The Ashes: Australian Team Named for the Second Test

According to reports on News Limited websites the Australia cricket team has been named as follows:

Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Phil Hughes, Brad Haddin, Ashton Agar, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris

Usman Khawaja, how moved to Queensland last year for an opportunity to play under Darren Lehmann, comes in for the out of sorts Ed Cowan and Ryan Harris, a brilliant but injury plagued right arm fast bowler, comes in for the erratic Mitchell Starc.

The only question mark for me is that sameness about the fast medium bowling attack: four right armers (if you include Watson).

Six and half hours to go until the first ball.

The Ashes: First test compendium

Well the first test is over and here is a compendium of all of my posts relating to it:

The English team named:

The Australian team named:

Reflections on day 1:

Reflections on day 2:

Considering the drama from day 3 and the issue of Stuart Broad’s conduct:

Reflections on day 4:

The final day equation:

The five lessons from the result of the 1st Test:

The first test player report card:

It was just a brilliant game of test match cricket that ebbed and flowed throughout. With only 3 days to go till the second test at Lords I can hope that it is half as good as the game just gone.

The Ashes: Australia to win … and here are 5 reasons why

Tomorrow night at 8pm the Ashes series between the old foes, Australia and England, will commence. Everyone, including most Australian fans it seems, think England is going to win. I disagree … in fact I vehemently disagree! Here are my five reasons why I believe Australia will win back the Urn:

England are smug and think they are going to win:

Everything we, as fans, have heard from the pundits from the old dart is that this is the worst Australian team to travel to England since Federation and that the Australians have no chance of winning. The last time we heard such punditary from those apparent experts was in 1989 when Australia travelled to England with a squad the performance of which hinged on a new opening pairing, an allrounder without a hundred in 5 years of test cricket, an inexperienced ‘keeper and a bowling attack that mixed some old stagers (Alderman and Lawson) and an under pressure spinner (Hohns). Sound familiar? The main reason I think we will win is because the English think they will win and that approach has failed them in the past.

Is Australia’s form that bad?

OK: it is obvious that Australia’s form in Test Cricket coming into this series is not great. A 4-0 loss to India in India does not make for pretty reading. However is England’s form any more compelling? Yes they defeated New Zealand at home 2-0 but before that they did not manage a win in a three test tour against New Zealand away. All due respect to the New Zealand team that is hardly a sparkling form line itself. Before that both teams lost a series the South Africans. Of course England did perform brilliantly in India it must be conceded.

Swann v Lyon

I have written in detail about the strengths of Nathan Lyon and the fact that he is a key component in this Australian team. On the other side of the fence is Graeme Swann. Let me be clear at the outset here: I think Swann is world class. That said, his record against Australia is less than impressive. In the two series between the teams he has participated in he has taken 29 wickets at an average of 40. Last time Australia was in England he returned a less than impressive 14 wickets at 40.50 with an economy rate of 3.32 per over which is 1.22 per over higher than his economy rate for his career. Australia needs to attack Swann: England have been at their best in recent times when they have him holding up one end and drying up runs while their fast bowlers rotate up the other end. Despite Australia’s poor form against spin in India, if they attack Swann and hit him off his game that will go a long way to a win. We have to get out of the mindest that he is anything like the Indian spinners: he is not and these are not Indian wickets!

The era of Boof:

Darren Lehmann’s installation as coach of the Australian cricket can only be a positive. Simply put, Lehmann is a coach who lifted the Queensland Bulls Sheffield Shield team to two finals in two years with a player list that Cricket Australia does not deign to believe contains a test match player. Lehmann knows what it takes to win and has a history of building harmonious high performing units which it was clear the old regime was not. He is also a coach that presents as getting the best out of Shane Watson who will have a large part to play in Australia’s possible success.

Psychological warfare:

Jimmy Anderson has come out during the week and suggested that he has added sledging to his armoury. Australia has seemed to try to bring such warfare to recent performances in a somewhat hamfisted and unsuccessful way. The “Davey Warner” method of sledging and physical confrontation MUST stop! Australia needs to take a leaf out of the book of the 1989 and 1993 teams: when (if) they get on top in any of these tests and in the series they need to put the metaphorical foot on the throat of England and press down hard. I always remember the story of Allan Border in the 1993 series batting into a 3rd day to push Australia’s score over 650 just to “add to their mental disintegration”. If Australia win the mental battle they will win the series.

There is only one sleep to go before the Ashes start: it is time for Australian fans to mobilise behind our team. The fact is we can win and I think we will.

I have my supplies for the series at the ready (coffee, protein shakes and red bull), the batteries are about to be taken out of the remote control and I have banked up a heap of extra sleep to get me through. It is go time people! Let’s get our urn back!

Wallabies Squad for the First Test: the Deans XV

Robbie Deans has this morning confirmed that the team for the first test against the British and Irish Lions will be:

Starting XV: Barnes, Folau, Ashley-Cooper, Leali'ifano, Ioane, O'Connor, Genia, Palu, Hooper, Mowen, Horwill, Douglas, Alexander, Moore, Robinson Reserves: Fainga'a, Slipper, Kepu, Simmons, Gill, Phipps, McCabe, Beale

First some credit where it is due: Christian Leali'ifano and Ben Mowen have been the form players in their positions all season and wholeheartedly deserve their selections to debut in Brisbane.

That is where my credit to the coach ends I am afraid. I am on the record elsewhere in this blog about the selection of Folau. Nothing has changed there: simply on form alone I do not believe he warrants selection. Add to the history of his joinder to rugby and the likelihood of him leaving rugby at the end of the year and my view is complete.

My other major objection to the selection of this team is its obvious lack of “battle” readiness. One would have expected that with the Super Rugby season nearly complete that the players selected for the Wallabies would be in such a state of readiness but it is clear from the amount of playing time they have had that they simply could not be. Take the following examples:

  • Berrick Barnes: 5 games for the Waratahs mainly off the bench. Has played in 152 minutes of top class rugby this season.
  • Kurtley Beale: 4 games for the Rebels but 3 of those were the first three games of the season and since then he has played 32 minutes of Super Rugby and two club games.
  • Wycliff Paul: 9 games for the Waratahs this season averaging 55 minutes per game.
  • Pat McCabe: 7 games for the Brumbies including 5 from the bench for an average of 30 minutes per game (that number is skewed by him having started in the Brumbies Round 17 clash against the Rebels when all of the other Wallabies players were excluded from playing).

More to the point, the Wallabies squad has not played a minute of rugby “in anger” since the end of May (Round 16 of Super Rugby). That means that by the time the team runs out on Saturday night it will be have been 21 days, at least, between competitive rugby games for the Wallabies players. In that time the British and Irish Lions squad has been tested with 5 games of rugby. Simply put: if readiness is what the Wallabies need they do not have it.

Finally, the slavish devotion that Robbie Deans has to not selecting Quade Cooper in this team obviously has lead to the decision to play Berrick Barnes at full back, a position that he has not started at for his franchise all season and has only played in 4 times in a Wallabies jumper. This team would have looked much better balanced with Cooper at fly half and O'Connor at the back for mine. Then again, to select the team that way, or even this way to be honest, is to ignore the standout claims of Jesse Mogg to the number 15 jumper. To select a player with limited playing time this year in a position he doesn't play instead of one of the rising stars of the game beggars belief.

Obviously, I want Australia to win. I want Australia to win every time an Australian team graces a court, pitch or ground. I have a real fear though that this Australian team has very little chance of doing so being as underdone as it is.

The Siddle Conundrum: what should the team for the 2nd test look like?

The second test match between India and Australia starts in Deccan on Saturday. Two things are abundantly clear in the aftermath of the Australia’s abysmal showing in the first test: first that the pitch for the second test will no doubt mirror the first and second that Australia must select two spin bowlers if it is to be competitive in this fixture.

These two factors raise two selection conundrums that are polar opposites: the need to lengthen the batting order against the need for more bowling. There will be immediate calls from some factions of Australian supporters to immediately call into the team one of Glenn Maxwell or Steve Smith who, as all rounders, will have the effect of killing two birds with one stone however the answer to Australia’s bowling ills will not be solved by taking that step in my view. The answer to that question actually rests in the position of Peter Siddle in the team.

Before we get to Siddle it is important examine the “candidates” for the role as second spinner in the Australian team for the second test:

1. Xavier Doherty: An excellent one day bowler, Doherty has been brought on tour as an alternate or second spinning option to Nathan Lyon. Off the bat (pardon the pun) it needs to be acknowledged that his test career to date has been less than stellar as a bowling average after two tests of 102.00 at an economy rate of 4.00 attests. Still he is the second spinner on tour and thus the search for reasons why this selection decision came to pass must also be examined. It can not be based on his first class record: a bowling average of 44.56 does not make for pleasant reading even taking into account the seaming home track he plays on. In the interests of fairness it is also necessary to look at his ODI and List A records and whilst the bowling average there is better an economy rate of around 4.50 is still a worry. A blocker at best with the bat he will do little to strengthen the batting lineup.

2. Glenn Maxwell: Seemingly the anointed next big thing in Australian cricket is a batting all rounder who bowls off spin much in the same style as Nathan Lyon. The interests of variety alone mean the selection chances of Maxwell must, on their face, be slim at best. Selecting another off spinner after your main spinner who is also an offspinner has gone for 200 runs in less than 50 overs is not palatable at best and suicidal at worst in my opinion. Still, in the interest of fairness, an examination of Maxwell’s first class record needs also to be considered in this context. 27 wickets in 24 innings at an average of 34 is not the worst record that one has ever seen before a selection for a test. The problem as I see it is that in those 24 innings, Maxwell has only bowled 1808 balls, or roughly 300 overs. To ask a bowler who averages less than 14 overs an innings at first class level to face the best players of spin in world cricket in a test match could only be detrimental to his development and simply should not happen.

3. Steve Smith:Once the golden boy of Australian cricket, Smith has returned to favour in recent times of the back of some solid performances with the willow. The problem with selecting Smith as a second spinner, and to state the bleeding obvious, is that he barely bowls for his state in first class cricket at, of all places, the best wicket for spin bowling in the country. He bowls for his state even less than Glenn Maxwell and a first class bowling average of over 50 again does not make for confidence inspiring reading. I can not see how Smith could be selected as the second spinner for the next test match or in the future.

The foregoing brief consideration of the possible inclusions into the team as second spinner reveals the yawning chasm in Australia’s spin bowling stocks. Nonetheless given the squad that is in India it is fairly clear that Xavier Doherty needs to be selected as the second spinner in the next test match.

That then leads to the conundrum as to who should be left out of the team. Henriques has done the job he was asked to do in this test match and was impressive batting with captain with the pressure was on. In order to avoid lengthening the tail of Australia’s batting order even further Henriques must remain in the team in my view. Which fast bowler needs then to be dropped (or rotated out) for the second test? The choice is down to two players (assuming Pattinson is fit for the second test) between Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle. Both failed to take a wicket in the only innings of note (the first) of India in the first test and both performances were concerning.

It is unfortunate but the only conclusion I can reach is that Peter Siddle is the player who must miss out. Coming only 3 matches after he took 9 wickets against Sri Lanka (albeit on a seaming wicket) and given his full hearted performances over recent years this feels like a very hard call however Siddle’s propensity to look innocuous against quality batting on wickets not offering any assistance counts against him here. Mitchell Starc offers greater variety than that offered by Siddle particularly bowling left arm and will have learned some tough lessons after his performance in the first test match.

Despite Australia’s crushing loss in the first test I am only suggesting one change to the team: Siddle out and Doherty in. Whilst the batting order did not perform all that well (the captain aside), with P Hughes looking particularly out of depth against the spin bowling of India, making changes to that lineup would be a reactionary move at this stage.

India have to be short priced favourites for the second test but it was not that long ago that England found themselves in the same situation and they came back to win the series. Here is hoping that X Doherty can do the same for the Australian team as M Panesar did for England in that series. If he can not one fears that this is going to be a very very long and difficult series for the Australian team.

The third coming of Mitchell Johnson: a new beginning or a false dawn?

I have been one of the many critics of the selection of Mitchell Johnson in the Australian cricket team this summer. The “Toughsticker Turncoat” I have called him on twitter and it would be fair to say I have not had a positive word to say about him.

Johnson’s selection to bat at number 7 in the coming test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground has given me a moment of pause and caused me to reflect on whether the return of Johnson to test match cricket and his installation as a bowling all rounder into the Australian team is really the new beginning for him (and Australian cricket) it seems to be.

Let’s start with the statistics: 49 test matches, nearly 1500 runs at an average of 22.77 and 202 wickets at an average of 30.63 does not make for bad reading although any cricket fan will tell you that the great all rounders have batting averages higher than their bowling averages.

In the two tests he has played this summer he has taken 12 wickets at an average of around 20 and has scored 102 runs at an average of 51 (92 not out at the MCG in the last test obviously assists that average).

Those statistics considered: why do we (or I) malign him so? Are we (or I) punishing him unduly for the very obvious poor performances in his career to date where he has shouldered the burden of leading the Australian attack and failed? I think the the answer to this last question is that fans do remember those poor performances and, for some, they are performances that will never leave the memory because they were so disappointing.

Is it more than that though? Tracing Johnson’s career through statistics and match reports is just not enough to get a whole picture of the player that he is. I watch a lot of live cricket and have watched a lot of Johnson playing the game. Part of what has bothered me since the disaster of the 2009 Ashes and the performances from Johnson that have followed are two things. Firstly, the body language of Johnson when things go bad on the field is often suggests a mix of indifference and of not having any answers. Secondly, one of the few things about the performances of Johnson has been the consistency in his inconsistency. All too often a grand performance (Perth 2010 comes to mind) is followed by a series of mediocre performances.

Now the Australian cricket team faces a year of 10 test matches against a presently cockahoop English team as well as a tough tour of India. Once again off the back of one excellent performance Johnson seems to be in the frame to tour with the Australian team to England and elsewhere and is touted as the cure to the team’s all rounder ills. I, for one, am worried about when the bubble of Johnson’s performances will burst and whether Australian fans will again be subjected to performances like the Ashes in 2009 and the first Ashes test at the Gabba in 2010.

The other concern I have about the selection of Johnson in the long term is the road block it creates not only for Mitchell Starc, the excellent young left arm swing bowler from New South Wales, but also the other bowling all rounders who might be knocking on the door. Ben Cutting, James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile all are performing in red ball cricket in Australia this summer and all could be seen to comfortably fit into a role batting at number 7 or 8 for Australia whilst bowling 20 overs of pace an innings.

When all is said and done I remain firmly in the camp that questions Johnson’s ongoing selection for the Australian team albeit I am able to concede that on the numbers alone his spot in the team probably makes sense. My feet sit in the “non-selection” camp now more because of the possible impact his selection may have on the next bowling all rounder to come through the ranks or, for that matter, Mitchell Starc coupled with my fear that the bursting of his performance bubble, based on the recent past, is closer than many may expect.

For Australian cricket’s sake I hope one of two things happens: either this genuinely is a second coming for Mitchell Johnson and he serves me up a big piece of humble pie with excellent and sustained performances or Johnson is jettisoned and one of the young future stars I mention above is given a shot to make the position of bowling all rounder there own.

I, like all Australian fans, want the best Australian cricket team to take the field every time it plays and, probably more importantly, to win back the Ashes this year. I am unsure whether the benefits that Johnson brings to the team are outweighed by the prospect that a couple of bad performance by him could be a deciding factor in the urn staying at Lords. I will be watching with interest as events unfold at the Sydney Cricket Ground tomorrow.