwin is simply very very good in conditions that he grew up playing on: 70% of his Test wickets have been taken in India (at 20.88) even though he has played only 58% of his Tests there. Outside India, he is okay but less stellar. His average outside India (31.45) is 50% higher than his average at home. It’s a similar story for Jadeja, who’s taken 72% of his Test wickets in India while playing only 61% of his Tests there. None of this is to say both bowlers aren’t masters of their craft, just to emphasize what almost-insurmountable weapons they are for the Indian team. Australia’s batters simply aren’t accustomed to facing such bowling on turning pitches and you can’t expect them to suddenly be able to cope with it. In short, there isn’t much Australia can do about it.

So why didn’t Lyon and Murphy emulate the Indian spinners, you ask? Because they’re not the same kind of bowlers, of course. Both Australian spinners performed well in my view. Murphy’s debut was very encouraging and Lyon created plenty of chances. He was unlucky not to bag more wickets, and he’s done well in India before. Take his 8-50 in Bangalore in March 2017, when India was bowled out for 189. Australia took an 87-run lead on the first innings in that Test, but lost when they were bowled out for 112 in the second innings by – guess who? – R Ashwin, who took 6-41. Sound familiar? Bowlers, especially spinners, need runs to defend! Which brings us back to the same problem – when will Australian batters learn to bat on Indian wickets?

Honestly, I see no evidence to suggest they ever will. I don’t blame them. It’s the hardest task in cricket. And so I find the criticism of Australia’s batters unproductive and fairly pointless.

The Second Test is in Delhi, where Australia has only ever won one Test. That was in 1959. India hasn’t lost there since 1987. So if you bother to tune in (I’m not sure I will), don’t be too hard on the Australians.

No one wants to admit that winning in India is a once-in-a-generation event, and that’s only if you are very lucky.

It’s a good thing the broadcast isn’t available on free-to-air TV. Fewer Aussies will see it.

Topics for the 2022-23 summer

I don’t mean to be unkind to the teams visiting Australia this summer, but the West Indies and South Africa are not likely to provide the level of competition that India or England might represent for Australia, so I’m not expecting a lot of excitement from either of the truncated Test series. I earnestly hope to be proved wrong and if either team kicks Australia’s admittedly entitled and somewhat smug backside, I’d be the first to cheer.

So what can we talk about?


The talk about possibly returning David Warner to a leadership role baffles me. Why pick this fight? Cricket Australia would be roundly criticized, especially by England fans, who loathe Warner. But as far as I can tell, there’s precious little love for Warner among Australian fans, either. So what would Cricket Australia gain from it? At 36, Warner doesn’t have much time left in any case. Don’t pick that scab. Let him play out this Test summer and let him fade away to spend his last couple of years in T20. For God’s sake, don’t pick him for the 2023 Ashes in England. Stuart Broad is already whittling his voodoo doll of Warner.


As usual, Australia is blessed with quick bowlers. Michael Neser, Mark Steketee, Jhye Richardson and Scott Boland are all  excellent Test-quality bowlers and would be leading the attack in any cricketing nation if they didn’t have the misfortune to be born Australian. Shame, really. The best they can hope for is for Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood to all break down simultaneously.

There are fewer batsmen pushing for Test honours, though. Warner is 36 and Khawaja will be 36 on 18 December, so although the recent performance of both suggests they’ll keep their spots for the 2022-23 summer, surely both spots will need to be filled soon thereafter.

Still only 26, Queensland’s Matt Renshaw is pushing his way back to the front of the queue after losing his spot in the Test team after 11 Tests. Plenty of batsmen get their first chance when they’re too young, get dropped, and return when they have matured. Perhaps Renshaw will do the same. He has experimented both as an opener and in the middle order for Queensland, but if he maintains his current form, he’d have to be the leading candidate to replace Warner at the top of the order. After an underwhelming 2021-22 Sheffield Shield (410 runs at 29.29), Renshaw punched out 620 runs at 47.69 for Somerset in the 2022 English summer, scored 200 not out for Queensland in the second Shield match of the 2022-23 season, and made 81 and 101 not out for the Prime Minister’s XI against the West Indies in late November.

Peter Handscomb of Victoria (31) is probably the next candidate for a spot in the middle order if Khawaja becomes unavailable. He, too, fell from favour and lost his Test spot but racked up 697 runs at 49.79 in the 2021-22 Shield and has made 544 runs at 108.80 in the first four games of the 2022-23 Shield season, assisted with a 281 not out in Game 2. He also made 55 and 75 for the Prime Minister’s XI against the West Indies.

Beyond those two names, the pickings are slim.

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.

Head-Less is Best

The Australian selectors have included Travis Head in the 19-man squad to tour South Africa. This makes no sense.

Twice in the past two years, Head was dropped from the Test team in the middle of a big series because he wasn’t performing. He was left out after the fourth of five Ashes Tests in England in 2019 after making 191 runs at 27.29, then excluded again after the first two Tests against in India after making 7, 38 and 17. In both cases, he was judged by the selectors to be performing unacceptably. They were right in their assessments.

The selectors axed Matthew Wade after he failed to make good after repeated opportunities. Fair enough. This is Test cricket, not tiddlywinks, and the middle order is horribly brittle.

So what makes Head different from Wade? The fact that he is younger and ‘might’ improve? He’s already had 19 Tests to make a case, and his performances are getting worse, not better. In his last 11 Tests, Head is averaging only 30.63, so his nominal Test average of 39.75 is flattering him.

Head just isn’t good enough to bat at No. 5 for Australia and doesn’t deserve a recall.

One can’t blame the selectors for giving players a chance and then cutting them if they fail. They did it with Joe Burns and Matt Wade, and they should do it with Head. They have kept Moises Henriques waiting in the wings for ages – they might as well give him a chance or release him to go back and play for NSW. Henriques turns 34 on 1 February so he’s not a long-term option, but who knows – maybe he’ll grab the late-career opportunity as Tim Paine has and help win the Ashes.

As noted in past posts, I think Alex Carey should play as a specialist batter at No. 6 (pushing Cameron Green up to No. 5) until such time as Paine retires. At least Carey is now in the Test squad.

But picking Travis Head again is simply illogical.

So Is Wade Any Good?

Is Matthew Wade good enough to hold his position in the Australian Test team?

Frankly, it’s hard to tell.

The selectors have rightly weeded out players like Joe Burns and Travis Head who have failed to score Test centuries against good teams in demanding conditions when their team really needed them.

Wade, meanwhile, has been around for a little while posting acceptable but hellishly inconsistent scores. He was the only batsman other than Steven Smith to score a century against England during the away series there in 2019 (in fact, he scored TWO). Given that few Australian batsmen other than Smith (not even Warner and Labuschagne) seem able to score hundreds against the best teams (i.e. England and India), Wade’s feat is not to be sniffed at. Unfortunately, scores of 1, 6, 1, and 0 in the same series meant he finished the five Ashes Tests with an average of only 33.70.

In the 2019-20 home summer when he played two Tests against Pakistan and three against New Zealand, he posted scores of 60, 38, 12, 17, 38, 30 and 22 for an average across five Tests of 43.40. On the numbers, not a bad result. However, his opportunities were curtailed in both series, crimped by huge scores by David Warner (154 in the 1st Test against Pakistan and 335* in the 2nd Test) and Marnus Labuschagne (185 in the 1st Test against Pakistan and 162 in the 2nd, then 143 in the 1st Test against NZ and 215 in the 3rd Test). In both series, then, Wade performed adequately, but how well might he have done if the top order had failed in the face of a good attack and he was called upon to save the team? We’ll never know. I’m not saying he couldn’t have done it, I’m just saying….we’ll never know.

In six innings across three Tests against India this summer, Wade has posted scores of 8, 33, 30, 40, 13 and 4 for an average of 21.33. For four of those innings, he was called upon to open the innings, which was not his usual position, so you’d have to say he did about as well as any other opener Australia had in reserve. He was freakishly and unluckily run out for 33 in the second innings in Adelaide when Australia’s victory was already beyond doubt, so that one doesn’t really tell us much. In the second innings in Sydney, he got a ripsnorter of a delivery which he edged behind, but I can’t really blame him too much for that one, either.

But Wade threw his wicket away needlessly in the first innings of BOTH the Melbourne AND Sydney Tests trying hit Ashwin, then Jadeja, over cow corner when there was no need to play such an aggressive stroke. One thing is clear: if Wade throws away his wicket with a rash shot one more time, he’s likely to give the selectors enough cause to drop him. If he doesn’t, I suspect they’ll retain him for the forthcoming tour of South Africa if for no other reason that compelling alternatives are few. Moises Henriques is waiting in the wings to take Wade’s spot, having scored two centuries for NSW in the first three Sheffield Shield games of the 2020-21 season. But Moises will turn 34 on 1 February (making him 11 months OLDER than Wade), so he’s hardly a long-term solution to any problem, and his first-class average of 35.96 trails Wade’s 40.85.

If Wade can’t demonstrate an ability to go on once he has reached 40, his middle-order spot for the 2021-22 Ashes will be thrown wide open to whoever can perform in the back half of the 2020-21 Shield season. Moises? Alex Carey? Glenn Maxwell? Other names like Ben McDermott and Nic Maddinson get bandied around in the media, but neither have proven themselves worthy of Test selection.

Easy Runs Are Worth Less

No, not worthless, just worth less.

Simply put, centuries scored on Australian pitches against the likes of West Indies and Pakistan are just not worth as much as those scored in away series against India and England. When defending underperforming batsmen, coaches and captains often point to a player’s past scores as evidence of his ability to play at Test level, but they fail to apply a filter. Not all Test runs are created equal. Mediocre players can compete against weaker teams in friendly batting conditions, but fail consistently when the chips are down in tough matches against strong teams. I’ve written about this before, when lamenting Usman Khawaja’s inability to perform at Test level when required.

Why is Steve Smith so good (prior to the current series, at least!)? Just in the past four years (going back to Feb 2017), he has played in four Tests in which he was the only batsman from either side to score a century (twice in India in early 2017, one against England at the Gabba in Nov 2017 and again at Old Trafford in Sep 2019). That’s actually quite unusual, especially against good teams. In that time, he made four other centuries as well, but was not the only player in the match to do so. And in that four year period, he won four Player of the Match awards for setting his team up for victory with a big first innings score. This is, of course, his job, and it’s why he is the cornerstone of the batting lineup.

But it’s also the job of the other batsmen in the top six.

Joe Burns and Travis Head have not managed to do this job because they aren’t good enough, and it should be obvious.

Take Burns: In 40 Test innings, Burns has scored four Test centuries, but NEVER has he been the only batsman in the match to score a ton. Not once. When Burns gets runs, lots of others do, too. In three out of four cases, THREE other players in the same match also made tons when Burns did, and in the fourth case two players made centuries and the third (Kane Williamson) made 97.

  • 129 vs NZ, Gabba, Nov 2015: Also, D Warner scored 163 and 116, U Khawaja 174, K Williamson 140.
  • 128 vs W Indies, MCG, Dec 2015: Also, U Khawaja scored 144, S Smith 134, A Voges 106
  • 170 vs NZ, Christchurch, Feb 2016: Also, B McCullum 145, S Smith 138, K Williamson 97
  • 180 vs Sri Lanka, Canberra, Feb 2019: Also, T Head 161, K Patterson 114, U Khawaja 101

And Burns has had little opportunity to prove himself against the stronger teams (which isn’t his fault, of course). He has only played four Tests against India – his first two Tests in 2014-15 and the most recent two Tests in Australia in December 2020 – and has never played a Test against England. He has only played two Tests against South Africa (in 2016 and 2018, when the Proteas were stronger than they are now), making scores of 1, 0, 4 and 42. In contrast, eight of his 23 Tests have been against New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Burns continues to push his hands at the ball and leave a gap between bat and pad you could drive a lorry through. It’s easy being an armchair critic (fun, too!) but why can’t the coaches see this?

It’s a similar tale for Travis Head. In 31 Test innings, he has only scored two Test centuries, the first of which was the game against Sri Lanka in Feb 2019 (see above) in which Burns, Patterson and Khawaja all got BIG runs. The second was against New Zealand in Dec 2019 at the MCG, where he scored 114 while Smith scored 85, Paine 79 and Tom Blundell 121. I’ve analyzed Head’s returns before but suffice it to say, Head has not demonstrated an ability to lead the team to victory with the bat and continues to either slash the ball to gully or the slips, or play back and get rapped on the pads.

What about Matt Wade? His 59 Test innings have been spread out over almost nine years. Wade’s first two Test centuries (106 against West Indies in Apr 2012 and 102* against Sri Lanka in Jan 2013) were both achieved in matches in which no other player reached three figures. The same is true of his fourth ton in 2019 against England at The Oval, when he made 117 in the second innings when no other batsman in his team scored more than 24 (the team folded for 263 chasing 399 to win). His fourth century (110) was made against England in 2019 when he formed a 126-run partnership with Steve Smith, helping set England a target of 398. England fell 251 runs short and Australia took a 1-0 lead in the Ashes, which they eventually retained, so Wade’s innings was important. To be sure, Wade’s contributions of late have been frustrating in that he hasn’t managed to go on past 40, but his recent scores have been getting better rather than worse, which can’t be said for Burns and Head. This is why, I suggest, Burns and Head are on the chopping block whereas Wade seems likely to hold on (for now).

And Marnus?

The jury is still out.

Believe it or not, Marnus has still only played 27 Test innings across 16 Test matches. For two of his four centuries – 185 against Pakistan at the Gabba in Nov 2019 and 215 against New Zealand at the SCG in Jan 2020 – he won the Player of the Match award for setting his team up with a big first innings total. However, for only one of his tons was he the sole centurion in the match (143 vs NZ in Perth in Dec 2019) and he has yet to make a century against either England or India.

  • 185 vs Pak, Gabba, Nov 19: Also, Warner 154, B Azam 104
  • 162 vs Pak, Adelaide, Nov 19: Also Warner 335, B Azam 97, Yasir Shah 113
  • 143 vs NZ, Perth, Dec 19: No other centuries in the match
  • 215 vs NZ, SCG, Jan 20: Also, Warner 111.

So clearly the pressure is on Marnus to prove his early success wasn’t just the result of easy games at home against weaker sides. His 353 runs at 50.43 in the 2019 Ashes away series (including four successive half centuries) obviously gave the selectors reason to be optimistic, but he needs to back it up with a big score against India.

Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.

Cummins Needs Runs

The only way Australia wins Test matches at present is if the bowlers do the work. With the batsmen underperforming as a group, it takes Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon to do the heavy lifting, as they did in the first Test against India in Adelaide. Cummins is now the #1-ranked Test bowler in the world, with Hazlewood and Starc coming at #5 and #7, respectively.

But something else is happening which few have said much about: the tail is getting longer because Cummins isn’t making runs. And it’s becoming a pretty serious problem, especially as the top order continues to flounder. Conventional wisdom suggests that when a bowler is taking wickets, the confidence he/she gets feeds through to runs with the bat. That isn’t happening with Cummins. In fact, he is looking more and more uncertain and tentative at the crease.

Until five years ago, the batting contribution of Australia’s bowlers was the envy of other teams, with Ryan Harris averaging 21.53 with the bat and Mitchell Johnson 22.20. Mitchell Starc chimed in with 26.92 in his first 25 Tests.

In his first eighteen Tests, Cummins performed solidly with the willow at No. 8, making 528 runs at 21.12. The highlight came in the second innings of the Third Test against India in Melbourne in December 2018, when he top-scored with 63 out of a team total of 261 (unsuccessfully chasing 399 to win).

HOWEVER, things have changed. In his most recent 14 Tests, Cummins has made a measly 150 runs from eighteen innings at an average of 9.38 and a highest score of 26. From those eighteen starts, he has reached double figures only five times. He averaged 10.14 during the 2019 Ashes series and 9.60 in the 2019-2020 series against Pakistan and New Zealand.

For a No. 8 Test batsman, an average of under 10 is alarming, and it’s a headache for the team. Cummins’ opposite number in the Indian team, Ravi Ashwin, for example, averages 26 at No. 8. Dan Vettori used to average over 39. Shaun Pollock and Kapil Dev both averaged over 30 at No. 8. Even Shane Warne managed over 18.

Meanwhile, at No. 9, Mitchell Starc’s career batting average has dropped a little since the middle of the decade, but still stands at 22.15. In his last ten Test appearances, in fact, Starc has scored 200 runs at 28.57. Even Nathan Lyon has been outscoring Cummins. Over his past dozen Tests, Lyon has scored 141 runs at 14.10. In other words, Lyon is currently generating a batting average roughly fifty percent higher than that of Cummins while batting at No. 10.

So am I suggesting Cummins’ place in the team is under threat? Of course not. Given the way he’s bowling, he could bat at No. 11 and still keep his place. But on current form, he should drop to No. 9 and let Starc take the No. 8 slot.

It would be handy to know what Justin Langer & Co. intend to do to help Cummins regain his form with the bat. While they’re at it, perhaps they could answer two of the most baffling questions of the decade: what exactly do Australia’s batting coaches do, and why isn’t it feeding through to results?