Clean sweep, but questions remain about the experiments

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Jackson Bird deserves to be selected for the Ashes. (AFP/William West)

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    So Australia has beaten Sri Lanka 3-0 in the end, securing the third Test in Sydney by five wickets on Sunday afternoon.

    Rightly or wrongly, this Test was used for an unusually high number of experimental moves.

    It’s arguable whether these trials would’ve been conducted if the series were still alive, and given the way the young Sri Lankan side have performed in Sydney against these trials, there is certainly an argument that they perhaps weren’t shown the full respect coming into this Test.

    Regardless, the experiments went ahead, and the series clean-sweep will undoubtedly be used as justification for looking toward upcoming tours of India and England.

    Personally, I think there are more than a few questions coming out of these Sydney trials, and I’ll attempt to address a few of these today.

    (Normally, such questions would come via colleague Ryan O’Connell, but this time I’m going it alone. Having done another collaborative piece before Christmas, and meeting up for a sneaky beer or two in the SCG Members’, our respective wives are beginning to snicker at how much we’re in contact. The word ‘bromance’ was even used at one point last week, which, during a welcoming embrace, we both agreed was rather harsh.)

    Anyway…

    Did four quicks work in Sydney?
    Well, yes, technically it did. The scorecard will show that Australia’s quicks took 18 Sri Lankan wickets, and the Nathan Lyon critics will point to one of his two wickets coming via a pretty ordinary shot from Thilan Samaraweera in his second innings.

    Realistically, the move to play four quicks in Sydney was driven purely by the selectors painting themselves into a corner anyway; the reference to the supposedly green SCG wicket was only a ruse to divert attention away from what was a pretty poor decision forced by an already contentious policy.

    The wicket in Sydney was no greener than it has been in the last few years, and I wouldn’t mind betting Michael Clarke only bowled first because of who he handed over on the team sheet. That Sri Lanka were 5/249 at drinks in the last session on day one is a fair indication of how reasonable a batting track the SCG was from the outset.

    If the selectors were so hell-bent on playing five bowlers and trying things for India and beyond, they should’ve played Glenn Maxwell. Even with my doubts over Maxwell’s credentials, there’s no reason why he and Lyon couldn’t have been just as difficult as Tillakeratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath were in Australia’s run chase.

    Can Australia win a Test Series with four quicks?
    Theoretically yes, but not over the next nine Tests. For starters, there’s just no way Indian authorities will allow/direct their groundsmen to produce green wickets to cater for an Australian pace quartet, and it’s unlikely England will be so generous either, given their recent success with twin spinners.

    More than that though, with the sudden retirement of Mike Hussey, Australia’s evident batting depth looks rather vulnerable going forward. As I mentioned last week, it’s entirely possible that David Warner and Phil Hughes could be the next most experienced bats in the Australian side in England, and neither will have played 25 Tests by then.

    Australia’s strengths may well be the bowling currently, but that’s not justification for committing cricketing suicide by unnecessarily shorting the batting order.

    Is Matthew Wade a Test no.6?
    Again, the scorecard will show that Australia’s wicketkeeper-batsman made the only century of the game, and he did that batting at four wickets down.

    In truth, I had less concern about Wade at no.6 than I did about Mitchell Johnson coming in at no.7. It seems it’s a race nowadays to label Johnson an all-rounder should he ever manage a run of quality knocks with the bat, but the truth is Johnson the supposed all-rounder still only averages 22.6 with the bat.

    Wade, on the other hand, has pushed his average up to 42.4. Andrew Symonds, who spent a good chunk of his career at no.6, finished with an average of 40.6. Wade might not be a full-time no.6, but he’s not going to let anyone down whenever promoted.

    What of Ed Cowan?
    Needs a good Indian series, no question. His 22 Test innings to date have netted a century, five 50s, and just the one duck. It’s not hopeless, but it’s not brilliant, either.

    The biggest issue he needs to work on – aside from his running between the wickets and penchant for ball-watching – is the eight scores between 16 and 36. Even if only three of those starts became a 50, eight 50s and a century from 40% of his innings sees the pressure on his spot evaporate.

    He could become the perfect foil for Warner and Hughes either side of him, but an average in the 30s will only prolong the questions, particularly with a certain former opener making it known he wants his old spot at the top back, now that he may not bowl in Tests again.

    And Nathan Lyon?
    Still doubting Lyon’s place as an Australian spinner? He’s the most successful Australian spinner post-Warne, and he’s already gone past the likes of Kerry O’Keeffe, Ray Bright, and Greg Matthews in fewer Tests and with a better average and strike rate.

    He’s only 14 wickets behind Tim May, and is on track to topple one of the best off-spinners of my generation in fewer Tests and again with a better average and strike rate.

    Lyon hasn’t had the best summer, but has still taken 19 wickets in six Tests at only slightly less than his career average of 3.2 wickets per Test.

    My esteemed colleague rightly pointed out during the Test that if Matthew Wade’s batting is enough for us to excuse his ‘keeping up at the stumps, then Wade’s ‘keeping must also excuse Lyon’s lowish hauls this summer, given Wade’s been responsible for anywhere up to ten chances going begging off Lyon’s bowling.

    I think Lyon’s bowled better than his numbers suggest. He’ll go to India as Australia’s number one tweaker and he should do pretty well in much friendlier conditions.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (244)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 4:34am
      AndyMack said | January 8th 2013 @ 4:34am | ! Report

      Hi brett

      Really like Wade, for his batting, but really think he should stick to #7 position. His big scores from that possy will be a bonus, rather than a requirement when he is at 6. If we cannot find 6 quality top and middle order batsmen, with 1 or 2 of them capable of some handy overs, then we really are in trouble.

      And i wouldnt be taking Cowen to India. Would prefer Watto, UTK and D Hussey in our top order all over Cowen.

      • Columnist

        January 8th 2013 @ 7:25am
        Brett McKay said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:25am | ! Report

        David Hussey in the top 3, A-Mack? Really?? I’ve genuinely not seen that presented as an option…

        • January 8th 2013 @ 9:31am
          AndyMack said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          Brett i meant d hussey in the top 6 batsmen…..

      • January 8th 2013 @ 7:39am
        Robie said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:39am | ! Report

        I like David but he is averaging 17 in shield this year, Khawaja should come in and if we want a all rounder then go for Henriques or Christian as Maxwells bowling won’t work in India

        • January 8th 2013 @ 8:09am
          Chop said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:09am | ! Report

          Steve O’Keefe should be in the conversation for India after Monty ran through them. Handy batting (32) and bowling (29) average and spins the ball the same way as Monty….

          • Columnist

            January 8th 2013 @ 9:30am
            Brett McKay said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:30am | ! Report

            I’d have O’Keeffe ahead of Maxwell personally, having seen some of Maxwell’s recent shot selection. And as you say, spins the ball the opposite way to Lyon.

            But for some reason, O’Keeffe’s only Australian call-up this summer is likely to be that Commonwealth Bank ad, you know, “MUM, JAMES PATTINSON HIT IT IN THE FLOWW-WERRRS!!”

            • January 8th 2013 @ 11:01am
              jameswm said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

              How in god’s name does SOK not get a go before Doherty? He has to be as good a bowler, and is a much better batsman and fielder.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 2:15pm
                matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

                I see O’Keefe as a handy 7 who could average maybe 35 with the ball as a second spinner. If O’Keefe is to play then Wade needs to be at 6.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 9:28pm
          TJ said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:28pm | ! Report

          Henriques? How does he warrant selection?

    • January 8th 2013 @ 6:57am
      Jared said | January 8th 2013 @ 6:57am | ! Report

      Didn’t we win by 5 wickets?

      • January 8th 2013 @ 7:14am
        Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:14am | ! Report

        If India had kept the first innings deficit to half what it was for a chase over 200, Herath would have bowled us out.

      • Columnist

        January 8th 2013 @ 7:20am
        Brett McKay said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:20am | ! Report

        Yes we did Jared – guess when I started writing this!!

        Fixed now, thanks for spotting..

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:31am
      BennO said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      re Ed Cowan…I was watching an interview that Harsha Bohgle did with Steve Waugh on the weekend and it got me thinking about Cowan. I know it’s a different era and clearly different batting roles which is most relevant, but Cowan has a better record than Waugh after the same number of innings.

      200 more runes, 5 runs better average, 1 more century and 1 more fifty.

      Nowhere near as good as Tubby, but not toooo much worse than Slats. I reckon give him some time without the threat of the axe and he might come good.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 9:34am
        AndyMack said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Diff is Cowen is over 30 with best part of 10 years FC experience, and hasnt shown great form over that time. S Waugh was thrown in very young as a propect player, and given time he matured and showed that talent.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 9:48am
        Bearfax said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Further Ben, Waugh was only 20 years old and was also brought in as an all rounder. If you check records you will see that most players in the early to mid 20s first starting out in test cricket score rather poorly, similar to Cowan.

        Difference is that most cricketers develop during their twenties so you can usually expect those players to improve significantly by the time they are 30. However if you are 30+ and your average is 33 after a dozen or so tests and your first class average is under 40, you can be fairly sure that not much improvement is likely. Early thirties is when a batsman should be at the peak of their career. Remember Clarke is only a year or two older. And the last batsman who succeeded coming in to the test side at 30 was Mike Hussey. But he had a first class average of 50+ so you knew what you were getting..

      • January 8th 2013 @ 10:10am
        Anon said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Too many excuses for Cowan – he’s at the top of the order and solid starts are required.

        I can’t help but think of a Bruce Laird (his ‘official’ record misses his WSC scores) who had a test average of 35ish over 21 matches and 40 innings. He passed 50 on 11 occassions. Ironically Graeme Wood who did manage to convert 100s managed 9 over his 59 match career but average sub 32. Perhaps the best opener gets nearest to his average every time instead of the Warner model prior to this series where he’d fail, fail, fail, fail, then get a 100 that a bit like A.Symonds would make everyone forgive him his past failures in the hope of future promise.

        Funny also the comparisons to S.Waugh (given S.Waugh was not opening the batting). THen why not compare to B.Hodge, who had 11 less innings than Cowan for just 220 less runs and an average of 20 plus more.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 1:58pm
          sittingbison said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

          with all due respect I would suggest Bruce Laird and Graeme Wood spent most of their careers facing infinitely superior bowlers than Cowan has faced (Indians last year, current West Indies and Sri Lanka this year lol).

          How well would Ed Cowan go against Roberts Holding Croft Garner? Imran Nawaz Iqbal Qadir? Botham Willis Old Underwood?

      • January 8th 2013 @ 10:22am
        Bearfax said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Just to further emphasise the point about players not improving much more when they hit the early thirties, Steve Waugh’s early batting performance was worse than Cowan’s after the same number of tests. Yet by the time he had reached 30 years of age Waugh was averaging over 47. Yet nine years later when he retired his average had only improved to 51. Waugh developed into the batsman we admire during his 20s. like most batsmen. By the time he was in his early 30s he had reached his peak. I suspect we will find the same with Clarke who is sensational now, and Cowan who is unlikely to get better than a 35 average..

        • January 8th 2013 @ 11:22am
          BennO said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          Those are all good points Bearfax, AndyMac and Anon. Cheers.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:38am
      Robie said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      He hasn’t opened in this time. Cowan needs the boot, play Watson as a specialist batsman at the top of the order. This allows Khawaja and Quiney to both get a run in the test squad, batting at 5 and 6 respectively.

    • Roar Rookie

      January 8th 2013 @ 7:52am
      Hazey the Bear said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Hey Brett,

      After watching the majority of the test, my feelings on the issues you’ve raised are as follows:

      First, the bowling – Bird has been a great find…great line and length, good economy, and a very nice average of 16 in just two tests. The way he bowls and these attributes remind me of Glenn McGrath (Disclaimer: I’m not saying he is the *next* McGrath, only that his style of bowling is similar and that he reminds me of McGrath. I understand that they are two unique individuals. These are my views and may not be shared with others on theroar.com.au…especially David Lord).

      Siddle just continues to work hard for his wickets, and when Pattinson comes in, it’ll be hard not to select him. So who’s left? Johnson and Starc. Both lefties, both often wayward – to me you pick either one or the other. Johnson apparently has batting credentials as well, but as you’ve commented Brett, it’s an occasional added bonus rather than something you could depend on as a number 7. Lyon has been unlucky this summer – there have been a few missed opportunities that could’ve (should’ve) granted him a few extra wickets. His best opportunities come when he gives the ball a little extra flight and slows it down. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough. Hopefully someone will have a word to him about that.

      Now the batting. As we discussed in the live forum, Cowan will probably stay, because no one else is banging down the opening batsman door. Sure you could put Watson back in there, but Cowan’s done enough (only just) to warrant staying in there. Although, now I’ve just read that Watson has officially given up test bowling and will concentrate on batting…That muddies the water nicely, doesn’t it? I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

      Warner has done some great things, and if he can control that rush of blood he often gets, will do some even greater things. Hughes has been okay since his return, and he looks a better player from his exile. Clarke has come off a record-breaking year, and hopefully he can continue to impress as captain and batsman. I think his captaincy has had some interesting moments, but overall it’s been an improvement on Ponting’s. For me, I’d say Khawaja should come in for Hussey, and Watson maybe…probably…down to six. Or open…I dunno. Plus there’s a bunch of players who are kinda sorta pressing for selection…

      But from all of that, putting together a team should be possible. Depending on the pitch, etc, you could have something looking like this:

      Cowan
      Warner
      Hughes
      Khawaja
      Clarke
      Watson
      Wade
      Siddle
      Pattinson
      Bird
      Lyon
      (Starc/Johnson – 12th man)

      Although this would be another alternative

      Watson
      Warner
      Hughes
      Khawaja
      Clarke
      Wade
      Maxwell, or Burns
      Siddle
      Pattinson
      Bird
      Lyon

      I dunno…it’s a long hard process, but some of the questions that were raised in the last test have perhaps been answered. Not all, just some.

      • Columnist

        January 8th 2013 @ 7:57am
        Brett McKay said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:57am | ! Report

        Really good post, Haze. So good, that I now don’t have time to reply, so I’ll come back to you in an hour or so…

        • Roar Rookie

          January 8th 2013 @ 8:00am
          Hazey the Bear said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:00am | ! Report

          Aww, I put like…two minutes of effort into that!

          • January 8th 2013 @ 8:07am
            Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:07am | ! Report

            I actually like the look of side no.2 better despite the inclusion of Shane ‘sicknote’ Watson, although if Burns played he’d be above Wade.

            • January 8th 2013 @ 10:33am
              Rob Barrow said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:33am | ! Report

              Haze understand your viewpoint but i think Cowan has had enough chances and at his age is just not improving. I would go with your second team list, watson and warner to open, Khawaja at 4 and bring in Burns as Maxwell’s bowling won’t be good enough at the test level.

          • Columnist

            January 8th 2013 @ 9:56am
            Brett McKay said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

            Ha, sorry pal, had to do a few things before the mercury got too high…

            On your points:

            – Bird I completely agree with you, but I’ll add that I have absolutely no problem with the ‘next McGrath’ tag. Copeland had it, Clark had it before that. It’s not a denigration, it’s a sign of how much respect people have for his ability and his talent. Of course he should try to be his own bowler, but the tag shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a massive compliment.

            – Siddle-Pattinson is becoming a decent combination, too. Perhaps not McGrath-Gillespie, but getting up there. And yeah, a Siddle-Pattinson-Bird attack has a good fell about it, a balance of aggression and pressure. And point taken on leaving out the lefties.

            – The batting waters are certainly muddied by the revelation of Watson wanting back in at the top. Not to mention the coach speaking about it publicly – what does that do and say for the guy currently doing the job, if the coach is openly talking about another option? Yet another case of public comment offered when it doesn’t really help.

            – this little bit here, “and Watson maybe…probably…down to six. Or open…I dunno” just highlights how complex the situation is. There’s so many variations floating out there that it’s impossible for anything like consensus to be reached.

            I like the look of your first team, to be honest, and I’d tell Watson that if he wants up, he needs to start scoring runs down lower to force his way up. I wouldn’t let him just walk back in at the top…

            (hope that covers off your two minutes!!)

            • Roar Rookie

              January 8th 2013 @ 9:57am
              Hazey the Bear said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:57am | ! Report

              I feel better now, thank you.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 11:18pm
                lou said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:18pm | ! Report

                Watson’s ego-driven angsting in the press is unhelpful to put it politely. He’ll change his story 5/6 times in the next month. He should be blackballed from speaking to the press for the good of everyone else in the team.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 8:09am
        Jared said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:09am | ! Report

        I like the second side you named there as I think Maxwell can be our second spin option in the Indian series as well as a handy batsmen at 6 or 7

        • January 8th 2013 @ 10:39am
          Bearfax said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          I would only pick Maxwell if his batting continues to improve. Being able to spin would be a bonus but we want batsmen, not two all rounders with reasonable but not great batting averages. I wouldnt be picking Quiney…he’s another Shaun March/North. I’d want Watson to improve his batting if he is going into the side without bowling, because his batting test average is not much better than Cowan’s. Not sure why young Burns is being left out of the loop. Has a reasonable first class average (better than many who they are selecting) and he’s a young gun. I suppose he hasn’t lit the world up yet this season. As for Lyons….who else have we got?. He’s doing a reasonable job and its hard to impress after Warne and McGill. Khawaja is an essential. Wade is an essential. Warner and Hughes work well together and get the score moving along early. Siddle, Patterson, Bird and Starc are the quickies I’d stick with for now.

          As for a clean sweep. I would suggest the Oz selectors should have learned a serious lesson playing only five batsmen and Wade at 6. And they wont have Hussey in future. Was madness and almost lost Oz the game. Wade”s opportune century saved us otherwise it was Sri Lanka’s test…and then with a pedestrian bowling attack. India and England would have made mince meat of Oz if they try that again…real dumb.

          • January 8th 2013 @ 10:10pm
            Sunil said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

            Watching Khawaja in the T20 match against the Stars and he looked inn great form. Interesting to see Quiney keep wicket.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 8:22am
        Christo the Daddyo said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        I think you could be on the money with that first lineup Hazey. But I wonder whether the selectors might swap Watson and Khawaja around?

        And although I can’t think who I would drop, I would really like Starc in the team. He seems to bowl better the longer he goes (so with this current trend of resting bowlers every five minutes that may turn out to be a problem) and he offers good variation to the other quicks.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 8th 2013 @ 8:29am
          Hazey the Bear said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          Yeah Johnson got the drop for Starc – No explicit reason, just…Johnson irks me for some reason. I think he had so much potential when he first arrived on the test scene. He was strong, athletic…he had the possibility to bowl unplayable deliveries on occasion, and contribute strongly with the bat on occasion.

          I think he’s still doing that…on occasion. And that’s the problem. If he’s the player that had so much of that potential, his successes should happen a lot more often because he should have improved…but it’s all still on occasion.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 8th 2013 @ 8:30am
          Hazey the Bear said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          And I think the first line up is more what the selectors are thinking…minimal changes to the side, although their poster boy Johnson will probably make an appearance.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 9:32pm
        TJ said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:32pm | ! Report

        Burns form over the last two years warrants emerging batting status and given lack of current run machines putting their hand up, would be happy to see him given a chance just like UTK was the previous season.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 8:20am
      eagleJack said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      The four quicks “experiment” was only brought about by the injury to Watson (and the fact the Lankans are horrible against pace). It was a one off and we won the Test. So objective accomplished.

      Watson will come back in and Khawaja will replace Hussey.

      One thing the NSPs “rotation” policy has achieved is a genuine depth in the fast bowling ranks that we have never seen. We no longer have a clear standout like McGrath who is an automatic selection. Instead we now have 6 blokes who all have Test experience who will all do a job if called upon. Im in the boat that the policy has been a success. I believe that there is now a clear order established and for a series like the Ashes we will pick our 3 best available quicks for each game (for me that’s Siddle, Bird, Pattinson/Starc).

      • January 8th 2013 @ 10:37am
        Rob Barrow said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        Eaglejack iteresting point. We have a couple of bowlers in Pattinson, Cummins and Starc who can develop into the next great bowlers. For the batters i see Warner, Khawaja and Hughes as our next best batsman, Khawaja in particular needs to be given a proper go to show what he can do as he is a real talent.

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