Ashes 2017 – First Test Review

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If England are to take one positive away from the first test at the Gabba, it is that they were in the contest for the best part of three days.

Many touring sides walk away from the ‘Gabbatoir’ with egos damaged, reputations tarnished and careers in tatters.

This was certainly the case in 2013/14 when England came to the Gabba and were blown away inside four days by Mitchell Johnson.

Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swan were left with psychological scars so deep they returned home, while the remainder of the English dressing room were left puzzled as to how they would go about thwarting the firebrand quick for the rest of the series.

They never recovered and went on to lose 5-0.

Years earlier Simon Jones, who had shown signs he could become a prolific wicket taker for England in the few overs he got to bowl before plugging his knee in the Gabba outfield during the first test of the 2002/03 series, was whisked off to hospital and took no further part in the tour.

England also had 350 runs put on them on that first day at the Gabba after Nasser Hussain decided he would make his bowlers toil on a wicket harder than the M1.

To no one’s surprise, England lost that series 4-1, with their only relief coming in the final test of the summer at the SCG.

The first test of this summer didn’t follow the conventional Gabba storylines.

Few England players have been left with deep psychological scars despite the fact they lost by a margin of 10 wickets and many key batsman failed to score runs – Alastair Cook being one of those.

Normally it is the quicks who leave batsmen fearing for their collective futures at the Gabba. But the first test of this Ashes summer belonged to Nathan Lyon, and you get the feeling most of the English left handers will be losing sleep over him rather than Starc and Hazlewood.

Malan and Stoneman were both dismissed in the second innings prodding at a ball that ripped and turned from the footmarks outside off stump.

They had no set plan to the off spinner and spent most of their time plonking their front foot down the line of off-stump, hoping the ball would go straight on to hit the middle of the bat.

Kevin Pietersen made mention in the aftermath of the first test that the English batsmen must go after Lyon or risk being bogged down and eventually lose their wicket without progressing the score.

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Hazlewood to Malan on Day one at the Gabba.

You sense that Lyon was able to contain the English batsmen during the first test because, to put it simply, they were scared to leave their crease.

With the ball spinning and bouncing, the risk of being stumped became far greater and so they reverted to playing with soft hands and a vertical bat.

Taking one method of dismissal out of the equation betters your chance of survival, right?

Wrong.

Nathan Lyon is the kind of bowler that will immediately find a second gear if he gets a sniff.

With many of the English batsmen new to the test arena, Lyon was able to play on their vulnerabilities and improve his chances of taking a wicket by removing the only way he is ever put off his length – the dancing feet of an opposition batsman.

When a batsmen is rooted to the crease, as the likes of Bell and Prior were back in 2013, Lyon fires.

He can build up pressure around the bat and let the rough do the talking while the batsmen push and prod in the hope of survival.

If a batsmen goes after him, as many touring sides have done in the past, he begins to drop the ball short and run scoring becomes far easier.

The sooner the English batsmen realise this, the better chance they are of scoring over 400 in Adelaide and beyond without Stokes.

Of course, there is still the quicks to contend with, but they will be far less threatening if Lyon isn’t building up pressure down the other end.

For the better part of the first innings at the Gabba, Australia’s bowlers were far too short. This could easily be blamed on the slowness of the Gabba wicket, for if it had played normally – as it did in the second innings – the shorter length may well have been effective.

But the Australian quicks, Cummins in particular, were too short too often and went looking for a mode of dismissal that was nigh on impossible during much of the first innings.

Only when the wicket quickened up did the back-of-a-length tactic pay dividends.

For the reminder of the summer, the WACA aside, the wickets will be flat, slow and might even seam from time to time.

The benefit of touring Australia is that you play on drop in wickets that are devoid of life and flatter than a pancake after a day and a half.

If England can win in Adelaide, there’s a chance they can win the series. Lose and there is no coming back with a game at the WACA to come.

Tests at the Gabba and WACA are so often seen as the games that make or break a series because the wickets at both venues play into Australia’s hands.

But Adelaide is now seen as the tie-breaker because the games at the MCG and SCG could go either way.

If England lose in Adelaide, the series is all but sewn up for Australia.

If this scenario transpires, all hell could break lose in England’s camp and we could witness a repeat of the carnage and turmoil of their last trip down under.

Australia have the upper hand but Adelaide will tell us a lot about the direction this Ashes series is headed.

 

Pakistan depart Gabba with ascendancy despite loss

Australia have plenty to ponder over their Christmas lunches having fought back from the brink of defeat in what was almost one of the great test match robberies.

Pakistan’s efforts on day one and two left many, including myself, wondering what they would be able to take away from this series, and in how many days Australia would romp to victory. But the resilience they showed with the bat in a remarkable turnaround that stunned the punters has given them all the momentum they need to take out the Melbourne and Sydney test matches.

Before they reached our shores, Pakistan where notorious for their dogged determination, willingness to win the scrap and ability to steal back the ascendancy like thieves in the night. They lived up to those expectations with a performance that showed the world why they are the sleeping giants not to be taken lightly, even if they haven’t played a test on their home patch for seven years.

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The Gabba at night on Day One

They’ve left Australia to walk away with a win that is barely palatable and will have them thinking about the pre-planed tactics they employed and their relative ineffectiveness in bringing about false shots on a regular basis. If anything, Pakistan have taken more away from this test match than the Australian’s who waltzed into the Gabba like a pack of hungry lions expecting to rip their pray to shreds without a fight. At the completion of the first innings, they were well within their rights to assume that the game would pan out in such a manner, but their complacency gave Pakistan’s underrated batsmen a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel that they fell agonisingly short of making a tangible reality. 39 runs short in fact.

Opponents should beware. If you give Pakistan an inch, they will take a mile. How the game was allowed to shift from a forgone conclusion to a nail-biting game for the ages is a concern in itself and shows how vulnerable an outfit Australia are at the moment, and how 2017 could quickly become their worst year in over a decade. A bumpy road awaits filled with multiple twists, turns and speed humps that could result in unfavourable results that eclipse the humiliation of their thrashing in Hobart and the fallout that followed. The vastly improved Bangladesh shapes as a danger-filled series, while the Ashes at the beginning of next summer will be the ideal yardstick to judge Australia’s positioning amongst the world’s elite.

Starc, Hazlewood and Bird are world class fast bowlers who posses unrivalled qualities, while Lyon is a long-underapreciated spinner who still has plenty to offer the Australian side at home and in the sub-continent. But their inability to bowl sides out in the final innings of a game is a reoccurring theme that will not only put more pressure on the batsmen to amass a large first innings score, but also force them to bowl injury inducing excess overs. Australia’s fresh faced batting line-up relies greatly upon its bowlers to keep the opposition’s totals to a minimum in order to make their job a great deal easier. And this will only be accentuated when they reach India in February.

Their first innings performance against Pakistan was the equivalent of a cricketing symphony. But they lacked potency in the second dig and bowled far too many deliveries that enabled Pakistan’s seasoned batsmen to fill their boots. When Starc wasn’t busy delivering a barrage of bouncers, which worked on the odd occasion but yielded few wickets when compared to the number of deliveries bowled short, Hazlewood was over-pitching and allowing Pakistan to play to their strengths. The UAE is home to some of the slowest and lowest wickets in the world and batsmen local to these regions are natural born drivers. Anything pitched on a half volley length is money for jam.

Jackson Bird delivered the timely knock out blows that rendered Pakistan’s run chase moot, and his presence provides the calming influence that frustrates opposition batsmen into rash strokes making him the perfect foil for Starc and Hazlewood.

His unerring ability to put the ball on a troubling length and make it seam is an indispensable value that will be required when Australia visit South Africa and England. But the career clock is ticking and he has a host of younger bowlers like Pat Cummins, Jason Behrendorff and current squad member Chadd Sayers breathing down his neck. Will he still be around beyond the end of this series? Or will his time be up by the Sydney test.

Late wickets sink final nail in Pakistan coffin

Pakistan fought valiantly to push the game into a fifth day, but the loss of crucial wickets at important junctions has all but written off their late dash to the finish line.

Asad Shafiq’s hundred and the belligerence of tail-end batsmen Amir and Wahab have put Pakistan in with a fighting chance of defying the historical odds stacked heavily against them. Yet the probability of breaking the age-old record to crack Australia’s 490 is slim, and will require a one up on the heroics they displayed this evening.

Pakistan’s elder statesmen needed to be the one’s to guide the ship home, but they were both dismissed in a fashion that would have had coach Mickey Arthur pulling at his hair. Younis, with his wealth of experience totalling 110 matches, was able to keep Australia at bay for a session with a typically defiant innings, before playing a stroke born of frustration to become Lyon’s second victim. His brain fade, that came in the form of a reverse sweep, was labelled “ridiculous” by former Pakistan quick Waqar Younis in the Channel Nine commentary box. But it was more of a crime than an act of stupidity and may have been the catalyst that caused the pins to start tumbling late in the day.

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The grounds crew prepare the wicket at tea on Day One.

Younis Khan has the great ability to frustrate sides and opposition captains to the edge of insanity. He did it against England earlier this year at the Oval – a game Pakistan managed to win thanks to his score of 218. You could see Starc and Hazlewood’s frustration flowing from their ears. The short pitched bowling that followed was a byproduct of the pain that Younis and Azhar had managed to heap on in a matter of just two short sessions. But his reverse sweep, which came during a period of the innings that required patience and unfailing concentration, was unbefitting of a man with more combined test match experience than half the Pakistan side combined.

Misbah-ul-haq was guilty of similar crimes. The stroke that brought about his demise might not have been as extravagant as Younis, but the risk factor was practically identical. He pushed at a good length ball from Jackson Bird with all the might and flamboyance of an invincible and battle hardened cricketer but with the footwork of a newly born calf. It was a carbon copy of his dismissal in the first innings. A danger sign for the Pakistan stalwart who must find a way to play on Australian wickets again before his flaws reach a stage where they are beyond repair.

Australian captain Steve Smith will be sleeping uneasily tonight with the thought of ‘what if’ a reoccurring theme in his dreams. His own drops, including what would have been the prized scalp of centurion Asad Shafiq, have kept Pakistan in the contest and might yet prove to be bigger slip up’s than those that allowed former Olympic speed skater Steve Bradbury to take out the gold medal at the 2002 winter Olympic Games.

Pakistan are the underdogs who couldn’t put a foot right on the opening two days of a series defining test match. Australia are the grinning cheshire cats who shifted into cruise control this morning having set Pakistan a seemingly unassailable total. There have been some terrific tales of the little man overcoming the unbreakable giants: David v Goliath; England v Ireland (and the Netherlands); Leicester City v 5000/1 odds. But none would be greater than this if Shafiq can combine with Pakistan’s last remaining warriors to make up the remaining 107 run deficit.

Pakistan continue the trend of touring side woe under the Gabba lights

Pakistan made a resurgence early on day two but it was Australia who took the honours on an entertaining second day thanks to an inspired session of bowling from Hazlewood, Statc and Bird under the Gabba lights. The day began promisingly for Pakistan when they took the wicket of Steve Smith, averting any further damage that the previous day’s centurion showed signs of inflicting early on. But Handscomb, the man who played second fiddle to his captain for much of the first day, made sure that Pakistan wouldn’t be let off the hook, bringing up his maiden test century and pushing the Australian first innings total beyond 350. His technique is a little unorthodox, both in the way he sets up and the point at which he strikes the ball, and his fluency may have been stymied by a better bowling attack with greater variation. The all left-arm attack of Pakistan played right into Handscomb’s hands, with the angle across his body allowing him to run the ball off the face of the bat from deep in his crease down to third man. An area that proved to be particularly productive for him despite the protection Misbah had in place when he quckly became aware of Handscomb’s strengths. One must wonder how this technique will cope in countries like England where the ball swings a great deal more and the bounce is not nearly as high as what he will have experienced on the grounds he knows so well here in Australia. What was most pleasing about his innings was the patience and level-headedness he showed when wickets were tumbling at the other end. Lesser players would have looked to push the rate and reach their hundred before the well of tail end batsmen ran dry. But there was Handscomb, defending resolutely when the ball was pitched in a good area and attacking when the opportunity eventually presented itself. At no stage did he look to shelter his partner at the other end by rotating the strike to ensure he faced the majority of the deliveries at the back end of the innings.

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Fans, including myself, gather outside the Gabba nets to watch the players prepare for day two.

Everything about Handscomb, his temperament, mindset and willingness to take on the bowlers screams experienced test cricketer. But he is just 29 and hasn’t yet become a fully fledged member of this Australian side. The future is bright.

The success Pakistan experienced in the morning session was quickly extinguished when they took to the batting crease under cloudy skies with the lights on the cusp of taking full effect at a venue that has shown its night session to produce more wicket taking deliveries than the previous two day/ night venues. There were so many flash points throughout the day’s play that to cover them all would take up a great deal more than the usual 1000 words.

First came the continuation of the first day’s unusual field settings and inconsistent bowling lengths, before Wahab and Amir combined to clean up the Australian tail for an insurmountable total of 429. But that wasn’t without a terrific rearguard action from Bird and Lyon who provided the knockout blow that might yet ensure Australia bat just once in this game.

Then came Pakistan’s astonishing and unforeseen capitulation. What would be most disappointing for them upon reflection of each dismissal would surely be the way in which they were caught in the slips pushing at deliveries that in Australian conditions quite simply should not have been played at. This is part of the learning curve touring sides face when they reach our shores and they must be awake to these glaring deficiencies if they wish to return from this series in a state that isn’t far from where they left off in England. The entire top order, including experienced campaigners Misbah and Younis, were all dismissed in a similar fashion to deliveries pitched in a zone that forced them to play with hard hands when they should have been shouldering arm’s. Particularly during the early stages of their innings.

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The Channel Nine television camera’s in operation at the Stanley Street end mid-afternoon

Australia’s fast bowling cartel showed once again why the Gabba has become a fortress that touring sides despise. The bounce of the wicket caught Pakistan off guard and the procession of wickets that followed were all a product of their inability to adjust to the foreign conditions. Australia face a similar proposition when they tour India early next year. They must compensate for the low bounce and turn of the sub-continent wickets in order to avoid leaving with their tales fixed firmly between their legs. A feeling Australia know all too well of late. The steps are already in place for them to achieve, now it is simply a matter of the players executing their skills and repaying the selectors faith. There is no room for passengers in series’ such as these that could go awry and expose technical flaws no sooner than the players have stepped off the aircraft. Pakistan have shown a total unwillingness to battle and scrap like so many Australian side’s have on the road in the past, and have looked as adept at countering what the Australian’s have thrown at them as Nic Maddinson has looked a man who knows his place in the test arena. They are a team full of weak links that are on the brink of being the umpteenth touring side to get chewed up and spat out by the alien conditions. Sides from the sub-continent have tried and tried in Australia to find a method that garners a favourable result, but the result is often as frivolous as the attempt. Particularly at the Gabba, where Australia have remained unbeaten since 1988. Pakistan, from what they’ve shown us across the opening two days, look as if they are destined to suffer the same fate as many that have gone before them but without showing the same fight and perseverence under adversity that we have become accustomed to seeing from recent Asian touring sides India and Sri Lanka. It’s difficult to see where Pakistan’s runs will come from given the impatience that has made an epidemic like spread through their batting line up since the first test in New Zealand.

Pakistan’s plight allows Australia to dominate day one at the Gabba

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Shadows descend on the Gabba as the game moves into the twilight period

Australia could hardly have asked for a better start to the series. Each batsman who walked to the crease, with the exception of Khawaja who fell in the most inconspicuous of circumstances to the bowling of Yasir Shah, got at least a start and have set up the game nicely for Australia to build momentum going into the test match’s most crucial days.

Pakistan’s ultra conservative field placements, unthreatening bowling and lack of effort was evident throughout the day and has cost them dearly. New ball pairing Mohammad Amir and Rahat Ali produced too many deliveries over the course of the first hours play that failed to utilise the Gabba’s notorious pace and bounce, which allowed the Australians to build the foundation required to mount a significant first innings score. Warner and Renshaw looked at ease for the majority of their innings thanks to some rather peculiar field placings and bowling changes by Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq who, despite his age, looked out of his depth during the clutch moments. Yasir Shah, who came on in the tenth over of the day’s play and shared in a third of the 90 completed overs, was made to bowl to an ultra conservative field which featured three men deep on the leg side (long-on, deep mid-wicket and deep fine-leg). Perhaps it was a plan architected in the bowels of the away dressing room prior to the bowling of the first ball. You’d certainly hope for this to be the case given the number of deliveries targeted at the batsmen’s leg stump, and the number of shots played freely through the leg side. No test match spinner should be giving away that many runs so easily if his initial aim isn’t to have them caught sweeping or fending.

Smith’s hundred came as no great surprise but was a pleasing sight for an Australian side gearing up for a monumental tour to India in two months time. Pakistan’s impatience and incapacity to bowl one line, on one side of the stumps, led to their downfall and allowed Smith to play in a fashion that was not only devoid of risk, but let him ease into his innings by playing his natural game. For a large part of the day, Pakistan were unable to build up maiden overs and the pressure put on the incoming batsman was similarly non existent. Of course, the two are inextricably linked, and there was no greater sign of this then when Smith sent anything pitched short by Rahat Ali into the mid-wicket fence and anything full careering into the sight screens at either end of the ground. They didn’t bowl to Smith’s weaknesses, nor did they make a concerted effort to pepper away at a consistent line and they have payed the ultimate price as a result. Steve Smith is 110 not out at stumps. God only knows how many more he is capable of putting on tomorrow if Pakistan come out as uninterested and pedestrian as they did today.

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The lights in full effect at the Gabba on Day One.

At no stage, other than during the last ten overs, did Pakistan ever look as if they were ready and raring to take on the challenge of a young Australian unit on a wicket that gave them a fantastic opportunity to make early inroads. They were late to the party and the score had ticked over to a hundred for the loss of one wicket by the time they finally appeared to awake from their slumber. By this stage, though, the opportunity to take the game away from Australia had already past them by. They needed to set the tone early and fire warning shots at the fragile Australian dressing room that are only now recovering from the turmoil they underwent less than a month ago. But they weren’t reactive enough and couldn’t adjust to the conditions at their feet. If they are to play themselves back into this game (which looks unlikely at this stage) they must start by finishing off the Australian middle and lower order by no later than mid-way through the second session tomorrow. If Australia surpass 500 on a Gabba wicket that promises to quicken up with age, there may be no coming back. Particularly when you consider that Starc and Hazlewood are likely to be unleashed under the Gabba lights with a new pink ball in hand. An ugly scenario for Pakistan’s top order to negotiate after one and a half days spent toiling away in the field.

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It’s difficult to tell, but Smith and Handscomb are at the wicket in this photo.

Pakistan are a side capable of topping the world rankings once again if they find it within themselves to produce the performances we saw in England on a regular basis. Their lethargy in the field, indiscipline with ball in hand and lack of knowledge of local conditions has put them on the back foot in this series already. They look a side devoid of options in the bowling department and are easily swayed by the recent form of batsmen against opposing nations – as the field placings to David Warner exemplified today. The New Zealand tour has bruised ego’s, and the road to recovery following an error ridden first day is a rocky one.

Side Note – The Gabba also received a big tick for the attendees it managed to attract to the first day following calls for the grounds neck by CA officials and other commentators during the week. The innovations brought in by CA in partnership with the ground where instrumental in producing a crowd in-excess of 26,000 fans and has likely diverted attention away from Brisbane’s apparent declining interest in test cricket for at least the course of this test match.

There will be a more comprehensive wrap after play tomorrow on not only the game’s progress, but also a few things about the pink ball that caught my eye.

What’s in store for Australia’s junior brigade during the forthcoming clash with Pakistan

There will be plenty of minor sub plots for the cricketing community to sink their teeth into when the First test against Pakistan roles into Brisbane on Thursday. There’s the ongoing saga involving former Australian coach Mickey Arthur, and the discontent that continues to bottle up over the terms in which he and Australia parted ways, despite the fact that his axing can now be filed under ancient history. He’s now a bona fide and respected member of the Pakistan team who added a notch to his belt earlier this year when he coached the side to number one in the world. A remarkable feat for a man who was thrown out of his last major gig to a resounding ‘hurrah’ from the playing group and cricket board. Many felt that he was the source of dressing room disharmony, which makes his rise to prominence from the ashes of the wreckage that was his career all the more impressive. But his major goal would surely be to give Australia a dose of their own medicine and earn back a hint of the respectability he lost following the homework-gate saga. What better place to do it than on their home soil, in front of their home fans, during a period in which they are at their most vulnerable.

Mickey Arthur, Photo: The Indian Express

There’s also the curious case of Mohammad Amir – the comeback kid who has been put through the wringer on the road back to the national team following his involvement in a spot fixing scandal that occurred during Pakistan’s tour to England in 2010. He’s come along way since we first saw him back then as a meek, baby faced fast bowling prodigy being put behind bars alongside his captain and mentor in a cruel twist of fate that continues to divide the cricketing public. He might prove to be the thorn in Australia’s side, as he was the last time Pakistan let him loose on an Australian batting order.

That was 2010, and if he can find the form we’ve witnessed so far on his come back tour, which has seen him travel to England and then to the UAE for a series against the West Indies, this could be a break-out series which sees him reassume the mantle as one of the worlds most revered young fast bowlers. It was that way before he was led astray by the most influential figure in his young adult life, and he might well have his name up in lights for the second time in this soap-opera of a career if he can lead Pakistan to victory in arguably their biggest challenge since they humbled England in August.

For the Australian side, this series couldn’t take on any greater importance. They are the walking wounded who made the call for reinforcements a few weeks back and have been reaping the rewards ever since. But the young side remain as vulnerable as they were before their all important initiation in Adelaide, and their inexperience could well lead to their downfall if they are suddenly thrust behind the eight ball. How will an inexperienced middle order react to being 3/35 under lights with Pakistan’s opening bowlers swinging the ball around corners as the did in their tour match against the CAXI.

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The Gabba will be the venue for the first encounter between Australia and Pakistan.

There was a sense of beginners luck – which stemmed directly from the exuberance of youth – about the test win in Adelaide. The side had nothing to loose having already been handed their backsides in Hobart and any further losses would have simply been a continuation of recent trends, and hence, nothing for the public to cry foul about. But Australia have managed to steady the ship and they now must live up to their newly forged expectations by beating a side that looks fatigued and gun-shy after four months of globetrotting. The batting order had little answer to what the New Zealand bowling attack threw at them on the green seamers at Hagley Oval and Seddon Park. By comparison, Australia have an experienced and finely tuned new ball pairing, wickets with pace and bounce at their disposal and showed one again in the recently completed Chappell Hadlee series that their seamers are a class above New Zealand’s. If they can’t deliver with the ball and their volatile batting falters, Pakistan will take advantage of their shortcomings and they will quickly return to the position they found themselves in at the beginning of the summer.

I’ll be visiting the ground on days one and two and will report back with photos and a brief report at stumps.

Australia v South Africa, Day One and Two – All isn’t as it seems

Let us forget, for a moment, the usual discourses surrounding the performances of the Australian cricket team and instead dig a little deeper. Much of the blame has been placed on the shoulders of Steve Smith, which is to be expected. The captain takes the flak in the midst of a crisis, even if there are circumstances beyond his control that are partly to blame for on field performances. These issues often arise at a management or administrative level. The paper pushers, who are parked out of sight and out of mind when the axe is right for the swinging, are more to blame for Australia’s declining form than they might seem. Consider for a moment the scheduling. This is left up to those in positions of power, who devise a plan that will maximise profit. It’s in the hands of those who barely seem to consider the repercussions of their decision making. The players have no input in this process, nor any of the others that have an influence on performance. If they did, their pleas would have been answered, and this South African series would have begun at the GABBA, before moving onto Adelaide and then to either the WACA or Hobart (no great advantage at these last two venues, it seems). But there is more money to be made when these fixtures are manipulated based on a criteria that prioritises crowd numbers over sustained success.

Then, of course, there’s the selection committee who, in my mind, stand at the forefront of this whole dilemma. Let’s consider for a moment the players they’ve brought in over the course of the last three years, a period which hasn’t been as productive in the test arena as one might have hoped. Since the i’ll-fated tour of India some three years ago, Australia have have had 15 test debutants. Seven of those have played less than five games. The issue isn’t so much a lack of faith from selectors though, as these figures might suggest. It is instead the age at which the players have begun their careers, a problem which has been brought about by the selectors themselves, and will be left up to them to rectify. The average debut age, 27 (rounded up), is concerning, not because they haven’t managed to extend their careers beyond a few games – this has been occurring for decades, and is an issue based on ability, not age. The concern here is that their career longevity is reduced with every passing season. Their physical fitness will begin to falter while the natural deterioration of vision will eventually catch up with them, compromising their ability to perform at the level required. There are, of course, some exceptions – Steve Waugh springs to mind – but retiring at age 35 means that a career which began at 27 will last just eight years. And that’s notwithstanding the negative effects a form slump can have in cutting it short, especially when they are approaching an age where greater scrutiny is put on each and every performance. That’s without even considering the young players knocking the door down in the Sheffield Shield, and the pressure they put on the selectors to drop the ageing incumbent.

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George Bailey – Five tests – Age of Debut: 31
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Adam Voges – 19 tests – Age of Debut: 35
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Callum Ferguson – 1* test – Age of Debut: 31

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the trend the selectors appear to have adopted for reasons unbeknownst to many, perhaps even to them. But in doing so, they shoot themselves in the foot, over correcting the misdoings of older players by blooding youth at an age where success is often dependent on whether they are prepared mentally for the rigours of international cricket. So often, they are not yet finely tuned to the degree required, and a string of failures can result in an axing from the side, perhaps never to return to the international game (Ashton Agar played two tests aged 19 and hasn’t been on the radar since).

The selectors have made some rash and perhaps unwarranted selections this tour and they’re paying for them through the backlash found in the morning’s papers. I’m not devaluing the worth of a few of these selections, but suggesting that these players (Voges and Ferguson for example) should have been given an opportunity a few years earlier during their pomp. They’ve all got plenty to offer the national team, but their age is a major factor which the selectors will act on swiftly when the public grows weary of their ineptitude.

The Australian selection panel are yet to discover the perfect formula. What age is too young? Is it worth selecting ageing players? How they can get the most out of a player of any age lies in how they are trained and nurtured. Our current Sheffield Shield competition isn’t doing enough to facilitate success, let alone prepare our future Ponting’s, McGrath’s and Warne’s. It has been led astray, multilated and used as an arena to experiment and tamper with different features that will benefit CA’s self interests – the balls, day/ night games etc – at times when its aim should have been to enable ‘first-class’ contests. Its standards have slipped, but not to the point where we are unable to discover talented needles in a generously sized haystack. But how capable is that haystack in comparison to others around the world. The administrators aren’t heading the warnings given off by the Australian test side currently. They continue to treat the players like guinea pigs and the national team are suffering the effects.

There was plenty of time from the end of the tour of Sri Lanka to the beginning of the summer to ensure there were enough shield games scheduled to allow the Australian players time in the middle. But it was once again decided in the halls of power that only the single round was required. It simply wasn’t worth overdoing it in the early stages of the season, primarily because there was a great deal of cricket to be played this year across all forms. We should have suspected that in an era where the lure of t20 cricket is such that much of the summer revolves around it, we wouldn’t see a great deal of time afforded to the staging of shield games.

Steve Smith is expected to take the blame for things which are beyond his control, as are the playing group. But the criticism which has befallen the side should be allocated elsewhere. The administrative big wigs are failing to uphold the systems that benefited the Australian test team during its glory days. It’s impossible to clone the superstars of yesteryear when the Sheffield Shield has witnessed an appreciable fall in interest from those who hold the key to fulfilling this very cause. Please, CA, keep throwing money at this competition, it’s the beating heart of domestic cricket and an essential test player production line that will serve its purpose if treated correctly. It’s essential that changes be made before we’re left to lament the rotting carcass of a competition that once churned out superstar after superstar with greater than reasonable success.