Tag Archives: Abbott

More Recalls Than a Takata Airbag

Seriously? Mitchell Marsh has earned a recall to the Test squad? Again?

Except it hasn’t been earned. They have handed it to him. And on what basis? Test selection is supposed to be justified by performance. There needs to be some logic and consistency to it. With Marsh, there isn’t.

Look, Marsh is one of the world’s best white ball batters. He is one heck of a slogger. Few players have his brute strength. If you’re playing T20, you want him on your team. He could (and absolutely should) tour the world playing in T20 tournaments and making lots of money.

But Marsh is NOT a Test cricketer.

He lacks the technique to play the red ball that moves through the air or off the seam, and his dismal Test record provides ample evidence of this. You can bet the ball will swing in England, so where’s the logic for selecting a batter who has played the grand total of THREE first-class (i.e. red ball) games in the past three and a half years (and only ONE in the past sixteen months). It’s a tremendous insult to those state cricketers who have toiled away in the Sheffield Shield, having been told by the selectors that if they put results on the board they would be considered for elevation to the Test team.

No doubt the selectors will point to Marsh’s recent white ball form to justify his inclusion, but how many times must we remind them the skill sets for Test cricket and T20 are very different? We’ve been here so many times before. George Bailey should know this better than most. He failed at Test cricket (5 Tests, average 26.14) after being picked on his excellent white ball form. So did Aaron Finch (5 Tests, average 27.80) and Glenn Maxwell (7 Tests, average 26.07). Marsh has already been gifted 32 Tests but his average languishes at 25.20. At one point he was rated the worst No. 6 in Test history. Recalling him to the Test squad makes no sense, especially as he has played almost no first-class cricket lately.

Oh, the selectors might say, but he made a century in the recent Shield match against Tasmania in March, when he made 108 not out. Well, sure, yes he did. So…..they have selected him on the strength of a single innings? Other players must post a couple of years of strong results in the Shield to even be considered for Test selection.

Oh, but, Australia must have him because it can’t rely too much on Cameron Green as the all-rounder.

Actually, that’s a fair point. But there are better options as the back-up for Green. Australia actually has an unusually good crop of good all-rounders at present. Michael Neser and Sean Abbott are both better bowlers than Marsh, and although they are bowling all-rounders, their first-class batting averages aren’t that different from Marsh’s Test average (Neser: 23.44, Abbot: 23.13). In the 2022-23 Shield, Neser took 40 wickets at 16.73 and made 357 runs at 32.45. Why is Marsh preferred to him?

Then there are the younger emerging all-rounders who the selectors could blood if for some reason they overlooked Neser and Abbott. Will Sutherland had a blowout year in the 2022-23 Shield (41 wickets at 19.93 and 467 runs at 29.19) and he’s only 23 years old! Why wouldn’t you take him to England as back-up? (FYI, Marsh will be 32 in October.)

And why is Marsh included as an all- rounder anyway when apparently he no longer bowls? He didn’t bowl a single ball in the recent 3-match ODI series against India, nor did he bowl in the single Sheffield Shield match he played in March. Are we to assume a guy who has hardly rolled his arm over for three years is the second-best all-rounder in the country? Again, it doesn’t stack up. Okay, his ability to bowl has been crimped by injury lately. Is he recovered? Do the selectors even know? And even if he is, his Test bowling record is pretty ordinary (42 wickets at 38.64) and definitely inferior to any of the abovementioned options.

By all accounts, Marsh is a very nice bloke. It’s lucky for him, because if I was another promising cricketer witnessing the special treatment he receives, I’d be seriously pissed off.

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.

Why Cummins, Not Pattinson?

One minute Australia has plenty of fast bowling options, the next it doesn’t.

I haven’t seen many pundits express surprise at the addition of Pat Cummins to the Ashes squad after Ryan Harris’ retirement, but I for one am pretty gobsmacked. It’s not that I have anything against Cummins (I do not) but it’s just…….how do you know how he’ll perform if he gets a game?

I mean, this is a guy who has played one famous Test and no more than six first-class matches in his entire career. After his man-of-the-match Test debut in South Africa three and half years ago, he has spent most of his time injured. He has scraped together 12 ODI appearances (19 wickets at 30.36) and 14 T20s (19 wickets at 19.47), none of which sheds any light on his likely ability in Test cricket.

The guy may be the best thing since sliced bread, but how does one make that determination? I hope the selectors know something we don’t.

I do wonder why the selectors didn’t opt for James Pattinson, who has also spent most of his time injured but has actually played 13 Tests and has 51 wickets at 27.07. Pattinson is currently fit once more, and will front up for Australia A in its tour of India, which commences on Wednesday, 15 July. He missed the 2014-15 Shield season through injury so perhaps the selectors want to see him play some red ball cricket, but all of that (i.e. the recent lack of cricket) is even more true for Cummins than for Pattinson.

Jackson Bird appears to have dropped off the radar after his promising Test debut against Sri Lanka in 2012 was also followed by a prolonged injury layoff. He took 18 wickets at 33.27 in 7 matches during the 2014-15 Sheffield Shield competition, and is currently playing for Hampshire where he has taken 14 wickets in four first class games this season. Not completely shabby, but not enough to demand Test selection, one would think.

The selectors could also have considered Tasmania’s Andrew Fekete (57 wickets at 26.94 in 16 first-class games) but Fekete recently turned 30 so perhaps his age put them off. His 37 wickets in the 2014-15 Shield competition was, however, enough to earn him a berth on the same Australia A tour of India that Pattinson is about to embark on. Also on the Australia A tour of India is Sean Abbott, who is still only 23. He has 55 first-class wickets at 31.16 and must be in the frame, although not at the top of the list.

Nathan Coulter-Nile has never really managed to knock the selectors’ socks off (I think he bowls far too short too often). Other leading Sheffield Shield wicket-takers Nathan Rimmington, Doug Bollinger and Mick Hogan are all too old (32, almost 34 and 34 respectively). Ben Hilfenhaus is 32 and not the man he was. Besides, he has just injured his hip after taking 7 wickets in three county games for Nottinghamshire, and is returning to Australia.

Personally I would love to see James Faulkner in the Test team. I think he is precisely the feisty character the team needs AND he is in England currently playing for Lancashire. Moreover, he’s in form, having taken 18 wickets in his past four county games. Only a week ago he took 5-39 and made 68 against Essex. But assuming the selectors drop Watson for Mitchell Marsh, it will presumably be difficult to find room for a second all-rounder.

There are other names one could ponder but none of them are in danger of imminent selection.

So if Mitchell Starc doesn’t play in the Second Test, or if he or Mitchell Johnson breaks down during the Ashes, it will be Peter Siddle or Cummins.

Siddle may do well, but it’s hard to say. I haven’t got a clue. He lacks the pace of Johnson and Starc but is more accurate. He took 17 wickets during the last Ashes series in England two years ago, but eight of those came in the First Test at Trent Bridge. The Aussie coaches say he has regained some of the pace he lost; if that is really true, Siddle may be just the ticket.

If not, then it’s Cummins.

And then what happens?