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.  

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.

Australia names it squad for South Africa and Sheffield Shield form counted for nothing!

I wrote this morning about the selection of the Australian Squad to travel to South Africa for the test series commencing on 12 February 2014.

George Bailey has been dropped from the squad.  The new batsmen selected are Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan.  The reserve bowlers selected are James Pattinson and Jackson Bird.

As I noted in the post this morning and reaffirm in the title to this post: form in Australia’s first class competition, the Sheffield Shield, has counted for nothing at the selection table. The top run getters in the domestic game in this country have not been selected. Rather, this series of scores has seen Shaun Marsh return to the test squad:

  • 6 and 47
  • 4 and 13
  • 127 not out
  • 42 and 4
  • 1 and 4

How does one regain a place in the national team when scoring only 248 runs in 5 matches at an average of 31.00? Is scoring two half centuries against a mediocre English bowling attack at the end of a shattering season really enough? That is all that Shaun Marsh has done this season.

On the side of the bowlers: am I alone in being completely lost by the strategy of the NSP here? Jackson Bird has not played in a first class game, test matches included, since he played for Australia in August at Chester-le-Street.  His season thus far has consisted of T20 games and one List A fixture for Australia A.  James Pattinson has not played the longest form of the game since he was injured at Lords in July.  He too has played some T20 games and has now appeared for Australia in an ODI.  How can either player be match fit and, more importantly, match hardened if they are called on in South Africa?  With Ryan Harris’ knee a match by match proposition, isn’t it too much to expect the replacement fast bowlers to step in and bowl, potentially 25 overs a day, with only very limited limited overs cricket under their belts?  I just don’t get the thinking!

Cricket Australia needs to have a significant look at the Sheffield Shield competition in this country if the best that is coming from it is a player who averages 31.00 and no one with the ball.  That is really what the NSP is saying with this team isn’t it: no bowler in first class cricket is good enough to be in the squad so we will select two players who have not played in the long form for over six months instead.  Or am I missing something?

NSP to name touring party to South Africa: will first class form count for anything?

Cricket Australia’s National Selection Panel will name its touring squad to South Africa.  A squad of fifteen is expected to be named by John Inverarity and, largely, the squad selects itself.  These names will be read out today without fail: Clarke (c), Haddin (vc), Rogers, Warner, Watson, Smith, Bailey, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Faulkner.  There has been much talk about George Bailey’s place in the Australian test team but, as any follower of the test team will attest, historically Cricket Australia like to keep winning teams together regardless of poor form so Bailey will tour.

That leaves three spots open for selection.  I have regularly written here about the need for selections to be based on first class (Sheffield Shield) rm and if that was the case those three spots (assuming that one batsman and two bowlers go as cover) should be filled by some of the following players:

  • Batsmen: Marcus North (593 runs, 98.33 average, 3 hundreds), Phil Hughes (549 runs, 61.00 average, 3 hundreds), Callum Ferguson (3 games, 289 runs, 72..25 average, 1 hundred).
  • Bowlers: Chadd Sayers (22 wickets, 28.04 average,), Luke Feldman (17 wickets, 24.58 average), Steve O’Keefe (24 wickets, 22.25 average), Michael Hogan (21 wickets, 23.66 average).

I am prepared to guarantee though that none of these names will appear in the squad of fifteen named today.  Alex Doolan will be the reserve batsman and the reserve bowlers will be Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson. I have written before on this blog about the need for players who are injured to be eased back into the game via first class cricket.  The NSP does not appear to agree with that approach given the manner in which they have managed the injuries of other first bowlers returning.  So that means that Pattinson, an excellent bowler I concede, will go on tour with out T20 and ODI cricket as preparation.  Alex Doolan appears to be the flavour of the month with the willow despite averaging 39.10 in first class cricket this summer and an overall average of 37.52.  I have no major cavil with Coulter-Nile’s selection.

Ordinarly I would be waiting with bated breath for the announcement of a squad for such an important tour.  Bizarrely, I am ambivalent this time around because of that feeling that we all know who the NSP will be selecting.  I hope I am wrong but know I am right.

Cricket: Prime Minister’s XI named … why are we rewarding T20 mercenaries?!

The National Selection Panel and the Prime Minister have named the Prime Minister’s XI to play England at Manuka Oval on January 14.

The full team is:

  • Brett Lee (Captain) NSW
  • Jackson Bird TAS
  • Ben Cutting QLD
  • Peter Handscomb (wk) VIC
  • Brad Hodge VIC
  • Chris Lynn QLD
  • Alister McDermott QLD
  • James Muirhead VIC
  • Luke Pomersbach QLD
  • Clive Rose TAS
  • Michael Spaseski ACT
  • Shane Devoy (12th man) ACT

The selections of Chris Lynn and Alister McDermott is particularly pleasing as they have been in excellent form across all forms of the game for the Queensland Bulls and Brisbane Heat.

The only question mark that I have is the inclusion of Brett Lee and Brad Hodge in this line up.  Surely there are two experienced players in the domestic set up who actually are more than T20 mercenaries who could have been selected.  The experienced Bollinger and Copeland have been in great form and could have been the additional bowler.  Marcus North is the form batsman of the Sheffield Shield and has was also in good form in the Ryobi Cup and could have been captain.

Australian ODI squad named: the usual suspects returned by the NSP whilst Queensland snubbed!

The National Selection Panel has named the following squad for the upcoming one day international series against England:

David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey (vice-capt), Brad Haddin (wk), Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Pattinson, Clint McKay, Xavier Doherty

David Warner and Shaun Marsh return to the team that went to India before the home Ashes series as to does captain Michael Clarke. James Pattinson has been included in his ongoing return from injury.

There are some desperately unlucky players who have missed out on this team from that Indian tour: none more so that Philip Hughes and Adam Voges.

Statistics do not lie and both men had excellent 2013s years in the ODI side. Voges was 5th on the run scoring list for Australia in 2013 with 478 runs at 47.80. The decision to axe Hughes is even more unwarranted, in my opinion, given that he dominated the last series of ODIs at home with two centuries in five games and was Australia’s 3rd highest scorer with 660 runs at 36.66.

It must also be said that Ryobi Cup competition has again been ignored by the selectors as a selection tool. Queensland, the winners of the tournament, have not one player in the Australia squad. That is despite fielding the second highest run scorer of the competition in Usman Khawaja and 3 of the top 10 wicket takers in same with Ben Cutting looking particularly harshly done by given his additional work with the willow.

It is difficult to concede but seems to be true that the NSP is sending a message with this selection to the likes of Hughes, Khawaja, Voges and Cutting that they are not in the frame for the 2015 World Cup which is only 14 months away. It also must be said that the second message the NSP is giving is that the Ryobi Cup does not matter (unless you are David Warner) at the selection table. If it was otherwise than a player like C McKay, who had a shocking tour of India with 4 wickets at an average of 76.33 and an economy rate of 7.15, would have been dropped and any one of the following players selected:

  • S Abbott (16 wickets at 20.93)
  • J Hazlewood (12 wickets at 30.83
  • G Sandhu (11 wickets at 27.81)

As the Chairman of Selectors points out, we are only 14 months away from the World Cup and this series presented an opportunity to test players who might figure in that tournament. By returning to the “old faithful” in the likes of Marsh and McKay the NSP has missed an opportunity to both select players in better form and players of the future.

Is anyone really surprised?