Tag Archives: Paine

Paine, the Quiet Achiever

One of the TV commentators (sorry, can’t remember which one) remarked during the recent First Test between Australia and India that Tim Paine’s Test batting average had risen to 33.40, giving him the second highest batting average for a Test wicketkeeper in Australian history.

It’s true.

This is a remarkable achievement, especially as Paine was picked for Australia in November 2017 when he wasn’t even playing regularly for Tasmania, was thrust into the captaincy a few months later due to the ball tampering scandal, and has not scored a Test century in 33 Tests. It is testament to his ability to chip in with helpful scores at No. 7 on a regular basis, a trait that has proven useful given Australia’s inability to find reliable batsmen to fill the No. 5 and No. 6 slots. Paine’s 73 not out in the First Test against India, when he top-scored and enabled the team to limp to a total of 191, is a good example of what he’s capable of.

Adam Gilchrist, of course, is unlikely to relinquish the title of highest run-scorer, with a Test average of 47.60 and 17 centuries. Brad Haddin, meanwhile, averaged 32.98 from 66 Tests with 4 centuries. Wayne Phillips averaged 32.28 in 27 Tests (2 centuries). Ian Healy averaged only 27.39, with 4 centuries from 119 Tests.

Paine’s prowess with the bat and his admirable captaincy after Sandpapergate (11 Test wins in 20 matches) has made it difficult for Alex Carey to break into the Test team. On the other hand, at 36 years of age he doesn’t have a lot of time left.

But if Paine keeps playing like this, one would think he’ll dictate his own terms when he comes to the timing of his retirement. When he does stand down, the accolades will be well deserved.

Marsh Recall Makes No Sense

And they had been doing so well. 

The Australian selectors have scarcely missed a trick during this Ashes series, especially with their savvy horses-for-courses approach to selecting fast bowlers, and their decision to prioritize accuracy over pace. Then they went and picked Mitchell Marsh for the Fifth Test at the Oval.

Oh dear. 

Despite coaches such as Langer insisting Marsh is ‘talented’, he has never proven that he is good enough to either bat or bowl at Test level. Selectors have given him far too many chances (a staggering 31 Test matches!) in the desperate hope that he will magically transform into a player far better than he actually is. Marsh was dropped after the Boxing Day Test against India in December 2018. In the seven Tests up to and including that match, he scored 225 runs at an average of 16.07 and took a measly six wickets. He went back to the Sheffield Shield, playing 7 matches in the 2018-19 season, in which he scored 467 runs at 35.92 and took 13 wickets at 40.46. Such numbers hardly demand national selection. He was then omitted from Cricket Australia’s central contract list for 2019-20. 

But now he’s back in the Test team at the expense of Travis Head. 

How did that happen?

Just two days ago, Justin Langer reminded us that Head is inexperienced and that Test cricket takes time to master. Fair enough. Who would disagree? It’s very true that Head has not impressed in this series. However, he is not the only one, and as he is only 25, surely one would expect Langer to give him more opportunities to improve. But no, soon after calling for more patience for young players, Langer has dumped Head. It’s inconsistent and hypocritical.

Moreover, the logic behind Marsh’s selection does not stand up to scrutiny for two big reasons.

Firstly, he has played virtually no red ball cricket lately and his few performances since being dropped last December simply do not justify a recall. Marsh played for Australia A in its recent 50-over series against county teams in England, when he posted four successive not-out scores – with a highest score of 53* – and took 5 wickets. This was okay but not earth-shattering, and was with a white ball anyway. Since arriving in England, he has played only TWO competitive red ball matches (one against England Lions, the other against Worcestershire), with a top score of 39* and taking only 2 wickets. How does this scream ‘pick me for the Test team’?

Secondly, the selectors say Marsh’s inclusion strengthens the bowling attack. Why is THAT necessary? The Australian squad includes no fewer than SIX fast bowlers, most of whom possess batting averages close to that of Marsh. Based on recent form, a number of them are in fact making more runs than Marsh. Heck, Michael Neser hasn’t even gotten a game on this tour, and he took 33 wickets in the 2018-19 Shield season while averaging 43.73 with the bat! The bowling attack has been the strongest performing part of the team throughout this Ashes series. Why does it need Marsh? Sure, the batting has been poor except for Smith and Labuschagne, but are the selectors really suggesting that a guy like Marsh – with a Test average of 25.39 and a first-class average of 32.12 – is good enough to bat at No. 6? He never has been, so what’s changed? Head has indeed been mediocre on this tour but with his first-class average of 39.20 and Test average of 42.70 after 12 matches, I would still rather back him than Marsh, especially if, as Langer says, the younger players need to grow into their positions. 

Trotted out to front the press, Tim Paine said Marsh has ‘worked his backside off’ and is fitter than he was. Oh goody. Everything will be fine, then. 

As the saying goes, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. 

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.

Zombies Live!

The zombie cricketers are alive and kicking.

By zombies, I mean those players who refuse to die. They have tried and failed at Test cricket, then gone back to state cricket and performed well enough to at least come back into contention for a Test recall.

Tim Paine is perhaps the greatest zombie of them all, having been dead and buried until his shock recall for the Ashes. He fluffed a catch in Brisbane but also pulled off an excellent stumping and made a stylish 57 in the first innings in Adelaide. There would appear to be life in the old boy yet. At the very least, he has not embarrassed the selectors.

The other obvious zombie, of course, is Shaun Marsh, who not only won a recall for the Ashes but won player of the match in the 2nd Test in Adelaide with an excellent ton. Trevor Hohns and Team must be enormously relieved.

Elsewhere, discarded Test opener Joe Burns has lurched back into the selectors’ sights with 514 runs at 57.11 in his first ten Sheffield Shield innings this season, including scores of 70, 81, 103 and finally 202 not out against South Australia in Round Four.  But Cameron Bancroft is likely to get a few more games yet, so Burns will probably have to bide his time.

Perennial zombie Glenn Maxwell has cracked 590 runs at 73.75 so far this Shield season, with scores of 60, 64, 278 and 96. One would have to think Maxwell has his eye on the No. 5 Test slot currently occupied by the hopelessly out-of-form Peter Handscomb.  Will the selectors let Handscomb play out the series as they did with George Bailey four years ago? As it was with Bailey, they might if the team keeps winning.

And lastly there is Mitchell Marsh, arguably the most disappointing Test cricketer of the past half-decade. Finally sent back to WA after 21 Tests in which he averaged only 21.74 with the bat and took only 29 wickets at 37.48, Mitchell has scored 402 runs at 44.67 in the Shield this season, including scores of 95 and 141. The selectors took a lot of stick for persevering with Mitchell for so long, so one wonders how well he must do at state level – and for how long – before he gets another chance at Test cricket.

Feed them braaains….