2015 Ashes Series

Rolled for 60: what’s the problem?

Is there a link between Australia’s 60 all out and the poor governance strangling global cricket?

Test cricket is a vital sign of the game’s health. The 2015 Ashes Series has delivered four thrashings. Only twelve days of cricket have been played from a possible twenty. Both Cardiff and Lords were over inside four days and Edgbaston and Trent Bridge barely spluttered into day three.

No Australian side has been beaten in a Test Match inside two days since 1892. Australia lasted twenty minutes on day three at Nottingham. That demonstrates the gravity of what happened. Of course, Australia was knocked over before lunch and in 18 overs – the quickest first innings of a Test Match ever.

But it wasn’t an isolated event.

Australia’s 2015 Ashes collapses:

  • Australia lost 5/50 to finish their 1st innings at Cardiff. They went from 1/97 to 7/151 in the second innings.
  • They played well at Lords, made over 800 runs. But Smith and Rogers made 495 between them. Only one other Aussie (Warner) made it to fifty!
  • In Birmingham they were bundled out for 136. In the 2nd dig, six of the top seven batsmen made single figure scores. Warner’s 77 pushed them to 7/153 before lower order fifties from Starc and Nevill pushed them over 250.
  • 60 all out in record time at Trent Bridge preceded another 2nd innings collapse. This time it was 0/112 to 7/236, then all out for 253.

The responses

Perhaps the most alarming response came from Michael Clarke after the infamous 60. In the post-match press conference he said “I’ve always maintained that when the bowling gets better, you need to be more aggressive”.

Clarke’s on-field captaincy has been good. He’s been a world class batsman but this comment troubled me. Aggression isn’t the only way to fight back in difficult conditions, preserve your wicket during a collapse or resist a good spell. At 5/29, 30 minutes into day one of the fourth Test, Clarke went the aggression route. He tried to hit a wide ball for six over extra cover and snicked up to second. 6/29, goodbye Ashes.

Aussie fans were pretty angry and shocked but cricket’s establishment has virtually dismissed the collapse as a ‘one-off bad day’. They’ve referred to the victory at Lords and suggested that performance is evidence of Australia’s might. Hmmm, dubious.

Surely this series is finally a sign that the bigger issues affecting cricket have now leaked onto the field?

A decade of increasingly rampant administrative negligence and the dismissal of the Australian club cricket pyramid are now delivering what was always promised.

Big Bash versus the Sheffield Shield

Shunting the Sheffield Shield to periphery of the Australian summer to accommodate eight weeks of franchise 20/20 is damaging the game at the highest level. It also means that while Australia is playing home Tests all of its domestic players are attempting reverse sweeps and bowling darts with white balls. What if the Test side needs to call up a new player?

The Big Bash League may ignite commercial interest in the game, but it is destroying player development and eating away at First Class cricket. It’s happening everywhere and the effect is systematic. Down at club cricket level two day cricket is increasingly reduced to accommodate 35-50 over cricket. India’s First Class Ranji Trophy is gutted by the IPL, which in turn clashes with the traditional Test match summer in the Caribbean.

Cricket Froth has previously suggested that 20/20 does provide cricket with a unique opportunity.

But there is no conversion-of-interest strategy to capitalise on the ‘new audience’ attracted by T20.

Cricket should be converting at least 20% of the new interest generated by T20 into other forms of cricket. But cricket administrators are missing out and soon enough, the opportunity will be gone.

The monetary benefit generated by T20 appears to be siphoned off into private pockets too because there’s relative little done to promote and expand the game in associate countries.

Australia’s cricket establishment is also increasingly promoting a system that ignores the traditional club cricket pyramid, placing schools and academies of excellence at the sharp end of player development. Whichever player’s parents can afford the fees gets a fancy tracksuit for their son or daughter and away they go, presumably off to a lengthy career of cricket stardom. Not so.

Of course, Australia’s dire performances with the bat cannot only be blamed on T20.

The sense of occasion, the crowd, the pressure and excellent bowling play their part. Many have cited ‘conditions’ as an issue. But that argument links back to T20. Players are no longer toiling away in county cricket and acquiring the skills to adapt to different pitches and balls. They’re off playing in the IPL or the Caribbean crunch or simply having a rest after an Australian summer overloaded with short-form.

England does not escape this either. Let’s not forget that they were routed at Lords on a batsman friendly feather-bed for 103 in 37 overs. And bowler Stuart Broad top-scored with just 25.

It seems that tremendous performances like Sri Lanka’s massive fight-back against India last week are rarer than they were many years ago. The Galle Test Match proved just how brilliantly entertaining Test cricket can be. If only it were promoted so?

Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers’ final Test match

These two bow out of Test cricket this weekend. Clarke averages 49 from 114 matches and I hope he can make a big hundred to nudge that average back over 50. That’ll be a fitting end to a great career on the park and a divisive presence in the dressing room.

Chris Rogers has only played 24 Tests and averages 42. But his performances over the last two years have been excellent. He was the leading run scorer across the 10 Ashes Tests played in 2013 and 2013-14 and in this series he has shielded Australia from further embarrassment, by again leading the runs for Australia.

Where is the game going?

Everybody should watch the Four Corners investigation of cricket’s ‘big three’. India, Australia and England are choking the game and private interests and short-term gain have been prioritised. Altruism in cricket administration is dead.

Rediscovering the romance of Test Cricket: The Future

Carry on, reform or radicalise: where to for Australia’s batting line-up at Trent Bridge?

To win in England for the first time in 14 years, Australia must now win two Tests in a row. Radical action and all selection options must be considered. Including Shane Watson.

Sure, Australia can win one and draw one and retain the Ashes. To some that is the primary goal, but the longer the streak without a series win in England continues the bigger the monkey grows. Fourteen years is long enough.

I think Australia must shed any hint of conservatism and go hard at winning both Tests. Well that’s stating the obvious I suppose, but to achieve that objective radical thinking is required. Michael Jeh over at ESPN Cric Info has kicked off the radical ideas by suggesting Australia should consider picking Steve Magoffin.

The 35-year-old Magoffin is currently kicking about with Sussex and has finished in the top two wicket takers in Division One County Cricket in the last two seasons. Jeh cites the successful example of Chris Rogers; a sage old character who knows the conditions. Magoffin has played 131 First Class matches and averages 23 with the ball. But it won’t happen. If anyone’s going to get a go, it will be Peter Siddle.

Although it could improve, the bowling isn’t really the problem anyway. Mitchell Johnson is right when he says that Australia has not bowled in partnerships. They did at Lords but not in Birmingham, where too many pressure release deliveries were offered. Case in point: Hazlewood traps Adam Lyth LBW in England’s 4th innings chase of 120-odd and then bowls a wide, half-tracker to England’s best batsman who smashes a four the next ball. In fairness though, Australia’s bowlers weren’t given a chance by the Aussie batsmen.

People have been saying that if you win the toss and bat then you win the Test, but that’s nonsense and Birmingham proved that. Perhaps Clarke should have bowled, hindsight-ologists will say. But perhaps he was spooked by Ponting’s decision to do so in 2005. Who knows, but citing ‘conditions’ every time the batsmen fail is a cop out.

The fact is Australia’s batting seems like a one trick pony; they can bully and dominate opposition attacks when the match momentum is in their favour, they look great setting a declaration total. But at 3/50 they’re increasingly less able than past sides to fight their way back to ascendency. Temperament, mentality, psychology, technique, whatever you like. When the crowd is behind England and it gets a bit hard out there, jenga time.

It happened in 2005, 2009, 2013 and it’s happened in four of the six innings Australia has batted in 2015.

Trent Bridge will not be any easier. Like Edgbaston, the crowd will be rowdy and right into Australia and they need to harden up. Johnson’s response to the crowd at Edgbaston was fantastic and his management of the pressure is the template.

Selection musings

The next time Australia tours England will be 2019 and the prospect of 18 years without a series win should be enough to motivate armchair sports frothers to ponder what can be done to win at Trent Bridge. Obviously we can’t play the game, but we can speculate about the team.

The conservative amble

Simple. Stick with the same XI and tell ’em to execute better.

The responsive centrist

Adam Voges hasn’t done enough. Time for a rest sunshine. Shaun Marsh gets the nod here.

The reformist agenda

Voges still goes and Shaun Marsh still comes, but slots in at four and Michael Clarke heads down to hide at 5. The bowling needs to be reignited too, so either Starc or Hazlewood makes way for Siddle.

The radical approach

Go make a cuppa tea, take a deep breath and sit down before reading this.

Rogers, Warner, Smith, S Marsh, Clarke, M Marsh, Nevill, Watson, Johnson, Hazlewood/Starc, Lyon.

Yep that’s right. Either Starc or Hazlewood sits out for Watson and he bats at eight and bowls his heart out after Johnson and Starc/Hazlewood take the new cherry. Mitch Marsh offers further back-up with Lyon. The batting has been a nightmare and Watson was a part of that in Cardiff, but this radical idea may just stiffen Australia’s batting without losing too much from the bowling. Watson’s Test batting average is better than Andy Flintoff’s and his bowling average is almost identical and many consider Flintoff to be one of the greatest all-rounders in modern cricket. Just saying…

England has benefited immensely from the runs of Moeen Ali at 8 and he isn’t scoring them through luck. He’s a genuine batsman who bowls some handy spin. His 77 at Cardiff and 59 at Birmingham were game changers.

Ok, calm down. Have another cuppa, stats aren’t everything and Watson’s Test career is probably over and the centrists or reformists will probably win. However, if Voges keeps his spot perhaps Shaun Marsh comes in for one of the bowlers and Mitch Marsh goes to 8?

England

They were superb at Edgbaston. Steve Finn was brilliant and they’ll take some serious stopping now that Ian Bell is in form alongside Joe Root. They have lost James Anderson though. The impact of his absence cannot be overstated. It has been somewhat glossed over in the aftermath of Finn’s contribution but it does weaken England’s bowling, which strengthens the centrist and reformist agendas in Australia’s selection debate.

A friend of mine in England suggested that Adam Lyth should be dropped for Adil Rashid who will slot in at 8 while Moeen Ali will be promoted to open with Cook. He argues that Ali would compliment Cook’s style and that Rashid provides an extra spin option and is a capable middle-order batsman. Johnson’s short-ball dismissal of Ali at Lords could stymie this option though, but it certainly has merit.

Whoever is picked I’m predicting… in fact I’m not predicting anything. This series is too hard to figure out.

Moving Day: Shane Watson versus England (and the Australian public)

England is on top at Sophia Gardens and the stage is set for Shane Watson to silence his critics and keep his side in the Test. The first two days have been difficult for Australia and England has proven resilient and disciplined with bat and ball.

Coming in, Australia’s bowling was its strength and England was primarily concerned with how to manage that threat. Flat and deadened pitches were expected and Cardiff has delivered. But from a position of strength in bowling, Australia now looks slightly uncertain with the ball.

The series started terribly for Australia with the loss of their main strike bowler and pack leader Ryan Harris. England feared Mitchell Johnson after he murdered them in 2013-14, but will feel slightly less threatened after he finished with 0/111 from 25 overs. Johnson received a huge, stadium-wide standing ovation after ‘scoring a ton’ and the taunting will get louder in the second innings if wickets elude. Johnson bowled far better than the stats demonstrate and remains a potent weapon.

England’s resilience was proven after they moved from 3/43 to 430. They stole 87 runs for their last 3 wickets at the start of Day 2 and pushed the Aussies off the field looking flat. England were led by the superstar Joe Root (134) – who was dropped by Haddin on 0 – and an excellent lower order dig by Moeen Ali (77), who is probably the most overqualified number 8 to play Ashes cricket. Ian Bell’s failings are papered over for now. He has 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12 and 1 from his last 8 Test inns.

The Aussies navigated a tricky 45 minutes before the lunch break. Broad and Anderson hovered and their superior knowledge of the conditions was demonstrated by their fuller length. England plundered runs square of the wicket, proving that Australia’s bowlers banged it in too short, too often. Broad and Anderson were at the stumps and at the pads, full and swinging both ways and were rewarded when Warner snicked up for 17.

England’s discipline persisted and their well-executed plans rewarded them with a position of ascendency. They have removed Australia’s top five batsmen and although each of their bowlers contributed to Cook’s plans of building pressure, the Australians will be smarting at the nature of their dismissals; five questionable shots and five catches.

Thousands of Australians have joined a growing chorus of ridicule directed at Shane Watson and were outraged when he retained his place in the side of ahead of Mitch Marsh. But as soon as Harris went down, Watson became a certainty. He is a better bowler than Marsh and provides stiffer support to Starc, Johnson, Hazlewood and Lyon, but his batting is most maligned and now it is what Australia needs most to stay in the match.

Watson is 29 not out and Australia trail by 166. Nightwatchman Nathan Lyon joined him in the fading light yesterday and only Brad Haddin remains in the shed for Australia. Starc and Johnson can bat a bit but Watson must deliver if Australia is to get back at England. Day three – moving day – awaits.

Ashes Series Selection Dilemma: Fitting 14 into 11

Australian selectors have one heck of a job picking 11 blokes to face England at Sophia Gardens. Contention rages over the middle order and the bowling attack but unlike 2009 or 2013 these are good problems; at least 14 guys make a good case for the Cardiff Test.

An almost leisurely two nil victory in the Caribbean confirmed two theories and uncovered another; Steve Smith is becoming one of the best batsman Australia has produced in over a decade, Australia’s fast bowling is lethal and Adam Voges is a capable dark horse. Perhaps a fourth note should be added, Shane Watson continues to pour on the match-winning 25s.

The Aussies begin with two four day tour matches and the first starts on 25 June at Kent followed by Essex at Chelmsford. This gives the players and selectors an opportunity to perform and assess.

Here’s a wrap of the Aussie touring party.

Certainty at the top

Chris Rogers missed two Tests in the Caribbean due to concussion but he surely returns to partner David Warner.

Steve Smith is Australia’s tenth number 3 since 2011 and – at 26 with an average of 56 and scores of 97, 162*, 52*, 133, 28, 192, 14, 117, 71, 25, 5*, 199 & 54* in his last 13 innings – could be the last number 3 Australia will need until about 2025.

Michael Clarke is determined to be the first captain to win in England since Steve Waugh in 2001.

The middle candidates

Shaun Marsh scored a ton on debut in 2011. Couldn’t get off the mark in several subsequent innings and was dropped. Came back in 2014 and has scores of 32, 17, 32, 99, 73 & 1 at number 5 against India and 19, 13*, 11 & 69 against West Indies filling at opener.

Adam Voges plundered a ton on debut against the West Indies. Voges’ selection baffled punters who’d prefer a younger talent but at 35 and with 11000 First Class runs at 46, Voges adds steel to Australia’s squad. After 14 years without a win in England this is not a series about blooding talent.

Mitchell Marsh was promising with the bat in the Tests he played against Pakistan and India and is unspectacular, although talented, with the ball.

Shane Watson… um. There’s still a strong chance he’ll play a key role in this series. He’s a great slips fielder. Every team needs one!

Wicket-keepers

Cricket Froth was convinced Brad Haddin would retire at the end of the summer. But at 37 Hads is keen as mustard to win a series in England. His presence is a huge asset for Australia. Opponents hate him; he brings the needle to this Aussie team (along with Watson from behind the stumps) and won’t be moved an inch by a combative English media or parochial home crowds. Peter Neville is Haddin’s capable back-up.

The bowlers

There’s only one thing as certain as the force of gravity on planet earth; Ryan Harris will play every single Test match in England if he is fit.

Splitting the rest is probably the most difficult task for selectors. Mitch Johnson murdered England last time and is in solid form. Mitch Starc swung the Duke a mile in the Caribbean and was lethal in the world cup and Josh Hazlewood has looked the part since hitting the Test scene. All these blokes bowl between 140-150kph and then there’s Peter Siddle, a proven workhorse who’s dropped to 5 in the pecking order.

In one sense the ECB could be expected to kill the local pitches to negate this ferocious attack, but England does not have a frontline spinner. Whatever is done to tame pitches for Australia’s fast bowlers will have equal effect on the hosts.

Nathan Lyon will be needed as Australia seems reluctant to play four fast bowlers. Victorian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed is the 17th man on tour and could be a trump card if a real turning pitch shows up.

In a strange video coming out of Dominica in the West Indies the Aussies revealed that pickle juice is used widely by players as a highly regarded cure for muscle cramps. See the Cricket Australia video here: http://www.cricket.com.au/video/chris-rogers-video-blog-pickle-juice-dehydration-west-indies-test-series-bupa/2015-06-19

Spiced Carib Run: uncertain 11s and the tenth anniversary of ‘that series’

Ten years ago the greatest Test series in history reinvigorated global interest in cricket’s most exciting format. The 2005 Ashes Series in England reminded everybody how unpredictable and entertaining Test cricket is when two decent sides get stuck in.

In 2005 Australia were untouchable and they went 1-0 up at Lords in the first Test. But England had belief, a crafty captain and desperate and rowdy support. A thriller followed at Edbaston and England won by 2 runs. As soon as they got a sniff they went in hard and their fans and the English media followed. After 16 years without a series win England defeated Australia 2-1. The result was the foundation of the fervent interest in the Ashes series that followed.

Including 2005 England have won four Ashes series in ten years. Since 2005 Australia has won only two Ashes series: both in Australia and both by a 5-0 margin. They haven’t won in England since 2001. The Ashes kicks off again in July and Aussie fans will be super confident (what’s new say the English?). But success is nowhere near guaranteed for Australia and Froth is predicting a combative series.

Cricket Froth will cover every Shane Watson LBW, every one of Alistair Cook’s snicks to slip and while attempting to get around Jimmy Anderson’s swing, lament the inevitable rain and bad light.

Caribbean Run

West Indies hosts Australia for two Tests this June. Fresh from an encouraging draw against England in April, the Caribbeans should present some resistance on slow and low pitches. In remarkable news, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been dropped. It is a controversial decision; popular commentator and former fast bowler Michael Holding says Shiv is no longer good enough and Brian Lara is disgusted at the WICB’s ‘treatment’ of Chanderpaul. Chanderpaul’s recent record is lean on runs and the Windies leadership have identified younger talent.

Chris Rogers is out of the first Test because of a concussion sustained in a tour match and it will be interesting to see what the selectors do. Shaun Marsh nailed a ton in the same match partnering Rogers. Of course, Shane Watson is another option at opener with Warner, but Watto is better off at six if indeed he plays at all. Mitch Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitch Starc and Fawad Ahmed are all in the mix. Hazlewood out-bowled Siddle in the Antigua tour match and Fawad Ahmed is a pitch specific option. Ryan Harris is on ice until the Ashes.

Steve Smith has been confirmed as Australia’s new Test number three. He is the tenth number three since Ponting dropped down the order in 2011. The first Test in Dominica begins in the wee hours of Thursday morning Australian time. For early risers you can catch an hour or two before work on one of the Fox Sport channels or follow Cricket Froth for updates.

The Black Caps

Tonight New Zealand will be hoping rain and bad light stay away on day five at Headingley. The Kiwis put on 8/454 declared in their 2nd innings after both sides scored 350 in the 1st. Most of day four was lost to rain in Leeds and England is 0/44 in reply. England cannot win the match. A draw will win them the series as they beat New Zealand in a thriller at Lords last week.

Froth is furious that there is no third Test match. Instead the two sides will play five ODIs and a T20. This is a colossal waste of time considering the cricket public was subjected to 47,000 ODIs in a row in the cricket world cup a few months ago. Seriously, who cares about these ODIs? Find me a cricket fan who’ll be on seat’s edge during another meaningless series…

The argument that this is done for money is weak. Cricket’s establishment perpetuated the fallacy that Tests were boring and ODIs and T20s were EXCITING!

Time for a new message and a new commercial direction.