The Ashes: 3rd Test Teams and the Toss

We are now 30 minutes away from the start of play at the WACA with the toss have been won by Australia and them having decided to bat.

The following teams were announced by the captains:

Australia: Clarke (c), Haddin (vc), Warner, Rogers, Watson, Smith, Bailey, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England: Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Prior, Broad, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson

No changes for Australia with Ryan Harris confirmed fit. One change for the English with Bresnan coming in for Panesar.

Captains Clarke and Cook play their 100th test match in would should be an epic encounter! Bring it on!

The Ashes: Where to now for England? My suggest XI for Perth

There is no getting around this fact: England have been out played, out thought and out sledged by the Australians in the first two test of this summer. Don’t get me wrong: I have loved every minute of the pummelling dished out over the last two test matches. That said, there is a part of me that yearns for a competitive test match between these two oldest of cricketing foes. In order to be competitive in Perth it is clear, and Andy Flower (England’s Director of Cricket) agrees, that some changes need to be made.

I mentioned during the series in England over the winter that Jimmy Anderson did not look one tenth of the bowler he did in the first test at Nottingham where his bowling, basically, singlehandedly rested victory for England from the jaws of possible defeat. Since that 10 wicket effort, where he bowled a massive amount of overs, Anderson has taken 17 wickets in 12 innings at an average of 44 all against Australia. He has already been rested from the ODI squad for the games following the test matches and it seems to me that he is not quite right physically. I would suggest he be rested for the Perth test match given the short back up and the fact that he is just not bowling well.

I would bring in Bresnan, now fit, for Anderson. He hits the wicket hard and is one of the toughest players in the English squad. His inclusion would also add some starch to a lower order that has been beaten up by short bowling in the first two tests of the summer.

I am a fan of Michael Carberry but his dismissals in both innings in Adelaide were just bad batting and showed that he may be out of his depth at the top level. Joe Root showed, not for the first time, great application and courage in the face of a barrage from the Australian fast bowlers. He should open in Carberry’s place with England’s best batsman of 2013, Ian Bell, moving up the order to number 3. This “engine room” will give more stability around the captain, Cook, whose efforts so far have been less than stellar and show a muddled mental state.

Replacing Bell at number 5 is a choice between Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow. For mine, statistics don’t lie and Ballance has the first class record advantage over Bairstow. Nearly 5000 runs at over 50 per innings in 67 first class games is a record worthy of a trial in the top team. I know that throwing a debutant in at Perth is akin to throwing him to the wolves but from all I have read about the Zimbabwean import he has the temperament to handle it.

In the bowling line up, the resting of Anderson aside, there is no way England can play two spinners in Perth. It seems like a case of the lesser of two evils when it comes to spinners with Swann in ordinary form and Panesar simply not good enough in the field to set off what he brings to the table with the ball. I would lean to Swann given that he seems to have more steel about him than Panesar. There is a sameness about all of the bowlers in the English squad with the available options all tall right arm fast medium bowlers. Finn and Tremlett are both scarred from having played and failed against Australia of recent times so I would add Irishman Boyd Rankin to the line up for a debut on Australia’s fastest pitch.

So, all of that considered, this the team I reckon the Poms should put on the field come Friday in Perth:

Cook, Root, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Stokes, Prior, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Rankin

I think this is a team that could make a game of it against Australia and whilst I, again, will say am enjoying Australia destroy England I am also keen to see a contest.

Postscript: I will avoid the obvious quip that this team really ought be renamed the English Dominion XI given that 45% of the line up were not born in England (Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and New Zealand being the places of birth of players selected in addition to England).

Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, WACA: some musings

The 3rd test came to an end yesterday, with the Michael Clarke described “grand final” not going the way of the Australian team as they were thumped by the world’s best red ball cricket team from South Africa.

As I flew from Port Hedland to Perth yesterday afternoon so as to be in Perth for the fifth day of the test match that did not eventuate I had time to give some consideration to the game and some of the performances of the key, and not so key, players for each side.

An easy place to start is the retirement of Ricky Ponting. I think we all knew he was under pressure, some journalists made it their mission to make sure he was under pressure even if Cricket Australia did not seem to be suggesting he was. Even so I was shocked to hear that he was retiring at the end of this test match. His performances in this series and indeed in this game were not cognisant with those of the Ponting of old however we still did see glimpses of his greatness. I don’t think Australian fans will fully appreciate how much R T Ponting will be missed until the Ashes in the middle of next year.

The “resting” of fast bowlers Siddle and Hilfenhaus for such an important game and the inclusion of a bowler many had put into the “has been” category in Mitchell Johnson and a debutant in John Hastings surprised and infuriated many. It might be stating the obvious but this experiment did not work given the haste with which the Proteas scored in the second innings of this match. I thought Hastings acquitted himself well as did Mitchell Starc however with Shane Watson again, it would seem, on limited bowling duties the need for a genuine bowling allrounder in this side was again glaringly obvious. Whether Hastings is the man for the job remains to be seen.

The batting of Amla was again sublime in this game and AB de Villiers got the “monkeys” in the media off his back by scoring his first hundred since Mark Boucher’s unfortunate accident in the UK. More importantly for the Proteas, Vernon Philander showed the form that has seen him dominate batting orders the world over and took some big wickets. As did Dale Steyn, who finally seemed to find form and his self proclaimed “crazy eyes”. The former medium pace bowler in me felt some joy watching these two bowlers at the top of their games even though they were bowling to an Australian team I hoped would win this test and win it well.

Speaking of batting, it goes without saying that whilst some of Australia’s wickets could be put down to the excellent bowling efforts of the Proteas it can also be said that Australia’s batsmen also contributed to their own downfall with some poor, and particularly aggressive in some cases, shot selection. Whether this is a hangover from the shortest form of the game I am not going to speculate however it would be fair to say the difference between the two teams in this series ended up being that one team could bat for long periods to secure a draw and the other could not.

Attention now turns, for Australian fans, to the start of the series against the Sri Lankans at Bellerive Oval on 13 December. Of course Cricket Australia has done the national team no favours in its scheduling with the Big Bash League starting this Friday so it will remain to be seen whether the team selected can remain in red ball cricket form on the most bowler friendly pitch in the country. There will be much interest in the replacement of Ricky Ponting for this game and readers should watch this blog over the coming days for my views on the potential replacement options.