Bailey, Johnson and the Indian trial game fallacy

I wrote earlier in the week that Cricket Australia should just name the 1st test team now because, clearly, it has already been selected. Chairman Inverarity’s comments post that blog only confirmed that view. To recap: I posited that George Bailey and Mitchell Johnson will come into the team in place of Faulkner (team fit) and Starc (injured).

These inclusions, particularly that of Bailey, have their genesis in short form form. Let me be clear: George Bailey has put together as impressive back to back series in 50 over cricket as I can remember. I doff my metaphorical cap to him. However, I am massively worried about these selections in the absence of sustained first class form.

Forget for a moment that Bailey had his own year to forget in the Shield last season (was there any batsman other than Rogers who did not?) and consider this: is there any venue for the upcoming Ashes series likely to even be remotely like those on which Bailey and Johnson are playing at the moment?

Short boundaries, lightning fast outfields and wickets as true as a slab of concrete, not to diminish Bailey’s effort, have played their part in the way this series in India has played out: to the benefit of the batsmen in form and the detriment to the bowlers.

I maintain that Bailey needs to come back and play in Shield cricket but given the free pass he has received from the Chairman his run in to the 1st test at Gabba could be limited to playing in entirely foreign (no pun intended) conditions. Am I the only one worried about that?

The selection of Johnson is possibly more born of Chairman Inverarity’s slavish need to select a left arm fast bowler in all conditions (sidebar: when was the last time England relied on a left arm seamer for variation?). The conditions the Indian trials (as I see them) are being played under must be taking a toll on Johnson, and all the bowlers for that matter. And you can’t tell me that having scores of 350 plus chased down doesn’t have a deleterious effect on the psyche of a bowling attack.

With Johnson I worry that England have already broken him mentally twice: now he comes into an Ashes series (I maintain he is already in the team) in circumstances where his confidence must be shaken. That, of itself, can not be good!

I know the need for first class form prior to test selection has been a hobby horse of mine since the genesis of this blog. However, premised on the make up of the team I believe to already be locked down, I continue to be worried that the performance of those benefiting from short form form counting as much if not more than first class form does a disservice to those players who are likely to be left underdone or mentally scarred because of the conditions they are playing in.

Have said this before and will say it again: I hope I am wrong but reckon I am still a short price favourite to be right!

Peter Siddle: massive heart but is heart enough?

I have been critical on this blog about the continued selection of Peter Siddle in the Australian cricket team. The end to Siddle’s Ashes series has done nothing move me away from that view.

There can be no doubt of two things when it comes to Peter Siddle:

1. He has been a valiant servant of the game in Australia during a period of down performance by the team; and

2. If some of Australia’s younger players showed as much heart as he does every time he steps on the field in a baggy green cap, then Australian cricket would be a much better place.

Despite those factors, it strikes me in the aftermath of a 3-0 flogging by England now is the time to consider whether Siddle continues to lead the Australian bowling attack into the next series which is only 86 days away.

For that purpose I have examined the last 10 test matches Siddle has played in and come to the unmistakeable conclusion that on form there must be a massive question mark over his selection. Consider these numbers for Siddle and Australia this year (given that all of the test matches have been played in 2013):

· Australia has won 1 test match, lost 7 and drawn 2. Australia has not won any of its last 9 test matches.

· Siddle is Australia’s highest wicket taker during that span with 29 wickets at an average of 32.06. This is entirely understandable though flattering statistic given that Siddle is the only bowler from Australia who has played all 10 test matches in 2013.

· The more compelling statistic is that Siddle has only averaged 1.6 wickets per innings during that 10 match span (there having been 18 innings for the bowlers in that period).

· In the last 3 test match innings bowled by Siddle he failed to take a wicket and his captain only bowled him 3 overs of the 40 bowled by Australia as it strived for victory in the final test match of the series.

· During this same period, Siddle is striking every 11 and a half overs.

Are these the numbers of the leader of a bowling attack? Many will consider that I am judging Peter Siddle harshly here given that Australia has hardly been in the best form but it begs the question as to what the other “leaders” of bowling attacks in other test teams have done during the same span. Here are some numbers for the bowlers that I consider to be the leaders of their respective bowling attacks:

· James Anderson (England): 10 test matches, 41 wickets, average 28.12.

· Dale Steyn (South Africa): 5 test matches, 33 wickets, average 12.36.

· Ravichandran Ashwin (India): 4 test matches, 29 wickets, average 20.10.

· Trent Boult (New Zealand): 7 test matches, 23 wickets, average 29.13.

The top three bowlers from list play for teams that have been undefeated in 2013. Trent Boult plays for New Zealand which has put up a record of 7:0:4:3 during the same period. He averages though 2.1 wickets per innings.

Looking at those numbers: is Peter Siddle really the leader of the bowling attack that Australia needs lift it out of the current doldrums that Australian cricket is in? This is particularly so with the re-emergence from injury of Ryan Harris. For the record his numbers in England were: 4 test matches, 24 wickets at an average of 19.58. Those are numbers that put him in the Anderson, Steyn and Ashwin category.

There can be no denying Siddle’s heart and there can be no denying that he is a fantastic team man. I have commented in the past that on unhelpful wickets Siddle is a little predicable and lacking penetration. Australia needs now to look to the future and build a bowling attack around Ryan Harris rather than Siddle which will lead to the question of whether Siddle’s heart is enough to keep him in the running for a bowling attack he is not leading given that lack of penetration.

The first test at the Gabba is 86 days away. It could also be said that the start of Australia’s rebuilding of its test team, its ranking (which has now slipped to 5th in the world) and its reputation also begins in 86 days and that rebuilding phase cannot occur in my view whilst Australia includes Siddle in the line-up. Now is time for a change because relying on heart is patently not enough.

The Ashes: So you want Watson dropped? Are you drunk?

The 5th and final test of the Ashes Series is imminent and thus selection speculation for the Australia team is rife. The usual phalanx of former players and commentators (including those of the armchair variety) have come out of the woodwork to demand the dropping of Shane Watson. In reply I ask: are you drunk?

I know that question is inflammatory and condescending, and on that basis I withdraw it in order to pose it in a different way: on form, in comparison to the other batters in the team, explain to me why Watson ought to be dropped?

Here is the exercise I would like all those calling for such a change to the Australia team to undertake: set aside your irritation at his use of the DRS as well as your irrational hatred of his, alleged, personality traits (and look at his actual form.

Some number to assist with that exercise are as follows:

· Watson is Australia’s 3rd highest run scorer in the series after Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers.

· Watson has a better batting average in this series than Messrs Khawaja, Cowan, Smith, Haddin and Hughes.

· If one broadens the scope and includes England batters in the equation then the following batters have also scored less runs than Watson despite having played the same number of tests: Bairstow, Trott and Prior. It is also worth noting that his 180 runs aside at Lords, Joe Root has only scored 80 runs in 7 innings at an average of just over 10.

Forget the Australian batters for a moment, are the people suggesting Watson be dropped also lining up to suggest that Jonathan Trott be sacked? Are they also suggesting that Joe Root be dropped? I think not.

Steve Smith and Uzman Khawaja are obviously in worse form than Watson and whilst Khawaja’s name has been mentioned in dispatches as being a prime target to have been dropped, Steve Smith’s name has not been mentioned. Shouldn’t he, Smith, be ahead of Watson in the dropping stakes?

I am all for debate: debate is the cornerstone of intelligent discussion. That said, I would really like it if the debate was based on the actual numbers and actual form of the players rather than issues, imagined or otherwise, one has with the person.

If Watson is to miss the 5th test at the Oval, as sad as it is to say, I hope it is due to injury because if he is dropped on form it makes a mockery of the selection process given the form of other players with lesser claims to being in the team.

Cricket: Pat Cummins out for the season … Again

News from Cricket Australia Towers regarding Pat Cummins is both saddening and unsurprising: he is out for the whole of the 2013/14 domestic season with a recurrence of a lower back stress fracture.

Many people are scratching their heads about how to deal with Cummins and are confused about whether he should be bowling more or less. It is pretty obvious that his problems started after (or indeed whilst) bowling 65 overs in the Shield final in March 2011. It is also pretty obvious that that was a woeful example of over bowling of a young and immature cricketer.

That does not mean he does not need more bowling however. That means before he was asked to bowl such a long series of spells he did not have enough bowling. I maintain that Cummins needs to have a season or two away from the international scene in domestic cricket to bowl more and to get his body ready for the rigours of international cricket. He is still young and still developing and yet every time he gets fit he is thrust straight back into the lions den. It is time for Cricket Australia to admit that his fast tracking is not working and it is time for a different approach to be taken.

One can only hope Cricket Australia is alive to this and implements a different approach. If they don’t then the name Pat Cummins could be consigned to the ranks of “might have been but for injury” all too soon.

The Ashes: More changes afoot for Australia in the 5th test … why? And who?

It has been reported in the News Limited press, who have been uncannily correct in their prediction of changes to the Australian team this tour (is Malcolm Conn actually a selector?), that there will be at least two changes to the Australian team for the 5th test at the Oval with Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird to be left out.

I have been overt previously in other posts on this blog and will say it again: I firmly believe that Australia should make as limited as possible changes to the team for this test match and, in particular, should not be tinkering further with the batting line-up. That said, given Malcolm Conn’s uncanny knack for getting this stuff right, it looks certain that wishes of fans like me will be left unsated and thus it is important to look at who might be wearing the baggy green come the toss of coin at the Oval.

Thus, of the players in the squad at the moment who ought be the replacements for Khawaja and Bird?

The batters who can come are: Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and Matthew Wade. The favourite, he is the darling of the News Limited press after all, is Phil Hughes. To be honest though, despite that sarcastic assessment, Hughes has been the form batter for Australia in first class matches played on tour with 436 runs at an average of 62 with 5 fifties. If a change is to be made, on form, Hughes must be the man to come in. Of the other contenders: Wade has played only 1 first class game on tour and that, of itself, must count him out of the selection frame whilst Cowan would appear to be on the outer with the NSP never to return despite a solid performance in the first class games on tour.

The bowling stakes come down to a race in two between James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc. I have already written at length about why James Faulkner ought be selected. I concede that this would be a selection based on potential rather than form given that in the 3 first class games he has played on tour he has taken only 7 wickets at an average of 32. Starc, form wise, is the clear selection option given that in his 4 first class games on tour he has taken 16 wickets at an average of a shade under 21. In test matches he has played on tour he performed admirably despite being dropped twice with 8 wickets at an average of 27. He has been punished it would seem for being erratic at times and not being able to create pressure on the English batters.

On the basis of the foregoing:

1. If Khawaja is to be dropped then I think it is clear that Phil Hughes will return. I disagree with that move but if it is happening then one must accept same and move on.
2. On the bowling front, form suggests Starc will be selected however I think that would be a narrow minded mistake given the opportunity to give Faulkner a game ought, frankly, be irresistible.

If changes are going to be made, which I am against, then is dropping Khawaja and Bird the only changes that should be made? I think that there are some other changes, given that change seems to be happening, that could also be made. For example, on form can anyone convince me that Steve Smith is in any better form with the willow than Khawaja? Aside from an early half century in the first test and 89 in partnership with the captain in the 3rd test he has not passed 20 in six other innings. If there was another batsman in the squad, given Cowan is on the outer and Wade’s lack of cricket, would he survive the rearrangement of deck chairs seemingly being undertaken by the NSP? I, frankly, doubt it.

Given Brad Haddin’s poor form with the willow (170 runs at 25 in the test matches) it is surprising that there is not more pressure on his position in the team (given Australia’s fascination with batting wicket keepers) but, again, that may have more to do with Matthew Wade’s lack of first class cricket on tour than anything else. It must be said though that aside from a couple of mishaps at Lords Haddin has been in fine form with the gloves and thus making a change would solely be for batting reasons and they are, in my view, the wrong reasons to be changing a wicketkeeper.

On the bowling side, and I know I am beating a dead horse here, is it time for Peter Siddle to have a rest? Since his 5/50 in the first innings of the first test at Trent Bridge, which most unbiased fans would say was more luck than good bowling, Siddle has taken 12 wickets in 7 innings at an average of 33. At Chester-le-Street he struggled and looked like he was spent as early as the English first innings. If changes are being made then I would suggest that Siddle be rested and Faulkner be selected in his place (if Starc is coming in for Bird).

England lead the series 3-0 and will be desperate to complete 4-0 victory at the Oval. Australia will be desperate to finish the series with a win and with that in mind I advocate as few changes as possible. If I got my way, the team for the final test would be:

Rogers, Warner, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Faulkner, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

If more changes are to made, as suggested by Malcolm Conn, then I would go further than just dropping Khawaja and Bird. Steve Smith can count himself lucky there is not another batsman on tour and I would rest Siddle. My preferred team in that context would be:

Rogers, Warner, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Faulkner, Starc, Harris, Lyon

It will be very interesting to see what the Australian selectors will do. Obviously the avoidance of more knee jerk reactions to Australia’s current form would be preferred but that does not seem to be an option the NSP is alive to.

Only 2 days till the final test of this, frankly, terrible tour for Australia begins. The final day of the test, whichever one it is, can not come soon enough for Australian fans.

Postscript: Before those who have questioned my keenness to see David Warner not in the team, I am alive to the contradiction the foregoing presents. I remain firmly of the view that he, and Australian cricket, would be better served by him spending a full season in the Sheffield Shield. I do not believe he should be in the test team but it is obvious that he is in there to stay at the moment so for present purposes I am not going to seek to push my view any further.

Cricket: Sam Robson and the baggy green? Red Herring or indicative of a bigger issue?

So here is the latest from Cricket Australia Towers: they are going to change the rules of eligibility of players able to play in domestic competitions by making it easier for dual passport holding players to play. Why are they doing this and why are they doing this now? I have one name for you: Sam Robson. The “now” part is simple too: two weeks ago he qualified to play for England despite being Sydney born.

Only the closest of cricket watchers will know who Sam Robson is, or at least they would have until this season when he has exploded into a rich vein of form for his county side Middlesex for whom he has scored 3 hundreds at the top of the order and averaged 62.06. Six years ago, as an 18 year old, and behind the likes of Hughes, Katich et al in New South Wales he moved to England to play first class cricket. In fact, he is enamoured with the county game given that he is quoted as believing that the 16 four-day matches in that competition is better for his development than the Sheffield Shield competition. He returns to Australia in our summer to play club cricket for Easts in Sydney but under current rules cannot play in the Sheffield Shield competition.

So why then is Cricket Australia (and the NSW set up) moving for this rule change? Obviously those in power at Cricket Australia Towers have looked at the current batting line up and decided that the Australian line up needs another change and the injection of a young right handed batsman who has never played on Australian pitches is the answer.

Here is the thing for me: Robson, who I am sure is a lovely bloke, made a decision to move to England to further his career for which he is to be congratulated. He has had no part of the Australian set up though since playing for Australian U19s. He has not played a first class game on an Australian wicket. Most particularly though, there are other players of Robson’s vintage who have done the hard yards in Australia, worked their way through whatever roadblocks there were and are now playing at the first class (and test) level who also deserve a chance.

A cursory examination of the player list from Robson’s 9 Australia U 19 XI fixtures shows that only Phil Hughes is still playing in even first class cricket from the batters who were selected in any of those 9 fixtures. If one broadens the timeframe to the teams in the year preceding and the year following Robson’s time in the U19 set up some other names of note arise: Usman Khawaja, Tom Cooper, Steve Smith, Nic Maddinson. Additionally some names on the fringe of first class cricket in Australia also come up like Hill and Stoinis.

It is simplistic to say but should the powers that be at Cricket Australia Towers be rewarding someone for abandoning cricket in this country just because he is suddenly in a rich vein of form? My personal view at the start of writing this post was that CA should not be doing that (and that view has not changed) but the more I looked at the Australian U19 Xis from Robson’s time the more a worrying trend arose that is a bigger issue that needs to be discussed whether Robson plays for Australia or England or no one. The trend is simple: Phil Hughes, Michael Hill and Sam Robson aside not one batsman who played in the 9 under 19 fixtures that Robson played is currently playing first class cricket. Additionally, no one else is even playing Second XI cricket for their state at the moment. It is worth bearing in mind that Robson played in those games as leg spin bowling all rounder rather than an opening batsman and, on my count, some 13 other batters were used.

This all raises this question: what is happening to our best young batters between the ages of 20 and 25 that stops them from taking the next step? Robson had to move to England to get a chance, Michael Hill has played 37 fewer first class games than Robson in a sporadic career and Phil Hughes is a young star of the game. The rest are, at best, languishing in club cricket or, at worst, are not playing at all. The strange part of this is that presently in Australia our top cricketers play so little Sheffield Shield cricket (between test, ODI, T20, BBL and KFC and sock commercial commitments) that it is now considered very much behind the County Competition in stature yet some of our best young cricketers still cannot pierce the metaphorical glass ceiling and get a run.

Rather than rush through a rule change that could see Sam Robson in a baggy green (as an aside has anyone thought of what kind of look it would be for Cricket Australia if they change the rule and he still says no OR Cricket NSW don’t select him?) maybe those in the seats of power at Cricket Australia Towers need to look more closely at the development of all of our young cricketers and consider methodologies for keeping those cricketers in the game rather than selecting someone developed in another system? Surely a long term solution is better for Australian cricket than a stop gap one?

A final comment: Nic Maddinson has played 27 games of first class cricket, averages the same as Robson and is two years younger. Plus he has been committed to the Australian system since day one. Shouldn’t he be getting first crack at the team?