Uninterrupted view from the soapbox
Lasith Malinga of Sri Lanka high fives Mahela Jayawardene while Mitchell Johnson of Australia leaves the field. AAP Image/Joosep Martinson
It’s been a big week for cricket-related soapbox manufacturers around the country, with every man and his dog wanting to have their say on the ills of the Australian cricket team.
And there have been plenty of topics to lecture on to anyone who’ll listen and especially those who won’t.
A one-day series, which started with so much promise in Melbourne ten days ago, has quickly fallen away in subsequent outings in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Sydney, leaving only a crumbling rubble of a batting order and a genuine fear of what may result on the subcontinent and in the Old Dart.
We shall not be moved
Like the staunchest, most stubborn of trade unionists, once the ball started swinging in Brisbane and again in Sydney, the collective front feet of the Australian batsmen set down camp on the popping crease and would not move for anything.
The result? At least 6/20 in Brisbane last Friday, and I’d argue it claimed another 5/35 in Sydney on Sunday.
After he started the series with a superb debut century, Phil Hughes has been given the Chris Martin yips all over again, with Nuwan Kulasekara twice getting him with balls pitching on leg stump and moving away from him, taking the nick on the way.
If you saw those two replays alongside that horror New Zealand Test series from 2011/12, you’d rightly question what exactly Hughes has changed in his approach.
On Sunday afternoon, David Warner and George Bailey had a proper battle on their hands to see off the twin-swing threats of Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga.
Bailey’s first four deliveries at the crease were unplayable ‘jaffas’ from Malinga, deliveries that Bradman himself might’ve had trouble getting willow on.
The swinging ball ends all footwork, and no footwork means a procession of ugly dismissals.
But why does the moving ball scare Australian batsmen so much? And why, with this generation of Australian cricketers to come though the age and state ranks with specialist batting and bowling coaches all the way, can very few bowlers make the Kookaburra swing, and even fewer batsmen score runs or bat for any length of time against it?
This isn’t just an Argus Report-type of issue to be touched on and summarised; the ability to bowl and face a swinging cricket ball in Australia is fast heading the way of leg spin bowling and the dodo. It’s a genuine concern in the game in this country that simply must be addressed.
Roller-coaster squad sizes
I touched on this late last week in detailing the logistical week of Queensland quick, Ben Cutting, and once again, the selectors have continued to dumbfound with the yo-yo nature of the squad size.
What started as a squad of 13 for the first match in Melbourne became 15 in Adelaide, when Cutting and South Australian seamer Kane Richardson were added. That 15 became 12 for the third match in Brisbane, and with five players dropped to allow for the return of others from the garden and the physio’s table.
Cutting was added to the Brisbane squad up until the coin-toss, whereby he quickly jumped on a plane to head for Perth and claim a Big Bash League title with the Brisbane Heat.
However, while Two and a Half Men repeats filled the gap of what was supposed to be the evening session of that match, Jackson Bird was added to the squad for Sydney.
Still following? 13 became 15, which was lopped back to 12, swelled to 13, became 12 again for a night, and was back to 13 for Sunday’s game.
And guess what? Cutting flew from Perth straight to Hobart to link up with the side for tomorrow’s game at Bellerive. But Bird was left behind in Sydney.
I think that’s still 13, but I ran out of fingers two paragraphs back…
Rotation is in, so make it work
Among the numerous elements of stupidity in all this squad business was the fact that only five genuine batsmen, along with Matthew Wade and two alleged all-rounders, were and are the extent of the batting order for the last three matches.
Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t have dropped/rested/rotated a batsman after the debacle in Brisbane, because to do so would’ve meant replacing him with Glenn Maxwell.
If this ‘informed player management’ is to be taken seriously, surely the squad needs to carry at least one extra batsman. Hell, even if it’s not to be taken seriously, then the extra batsman in the squad at the very least brings some accountability for the poorer dismissals.
Rest and rotate blokes as may or may not be required, but a poorly constructed squad should never be an excuse for not making form-related changes.
10 + all-rounder = 10
How many more sub-par performances from run-of-the-mill state all-rounders will it take for the selectors and the ‘all teams need an all-rounder’ types to finally end this unhealthy obsession? And to think all last week I was suggesting that Moises Henriques brought more to the Australian team than Maxwell.
Maxwell? No. Steve Smith? No. Henriques? No. Nathan Coulter-Nile, John Hastings, James Faulkner? No, no, and no. They’re all the same. They’ll make no difference.
Australia currently has one decent all-rounder, and he is looking to cut one of the strings in his bow. In limited overs cricket, Shane Watson is one of the best players in the world when fully fit, and that’s where the search for an all-rounder should start and stop.
If the all-rounder adds little to the balance and the performance of the team, then just pick six bats and four bowlers, please. The multi skilled Matthew Wade fills the last spot nicely, and if handy runs come from the unheralded likes of Mitchell Starc and Xavier Doherty – as has been the case – then that’s a bonus cherry on top.
Picking an all-rounder for the sake of finding another all-rounder before the next World Cup is simply not working currently, because the all-rounders picked thus far haven’t been up to the task.
None of the three used so far have added to the batting and bowling, in fact they’ve actually shortened both areas.
If Watson is fit enough to bowl again in 12 or 18 months’ time, then he’s the all-rounder. If he’s not, then don’t worry about it.
You might not win a World Cup without an all-rounder, but you definitely won’t win one with an all-rounder that adds nothing to the side.
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