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

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, 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:
    » Australia’s selection crisis: Time to return the team to the people
    » 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.

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    The Crowd Says (90)

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2016 @ 6:37am
      moaman said | February 5th 2016 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett!
      Before you disappear over your own horizon…..a mention of the scheduling of the Aus v NZ series this summer…..wouldn’t it have been great if NZ had been recognised as perhaps a better bet for the marquee games around Boxing Day instead of the hapless Windies?
      Wouldn’t it have been great if the kiwi team had arrived fit and prepared to play,at Brisbane? And wouldn’t it be great if Test matches were deemed as top priority by our respective boards-commercial considerations notwithstanding?
      ps Look forward to hearing from you soon!

      • February 5th 2016 @ 7:23am
        Stucco said | February 5th 2016 @ 7:23am | ! Report

        I’d have loved that but I think that NZ cricket prefer it for the Black Caps to play in NZ around Xmas/New Year time to try and maximise crowds.

        Mind you, it would be nice if they gave us a Boxing Day test match rather than some irrelevance……

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2016 @ 7:26am
          Diggercane said | February 5th 2016 @ 7:26am | ! Report

          I do get quite frustrated that NZ cricket don’t plan or organise our own boxing day test tradition. I think that would be excellent though I would have no problem seeing the odd year miss out to watch us at the MCG.

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2016 @ 8:53am
            Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:53am | ! Report

            And on that front, Digger, I did have to wonder why it was an ODI scheduled for Boxing Day this summer. Unless they’re significantly more lucrative than Tests?

            • Roar Guru

              February 5th 2016 @ 10:38am
              Diggercane said | February 5th 2016 @ 10:38am | ! Report

              I guess that would be a major consideration.

              I suppose the schedule we had made sense, tests against SL, then ODI then T20 immediately followed by T20 against PK then ODI and then straight into ODI against OZ finishing with the Tests so from a practical point of view easing ourselves through the different formats and being prepared for the change of opposition if I have articulated it well.

              Still, I would much prefer to see it become our own tradition, around the four major test venues, or just the Basin because I am, well, selfish. Don’t like having to take leave for the Basin tests!

              • February 6th 2016 @ 11:16am
                Targa said | February 6th 2016 @ 11:16am | ! Report

                I personally think NZ should have a New Year’s Test rather than a Boxing Day Test. We are always going to be 3rd fiddle to the Australian and South African BD tests – more history, bigger grounds/ crowds etc and thus harder to get into Indian TV market, so hold a test that starts 29/30 Dec and goes to 2/3 Jan the next year. Play it in scenic tourist spots (play to our strengths) and alternate it in Queenstown, Nelson and Mount Manganui.

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2016 @ 8:54am
            Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:54am | ! Report

            You blokes don’t learn a thing.

            • February 5th 2016 @ 11:34am
              Amith said | February 5th 2016 @ 11:34am | ! Report

              Very good brett, for about 2 years now you have almost always been negative towards khawaja and the moment a few people point it out you just label them as one person, only now are you giving khawaja some credit but lets not waste time attacking you because you will be on khawaja’s case the moment his form falls off a little bit

            • Columnist

              February 5th 2016 @ 12:04pm
              Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

              Honestly, it’s just funny now, the way you try and turn things around…

            • February 5th 2016 @ 12:32pm
              Amith said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

              Brett you can make me look dumb and that i don’t know what i am talking about, but i have played cricket in India for 20 years and have been watching cricket for 40 years now, why do you keep calling me you blokes, just learn to respect opposing views to yourself as we don’t have to all agree with each other

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2016 @ 8:52am
        Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        Moa, I’d have loved NZ to be the marquee series – I’ve been going to the Sydney Test more than 15 years now, and I think New Zealand is the only major team I’ve not seen.

        But I also understand why that is. NZ, like South Africa, have every right to play their own marquee series at home on Boxing Day, and if Australia won’t leave home at that time, why should they?

        The ‘prepared to play’ bit is a curly one though. NZ played three days of cricket in Canberra before they got to the debacle at Blacktown. Even having to pull out of that game, you have to question why after three days of cricket previously, was there still an air of unpreparedness about them. Individual fitness is another matter – if a player’s not fit, that’s hardly CA’s fault (in this case), but it’s not like NZ played no cricket in Australia before arriving in Brisbane..

        • Columnist

          February 5th 2016 @ 9:34am
          Geoff Parkes said | February 5th 2016 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          Even if you count Canberra, that was never going to be sufficient preparation. You would think a couple of full first class matches would be a minimum, but for those matches NZ were also playing guys who weren’t going to play at the Gabba anyway. Remember that McCullum flew in from the Cairns trial out of a London winter, Southee came in late from India and so on.

          Same for the Windies, a rain affected 2 day match in Geelong as preparation and they’re expected to be competitive in a test series?

          Not just blaming CA by the way, none of the boards see this as an important issue to be solved, as long as they are able to squeeze in a few more one dayers and T20 instead.

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2016 @ 9:43am
            Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 9:43am | ! Report

            It’s a rare event that anyone plays a couple of first class games before a Test series now, Allanthus. Even an Ashes Tour to England, where they used to arrive a month early and play a string of counties, now it’d be lucky if it’s even one proper first class game.

            Scheduling, and particularly bringing fairness and meaning to the future tours schedule is one of the points coming out of the ICC overhaul announced overnight. It will be interesting to see how that comes to be..

            • Columnist

              February 5th 2016 @ 10:11am
              Geoff Parkes said | February 5th 2016 @ 10:11am | ! Report

              Indeed. It seems encouraging that the “big three” might be coming back to the pack a wee bit, that should help.

              It’s understandable that revenues are maximised, and obviously the $ come from the shorter forms, but ideally the balance needs to swing back a bit. If the global administrators are going to commit to test cricket, as they are saying they will, then the scheduling, including preparation time, needs to be managed better than it has been recently.

              • Roar Guru

                February 5th 2016 @ 11:13am
                The Bush said | February 5th 2016 @ 11:13am | ! Report

                I understand over night that the Big Three controlling cricket was some what dismantled by the ICC?

                This is fantastic news if true.

              • Columnist

                February 5th 2016 @ 12:05pm
                Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

                Indeed Bushy, it’s great news..

                More here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/968983.html

              • Roar Guru

                February 5th 2016 @ 12:15pm
                The Bush said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

                The question is Brett, will they replace it with a vision and will that vision ensure the future of Test cricket?

              • Columnist

                February 5th 2016 @ 12:18pm
                Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

                We can only hope, Bushy. The fact that they’re going to take between now and June to attempt to rectify most things is very promising, though..

              • Roar Guru

                February 5th 2016 @ 12:25pm
                Rellum said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                Very promising

              • February 6th 2016 @ 11:16am
                Chris Gale Home Improvements said | February 6th 2016 @ 11:16am | ! Report

                Shashank Manohar, the current ICC president has accused the Big Three of bullying and he’s trying to right the wrongs. Hope he’s successful in implementing his proposed changes. One of his quotes from the linked CricInfo article”:

                “I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22% of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout.”

            • February 5th 2016 @ 12:34pm
              Nick said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

              In a five test series you can get away with no preparation.

              It’s ludicrous in a two or three test series to not have any. If some tours can fit 5 tests surely they can find room for 2 warm up matches for the 2-3 test series.

              Simple fact is, they don’t want to. The absolutely could if they wanted.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2016 @ 11:12am
        The Bush said | February 5th 2016 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        This was repeated several times last year – the reason that the Windies got Boxing Day and New Years day was a quid pro quo between CA and the WICB in return for the two test we played last year before the Ashes as “warm up” tests using Duke Balls (as the Windies are basically the only other nation that uses them).

        It was basically that simple (along with the general desire of New Zealand to be at home during their summer).

      • February 5th 2016 @ 4:51pm
        Kiwihaydn said | February 5th 2016 @ 4:51pm | ! Report

        Better than that Moaman, Brett managed to get through the whole article without mentioning New Zealand or any of the NZ players by name!

        Perhaps an omen for the upcoming NZ v Wallabies clashes this year??

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2016 @ 7:23am
      Diggercane said | February 5th 2016 @ 7:23am | ! Report

      Many thanks Brett, have enjoyed your cricket views and I too am starting to gear up for the new Rugby season!

      Don’t worry about the cricket, I will make sure I keep you in the loop 😉

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2016 @ 8:14am
        Geoff Parkes said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Yes Digger, if NZ continue to do well in the next few weeks I’m sure there’ll be no shortage of helpful posters happy to keep Brett updated!

        And Brett, apologies mate, assuming that Ussie finally plays tomorrow, I promise to back off, shut down my other 8 accounts, my mission will be successfully completed….

        • Columnist

          February 5th 2016 @ 8:55am
          Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:55am | ! Report

          Good to know mate. I was starting to get concerned for your mental state..

        • February 6th 2016 @ 8:57am
          Broken-hearted Toy said | February 6th 2016 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          But Brett’s not a selector…

    • February 5th 2016 @ 7:25am
      Andrew said | February 5th 2016 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Eden Park was always going to happen with all the F L A T pitches we have played on. I hate the fact that we bat on roads now to last 5 days and the batsmen get ton after ton leaving the supporters with a false sense of security. Then the bowlers break down from running a marathon trying to buy a wicket just for us to go over to NZ and use a second rate attack on a wicket that actually gives something to the bowler. Then we hit a full strength NZ side that puts up a good game and absolutely destroys us due to no practice on a moving wicket and all those tons count for nothing now when we lose 5 for 8 in a couple of overs. Some will say that we will bounce back, however I’d be more inclined to say more likely that it will be 0-3 or 1-2.

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2016 @ 9:00am
        Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        Certainly how they recover tomorrow will be interesting, Andrew. It was noteworthy that Smith suggested they were still batting “in T20 mode” – wasn’t that the point of heading to NZ early?

      • February 5th 2016 @ 6:07pm
        Danger Mouse said | February 5th 2016 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

        NZ wasn’t at full strength.

    • February 5th 2016 @ 8:45am
      VivGilchrist said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      This was a shocker of a summer due to the flat pitches for all but the Adelaide Test. The pitches for the Windies series were super flat but because they are so below average we didn’t notice as much. We need a contest between bat and ball. We are killing our bowlers and are ill preparing our batsmen for foreign conditions. Short term $$$$$$ mentality shown by CA which is pandemic of cricket internationally at the moment. Let us never see another international summer like this. I have never seen an international summer where so many people just didn’t care like this one.

      • February 5th 2016 @ 11:02am
        Mon said | February 5th 2016 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        Turn those roads into lively pitches and what happens to CA’s precious little format of hit and giggle rubbish cricket that seems to be at the forefront of their agenda?

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2016 @ 8:48am
      DingoGray said | February 5th 2016 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      Eden Park wasn’t that far away from F L A T either…….. Just saying……

      • February 5th 2016 @ 12:36pm
        Nick said | February 5th 2016 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

        Well, it was a one day game

    • Columnist

      February 5th 2016 @ 9:02am
      Brett McKay said | February 5th 2016 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      I should add, the news overnight that the ICC will appoint an independent Chairman in June, and review (and essentially, repeal) the so-called ‘Big Three’ constitutional changes around governance and revenue sharing is a really important step in getting the game back to where and how it should be governed.

      Encouraging signs..

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2016 @ 9:26am
        Rellum said | February 5th 2016 @ 9:26am | ! Report

        That review is the most important thing in world of cricket and not that I hold much hope but change needs to happen.

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