Cool weather, clouds and a splash of rain greeted England for its final Ashes tour match in Townsville, 55 years since the MCC last played in the city in 1962.
The weather presented a strange scenario few predicted.
North Queensland’s normally hot and humid November climate persauded England’s tour planners to play the team’s final Ashes warm up match in Townsville.
Townsville has a long and relatively unknown cricket history, which includes matches involving Bradman, West Indian cricket royalty and past England touring sides. England hoped Townsville’s heat would acclimatise the players: the local conditions often cause club cricketers to endure bursting tropical humidity and beaming sunshine.
Besides the conditions, the clash will offer critical insight into England’s chances of beating Australia, with the first Ashes Test kicking off in Brisbane on 23 November.
England will play at Townsville’s Riverway Stadium against a Cricket Australia XI coached by one of England’s most prolific first class run scorers, Graeme Hick, who never quite converted First Class runs into Test longevity.
Hick, who scored over 40,000 first class runs and 144 centuries, will be joined by the Australian Troy Cooley, who gained notoriety for being the coach of England’s bowling attack during the famous 2005 Ashes Series, which included ‘mintgate’.
England have been before
Part of Townsville’s rich and relatively untold cricket history involved a match between the Marylebone Cricket Club and a Queensland Country XI at the Townsville Sports Reserve in 1962.
Playing as the MCC in its tour matches during the 1962-63 Ashes Series, England’s match in Townsville was one of an astonishing 27 played by England on the tour.
The result was an outright victory for the MCC team, which included Italian born England captain Ted Dexter, off-break specialist Ray Illingworth and the ordained minister and Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard.
The Queenslanders managed scores of 165 and 138 against the MCC’s 423. The 62-63 Ashes Series ended in a 1-1 draw. An omen perhaps?
Townsville hosted England on 7-8 December, 1962: ‘Long Trek Ahead of M.C.C. Team’, North Queensland Register, 13 October 1962, 39.
Future Test venue
Townsville has a fabulous world class cricket venue set among river parkland, with a mountain backdrop.
The city hosted a thrilling Sheffield Shield match in 2016 and in 1987 at the city’s Endeavour Park, Queensland defeated a West Indian side, which included Haynes, Richardson, Gomes, Richards, Dujon, Marshal and Garner.
Townsville also hosted the under-19 50 over World Cup in 2012 and A-list tour matches including India, South Africa and Australia in 2015.
It is hoped that the city can host Test cricket in the future.
Sheffield Shield matches attract additional media interest at the beginning of the Australian Test season, before being shunted to the periphery by the Big Bash.
This year, it’s no different. Speculation has mounted that Australia could drop Matt Renshaw for either Cameron Bancroft or Shaun Marsh. Bancroft, in particular has been prolific among the runs. A Shield double-century has elevated his stakes. Surely, however, this is mere speculation.
Despite a poor opening to the Shield season with no score over 20 in five starts, Renshaw has done enough in the Test arena to justify selection. Renshaw and Warner could become a great team. Renshaw just needs to rotate the strike more often to avoid being tied down and allow Warner more regular involvement.
It remains unclear who will bat at six for Australia. Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey, Moises Henriques, Jake Lehmann, Marcus Stoinis, Aaron Finch, and even Mitchell Marsh (again), are contenders. Perhaps Bancroft should come in at 6? Mike Hussey’s history as an opener did not prevent him from becoming prolific in Australia’s middle order.
The wicket keeper position also remains unfilled. Although he too has scored few runs in the Shield, Peter Nevill looks set for a return over Matt Wade and Alex Carey.
Would Australian selectors shock the world and select players on the basis of Shield form? If so, there will be new faces.
Let’s wait and see.
For now, those of us in North Queensland will enjoy scrutinising England’s prospects at emerging the least ordinary this summer, of what, it must be said, are two of the most underwhelming Test teams Australia and England have produced in some time.
A quick check of the form guide and the personnel in both squads suggests this could be one of the lowest quality Ashes series seen this century. Nonetheless, it should still be a great contest, not least between who scores more: Root or Smith?