Cricket: Australian Squads for Winter Tours (including the Ashes) named

Just two days after Australia won the 2015 World Cup, thw National Selection Panel has named a number of squads for the winter tours. 

The squads are:

Test squad Michael Clarke (capt), Steven Smith (vice-capt), Fawad Ahmed, Brad Haddin, Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris (Ashes only), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner, Shane Watson.

Australia A four-day squad Usman Khawaja (capt), Matthew Wade (vice-capt), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Andrew Fekete, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Nic Maddinson, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O’Keefe, Gurinder Sandhu, Marcus Stoinis.

Australia A one-day squad Usman Khawaja (capt), Matthew Wade (vice-capt), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Cameron Boyce, Joe Burns, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Callum Ferguson, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Gurinder Sandhu, Adam Zampa.

Cricket Australia has also named its list contracted players for the 2015/16 season as follows:

George Bailey, Michael Clarke, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.

Regular readers of this blog will have oft read me “go off” about the selection decisions made by the NSP but after the season that was in 2014/15 it is pretty hard to be anything other than complimentary of their work.

The only question mark I will again raise is the fact that the name Chris Hartley is missing from the squad lists.  I can not believe that he is considered to be the 5th best wicketkeeper in the country.  

The Sheffield Shield Final: Cricket Australia has gotten this spectatularly wrong!

In case you have missed it, the Sheffield Shield season is drawing to a close with Victoria winning the right to host Western Australia in the final.

Unfortunately for the Victorians, the MCG is not available due to World Cup duties and their attempts to hold the final at an alternate venue has fallen to the requirement that the game be held at a venue suitable for a first class fixture.  

In this context one turns to the the Sheffield Shield’s 2014/15 Conditions of Play which state: 

The team that finished first on the points table at the conclusion of the preliminary matches shall earn the right to host the final at a suitable first class venue within its state, provided that this venue is acceptable to Cricket Australia.  Should the team waive this right, the choice shall be offered to the team that finished second.  Otherwise the decision shall be made by Cricket Australia.

That should mean that the Victorians, having not been able to source a qualifying ground within its state (my emphasis added), have waived their rights to host the final and the Western Australian ought to have the right to host the final offered to them. 

Instead, Cricket Australia has decided, unilaterally it would seem, to host the final at the Bellerive Oval in Tasmania without first offering the final to the West Australian cricket team to host. 

This is an absolute travesty on two counts: 

  1. The playing conditions clearly state that the game should have been offered to West Australia to host; and 
  2. Cricket Australia knew at the start of the summer that there was a three in six chance of this problem, potentially arising, given that Adelaide and Sydney are also hosting World Cup games over the next two weeks, and still they included the playing condition they have now ignored. 

The failure to comply with the playing conditions is astonishing.  If the Victoria Cricket Association can not host the final, or did not plan to host the final and thus did not prepare a second ground, they have no one to blame but themselves and they should not benefit from Cricket Australia now trying to, seemingly, right this perceived wrong.

This game should be being played in Perth as the playing conditions allows: simple.  To play it elsewhere is just another indication of how little importance Cricket Australia places on the traditions of the first  class game in this country and the rules it itself has set.  

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.

Steve Smith v George Bailey: who should deputise for Clarke in WC2015?

Let’s face reality: as confident as Michael Clarke is that he will be fit for the World Cup in March 2015 there is a more than even money chance it would seem that he will not be available for selection in all fixtures (if any). This, of course, raises the question of who ought deputise for him. The incumbent in this role is George Bailey however the sharp rise of Steve Smith to the captainancy in test match cricket means there is a conversation to be had about who should take the roll in 3 months time.

Bailey has done little wrong in the role of captain. Unfortunately his batting in 2014 in one day fixtures has not been up to standard; viz, in 17 matches played he has averaged 25 whilst scoring 405 runs with 3 fifties and no hundreds.

I am a firm believer in picking the best eleven players available for selection in the team and then selecting the captain. Steve Smith is firmly entrenched in the best eleven cricketers available for selection but I am not sure that George Bailey is similarly entrenched given his form and:

  • Warner, Finch, Clarke (if fit), Smith, Maxwell and Watson (if bowling) pick themselves and are in the best available eleven in this form of the game.
  • White, Ferguson, Burns and Dunk, to name just 4 batters, all performed very well in Matador BBQs Cup which should be a form of selection trial for the World Cup.

Had Steve Smith not performed so well as captain in the test matches (I know it is a small sample but early signs are good) I have no doubt that there would be less of a question about Bailey’s captaincy: he would have been carried despite his bad form. This approach would have been detrimental to Australia’s chances of winning in my view. Smith’s elevation to test captaincy makes this issue significantly easier to deal with and now the NSP can select the best eleven players available without worrying about the captaincy.

Interestingly, I know wonder if Steve Smith will unite the captaincies of Australian cricket teams across all three forms of the game? He is a solid T20 player who has not had much of a run in the side of late. Maybe Aaron Finch’s time as captain in that form of the game is also in danger of running out given the rise of Steve Smith. Only time will tell.

Replacing Michael Clarke: the case for an unusual suspect

Depending on which news service you read MIchael Clarke has been ruled out of the first test to face India at the Gabba next week.  This news will, as always, lead to much hand wringing as to who ought replace him.  We all know that Cricket Australia will do what they usually do and pick a replacement from one of Phil Hughes, George Bailey or Glenn “Goat Photos” Maxwell.  That being said, I have had a look at the formlines of players playing in Australia at the moment and have come up with an unusual suspect to replace the captain in the first test: Tom Cooper.

Now before you stop reading here is my method behind this selection.  My replacement for the captain must:

  • Be a specialist batsman
  • Averaging over 40 in first class cricket over a career: the notion that a batter averaging under 40 against 2nd tier bowling is ready for test match cricket is one that it ridiculous to me.  We have to stop picking under performing batters.  This counts out George Bailey, Peter Forrest, Shaun Marsh, Aaron Finch and Nick Maddinson.
  • Aged under 30: it is time to start selecting from the youth playing the game and think about the future.  This counts out Adam Voges and Cameron White.
  • Bat at number 4 or 5 for his state team: much like batting in the top order batting at number 4 or 5 is a specialist position.  We have seen this experiment fail with attempt to turn Phil Hughes and Shane Watson into middle order players.  This counts Phil Hughes out.  It also counts out Callum Ferguson who has transitioned to number 3 this year.
  • Must have scored a first class hundred this season.  This counts out Peter Neville.

If you work through all of the players playing in Australia at the moment only one man fits this criteria: Tom Cooper.  Add to the fact that he has significant international experience, albeit with the Netherlands, and, to me, he is the best replacement available to Cricket Australia for the 1st test and should be in the baggy green.  I would bat him at 5 and move the in form Steve Smith up to number 4.

Of course, as I said in the preamble, Cricket Australia will, I expect, hold true to form and select from their tightly held circle of usual suspects.  Personally I expect the selection of Phil Hughes to made with Shane Watson to drop down to number 4.  That is the predictable way to go without no thought to the future which is the ball park Cricket Australia constantly plays in.


An Open Letter to Cricket Australia

Dear Cricket Australia,

I am a long time fan of the game, some 30 years have passed since I first strapped on a pad, but a first time correspondent.  I write to implore you to bring an end to the charade that is domestic cricket in this country.

Until recent times, the domestic competitions in Australia, consisting of the Sheffield Shield and 50 over competition, were the benchmark world wide whilst also providing the benchmark for selection in the Australian team.  Simply, albeit with some exceptions obvious to those sitting in Queensland, if you performed in the domestic competitions you had a chance to be selected.  Of late, as confirmed by the events of today, it has become clear that the status of the domestic competitions as the last bastion before selection to the Australian team is no longer.

It has never been more clear that this is the case after the selection of the Australia One Day International team to face South Africa announced today.  The squad announced is:

Michael Clarke (capt.), George Bailey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Aaron Finch Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner, Shane Watson

The selection of Matthew Wade is, without question, a travesty and completely out of touch with the form shown by wicketkeepers in the just completed Matador BBQs Cup.  Consider these numbers arising from this just completed competition:

Player Games Innings Runs Average S/R
Matthew Wade 6 6 101 16.83 63.52
Chris Hartley 8 8 403 57.57 83.09
Peter Neville 8 8 267 33.37 69.89
Tim Paine 6 6 249 49.8 91.88

I am an unashamed Queensland fan and thus will not always advocate for the selection of Chris Hartley.  This time his form in the domestic competition not just warrants  it, it demands it.  However, even forgetting the form of Hartley the selection of Wade ahead of Neville or Paine is equally as unexplainable on form.

If players can not get selected in the Australian team even when they are in exemplary form or, as a minimum, better form than the person selected then it stands to reason that form in the domestic competitions counts for nothing.

That being the case I ask that you put these domestic competitions out of their metaphorical misery, save some money and end them.  They serve no practical purpose anymore and that would open up the schedule to allow you to put more T20 domestic games on which you so sorely and clearly crave.

Best Regards,

A long-suffering fan