Agar into the Australian Test Squad: how did that happen?

Regular readers of this blog will have read my rants about the work of Cricket Australia’s National Selection Panel. I have griped for years, even before I had this blog, that form in red ball cricket seems to count for little at the Cricket Australia Selection table and have even been left to ponder whether Cricket Australia ought just fold the first class competition for all of the relevance it has to the selection of the test team. I am sad to say that again this morning I find myself griping and pondering the same things again after the elevation of Ashton Agar to the Australian squad for the 4th test in Sydney.

Agar’s stat line in first class cricket this year does not make for happy reading: 7 wickets at 45.14 in 4 games is, frankly just not good enough. Add that lack of form to a first class career stat line of 62 wickets at 44.00 with a strike rate of 81 balls per wicket and the head scratching that started when pondering Agar’s selection on current form starts to draw blood.

If there were no other spinners playing in first class cricket in Australia at the moment then this selection might make more sense. However there are other spinners plying their trade around the country who appear to be vastly more qualified to play in Sydney against India. The three main contenders are:

  • The form leg spinner: Fawad Ahmed has been in excellent form for Victoria this season with a stat line of 18 wickets at 30.72 and a strike rate of 51 balls per wicket. His first class numbers, 95 wickets at 32.16 with a strike rate of 54.3 balls per wicket, make for much more pallatable reading than those of Agar and he has been in the Cricket Australia system before.
  • The best left arm orthodox bowler in the country: Steve O’Keefe is the best left arm orthodox bowler in Australia. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. 141 wickets at 25.81 with a strike rate of just under a wicket every 10 overs in a first class career makes for excellent reading. This summer he has done his job for New South Wales with the ball with 9 wickets at 28.44 gives him the best average of our sample of bowlers. Again he has been in the Cricket Australia system before too which has to be in his favour.
  • The young leg spinner: Cameron Boyce, seemingly, has been anointed as Australia’s next leg spin hope given his selection for T20 honours this year where he performed excellently. His first class record is worse that Agar’s however he seems to be following the currently accepted path to the top team via the shortest form of the game so his non-selection is a surprise.
In the context of these three contenders is there a cogent argument for Agar’s elevation to the team? I am struggling to find one. Of course my search for a cogent argument has been focused on the immediate cricket reasons for his possible selection: I neglected to include the fact that he has a significant profile in the game begat by his 98 runs on debut and the fact that he looks like the lost member of One Direction.

Surely though this selection can not be all about profile? Darren Lehmann does not strike me as a coach who would accept such a selection. Then again Lehmann was at the helm during the disaster, 98 runs aside, that was Agar’s debut 2 tests so he must have played some role in his return here.

I just do not understand it and am left again to ponder why Cricket Australia continues to pay for the Sheffield Shield to be run when it does not use the form coming from that competition to reward those players playing in it.

For what it is worth, I think there is zero chance that Agar will play in Sydney and have no doubt he will be released to his BBL team during the game. That is cold comfort one suspects to those others who are more deserving of selection, particularly Steve O’Keefe.

Cricket: when did a test match draw become such a bad thing?

I have gotten more and more frustrated this morning as commentators and fans alike have discussed over and over again when Australia will declare today and, as the morning as worn on, why Steve Smith has not declared.
 
 Has everyone forgotten there is a result in a test match called a draw?
 
 Situationally has everyone missed the fact that Australia leads the series 2-0 and wins the series with a draw?
 
 Some of the best test matches I have seen and read about have ended in draws yet the current generation of commentators and fans seem to have forgotten the draw as even a result.
 
 To me a good result today for Australia is to make sure that India don’t win. It is as simple as that. A win is a bonus and a great result but making sure India don’t win is the more important thing.
 
 Or maybe the game has changed that much we should just remove the draw as an available result?
 
 
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Australia v India, 2nd Test: 5 Key Questions

Only 3 days after Australia's last session win in Adelaide, Australia and India are back at it again at the Gabba. Much has changed in that short period with both sides coming into this game with a new captain on top multiple changes to each line up.

 

Here are my 5 key issues upon which I think the result will hinge:

 

1. Oh Captain, my Captain: how will Steve Smith fill the shoes of Michael Clarke?


I have been a vocal advocate of Steve Smith's elevation to the captaincy of the Australian cricket and now the day is here I am looking forward to seeing how he leads the team into battle. Generational change has always been problematic for the Australian team so this move is one to be applauded. Smith faces a massive challenge in this game with 2 significant players in Harris and Clarke being out of the line up. Smith's captaincy against the experience of MS Dhoni will be vital to any Australian win.

 

2. How will the Gabba wicket play?


By all reports the Gabba wicket for this test match is a bit greener than normal for this time of year. Given the rain we have had in Brisbane it is no surprise that the wicket is green and thus one could expect that it will seam around a bit particularly with the new ball this morning. Equally, we have seen a lot of Gabba green tops over the years and time and again once batters get in on such a wicket they can score and score quickly. There might be early benefits to a team bowling first but they will have to bowl well to reap those rewards.

 

3. Different test, same question: will Chris Rogers score runs?


I posed this question before the 1st test and I will pose it again now: whilst David Warner has been dynamic at the top of the order for Australia, Chris Rogers has struggled. If Australia bat first on this wicket all of his years of batting ring craft will be needed to get Australia through to lunch. He needs runs to hold his place in the team given the other players who are in the queue behind him and in form.

 

4. Shaun Marsh: will he last the game?


There is only one hamstring that has been more problematic in cricket over the last 24 months than Michael Clarke's and that is Shaun Marsh's. Injury prone and averaging 36 in first class cricket, the selectors have taken a punt on Marsh. One can only hope that the faith is repaid by Marsh both with the willow and staying on the field.

 

5. Can India take 20 wickets?


This will be the quickest and bounciest wicket the Indians will play on this summer and they must take advantage of it. The Indian bowlers only took 12 wickets in the first test at Adelaide and will need to take the full complement to even get close to winning this game. Varun Aaron could present as the key man for India on this wicket: he bowls swiftly and can bowl wicket balls. If he can keep things tight between wicket balls he could be a weapon for India.

 

This will be a great game played at the best ground for watching cricket in the country. I am, of course, tipping an Australian win. As I look out my office window 27 floors up the weather looks perfect for cricket. The first ball will be bowled at 10am.

Australia v India, 1st Test: Epilogue … 5 key questions answered?

I wrote at the start of this week in preview of the 1st test match at Adelaide that there were 5 key questions that would be answered during this test match and, in the aftermath of the match’s finish, it is worth considering the answers to said questions.

1. There is aggressive and then there is abuse: which will it be from Australia?

It took 4 days but eventually the hard edge to some of the Australian players came out. No one ought be surprised that it was David Warner who reacted to a send off and broke the truce, tacit or otherwise, that had been in place between the teams during the game to that point. Some habits obviously die hard.

2. Who will bowl the first bouncer and when will that be?

There was some obvious tentativeness from the bowlers in the first innings around the bowling of bouncers but the time arrived in the 17th minute of the game. The game goes on.

3. Can Chris Rogers find some runs and get to the Ashes in 2015?

This was not Rogers’ best test. He needs runs between now and the end of the 4th test to make the tour of the West Indies that follows. Ed Cowan is scoring runs by the bucketload in the Shield and is a ready replacement.

4. Will Nathan Lyon attack or revert to the usual plan?

What a test match for Nathan Lyon!!!! His best performance in an Australian cap and a worthy winner of the man of the match award. I remain firmly of the view that Clarke does not set great fields for him but his patience and persistence got him over the line almost despite that. Surely now the doubters, of which there have been many of you, will let this fine bowler go about his craft with support rather than doubt.

5. Is this Brad Haddin’s last stand?

He captained the team excellently and did his job with the gloves. I continue to worry about his batting. Time will tell.

All in all this was a fantastic test match; credit for which must go to both teams. One senses that today presented the best chance for the Indians to win a test match this series so I will be interesting to see how they bounce back from this defeat. The truncated schedule sees the next test commence at the Gabba in 3 days so they do not have much time to get back up off the canvas.

For the Australians there will obviously be changes: Clarke is out. I continue to question Siddle’s place in the team given his waning performance and I suspect Harris may struggle to back up after a big effort today.

The second test beckons …

Australia v India, 1st Test: 5 key questions

The first test match between Australia and India kicks off in Adelaide tomorrow.  Much has been written in the prelude of this test match following the passing of Phil Hughes and it goes without saying that there will be some extra emotions in play in this game (and frankly for some time to come).  Obviously, the players’ reactions to said emotions will be key to how this game plays out.  With that caveat in place, here are my five key questions I think will be answered during this test match:

1. There is aggressive and then there is abuse: which will it be from Australia?

I have lamented much of late of a troubling move in cricket away from aggressive play and toward the outright abuse of opponents on the field by the Australians.  This unseemly approach has put many fans, myself included, off.  I wrote last week (https://shumpty77.com/2014/12/03/vale-phil-hughes-cricket-will-never-be-the-same-again/ ) about my hope that the tragedy of Phil Hughes’ passing might lead to the players being kinder to each other on the field.  It will be interesting to see if the unseemly edge to the Australian’s game has been smoothed.

2. Who will bowl the first bouncer and when will that be?

Short pitched bowling has long been part of the game of cricket.  Talk of a bouncer ban or even a reduction in the number of legal bouncers allowed per over has disappointed to say the least.  At some point a bouncer will be bowled because strategically that is the best thing for the bowling team in that moment.  Frankly though I am an advocate of getting the first bouncer out of the way in the first over the game.  Bowling an early bouncer gets it out of the way and the game can start to return to normal.

3. Can Chris Rogers find some runs and get to the Ashes in 2015?

I am a massive fan of Chris Rogers: his career and its late resurgence is a great story of perseverance.  Simply put though: he is the batter under the most pressure in the Australian line up and needs runs to hold off those waiting in the wings. At his age every test could be his last and finishing by being dropped is not the end any genuine cricket fan would want for this ornament of the game.

4. Will Nathan Lyon attack or revert to the usual plan?

Nathan Lyon’s position in the team has to be in doubt: he bowled well but without wickets in series against Pakistan on wickets helping spin bowlers.  All to often he was thrust into a defensive role with defensive fields that lead to him leaking both pressure and runs.  To succeed against the Indians, to me, Lyon and Clarke need to attack when he bowls.  From over the wicket he needs to bowl a line a foot outside of off spin and give the ball a rip.  Clarke needs to set him a field around the bat and needs to eschew the urge to put fields back on the boundary.  Lyon is a quality off spinner: we need to treat him as such to help him get some wickets.  If he does not, or is not allowed to, attack Australia will be looking for a new spinner come the end of this series if not earlier.

5. Is this Brad Haddin’s last stand?

When Ian Healy was replaced in the team by Adam Gilchrist it came after two series (West Indies and Zimbabwe) of reduced production with the willow and behind the stumps.  Haddin was down on form in the series against Pakistan and will need a productive series here to leave the team on his own terms given the quality wicketkeepers who are waiting in the wings.

This will be a fascinating test match and start to the series.  Australia v India is nearly as big a series as the Ashes.  I will be watching with interest to see how things play out.

Australia v India, 1st Test: Australian Team named

Cricket Australia has announced the team for the 1st test commencing tomorrow will be:

Warner, Rogers, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, M Marsh, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon, Hazlewood (12th), Hughes (13th).

Shaun Marsh has been released to the Western Warriors.

Good to see the captain playing.  I would have chosen Hazlewood over Siddle and will be interested to see if Siddle can get his mojo back!