Chadd Sayers must play ahead of Jhye Richardson in South Africa

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Chadd Sayers never looked likely to make his Test debut this home summer, despite spending time in Australia’s Ashes squad, but has a much better opportunity on the four-Test tour of South Africa.

    While Sayers was in the squad for the first two Ashes matches, he remained behind back-up quick Jackson Bird in the pecking order, with Bird released for the second Test so he could stay match-fit in the Sheffield Shield.

    The Aussies were always going to favour express quicks, believing they could rattle England’s batsmen, and if a steady option was needed then Bird was the man.

    Now, however, Bird is out of the picture due to injury and Australia look set to encounter some green South African pitches, which will suit precision over pace. Sayers is suddenly a genuine chance of earning a baggy green.

    Sayers is likely viewed as the understudy for Josh Hazlewood, the most accurate and miserly of Australia’s incumbent Test quicks. Young tearaway Jhye Richardson, meanwhile, would be the dynamic option should one of the express pair of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins get injured.

    Jhye Richardson

    Jhye Richardson. (AAP Image/Darren England)

    Given the series will be quite long, there is every chance one of Hazlewood, Starc or Cummins could get injured. Starc and Hazlewood started the Australian summer returning from injury, while Cummins has been famously fragile across his seven years as a professional cricketer.

    Sayers and Richardson are not just making up the numbers on this tour, they could easily find themselves on the field. The intensity and importance of this series may well lead the selectors to favour the experienced Sayers over the rookie Richardson if a replacement is required.

    While Richardson has just 22 wickets to his name in first-class cricket, Sayers owns 246 victims at that level. Although he is having a middling domestic campaign, with 17 wickets at 33, no one has taken more wickets than Sayers across the past five Shield seasons.

    In an era when many Australian cricketers have earned Test caps based on potential, or short bursts of form, Sayers has been forced to graft long and hard for recognition. Not just from the Australian selectors either – Sayers had to record four consecutive top-three finishes in the Bradman Medal, awarded to the best player in Adelaide grade cricket, before South Australia finally handed him a Shield debut, at age 23.

    He was 25 years old by the time he started getting a regular game for SA, in the 2012-13 season. Sayers was the leading wicket-taker in the Shield that summer, with 48 wickets at 18, a performance which earned him four caps for Australia A in mid-2013.

    He was selected again for Australia A during their winter matches in 2014 and 2016, taking 28 wickets at 25 across three separate stints.

    In early 2016, Sayers looked set to finally make the leap to international cricket when he was picked in Australia’s Test squad for the two-Test tour of New Zealand, where conditions suit accurate medium pacers.

    With Starc unavailable, and squad members James Pattinson and Peter Siddle battling injuries, Sayers appeared likely to play in the first Test alongside Hazlewood and Bird. Instead, Siddle managed to recover in time to play at Wellington and then Pattinson returned for the second Test, leaving Sayers on the sidelines.

    Just like in New Zealand, the pitches in South Africa should be perfect for Sayers. South Africa served up two very green decks out of three Tests against India last month and will fancy they can beat Australia in such conditions, having routed them on a green seamer in Hobart just over a year ago.

    Sayers is tailor-made for juicy pitches given his similarity in style to Proteas paceman Vernon Philander, who has an extraordinary record at home.

    Just like Philander, Sayers operates at a gentle pace in the 125-130kmh bracket and has the rare ability to land delivery after delivery on a testing length on or just outside off-stump. Both men can move the ball through the air and off the seam in a manner which exposes deficiencies in batting techniques.

    Yet Sayers is not a green-track bully – no such bowler could thrive playing in the Shield for South Australia, whose pitch at Adelaide has often been flat over the course of his career. He has earned the right to be Australia’s first-choice back-up quick, with Richardson better left as a last resort.

    Richardson has the ability to become a fine international bowler, but he remains green in first-class cricket. Debuting away from home against the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Quentin de Kock is an enormous task for any bowler, let alone a 21-year-old.

    Australia should leave Richardson to gain valuable experience in the nets on this tour and give Sayers any Test opportunity that arises.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • Roar Rookie

      February 14th 2018 @ 5:09am
      El Loco said | February 14th 2018 @ 5:09am | ! Report

      There must at least be curiosity about what he could do in the right conditions. All out pace served well against what was perceived as a timid England lineup, but it can backfire if the opposition weathers it. In truth we never completely routed England’s batting, rather were too good over some long journeys. South Africa over the years have been our nemesis in exposing one dimensional attacks.

      • Columnist

        February 14th 2018 @ 9:58am
        Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        I think SA’s batsmen are much better prepared to face high pace than England were.

        English batsmen aren’t used to 145kmh+ pace because they almost never face it in the nets at national training or in county cricket, which is riddled with 125-135kmh trundlers.

        Whereas SA’s batsmen are constantly facing 145kmh+ bowlers in the nets like Rabada, Morkel, Ngidi, Morris and Steyn, and there are plenty more genuinely quick bowlers in their domestic comp.

        • Roar Guru

          February 14th 2018 @ 11:16am
          Scott Pryde said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          I think this is a really important point Ronan. The express pace won’t worry the SA top order and in the seaming conditions often presented in SA conditions, it’s hard to justify overlooking Sayers in the case of an injury who will add plenty with his natural movement.

        • Roar Guru

          February 14th 2018 @ 1:39pm
          Matt H said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Yes but they were very troubled by Mitch Johnson, so I think a quality fast bowler will be a problem for them.

          • Roar Guru

            February 15th 2018 @ 7:17am
            Chris Kettlewell said | February 15th 2018 @ 7:17am | ! Report

            South Africa’s batsmen have shown to be just as vulnerable to fast bowling on green pitches as any visiting teams. Often overlooked is the fact that the conditions that saw the notorious all out for 47 for Australia saw South Africa’s last 8 wickets fall for a similar number in their first innings to be all out for 90-odd. On the green pitch that saw them bowl out India for 135, India had bowled them out for 130 in the same conditions, just gave up enough of a first innings lead for South Africa to scrape home.

            I think if conditions in South Africa start doing heaps we’ll just see lots of wickets fall no matter who’s batting.

    • Roar Guru

      February 14th 2018 @ 8:38am
      Ryan H said | February 14th 2018 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      It’d probably depend on who was missing out. ie. Starc or Cummins out then they may prefer the sharpness of Richardson, however if it was Hazlewood, Sayers coming in is almost a no-brainer. I agree Sayers easily deserves first look generally speaking though. You are talking about one player who has a brilliant Sheffield Shield record over the last 5-6 seasons averaging 24 with the ball, against another who has played merely half a dozen first-class matches.

    • February 14th 2018 @ 8:57am
      Brian said | February 14th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Before every tour there are comments on who should play and who should not but in truth there is a warm up game and you would wait to see how everyone performs in it. The bigger quandary will be if Handscomb scores more runs and Bancroft shows little again. Would they move Marsh around to accommodate playing Handscomb?

      • February 14th 2018 @ 9:11am
        Don Freo said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Again? Bancroft has shown plenty. He’s safe.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 14th 2018 @ 9:58am
          Pedro The Fisherman said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          What? I like the look of Bancroft as well but he must show more than a test average of 25 if he wants to stay in the side! Under Pressure to perform!

          • February 14th 2018 @ 10:38am
            Don Freo said | February 14th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

            He has.

            • Roar Guru

              February 14th 2018 @ 1:45pm
              Matt H said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

              No he hasn’t. That is Bancroft’s test average. 25.

              But to deal with the actual point, they have invested in Bancroft so they need to give him at least the first couple of tests this series as well. It’s not like Handscomb has been on fire. His recent century was his first significant score for a while.

              Openers can take a while to adjust to test cricket. Hayden didn’t set the world on fire in his first 10 tests either, nor Langer. The fact that Joe Burns should never have been dropped and that Renshaw was shown little patience should not affect how Bancroft is dealt with, other than maybe the selectors learning to show more patience.

              Frankly, opening against Philander and Rabada on juicy pitches could be a career killer for any opener. I hope Bancroft comes through. If he does, it will never get any harder for him than this.

    • Roar Guru

      February 14th 2018 @ 9:27am
      JamesH said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      I know Sayers seems like the safest option (and I’d like to see him play a match or two) but I don’t think we should be discounting Richardson’s ability to hit a good area and move the ball. He was really impressive attacking the stumps in his ODI debut and got some good swing and seam. If he’s doing that on a SA green-top at 140kmph he’ll be a handful.

      I think Richardson will still come in if Starc goes down injured, while Sayers is the logical replacement for Hazlewood. Flip a coin if Cummins is unfit.

      • Columnist

        February 14th 2018 @ 9:47am
        Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:47am | ! Report

        James I would normally agree with replacing an injured Starc/Cummins with the quickest available back-up bowler and I’d agree here if that back-up bowler were Tremain, or a fit NCN or Pattinson.

        But in an away series this tough and important I’d find it very hard to pick a 6-match first-class rookie like Richardson ahead of the vastly experienced and accomplished Sayers.

        • February 14th 2018 @ 12:33pm
          Ian said | February 14th 2018 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

          Glenn McGrath got picked after only 8 first class matches, when there were plenty of more experienced options available. Sometimes a kid just has it.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 15th 2018 @ 6:59am
            Maxwell Charlesworth said | February 15th 2018 @ 6:59am | ! Report

            Not every kid is Glenn McGrath though

          • February 15th 2018 @ 12:22pm
            Mj said | February 15th 2018 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            Glenn McGrath would have to have waiting as long as Sayers with the current selectors.
            Both only fast-medium pace.
            Sayers will suit the conditions, has done the hard yards and proved himself.

        • Roar Guru

          February 14th 2018 @ 1:09pm
          JamesH said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

          It’s not the pace alone though, Ronan. I think Richardson’s ability to pitch the ball up and move it is being underrated a little.

          Given that Richardson has played three more matches for Australia than Sayers has, I also think you’re placing too much emphasis on Sayers’ experience. Stepping up for a test debut is still incredibly challenging no matter how many first class games you’ve played. In a way, it might be more overawing for Sayers after waiting so long.

          I think you’re right in saying that Sayers is the more sensible option but the difference in first class experience isn’t such a huge deal. Whoever gets a gig, I hope they do well.

        • Roar Guru

          February 15th 2018 @ 7:24am
          Chris Kettlewell said | February 15th 2018 @ 7:24am | ! Report

          The last time we picked a fast bowler to debut for Australia in South Africa despite less than a handful of first class matches he to a bag of wickets and finished with the man of the match award. Of course I’m talking about Pat Cummins.

          He’s may be young and not played a lot so far, but he’s done well in everything he’s been thrown into. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t do well if he got a game in South Africa.

    • February 14th 2018 @ 9:46am
      Paul said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      What’s not clear is how the pitches will play. There’s been an assumption around for a while that the SA curators will produce green tops but they’ve already had one pitch rated “poor” and their batsmen were not overly convincing on any of the surfaces against an Indian pace attack which should be considered slightly below ours.

      I think the pitches will be far more competitive than those for the Indian series, as the SA guys will have memories of what Johnson did to them last home series. Sure there should hopefully be some pace, but they should also be playable for 5 days. If that’s the case,who’s the better proposition, Sayers or Richardson?

      • Columnist

        February 14th 2018 @ 9:54am
        Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        Paul there’s two things I’d confidently predict about the pitches in this series: 1) SA will throw in at least one green seamer, most likely early in the series 2) There won’t be any completely-dead decks like we now regularly see in Aussie Tests – absolute roads are very rare in SA Tests.

        Over the past few years I think SA Test pitches have consistently offered the best balance between bat and ball of any nation.

        • February 14th 2018 @ 10:41am
          Brian said | February 14th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          I wonder why though they would throw up a green pitch early. Seems to me its a 50-50 contest on a green pitch but their odds rise slightly above 50% on a better pitch. Especially with their recent team balance of 5 bowlers.

          They’ll be glad Australia don’t have any wrist spinners

          • Columnist

            February 14th 2018 @ 10:48am
            Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 10:48am | ! Report

            I wonder why though they would throw up a green pitch early. “

            Because they absolutely destroyed Australia last time they played them on a green pitch (Hobart) and because Australia flopped spectacularly the previous times before they played on green pitches (Ashes 2015).

            • Roar Guru

              February 14th 2018 @ 11:17am
              Scott Pryde said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:17am | ! Report

              Not to mention that time we got done for 49 in SA.

          • February 14th 2018 @ 11:10am
            Peter said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            The curators are under a bit of pressure after the series against India, and from what I’ve read there are other issues with the curators and their experience, so it’ll be interesting to see what we get.

            • February 14th 2018 @ 4:10pm
              Linphoma said | February 14th 2018 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

              You would have to think so. Is there a Test in Johannesburg at The Wanderers where the Proteas lost to India’s first all-pace attack? If there is, you would think the curator there would not want to get the badge of two home-side losses on his deck in a season.
              You won’t see turners. Everyone would acknowledge Nathan Lyon’s prowess across every track he’s come across in the last year. But I expect to see some not-as-juiced pitches prepared. Besides, it’s the tail-end of their season too and you expect wickets to show wear and tear at the fag end of the season. Over there as well as here.

              • Roar Guru

                February 15th 2018 @ 7:38am
                Chris Kettlewell said | February 15th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

                Last test is Johannesburg. The first 3 are Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

          • February 15th 2018 @ 1:07pm
            Tanmoy Kar said | February 15th 2018 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

            Watching South African succumbing against the wrist-spinners Kuldeep and Chahal, I would suggest to play Adam Zampa in place of Nathan Lyon. Indians made a mistake by not playing at least one wrist-spinner in the Test Series.

            • February 15th 2018 @ 1:17pm
              Bob Sims said | February 15th 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

              Difficult when Zampa isn’t even in the squad

        • February 14th 2018 @ 11:02am
          Paul said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          Fair call Ronan, especially your last sentence.

          If the bulk of pitches are balanced, I still wonder who is the best option? I take your point about Sayers not being a green track bully, but you’re better placed to know how many wickets he’s taken once the shine’s gone off the ball.

          • Columnist

            February 14th 2018 @ 11:08am
            Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

            The other factor in Sayers’ favour is Hazlewood’s greatly increased pace – he bowled as quick as Starc and Cummins in the Ashes, so even if one of Starc/Cummins were to get injured, and Sayers came in, Australia would still have two genuinely quick bowlers to complement the medium pace swing of Sayers.

            • February 14th 2018 @ 5:03pm
              EGC said | February 14th 2018 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

              Yes he did bowl the odd one at pace, but he is still a plodder. Line, length, placement and a bit of movement (they called him a McGrath clone and they are so right). A wonderful bowler that will be hard to score against and will frustrate batsmen. However, I would not regard him as a replacement for either Starc or Cummins in the quicks department. They are of a different style. Richardson is the only replacement for either of them……UNLESS….they are confronted by a green topped seamer (then you get rid of one of the speedsters and add Sayer).

              • Columnist

                February 14th 2018 @ 7:21pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | February 14th 2018 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

                EGC you obviously didn’t pay any attention to the speed gun during the Ashes – Hazlewood was clocked at 150kmh in each of the five Tests and bowled a ton of deliveries at 145+

                Hazlewood reached a high of 153kmh in the Ashes:

                Some “plodder”!

    • February 14th 2018 @ 1:05pm
      Bob Sims said | February 14th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

      Surely it all depends on the durability and fitness of our top three quicks. As long as they’re up for it, I can’t see either of the other two getting a run. And a four man pace attack looks unlikely as long as Lyon continues his current form.

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