Monday, 25 November 2013

Australians Rediscover Fire

The most exciting thing that happened this week was that two of Australia's biggest match winners refound their fire and blasted England to smithereens in the first Test. Dave Warner and Mitchell Johnson were the two players we needed most to pull their best out and they did that and then some. A 49 and a century to Warner and 9 wickets to Mitchell Johnson has shaken England to the core and Jonothan Trott has been unable to stand anymore pressure and gone home sick with the anxiety of it all.

Now I know we're all supposed to be very nice and progressively empathetic towards Trott here, but it's also widely assumed that his "stress related illness" is related to the fact that he played like balls in the England home series and has now been horribly exposed in the first test. So let's say it like it is, we've wrecked his confidance and sent him packing for some R&R. Good! We should hope to cripple the mental stability of every player by the time the series is out, that's what we want.

It's not to be mean or anything, so he's mentally / emotionally a bit fragile, know plenty of people like that, still nice blokes, good when their doing well, fall to bits when they're having a poor Trott (see what I did ther... yeah you saw it). But let's face it, exposing the weaknesses of our opposition is what we're hoping to do every time we play someone. It's called competition, Trott couldn't handle the situation so he's run off home. Hopefully Swann and Matt Prior will also be soon contemplating whether they can handle their own failure by the time Boxing Day comes around.

There's still plenty of problems for Australia though. Apart from Warner finding form, and Pup dispensing any rumours of a serious problem against the short ball with his third ton of the year, and Brad Haddin doing tremendously, most of our batsmen again shat the bed.

Chris Rogers it has to be said has hardly asserted himself at Test level yet. He's done fine and got a century in England, but the issue there is that Marcus North, Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and young Jordan Silk are once again piling pressure on the selectors for an opening spot.

Rogers and Steve Smith are thought to be pretty secure, but they ain't that secure yet. Both made centuries in England, Smith looks to be the future and has done well in Shield so far as well this summer. But happily for Australian selectors there's once again a plethora of first class bats putting their hands up to replace him should he fail too many times.

George Bailey, whose selection I'm still highly doubtful of, looked every bit the one day batsmen in his first appearance, but now that he's picked and we've won a match, he'll be there surely at least until Melbourne regardless of what he does. For completely different and far more valid reasons Shane Watson also can be carried. People are always complaining about his selection and how he gets more chances than others, but of course he does, he's offering more to the side than just his batting and that's not a small matter. He should get more chances than others because of what he offers as a legitimate 5th bowling option.

Of course you could also argue that we wouldn't need a fifth bowling option if we had the best 6 batsmen in the country in the side setting imposing totals allowing the full time bowlers to feel more confidant bowling to opposition batting lineups less confidant that they can chase the poultry totals we've been putting up.  But Watson & Bailey will get at least to Adelaide to play on what seems to be a drop in road and Australia will be riding high on confidence so we'll see how they go there.

The Sheffield Shield is supplying us with some real exciting options too. Dave Warner's got five centuries this summer, three in the Ryobi Cup including the highest score every by an Australian in any 50 over match. My theory on him has been that he does well against the new ball, but that he's never going to be a consistent scorer, so he would be better at 6 or 3 as our Viv Richards blaster. It's going to be hard for me to make that argument with these numbers he's putting up though. At 6 he gets to theoretically face the new ball pretty often, and I liken him to Adam Gilchrist who played at 6 many times.

Marcus North got another century on the weekend to stretch his lead as the dominant Shield batsmen this year out even further. He's got five centuries as a number 6 which could come to mind if Bailey fails, I'd have him opening with Rogers in the next test with Warner at 6 but I can concede the former might be more likely.

Phil Hughes managed a 67, Ed Cowan got 68 and his first century to go along with several half centuries so far this year. I've been really rooting for Ed to do what Marcus North is doing, to make himself unavoidable in talk about who should be in the side. He's averaging plenty but it's centuries that get people talking so it was good to see him get one on the weekend.

Of course he was actually batting at 3 but unfortunately Mark Cosgrove's new found lighter frame has only netted him one half century so far. 21 year old Jordan Silk might just jump ahead of both of them in the queue though, his fourth ton coming in his 9th game. Amazing start to his career. Cosgrove could be looking for another state to play in soon though. Tasmania has Doolan who normally bats at 3, Bailey who normally bats at 4 and newcomer Ben Dunk who's also doing well. James Faulkner has started batting at the traditional all rounder spot of 6 for them now after getting his first century in India. He's pretty far behind Tim Paine as a batsman though, and really not that far ahead of Luke Butterworth.

Travis Head over in South Australia's hit two 90+ scores in the last two matches. Ryan Carter got 154 and 67 for NSW as an opener. Alex Doolan failed for his second match in a row unfortunately for him. Usman Khawaja's started his season disastrously and his career average has fallen away consistently every year. Excitingly Cameron White got his first century, bouncing back after looking fantastic at the beginning of the summer, while Peter Forrest, Chris Lynn and Chris Hartley are in fine form up in Queensland.

So picking a team based on nothing more than form this summer, Dave Warner probably gets the nod over Phil Hughes, but Marcus North accompanies him. Ryan Carters only opened for NSW in the absence of Dave Warner but he's averaging 92 overall. Phil Hughes averaging more than Warner but Warner's overall form can't be denied.

South Australian Travis Head comes in at 3, far ahead of Shane Watson or Alex Doolan, Ed Cowan's been playing at 3 but he's been opening for years and has been coming in early with Cosgrove's poor start to the season.

Michael Clarke sensationally gets the axe as the rest of the top 6 consists of Chris Lynn, Cameron White and Peter Forrest. Brad Haddin beating out Chris Hartley to remain in the side.  Of course you could argue Ryan Carters at 6.

Of the bowlers, Doug Bollinger is doing well, and Steve O'Keefe remains the pick of the spinners.

One more round of Shield games before the Adelaide test. I'm hoping for Marcus North to force his way into the side if Bailey fails this weekend, though I'd be pretty shocked if he came in for Chris Rogers at the top. I don't think there's a chance in hell of any changes being made to the side for Adelaide, but here's my side:

1. Chris Rogers
2. Marcus North
3. Alex Doolan
4. Michael Clarke
5. Steve Smith
6. Dave Warner
7. Brad Haddin
8. Steve O'Keefe
9. Mitchell Johnson
10. Ryan Harris
11. Peter Siddle

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Alternate Universe: Picking Australia's XI Based on Shield Form.

Marcus North's always been a favourite of mine. I always thought he was the one all rounder who was picked and actually overachieved. I don't remember him doing much with the ball, and an average of 35, whilst not looking so bad these days, might not have been enough for him to stay in the Test side, but 5 centuries, 4 half centuries from 35 innings compares very favourably to many players who have come into the side since his departure nearly three years ago. His bowling didn't do much for anyone much like Steve Smith's or Cameron White's, but I always thought his five centuries were an outstanding start to what might have been a very promising Test career.

At age 34, if Sheffield Shield form were the only determining factor and there was no such thing as an incumbent, after three matches Marcus North would be the first player picked as he continues a remarkable rejuvenation this season. Okay, it was a drop in road, but you can only get the runs when the pitch presents itself to you, nobody has sympathy for batsmen who fail on easy wickets, and scores of 110 and 84* in his new role as opener were only overshadowed by the superlative inspiring 204 by the second player picked for the 1st Test here in alternate universe world, Phil Hughes.

Dave Warner and Chris Rogers centuries last week will guarantee their places as the incumbent openers carrying on from the last Ashes test. Of course John Inverarity had already picked them months ago anyway so it doesn't really matter what they or anyone else did as he so helpfully pointed out before the beginning of the Shield season. Rob Quiney has also moved to opener and continued his strong form from the Ryobi Cup and seems to be once again someone moving towards consideration.

Down in Tassie, Ed Cowan keeps getting starts but his day seems to have passed unless he can string together some actual centuries at some point. Mark Cosgrove missed the first match, before scoring 84 and three failures in the last two weeks, while newcomer Jordan Silk continues to excite with his third century coming in his seventh first class fixture.

Nic Maddinson, guaranteed 20/20 specialist and next Dave Warner got a couple of half centuries at the hectic clip you'd expect. His form in 20/20 will all but assure him of a Test cap going by the selectors policy of picking primarily from limited over international form.

The #3 spot goes to Alex Doolan with Shane Watson not getting any games in. Tremendous match winning century against the NSW bowling lineup last week should have and apparently did catch the eyes of selectors. Obviously Michael Clarke gets in despite only the one half century, let's not be too silly with this, and Steve Smith stroked another century and is a perfectly good pick at #5 and right up there with the top bats again. Enthusiasm surrounds Steve Smith's form and maturity lately, he's taken his somewhat surprising selection in India and run with it, unlike Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja, he's taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to him and is probably the player causing the most optimism about the future of Australia's batting and perhaps even captaincy stocks for the next decade.

The #6 position will be George Bailey, despite his four failures so far this season and his much talked about very average season last year. Bailey, on first class form alone, would barely make an Australia B side at the moment, but his composure and form at international level, plus his leadership skills have got him in so we'll see how he does. It will be hard not to be very doubtful of Australia's chances this summer if Cricket Australia's inclination to ignoring first class form finds us looking for yet another new number 6 after two or three matches.

That's the real problem with picking an out of form first class batsman for his first Test, how soon can they drop him if he doesn't perform? Usman Khawaja, who also didn't have a great summer last year yet somehow found his way into the Test side in England, and was widely considered to be one of George Bailey's top rivals for the #6 spot, was given three test matches in England before being axed. He's failed to carry his excellent Ryobi Cup form into the Shield too incidentally but we shouldn't be surprised if he bounces back into contention for Sydney if George Bailey continues to not find any form.

But that's three whole Ashes tests we now have to carry a player who seems to have done nothing in first class cricket of late to earn selection. On Shield form alone, Chris Lynn would seem to be the guy to beat, as Cameron White's exciting run of half centuries wound down with a few flops. Chris Lynn scored 104 and 61* against England a couple of weeks ago and followed up with 81 and 72* against Tassie before failing in both innings against Queensland. At 23 and with an average of 43 he's looking the goods.

Brad Haddin managed a not out 50, but I won't get into any debate about who should be wicketkeeper, Chris Lynn's teammate Chris Hartley is averaging more, but I have literally no opinion on who is the better gloveman going around and Haddin is the vice captain of the Test side so we know he's in anyway.

As for the bowlers, Cricket Australia could almost be investigated for match fixing following the utterly preposterous situation at Bellerive where Ben Hilfenhaus, despite not being in the Ashes squad for the first test, Sam Rainbird, coming off of a 6fer the match before, and best bowler Luke Butterworth were all mysteriously rested for their match against Victoria. Not to mention the simply amazing admission from James Faulkner that while he had been allowed to play the match, that CA had demanded a limitation be placed on the amount of overs he bowled.

The really jaw dropping part of it was that Faulkner revealed that his physical workload wasn't the issue, but more a mental one.

Let that sink in for a second. Tassie required to drop their two best bowlers and take it easy on their third best bowler in Faulkner, and a player dropped after taking his career best figures in the previous match. What the hell is going on here? Are CA even interested in marketing this Sheffield Shield stuff at all? We've already been told that the first test team was picked before the season started which I'm still trying to get my head around, not to mention the repeated lesson we've learned that limited over form is more likely to get you picked anyway, now we've got this Faulkner situation.

I can only imagine that James Faulkner was thought to be at some risk of a nervous breakdown if his workload was too high. Not a physical concern???? Wha? And again, what kind of competitive sports league is this where the top brass can all but guarantee a victory to one side by ordering the other side to not play their best players? Nathan Lyon wasn't considered to be any risk of self harming though and was allowed to play for NSW where he finally picked up stats comparable to his apparently completely off the radar teammate Steve O'Keefe.

Anyway, enough of that, Steve O'Keefe once again clearly the lead spinner option as he always is, averaging 23 to Fawad Ahmed's 30 and Nathan Lyon's usual 35. Ahmed however has the only bag, picking up a 6fer. Doug Bollinger restated his case in what might not be so much an unlikely cause given the mental and physical brittleness of our bowlers at the moment. Ben Hilfenhaus, not that he ever lost form, probably surprised a few people when he was acknowledged as still being in the running for a test return this summer by CA, and Mitchell Johnson's actually back in the side after seemingly being done for a year ago.

Cameron Boyce and South African Johan Botha sit atop the wicket taking leaderboard at the moment, with the former continuing to be expensive and the latter, well, actually is he even eligible?

And with that bit of utterly unresearched laziness, I will sign off. Obviously Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle deserve their spots, as does Chris Rogers who despite being overshadowed somewhat by Marcus North and Phil Hughes, still hit an 88 and a century so he's good to go.

Random thoughts and wrap up next week!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Official Second XI's and weekly roundup of all things Aussie cricket.

Ryobi cup done and dusted. ODI series against India lost. First round of Sheffield Shield matches in the books. So how we looking?

Firstly, the 50 over stocks are looking great for our matches against England in a couple of months. Finch and Hughes looked promising but ultimately failed to cement their places in India while Michael Klinger and Dave Warner have done tremendously at home. Look for a straight swap at the top there.

Watson will be there as always if fit, one century redeemed his otherwise poor series, but he's undroppable with what he brings with his bowling. Matt Wade and to a lesser extent Tim Paine did everything right in putting pressure on Brad Haddin, who pretty much did nothing right in India unfortunately, so could see a straight swap there too.

Clarke will come in for Maxwell who's showing some potential as a limited over specialist batsman and showing absolutely no potential at all with the ball. Bailey and Voges pick themselves with unbeatable averages so far in their ODI careers.

Of course there's the possibility looming that Clarke and Watson will have to stop playing the shorter format, or perhaps in Watsons case, stop playing the longer format. If that's the case, there are heaps of contenders to replace them.

Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja & Cameron White will all be licking their lips if Pup decides to call it a day, which he's given no indication that he will. Who knows what becomes of Shane Watson's latest injury, sooner or later he seems destined to either become a specialist batsmen, or retire from one form of the game or be done alltogether. Whichever way it plays out, Watson as only a batsman is replaceable, and Shaun Marsh did everything he could to remind the selectors he's about.  Steve Smith, Rob Quiney, Chris Lynn & Tom Cooper all did well too.

There needs to be official second XI's in all formats of cricket. We've seen the controversies about England not giving Australia adequate oppositions for their warm up matches as well as all kinds of question marks about how players are picked. An official second XI would resolve both problems, as well as bring up another couple of interesting situations.

A decade ago, Australia's second XI test squad probably would have beaten every other test nation in the world most times. So why not allow them to compete? If a nation's good enough to field two sides in the competition then let them. Australia's ODI second XI is easily picked at the moment, it looks like this for the batsmen:

Klinger Warner Marsh White Smith Khawaja Wade

Australias bowling stocks have rarely been higher too. A test second XI would allow players the caliber of Mark Cosgrove, Alex Doolan, Michael Klinger, as well as bowlers like Luke Butterworth, Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus to actually continue their careers against international players, not just other second XI's either, actual official test matches.

We already have a tiered system. The number one team isn't going to be play five test series against the Netherlands, but why couldn't an Australia second or third team be playing against them. Heck if they're good enough they can play against anyone if they get high enough in the rankings. Why not?

It's too late (probably) for Brad Hodge. Simon Katich would still make the side, heck he'd probably still make the first team, but at least he had a very good test career if not as long as we'd all have liked it to have been. But imagine how many Jamie Cox's and Darren Berry's and Stuart Law's and Martin Love's would have loved to have played for Australia A and had their chance to have great test careers even if they never made the top team. Mark Cosgrove is languishing, Steve O'Keefe seems to have pissed someone off, Michael Klinger never even got a test. David Hussey the same.

Anyway, back to the Shield. There should be three spots open to debate. We know Mitchell Johnson's in, so Nathan Lyon's the only bowling position as always never quite cemented. Fawad Ahmed finally came good with a 6fer. Steve O'Keefe outbowled Nathan Lyon for NSW, not by much, but if he does that every game, how do you pick Lyon for the test team?

In the test squad, I'd like to think Dave Warner's spot is still up for grabs, and there's the number 6 spot. Marcus North is leading the race for the opener spot after one match, but you'd think Phil Hughes would be preferred over him, and Mark Cosgrove hasn't got a hit yet. Ed Cowan and Dave Warner both failed, while Michael Klinger got a half century.

Tom Cooper had the biggest century of the round after impressing in the Ryobi Cup. Alex Doolan hit a very timely ton against NSW batting at 3 especially considering Shane Watsons latest injury scare. George Bailey's is heavily rumoured to be picked for the test squad despite being Tasmania's fourth or fifth best batsmen and averaging 18 last summer. Peter Forrest also hit a ton.

Warner will probably be retained for the test squad regardless, and if Watson's available he'll play coming off his 173 in his previous Test. But you never know, if Warner fails in the four innings he's got left before the first test, then you've got Klinger, Cowan, Cosgrove, North and Phil Hughes breathing down his neck. Not to mention Rob Quiney's doing well again it seems and opening now.

For middle order players should Watson or Clarke miss out, Cameron White seems to unable to avoid getting half centuries at the moment but needs to convert a couple. Alex Doolan was the fifth best bat last summer going round after Ponting, Hughes, Haddin & Rogers and couldn't have started any better with a fine match winning century. Tom Cooper is getting his name out there but he will have to do a lot having not done too much so far in his first class career. Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh & Matt Wade failed in the first round.

Of course none of this matters, John Inverarity made the simply amazing statement that the teams already picked. Mind blowing stuff given we just lost to India 0-4 and to England 0-3, not to mention how disheartening that must be to players playing Shield, or even as an anti promotional message for anyone bothering to follow the Shield anyway. These are supposed to be nail biting play offs for spots in the beleaguered Test squad that can't win a game, instead Sutherland's job is secure if the Aussies lose 0-5 apparently, and the Shield performances don't count for shit. Heads surely have to be rolling soon with these seemingly incompetent hacks at the helm of a constantly losing side?

The fact that James Faulkner, Tasmania's 3rd best bowler who bats at 8 or even 9 for Tasmania is playing as yet another allrounder batting at 7 for Australia, or that George Bailey's one day form counts for anything considering his averaging 18 last summer in first class cricket. Faulkner's a very good bowler, who can bat a bit, but do we want a top ten bowler who can bat a bit or a top four bowler who can't bat at all? He's obviously a top option for one day cricket, but for the tests?

As for George Bailey, his seemingly inevitable selection reminds a lot of Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques earlier this year. Guys who do alright in limited over cricket being picked on that basis, and failing to impress while we fail to win matches. Ponting said the Argus report was a load of bollocks and so far they seem to have done nothing to follow any of the suggestions, chiefly that runs in the Shield are what get you picked for the test team.

So the team for the first test will probably be the exact same one that didn't win the last test in England except for Johnson. Steve O'Keefe will miss out no matter what he does, and Faulkner will leave us with only five batsmen and Brad Haddin in a side that already has five bowlers and Steve Smith and one where Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson can wag as good as any tail in the history of the game. Hell even Nathan Lyon's been sticking around, not to mention Steve O'Keefe, again, who's about as good a batsman as Faulkner.

I'll do another round up after the next round of first class matches regardless. Geez John even puts the kabosh on bloggers who want to speculate on the make up of the team. What a cock.