Australia in South Africa 2014: Australia’s 3rd test selection conundrums

Much has been made in the media over the last 24 hours of who will play for Australia in the 3rd test at Newlands starting on Saturday.

To me it is simple: if Shane Watson is fit, and by fit I mean able to bowl a minimum of 15 overs a day, he must play and he must bat at number 6. Shaun Marsh must come out of the current side. Two reasons for this: first, he was an injury induced replacement for Watson in the first place and second, Michael Clarke MUST bat at number 4. Marsh’s hundred at Centurion was a great knock but a pair at St George’s seals his fate.

There are broad grumblings about changing the bowling attack. I can not countenance such a move for these reasons:

1. The inclusion of Watson will release some of the workload on the core fast bowling trio how were, understandably, tired by the end of the 2nd test.

2. Pattinson and Bird have not played in a red ball cricket game (other than a centre wicket practice) since their injuries in England over six months ago. We can not expect them to step up into this last test off no significant bowling.

So for me there is only one change: Watson for Marsh. If Watson is not fit by the criterion noted above I would be tempted to play Henriques in Marsh’s place but would only do so after looking at the pitch.

Anymore changes than those posited here would just be a knee jerk reaction to a single loss and would be neither good for the balance of the team nor its harmony.

The Ashes: is today the day we get back the urn?

I tweeted this morning that I was a little trepidatious about today’s play at the WACA ground. My worries are linked principally to the fact that 250 runs in 90 overs is not a massive ask. Many have lambasted my view and seem convinced that an Australian win today will arise simply if Australia shows up.

I remain worried about today’s play for a number of reasons:

1. I hate complacency and am bothered by the perception that this is going to be an easy day of cricket.

2. Matt Prior is a quality batsman and only 7 months ago batted 4 and a half hours to save a test against New Zealand in trying conditions. Form is temporary but class is permanent so sooner or later he is going to come good.

3. The bouncer / verbal approach of the Australians that has worked so far is becoming less and less of a shock for the Englishmen as evidence by Johnson’s reducing returns in this game. Reliance on it again today will mean less balls for the Poms to play which is to their advantage rather than ours.

Don’t get me wrong: I am desperate for an Australian win and think it is a short price favourite. Declaring it as a certainty as the broadcaster and most of the press have done is a dangerous exercise though.

Play begins in 15 mins: as I said this morning … I will not be comfortable until the Prior / Stokes partnership is broken.

Bring on day 5!

The Ashes: 3rd Test Teams and the Toss

We are now 30 minutes away from the start of play at the WACA with the toss have been won by Australia and them having decided to bat.

The following teams were announced by the captains:

Australia: Clarke (c), Haddin (vc), Warner, Rogers, Watson, Smith, Bailey, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England: Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Prior, Broad, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson

No changes for Australia with Ryan Harris confirmed fit. One change for the English with Bresnan coming in for Panesar.

Captains Clarke and Cook play their 100th test match in would should be an epic encounter! Bring it on!

The Ashes: 3rd Test Day 4 … Bad Light, Dissent and Walking

It was another gripping day of Test Match cricket overnight at Old Trafford (has there been a day this series that has not been entrhalling?). Unfortunately the intervention of weather that had looked inevitable since day 1 finally occured late in the afternoon on Day 4 just when Australia might have been thinking about a declaration. Still Australia leads by 331 runs with a day to play on a wearing 5th day pitch so the game is there for the winning for the baggy greens: if Manchester’s rain does not get in the way.

Here are my top 5 talking points from Day 4:

1. Maybe the bad light call was wrong … suck it up it is the law: I have read much condemnation of the decision of Umpires Hill and Erasmus to declare that the light was too poor to continue play about 30 minutes before the heavy rain started. Whether you like the decision or not (and I for one did not) the fact is that since the law of the game was changed some 3 years it is solely in the umpires discretion to make a call that they light is bad and the players have to go off. The old law, which was that the bad light was offered to the batsmen and they decided to continue, would have seen a different decision made BUT that is not the law at the moment so bleating about the decision gets no one anywhere.

2. Dissent … why bother really? There are a couple of incidents of what I would term dissent over night that makes one just sit back and wonder “why are you bothering?”. First, the English players’ reaction to their failed DRS review of a David Warner hook shot was unseemly to say the least and the “why bother” moment for me arises because they had had two appeals at the shot (the original appeal and the DRS) both of which were declined and the DRS was one of the more obviously easy decision for the 3rd umpire to make. Why have a go at the umpire after going through the review process? That makes no sense to me. Secondly, I do not understand what Michael Clarke has to gain by giving the umpires a bake after they decided to adjourn play for bad light. They have made their decision: arguing with them about it on the field is not going to make them immediately reverse said decision is it?

3. Walking … is it the new black all of a sudden? Much was made in the commentary I heard and on social media about Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann walking after they knicked balls through to the ‘keeper. There are two types of walking: walking when you know you are going to be given out and walking when the decision has already been made that you are not out. Can anyone argue that both of the acts of walking here were in the former category? One only needs to look at the replay to see Umpire Hill nodding his head so vociferiously in response to the Swann appeal that his neck was close to snapping to know that he was going to be given out. Credit where it is due: they both walked but lets not be too hasty with out kudos: it wasn’t like they had both been given not out and then walked.

4. Sticks in the throat to say … but S Broad is a quality player: Say what you like about his perceived personality, his perceived petulance at times and the fact that he knicked one to first slip and did not walk, there is no mistaking the fact that Stuart Broad is a quality allround cricketer. Test cricket is no charm school and to have nearly 2000 runs at an average of 25 and over 200 wickets at an average of 30 is indicative of that quality and, more to the point, his importance to the English team. He did not look troubled in compiling 32 runs in just over an hour to thwart Australian hopes of enforcing the follow on. I will pose this talking point another way and then leave it (I feel like I need a shower): J Kallis aside … is there a better medium fast bowling all rounder in the game at the moment than this bloke? Enough said really.

5. N Lyon: this is your time Nathan Lyon again seemed as penetrative as a plastic spoon in the early exchanges overnight. Readers of this blog will know that I firmly believe he has been harshly done by pundits and selectors alike in recent times but it must be said that he has been presented with the moment that many of his critics have been gasping for: a big lead and a 4th innings pitch to bowl on. If Australia is to win, and assuming they have enough overs to do so, Nathan Lyon will need to take 4 of the 10 wickets to fall as a minimum. It is his time to shine.

So here we are again: day 5, both teams capable of winning (England could score 331 in 90 overs if Australia do not bowl well) and the Urn well and truly at stake. Will this be a day akin to the last day at Trent Bridge or will the weather gods have the last laugh? Play starts in just under 12 hours time.

The Ashes: 3rd test, 2nd day … The Myth and wasted opportunity

Another excellent day of cricket at Old Trafford overnight and another winning day for the Australians who are right on top in this game. Here are my keys to day 5:

 

  1. The Myth chokes … As expected: Well he came, he was booed and a got out. I have written variously stating my opinion that David “the Myth” Warner should not be in the test team at the moment and should be required to come back to top flight cricket, if he does, through an apprenticeship in Sheffield Shield cricket. He looked out of his depth against Swann and then had a massive brain snap in referring an obvious edge to the DRS system. MUST NOT PLAY AGAIN THIS SERIES.
  2. Oh Smithy … so close and yet so far: How well is Steve Smith going at the moment? Since he came back into the team in India I have been nothing short of very impressed with both the form of “the Fidgeter” and how he goes about his game. The fidgeting belies his seemingly calm demeanour and he batted for 200 plus balls which shows great application to his craft.
  3. Patience = Batting for 5 sessions: Probably the thing I am happiest with about Australia's performance on day two is the patience of the captain to keep the English in the field for as long as he did. Clarke has had the propensity at times to pull the trigger early on declarations rather than keeping the metaphorical boot on the throat of the opposition. Last night he changed that trend and I loved it!
  4. Lyon … where has he been the last 2 tests? I know Lyon did not get a wicket however he bowled with flight and turn that had England on the back foot and would have raised some sweat on the brow of the batsmen to come. Tomorrow presents as a massive day for Lyon: this could be a career changing moment for him as he has the opportunity to win a test for his country.
  5. Siddle: why do I question you so? I have been fairly overt about the fact that I do not believe that P Siddle should be in the test team. He again proved last night his value of the team by charging in for an inspirational spell in the shadows of stumps. The fact is that for all of his limitations he charges in all day and can sniff out a wicket particularly when the opposition batsmen have gone into their shell.

Australia are in the box seat but with the weather around Old Trafford, particularly expected on day 5, quick wickets will be needed on day 3 to press Australia's very real claims for victory. Nathan Lyon is the key: wickets from him and the follow on is definitely in play. Whatever happens it will be another enthralling day of test match cricket.

The Ashes, 3rd Test, Day 1: Bucky, the Pup and DRS again

Cricket fans in Australia awake this morning, some more bleary eyed than others, to the news that Australia posted a more than respectable 3/303 overnight on the first day of the 3rd test at Old Trafford. Having watched the first 3 and a bit hours of play, I bunkered down in bed with dulcet tones of the TMS team and was able to push through until the last hour of play on what was another quality day of test match cricket.

Here are my 5 keys to the first day's play:

  1. Well played Bucky: If my timeline in the preamble to the game means anything a number of fringe and former NSW players were appalled at the failure by the selectors to keep Phil Hughes in the team and were questioning the position of Rogers in the line up. Not that he would have been aware of them, but this was an innings that will take the pressure from the pundits off in droves but will also have not been a surprise to many. Indeed, anyone who has watched Victoria in the Shield competition will have seen many of those shots he played last night over and over again before and will know that that is the form he is consistently capable of. 20,000 first class runs at an average of 50 do not lie and that is why this bloke is in the team.
  2. Oh Captain my Captain: Has there been a captain of any Australian cricket team who has been forced to perform under pressure more, and succeeded, than the current captain? Allan Border in the mid to late 80s comes to mind in comparison to Michael Clarke in this context and he did it again last night. In at 2 for not many with the beast that is the English bowling attack stirring he came to the wicket and then batted out the day. This was another quality innings from a bloke who does not get enough plaudits, from me included, for his toughness.
  3. DRS … again: Can we all agree that the 3rd umpire made a mistake in the Khawaja decision and get on with it? That seems to be what happened doesn't it: human error despite the technology caused a wrong decision to remain in place. Umpires are human and no matter the quality of the technology mistakes will happen. It is an interesting side bar that without DRS all three decisions reviewed and upheld last night would have remained the same. What would we have had to discuss then? Well, human error wouldn't we?
  4. Come in spinner: This pitch is already taking considerable spin and it is only going to take more as the game goes on. Enter N Lyon: many have been looking for that moment when Lyon will have the opportunity to bowl Australia to victory and whilst it might be looking the metaphorical gift horse in the mouth at this early stage at does look like that opportunity may be upon us here.
  5. Wake up fans: Why is it that in seemingly every ground in the world “fans” of the game do not have the cricket savvy to know when not to move? Obviously if the bowler is bowling from the end you are sitting at and you are sitting anywhere upto 50 metres either side and above the sightscreen you plant your ass and don't move till the end of the over. How hard can that be? The members at Old Trafford got it wrong last night and probably cost Australia a wicket.

All in all it was Australia's day and it was a day that Australia and its fans desperately needed after the debacle at Lords. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though: it is only the first day of five and Australia will need to be just as good tomorrow to keep this momentum going. Par score for Australia is now looking like 500 and with the Myth lurking in a situation seemingly taylor made for his cavalier approach and poor technique that target certainly looks obtainable.

Day two kicks off at 8pm Australian time, or in roughly 12 and a half hours for those not on the eastern seaboard of Australia.