Ashes Countdown 2013/14: Australia “A” v England Day 1

Not for the last time this series one suspects, England have completely dominated Australia on Day 1 at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. Finishing on 0/318 with Carberry 153* and Cook 154* there are, simply, no positives to come out of the day for Australia.

If Sutherland, Howard and Invers wanted to play England’s batsmen into form in this game then that goal has certainly been achieved in the case of England’s openers. A woefully inadequate bowling line up, Cutting and Copeland aside, has been shown up as just a terrible choice particularly in light of the pitch prepared by the groundsman in Hobart. The edict from Sutherland that pitches should be more batsman friendly this year has bitten the Australia “A” bowlers on the backside here, remembering that Bellerive once possessed the greenest wicket in the land, with Cook and Carberry never troubled today in what might have been a centre wicket practice but for the Australian crests on the shirts of the fielding team.

Henriques was selected, it would appear, to be the third seam bowler however he only gave himself (or, which is more likely the case, was told) only 9 overs of the 93 bowled today. The other fast bowlers were forced to shoulder heavy loads on, I repeat, a wicket providing no assistance to them. That just does not make sense to me, either from a captaincy or a bowling management stand point.

Cricket Australia have gotten it wrong again right from the beginning and, as I wrote this morning, the shambolic preparation for what might be Australia’s most important test series of the decade continues on unabated.

I hope tomorrow is a better day for the Australians in Hobart. If it is not then records could tumble and England’s spirits could only be lifted higher. Additionally, given past form of Inverarity, reputation of the Australian bowlers could be heavily impacted as well by another day like today. Indeed, the only people not at risk of a terrible result this game and this summer will continue to be Sutherland, Howard and Inverarity which continues to be a travesty.

Sheffield Shield Round 2 and Australia “A”: players to watch

6 November 2013 represents the start of four first class games which represent the last chance for Australian cricketers to press their case for national honours with the first test match team for the Gabba test set to be named on 12 November. I have been overt in my view that the first test team has already been names internally at Cricket Australia Towers however an injury to Shane Watson and question marks over the captain’s fitness mean that this round of fixtures take on a, possible, new meaning. Also, given that CA has played its hand around fast bowler management in its decision to rest Josh Hazlewood from all cricket this week it is also important to keep an eye on the fast bowling stocks around the country.

All that said: here are my players to watch for this round of first class cricket:

Alex Doolan:

Seemingly already coronated as the replacement for Shane Watson, certainly so if you read the News Limited press, Doolan is off to a flying start to the season with a hundred and fifty in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. This time last year scored a big hundred against South Africa in the same game and will again need big runs in this game to: a. mask his first class average of less than 40 and b. prove to everyone he is worthy of the “next best” slot.

Usman Khawaja:

Was in the test team in England and failed to grasp his opportunity with both hands. Now is seemingly on the outer (again principally with the News Limited press) and did not do anything to impress the selectors in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. Is behind Doolan in the pecking order on form but has the advantage of test match experience which could be useful at the selection table. Needs to bat for a long time in this game but, in doing so, needs to show that when he plays spinners he can rotate the strike which he failed to do in England.

Phil Hughes:

Can Hughes make another push for the number 3 slot in the test team that many believe to be rightfully his? His attempt to do so commences in Perth where he will, one expects, open for the Sandgropers. Coming off a nothing tour of India he will need big runs in this game to get his name to the front of the queue. It must be noted that this is precisely the situation he found himself in last season when, via weight of first class runs, he charged into the test frame. The big question mark is whether one game is enough.

Moises Henriques:

Captaining the Australia A team is the first taste of first class cricket Henriques will have this season given that he has been mixing the cordials in India and missed the 1st round of the Sheffield Shield. A tour to India under his belt that can only be described as a disaster means he has test match experience and if he can perform against the English in Hobart he may be the man to replace Shane Watson if the NSP decide to replace an allrounder with another allrounder.

Ben Cutting:

The man of the series in the Ryobi Cup in the eyes of everyone but for Channel 9’s biased commentators, Cutting struggled with illness in the first round of the Sheffield Shield. Has match turning power with the willow and is one of the swiftest bowlers in domestic cricket on his day. Missed out on selection two years ago at the Gabba when the NSP went for hair gel (Pattinson) over substance. The only way he will get in the test team is if he takes that many wickets even John Inverarity can not ignore him and this game against the English is the first step on that path.

John Holland:

Holland is in the frame for a possible test birth for one reason and only one reason: Kevin Pietersen has a problem with left arm orthodox spin. Massive question mark for me is the fact that he has not played first class cricket in 13 months. Second question mark for me is a bowling average of 39.18 at the top level also does not inspire confidence. That said: if he gets KP out twice in the two innings he bowls at him in Hobart watch for the push for him to selected for the Gabba (again particularly in the News Limited press which has a problem with Nathan Lyon).

I am sure there are other players in the frame however these are the players I think the selectors will be looking at closely, whether they should be or not!

All eyes also will be on the MCG for the Victoria v New South Wales game and whether the captain’s rickety back can stand back to back first class games.

Cricket: Australia A … are these guys really the next in line?

I have already written once before about my views on the Australia A squad presently touring Africa and it would be fair to say that that blog lead to a number of responses most of which were focus on my thoughts about the bowling attack OR about the fact that people do not consider the Australia A team to be an Australian “Second XI” but rather a development squad.

I remain unconvinced by arguments that the Australia A team is merely a development squad or, more to the point, that there is a difference between it being a “second XI” or a “development squad”. The fact is that by its very nature a “development squad” should represent a squad of the next in line for Australian selection. If that is what this squad is meant to represent then I fear that the development phase that cricket in this country is going through has a very long way to go.

The reasons for this fear can be easily found by looking squarely at the captain for this tour: Aaron Finch. I am sure he is a lovely bloke but is he really a future captain of Australia? For that matter: is he really a future opening batsman or top order batsman for Australia? Before you answer that question consider these facts:

  1. Last first class season he played in four Sheffield Shield games for Victoria and opened in none of them.
  2. He has played in 32 first class games and has an average of 30.52 from those games.
  3. In 56 first class innings he has 2 hundreds.
  4. Some will suggest that his first class record is supplemented well by his ODI record and on that basis he ought be selected in all forms. Seven ODIs for Australia so far for Finch with a batter average of 15 would suggest otherwise.

Based on those numbers can anyone convince me he is in the frame right now to be the next top order batsman in a baggy green? Does the absurdity of that suggestion give a true indicia that this team presently getting belted in Africa is NOT a development squad for the test team but rather the first class games on this tour are merely a side show along the path to the 50 over games to come?

Consider the current top order for this FIRST CLASS fixture against South Africa A: Finch, Marsh S, Doolan, Maddinson and Maxwell. I have already commented on the inclusion of Finch. Of that top order:

  • Shaun Marsh has had his turn playing for Australia and is injury prone to say the least. He did not open the batting for Australia nor does he regularly for Western Australia yet he finds himself at the top of the order for Australia A: a position that he has batted for Australia in one day cricket and his position in the Western Australia order in the Ryobi Cup.
  • Alex Doolan is a player of the future but how long is that future given that he is already a rising 28 year old? If we have learned nothing else from the late inclusion of Mike Hussey to the test team we know that players who start that late have a very limited time at the top.
  • Nic Maddinson is also a player of the future and at 21 has time to develop. Equally he is another player who is averaging below 40 in first class cricket which must improve.
  • Glenn Maxwell has been slotted in at number 5 in the batting order after a season of first class cricket in Australia where he played 3 games for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield and averaged 22.50 in his 4 innings. In those games he batted at number 5 once and at number 7 the remainder and when selected for Australia A he batted at number 8. Compellingly he was slotted in at number 8 for Australia when he debuted in the test team in India.

Based on the foregoing, it seems to me that only 2 of the top 5 batsmen in the Australia A team presently playing in Africa are in the frame to be the next players to step into the test team in the top 5 of the batting order. They are Doolan and Maddinson. Maxwell is an lower order batsman at the top level yet bizarrely he is in the top order for Australia A. Shaun Marsh has had his time in the test team but is obviously still in the frame for the ODI team: why else would he be opening here?

People wonder where the “pipeline” of batsmen coming through for the Australian team is: it seems to me that the bulk of them are having the winter off in their homes in Australia or are playing county cricket. They have not been rewarded with selection to the Australian A team.

I can only conclude given the foregoing that this squad in Africa is not designed to represent a group of players who are all striving for test match selection rather it is a squad that is more focused on preparing players for one day and T20 cricket. Why else would they be captained by a specialist one day and T20 cricketer who gets very limited playing time for his first class team? Why else would a batsman who bats at 7 and 8 in test arena but higher in ODI / T20 cricket be batting at number 5 in this team?

If I am wrong and this team represents the players the Inverarity and his merry band of selectors really think are the next in line for the test team then heaven help Australian fans who are just starting to get used to the reality of the current state of cricket in this country because we are going to have a long wait to return to where we once were!

 

Channel 9 selects the team for Cricket Australia? Well … duh!!!!!!!

It has been another interesting day in Australian sport. Probably one of the most of interesting pieces of news and one that has been responded to almost immediately by Cricket Australia has been the position taken Channel 9 with respect to the selection of the Australian cricket team.

For those who missed it, the Managing Director of Channel 9 Jeff Browne told a business lunch in Sydney yesterday that as part of the network's record $400million winning bid for international cricket rights, he expected to have a say in both team selection and in the scheduling of fixtures during the Australian summer.

James Sutherland, the CEO of Cricket Australia has been swift today to retort:

“Cricket has a long-standing and successful relationship with the Nine Network, but team selections and scheduling are matters for Cricket Australia''

No matter who you believe, and frankly I am prepared to believe the MD of Australia's largest television network over a CEO who has presided over the biggest decline in standards of player behaviour seen in the Australian game in my memory during his 12 years at the helm, one only needs to examine the players currently being selected by Cricket Australia to represent this country to see that whether or not it is Channel 9 selecting the team, marketability of players has become a factor in the selection process.

 

In this regard I am already on record apropos my contempt for the selection of players such as Glenn Maxwell and David Warner without, frankly, a semblance of form or even a solid first class career behind them. In the case of Warner, many are quick to forget that he had not been selected by his state for a first class game before he was first selected to play for his country.

 

That said, it is the other piece of cricket news today that really shows how far down this track the powers that be at Cricket Australia have gone in the name of marketing. Again for those who missed it Cricket Australia announced today a squad to tour Africa in July and August to play 3 first class games and a series of 5 one day fixtures. Here is the squad announced:


Smith (c) Finch (vc) Agar Ahmed Coulter-Nile Doolan Hazlewood Henriques Maddinson M. Marsh S. Marsh Maxwell Paine Sandhu Sayers


There are undoubtedly a number of players in this team who deserve their opportunities to represent Australia A. Doolan had a brilliant season for Tasmania as did Henriques for New South Wales. Sayers is a bowler of the future and was unlucky in my view to not be in the full blown Ashes squad.

 

That said: I refuse to believe that some of the other players selected in this team have been selected because of their exemplary form in first class and other domestic cricket in Australia this season. Now don't get me wrong: there are some players in this team who have the potential play for Australia in the years to come; of this there can be no question. However, you can not tell me that some such players are not in this team because of their marketing appeal rather than form.

 

Take the case of Gurinder Sandhu: no doubt he is a fine cricketer and, indeed was selected as state cricketer of the year last season for New South Wales. Kudos to him for having such a great start to his career. However, is he, off the back of two first class games in the Sheffield Shield really in the top ten fast bowlers in the country? That must be what his selection in this squad must connote must it not? I know he took 14 wickets in those first two first class games but how can that be enough to assess whether he is that good as yet? The simple answer is that Sandhu already has a marketing contract with Cricket Australia. They are pinning their hopes on “diversifying” the bandwidth of their marketing message by using the image of Gurinder Sandhu in their marketing material. In order to do that they have to, of course, select him don't they?

 

How must a player like Luke Butterworth from Tasmania be feeling in the face of this selection news today? Off the back of a season in which he played every first class game and took 45 wickets at an average of 20.89 runs per wicket he is seemingly not even in the frame to be in the top 10 bowlers in the country according to the selectors. Of course, he does not have a marketing contract with Cricket Australia.

 

For that matter, what about Trent Copeland who took 30 wickets for his state in 8 first class games last season and is bowling the lights out in the English Country competition this season? He has been a faithful servant of the game in this country and did nothing wrong when he was called up for the baggy green but, seemingly, because he is not a marketable commodity. Can anyone else come up with a cogent reason why he is not in the best 10 bowlers in the country? I have wracked my brain and can not.

 

I am not, repeat not, attacking Gurinder Sandhu: I hope he succeeds but I find it to be an abomination that players who clearly are ahead of him in both experience and the pecking order on form in domestic cricket are ignored because they do not fit a demographic that Cricket Australia wishes to market too.

 

So if you are surprised that Channel 9 think they can pick the team, then consider this: what reason have Cricket Australia given them to think otherwise? A marketing contract leading to selection on tour to represent this country despite there being other more qualified and in form players available for selection can only be an indication that selection for Australia is clearly for sale. I never thought I would see this day and to say that I am disappointed that it is here now would be an understatement.

 

And don't even get me started on Chris Hartley not being in the Australia A team!