I’m calling ‘stumps’ on this summer of discontent

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    A different kind of Eden Park thumping is enough for me to put the summer of cricket behind me for 2015-16.

    Yes, there is still a bit of cricket to go between now and the end of April, but the Kookaburra must give way to the Gilbert.

    And what an interesting summer it’s been.

    The trans-Tasman Test series promised heaps and delivered on most. The inaugural day/night Test was so good it gave everyone concerned two days off, and the pink ball stayed remarkably pink throughout.

    The West Indies series was pretty much the one-sided contest we all expected, though there were improvements made by the tourists in the end. And even if that was delayed by forty days and forty nights of rain in Sydney.

    More cricket:
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    » India will win the World Twenty20
    » Players to watch in Sheffield Shield
    » How’s this for a Test World Cup idea? (Part 1)
    » Selectors should not be commentators
    » The Liebke Ratings: New Zealand versus Australia first ODI

    The Big Bash League smashed records for fun, with increases in average crowds and television audiences the whole way through, but it was the women’s game that shone on the national stage. The sight of the victorious Sydney Thunder men’s and women’s sides sitting alongside each other with both trophies could in time go down as one of the most significant images in Australian cricket history; that’s how important a moment it was.

    And then the limited overs series with India illustrated the summer pretty much perfectly: it started with a flurry of runs and a string of wins, before finishing in a confused state of guesswork about selections.

    It is, of course, entirely possible this won’t be my last cricket article for the summer, but on the off chance it is, here were a few highlights and lowlights.

    Old blokes be damned
    The first Test in Brisbane marked the beginning of the next era in Australian cricket, after five long-serving players retired after the ill-fated Ashes Tour of England. Any concern about generational change was quickly extinguished with twin first innings scores declared north of 500 on the respective Brisbane and Perth State Highways.

    The new top three of David Warner, Joe Burns, and Usman Khawaja all cashed in to varying degrees, and Warner particularly was peeling off hundreds for fun.

    By summer’s end, Warner had peeled off three Test tons and a maiden double century, and in hindsight, probably wasn’t as big a surprise winner of the Allan Border Medal as it seemed at the time. Burns, too, registered his first two Test centuries, the second coming in impressive fashion and with a few question marks over his head, against the West Indies on Boxing Day.

    And it was, of course, just the start of the Khawaja runfest, where it was noticeable in those first few Tests just how differently he was playing spin, an evolved element of his game that came to the fore against the slow men during the BBL.

    All the while, names like Rogers, Clarke, and Watson faded over the horizon, though one old bloke was still to make his mark on the summer.

    Runways, and not the airport kind
    Though the phrase ‘Usman must be picked’ was a clear ‘most mentioned’ winner this summer – and I’ll come back to that later – running back a good distance in second place was ‘this pitch is F-L-A-T’.

    Brisbane and Perth served up tarmac that batsmen salivated over and rendered bowlers useless, while planes could be seen circling overhead and waiting for landing clearance.

    28/1432 in Brisbane, 28/1672 in Perth, and then the record run fest through the five one-dayers against India, even if the record was announced about 150 runs early. By the end of it all, even as a former batsman, it was getting a bit much. No wonder Mitchell Johnson lost interest.

    The pink oasis in Adelaide
    Of all the places where we expected a road, the Adelaide Oval unveiled a green, hairy beast for the inaugural day/night pink ball Test, and without any shadow of doubt, it was the best Test of the summer.

    And yes, it was green and hairy to look after the experimental ball, but what a contest it turned out to be. Batsmen had to work hard for their runs. Bowlers were rewarded for getting their lines and lengths right. And that was well before the lights were turned on and the crowd doubled in size each day.

    I’m just going to repeat what I wrote at the time – there’s no reason why simple little things like pitch preparation and ticket pricing can’t have just as big an effect as on the game as pink balls and ‘whites under lights’. Make the product attractive and people will come in droves. Play it on 22 yards of freeway and charge a fortune for it, however, and it’s no wonder the Big Bash League is so popular.

    Records tumble at Bellerive
    If Adam Voges was like a nicely-aging red wine coming into the summer, he was vintage Grange Hermitage by the end. Voges’ unbeaten 269 nearly equated to a run per spectator for each of the three days of the Test in Hobart against the West Indies, and he outscored the visitors’ first innings by 46 on his own.

    The fourth wicket stand of 449 between Voges and Shaun Marsh (a career high 182) is a new record for any wicket in Australia, but fell just two runs short of Bill Ponsford and Sir Donald Bradman’s record stand made at The Oval in 1934. And yet when they came together, Australia were actually in a bit of trouble at 3/121 at lunch.

    And then just when we thought we’d seen the worst of the West Indies, not even a late start or an early lunch due to rain could stop them losing 8/51 across two innings. It would become a habit over the course of the series.

    Marsh versus Khawaja
    Injured during the Perth Test, Khawaja proved his readiness for a Boxing Day return with a lazy 70-ball 109 not out in a BBL game, and promptly painted the selectors into an unlosable situation. Do they stick with the injury replacement who just peeled off 182 in Hobart, or bring back the incumbent who’s still seeing it like a beach ball?

    Reasoned arguments could be mounted for both, and in the end, Khawaja repaid the faith with his third Test ton on the trot. The legend that would spawn a gazillion cricket thread comments – most of them by the same ‘people’ saying the same thing every freaking time – was building.

    At least Marsh has the Hobart record.

    Bloody Brilliant League
    The BBL exploded in season five, with TV audiences beyond a million every night, and average attendances nearing thirty thousand every night, despite the mere detail of a quarter of the grounds not being able to seat that many. Sell outs were as common as commentator hyperbole, but we didn’t care, and just lapped it up every single night.

    The BBL was so big this summer that we quickly justified the previously unthinkable – Christmas Night Cricket, please! Faced with the dire option of two cricket-free nights in the holiday period, the public spoke and yelled, “no more Griswold Christmas movies!” Cricket Australia were heard to mutter, “ha, good idea, why didn’t we think of more cricket?”

    The Sydney Thunder started with a rumble, threatened to fizz out in the middle, and then launched the wet sail late to take home the title from fourth place. They won more games in BBL05 than in all the four previous BBLs combined.

    And the Women’s BBL was outstanding too, drawing good crowds, rating it’s pants off, and quickly forcing Network Ten to move games to the main channel. What it’s done not just for women’s cricket in Australia, but elite women’s sport in Australia cannot be underestimated.

    Selection lottery
    I have, at times, had a bit of sympathy for the national selectors this summer. Since the start of the season, they have been faced with or given us forced generational change, concerns over batting depth, embarrassment of bowling riches, form batsmen growing on trees, sudden retirement, a bowling cupboard barer than Old Mother Hubbard’s, picking players across formats, stating bowlers won’t see out the summer, picking that same bowler for every Test on the calendar, injury cover from left field, puzzling limited overs squads, public backing of Nathan Lyon, copious experimentation ahead of the World Twenty20, disdain for the T20 format in general, forgetting about Lyon again, and wanting to look at yet more players for the WT20 but then not picking them.

    It’s no wonder logic has been hard to come by.

    And then there’s the whole Khawaja thing
    There is no doubting it, Usman Khawaja has had the cricketing summer of his life. If he could bottle whatever the source of his runfest has been, he’ll never work another day in his life.

    And yes, it has been difficult to work out why he hasn’t played in more Australian limited overs teams of late. But he hasn’t, and that’s just the way it’s been.

    But none of that excuses the at times excruciating carry-on, the ludicrous and irrational hyperbole, and the fist-thumping, childish ranting that the cricket forums have endured this summer, all in the name of support of one player. It’s literally reached the point where experts are repeating themselves, and articles are being written rightly asking us to cool our jets or that even try to find fault in Khawaja’s numbers where perhaps there are none.

    Such is the level of mouth-frothing, that we’re having to go to the far opposite extreme to find balance.

    To the fanboys, the trolls and the thread-hijackers, just let me say this – we know that there’s maybe only two of you, and not the six or eight you like to portray. We know you use different handles assigned to just a couple of email accounts. And because of a few word-for-word duplicated comments linking those email accounts, we can even guess that there might actually only be one of you. Roaming around the cricket threads by yourself with your multiple handles waiting to launch the next bombardment. Context and comprehension, be damned. Comment after comment; handle after handle. Day after bloody day.

    You know who you are and what a life you must lead.

    Usman Khawaja is an excellent player. But we knew that before you started ramming his numbers down our throats repeatedly every day this summer.

    I’d like to say I’ll miss you…

    Eden Park: just don’t look
    The best way for me to get over the latest evidence that Australian batsmen quite probably are home track heroes is to use the Simpsons’ method of fighting the mutant neon advertising mascots.

    I just won’t look.

    And if I can’t see what happened, then it can’t have happened at all. Next problem!

    Enjoy the cricket off-season. It’s time I started watching the game they play in heaven.

    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.