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Fifth Ashes Test, The Oval – Australia’s selection riddle continues

Reports indicate Australia will make changes to its XI for the fifth and final Test. This means that in every one of its last 13 Test matches, Australia has changed its line up and batting order. We’ve lost 8 of those, with one to play.

For tonight’s Test at the Oval I can understand Mitchell Starc replacing Jackson Bird, but James Faulkner replacing Usman Khawaja?

Australia has significant problems with its batting, so what do we do? Drop a batsmen and bring in an all-rounder who averages 30 with the bat in First Class cricket.

The selection mismanagement and total lack of continuity and direction in this Australian set up is appalling. This isn’t to say that James Faulkner isn’t a reasonable candidate for selection, but the circumstances demand we pick our strongest possible batting line up. There is no evidence to suggest we’ve done that here.

The Selection Riddle

In early 2013 Ed Cowan was one of Australia’s better performers in a barren series in India, albeit as an opener. He was moved to number 3 for the First Ashes Test, but failed, and was dropped. Usman Khawaja replaced him at Lords. He lasted three Test Matches.

One 50 in 6 innings is hardly a suitable return, but the fact Khawaja (again) was picked meant the selectors believed he had the ability to become a Test standard number 3. You may fail to convert it, but you don’t lose ability 3 weeks. This is the second time Khawaja has been dropped from the Test side. He’s played 9 Tests and averages 25. Surely he’ll be consigned to some lengthy graft at Shield and County level to prove he is worthy once again?

Maybe not though, he could be back in the side sooner than that.

The establishment may handle Khawaja like they did Phil Hughes – who was dropped about 18months ago (for the second time), and consigned to less than half a season in Shield cricket, before being brought back to play at home versus Sri Lanka, and away in India.

Based on the mean, Hughes didn’t have a shocker in Inida, and retained his place for the First Ashes Test. He scored an 80odd not-out in the first innings at number 6, a less recognised cameo to the famous 98 by Ashton Agar. Hughes failed in the second innings of that Test, and was then promoted up the order to number 3 for the 2nd Test after Ed Cowan was dropped. In the Lords massacre, Hughes didn’t get a run and was dropped for the Third Test, replaced by David Warner.

Shane Watson is reportedly now the man to bat at 3, after batting at 4 and 5 in India, opening in the first 2 and a half Tests of this series, then batting at 6 in the last 3 innings.

Based on the continual shuffle, Khawaja might find himself opening the batting in the return series in Australia. Or he could be at number 6, or 4. Maybe even wicket keeper? Has he got a good set of gloves in his kit bag? Perhaps he should get some.

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I need sleep, but I can’t let go of this riddle!

Here we go again. It’s Day Five, we’ve had play, we’ve had wickets and I think I’m going to need that defibrillator again. This is unbelievable. The problem is, it’s raining now!

England are rocking at 3/33, but father time and mother nature are mating again and they want a draw. Every Australian fan and neutral is screaming for more dry weather and wickets. You guessed it too. We’ve had more controversy with umpiring and DRS. Ally Cook was absolutely plumb, Jonathan Trott was out, but Kevin Pietersen… well. The umpire gave him out, he reviewed, hot spot did not support the original decision, but he was sent packing.

The increasingly impossible riddle of original decision versus referral, leading to hotspot, close camera analysis, deviation detection, noise, player reaction and gut instinct is enough to shatter the sanity of players and fans of both sides.

My initial and gut instinct was that Pietersen was not out. It wasn’t as clear as Usman Khawaja’s miss on Day One, but there was little evidence he hit it. The inadmissible snickometre detected something though, so I will say that at best Pietersen may have feathered a tiny thread of seam string. The close up photo showing the position of the ball indicates this might, just might, be the case.

Anyway. The second session is yet to commence due to rain. The full covers are out and I’m a jittering wreck of a man. I need sleep, I have heaps of work to do, my fitness is declining. This series is battering me, a ludicrous cocktail of pleasure and pain and I can’t let go, not now. I know I’m not alone either.

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Weather permitting, crackling cricket remains to rivet – Days Two & Three

Grit, grind, graft and trench warfare. This is tough Test Match cricket at Old Trafford and unfortunately, it appears that the Manchester weather will eliminate Australia’s hopes of victory.

I failed to write yesterday as the nip of domestic chores and general life maintenance requirements consumed time. Here I sit on a Sunday morning after a cracking night with friends Jen and Ian, who came to our place for some food, music, drinks and a few yarns. The night before we hosted Chris and Hien for an almost identical set. Two late nights, big on the wine and always with the Test Match close by, which pulled us in with its variety of twists and turns.

Day Two (Friday night) saw Australia continue its prudent first day batting display. Declaration came just after the Tea break. Who would have thought, a declaration? Australia were barely able to string together 200 at Lords, let alone surpassing 500 with Michael Clarke giving it the big wave from the deck of the pavilion.

The Captain had done his bit, with a marvellous knock of 187. His vice, Brad Haddin played an almost surreptitious hand, with an unbeaten 65 off 99 balls. Starc and Smith also get mentions and while the latter fell for 89, his innings assisted Australia in more ways than the cumulative of his runs. He batted time and demanded a great deal of graft from England’s bowlers, which set up the cameo knocks of his colleagues later on. Particularly Starc, who nutted out a 66 not out off 71 balls taking full advantage of a tired bowling group and propelling Australia beyond 500.

At 2/52 overnight England faced a mountainous task to avoid the follow on figure (328). But, on Day Three (Saturday night) England showed plenty of fight and their stoic batting held Australia at bay, who could only manage five wickets. Kevin Pietersen built a score of 113, while Ian Bell again gracefully added vital runs.

Australia are still on top in this game, with England trailing by 233 runs with three wickets in hand, but father time and mother nature are threatening to mate, and produce an ugly offspring for Australia.

Controversy, again

Snicko, hawkeye, hotspot and slow motion replays dominate my sleeping consciousness, such is their prominence in this Ashes series. More DRS controversy and poor umpiring has affected both sides in this match over the last two days and the ICC will come under sustained pressure to justify its systems, processes and human resources. I don’t have the energy to dissect and micro analyse the elements today, but rest assured, this series is generating doctoral research level talking points about the administration and officiating of cricket.

Looking ahead to Day Four

Australia need to fire out England’s remaining three wickets within an hour or two on Day Four. England need 34 runs to avoid the follow on figure, but it’s very unlikely Australia will enforce it. Instead, the scenario would seem that Australia will bat and attempt to nail on an extra 150 to the lead, declare and have another crack at England’s superior batting line up. Two days to go, six sessions of cricket and plenty of surprises remain. I hope there’s a two day drought in Manchester!

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Is the DRS rubbish or are some ICC umpires utterly useless?

That is the volcanic inferno inducing question, once again.

After only one session of cricket in the third Test here we sit, not discussing Australia’s reasonable start with the bat (2/92 at lunch). Instead, all across Australia and parts of the world social media fumes over the sheer incompetence and totally unsatisfactory performance of the field umpire, and the third umpire operating the Decision Review System.

I was absolutely ropeable at the outcome of Usman Khawaja’s review. He was clearly not-out, missed it by two inches; no noise, no hotspot, no deviation. Why England appealed I have no idea, but they did and the field umpire obliged. The batsmen reviewed, then in an act of total absurdity, the third umpire concurred and Khawaja was sent packing.

I received about 11 text messages from fellow Australians raging over the inexplicable outcome. I bashed out about as many diatribes to friends and colleagues. Social media burned with hatred and the targets were many; the ICC, the umpires, the DRS, England, technology, you name it.

DRS or Umpire fault?

As the cloud of frothing anger begins to recede (is that possible?) the key point of debate should focus on whether the technology or the umpire is to blame?

There’s no question that the third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, completely stuffed this one up. He had access to compelling evidence and his job was to overturn the field umpire’s horrendous decision. He failed.

In what circumstances is human error least acceptable?

With or without DRS humans will make mistakes. We can accept that. We have to. We’ve all copped a howler, benefited from one, or witnessed one from the stands or the couch. But, the circumstances of this dismissal are unforgivable. DRS was designed to reduce the instance of howlers, not introduce new ones. Accountability is required and answers are needed.

India refuse to play with DRS, perhaps they’re feeling pretty vindicated right about now.