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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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2nd Test, Day Three – Review (Root’s rout)

To borrow lyrics from a famous Paul Kelly song;

“there’s two sides out there and only one of ’em’s playing cricket” *

England’s Joe Root performed brilliantly on Day Three at Lords, dispelling the perception he was the weak link in the host’s top order. Root routed Australia and batted right through the day amassing an unbeaten 178 off 334 balls including 18 fours and 2 sixes. The Root epic was exactly the type of innings Australia’s top order have shown to be utterly incapable of replicating and it also established, with abundant force, just how pathetically inadequate Australia’s first innings batting display was. Across two innings Root himself now leads Australia by 56 runs, and if Captain Cook decides to carry on the punishment for Australia’s bowlers it’s possible he alone could establish a lead Australia couldn’t successfully chase.

Declaration

England’s Captain will declare at some point during the first session on Day Four, perhaps providing Root enough time to nail a double tonne and to push the lead beyond 600. Some may have questioned why the declaration hasn’t come already. With plenty of time and a good weather forecast, why wouldn’t England take this opportunity to belt Australia into total submission, by setting an impossibly gargantuan lead and physically and psychologically brutalising Australia’s only strong point, its bowlers.

With another three Tests to play in this series – and another 5 in Australia soon after – this is good captaincy from Cook. In an intensely psychological game, nobody should underestimate the lasting impact this approach may have on England’s opposition.

My night

I missed most of Day Three as I was otherwise engaged. I did manage to see a few overs in a bar late on in the second session when I joined a heap of the lads for a pint. The English amongst our posse were quick to remind us of the tortuous pain they’d endured from a many a big mouthed Aussie, when Australia battered England for a 15 year period. We weren’t getting any sympathy from them last night, as they enjoyed the spectacle and cheered on Joe Root and co.

 

* This is a reference to a quote by Donald G Bradman who made this statement during the infamous Bodyline series – the 1932-33 Ashes Series in Australia. Paul Kelly wrote a song about Bradman in which this statement is quoted.