Clean sweep, but questions remain about the experiments
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Australian fast bowler Jackson Bird prepares to bowl to the Sri Lankan batsman on the first day of the second cricket Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), in Melbourne, on December 26, 2012. AFP PHOTO/William West
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.)
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 is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-first-grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009, Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport