Usman Khawaja could be in doubt to play the first Ashes Test after being left out of the 24-man group for the Australia vs Australia A match starting Tuesday, the final game before the Ashes.
It’s a funny game, cricket, in that performance and results don’t always correlate.
For instance, in a parallel universe in which Tim Paine successfully reviewed a Cheteshwar Pujara’s outside edge in the first Test, Australia won 2-1 and all is well with the world, at least on paper.
Instead a historic first series loss to an Asian nation on home soil gives us a chance to take a moment of quiet introspection and make necessary changes to give ourselves the best possible chance of winning in England for the first time in 18 years.
For starters, this is a review of who stood up and who didn’t in this series. It doesn’t make for pretty reading.
Pat Cummins – 8/10
14 wickets at 27.78, 163 runs at 23.28
Australia’s Braveheart, Cummins bowled his heart out and showed such aptitude for Test cricket with the bat that he was knocking on the door of the top seven and putting more qualified teammates to shame. He carried the whole country on his back in Melbourne without quite pulling off a Houdini act, and despite a wicketless return in the final Test, he is one of the few Australians who came out of the series with an enhanced reputation.
Nathan Lyon – 7/10
21 wickets at 30.42, 83 runs at 20.75
On lively Adelaide and Perth pitches Lyon was outstanding, extracting significant turn and bounce to give an Indian team traditionally strong against spin plenty to think about. His influence was quelled by flatter surfaces as the series continued, but only a case of butterfingers denied him another bag in Melbourne. Like Cummins, did his best to deny the opposition with the bat when the top order failed.
Marcus Harris – 6/10
258 runs at 36.85
It speaks volumes of Australia’s current predicament that a debutant became the most prized wicket in the space of four Tests. He displayed a sound, compact technique at times reminiscent of fallen countryman David Warner, and despite a penchant for throwing away solid starts and taking his eyes off the short ball, he has all but booked his Ashes ticket.
Tim Paine – 6/10
174 runs at 24.85, 16 catches
One of Australia’s better performers, Paine had an excellent series behind the stumps, missing a single tough chance off Virat Kohli at Melbourne. His batting was generally serviceable under difficult circumstances, but while he remains the leader this team needs, there were some notable tactical errors, particularly failing to station a close fielder on the offside at Adelaide and the short-ball barrage on a Sydney wicket briefly sporting a green tinge. He’s done enough to keep other contenders at bay for now.
Travis Head – 5/10
237 runs at 33.85, 0 wickets for 35
It was a frustrating series for the South Australian. He looks comfortable enough to succeed at this level and never failed to reach double figures, but several of his dismissals were symptomatic of his team’s struggles. Two slashes to third man at Perth, two expansive drives at Melbourne and a bunted full toss at Sydney undid a lot of his good work.
He’ll get another chance, but he needs to learn when to shift gears. It is instructive that the early patterns of Head’s Test career can be drawn from his overall first-class record, with only one in every seven 50-plus scores have been converted into 100s.
Usman Khawaja – 5/10
198 runs at 28.28, 0 wickets for 4
The numbers don’t reflect what Khawaja is capable of, but injury and personal issues had to have weighed down on a batsman already carrying the burden of senior pro. His well-known weakness against spin re-emerged and India’s quicks were able to employ a round-the-wicket tactic to great effect, but without his hard-fought 72 at Perth Australia may well have lost 3-0. The improvement in his fielding, highlighted by a one-handed screamer to send off a scoreless Kohli at Adelaide, was a welcome sight. He should bounce back.
Josh Hazlewood – 5/10
13 wickets at 30.61, 51 runs at 10.2
Economical and accurate as usual but without his usual incisiveness, Hazlewood generally fought hard all series and came out of it with respectable numbers. He remains one of the first picked.
Mitchell Starc – 4/10
13 wickets at 34.53, 117 runs at 23.4
An average of just under 35 flatters Starc, who struggled for consistency all series. Notably his modus operandi of swinging the new ball big and gaining early breakthroughs was close to nonexistent. If Mayank Agarwal and a fit Prithvi Shaw had opened all series, Starc may have gone without an opening-spell wicket in every match. He can rebound, but he needs to recharge the batteries.
Marnus Labuschagne – 4/10
38 runs at 38, 0 wickets for 76
His initial selection may have raised eyebrows, but Labuschagne’s cameo appearance at Sydney gave cause for optimism. Before succumbing to India’s onside trap he showed excellent judgement against spin and seam alike, looking more comfortable than anyone at the crease. Take out a nervy opening over and his leg spin offered enough to keep persisting with. Despite poor Sheffield Shield numbers this season, Labuschagne deserves a chance to prove his wares against Sri Lanka and may well be an Ashes bolter.
Shaun Marsh – 3/10
183 runs at 26.14
Marsh received a stay of execution for this series due to the absence of key personnel as well as excellent ODI and Shield form, with his paltry returns in the UAE explained away by a string of good balls. The trend somewhat continued against India, falling several times to Jasprit Bumrah’s subtle variations, but he also suffered from poor shot selection.
No innings typified Marsh’s career better than his effort in Sydney, where two sumptuous cover drives were followed by an aimless edge to an innocuous delivery wide of off stump. He has all the tools, but for whatever reason it just doesn’t come together often enough. In a seven-year, 38-match career the 35-year-old averages just 34. He’s in trouble.
Peter Handscomb – 2/10
105 runs at 21
On the evidence presented, Handscomb did not use 12 months out of the international spotlight to tighten his technique. As guilty of poor shot selection as anyone, he needs to go away and work on his game again.
Mitch Marsh – 2/10
1 match, 19 runs at 9.5, 0 wickets for 51
I’ve got a lot of time for Mitch Marsh, but a dreadful match with the bat in Melbourne just about shuts the gate on his Test career until he can bang it down with domestic runs. Since his 96 at Durban last year the younger Marsh has managed just 129 runs at 9.92, passing 20 once, and has increasingly resembled a walking wicket, particularly against quality spin.
He scores two for his bowling alone, with his ability to extract variable bounce and some lateral movement posing more of a threat than all bar Cummins on Day 1. Ultimately he was selected to score runs, and in a team crying out for them, his performance didn’t justify his inclusion.
Aaron Finch – 2/10
97 runs at 16.16, 0 wickets for 8
An acceptable pick at the top of the order on the benign pitches of the UAE, Finch did enough to warrant inclusion this series, but his technique and first-class record meant he had to bat in the middle order. The Australian selectors thought they knew something no-one else did and backed him in only to watch him surrender his wicket three times in six innings.
He gutsed out a half-century in Perth to suggest the temperament was there, but a late cut to slip in the second over of a steep chase in Melbourne was the final straw. He nay not play Test cricket again.
So what does that mean for the rest of 2019? If Australia is serious about winning the Ashes on foreign soil, it has to make tough calls, and soon. The Sri Lanka series represents a chance to restore much-needed confidence, but there is the danger that the wrong candidates will get a game, fill their boots, lock in a long-term spot and underperform when it really matters.
Anyone with significant doubts around technique or with prolonged poor form at Test level should be overlooked for now. For this reason I would put a line through the Marsh brothers and Handscomb. The men who should be getting an opportunity are those who could succeed in England, be it through county performances, a proven first-class record or some X factor.
If the selectors refuse to pick Warner, an opener is required, preferably one who can bat for long periods. On that basis Matt Renshaw’s 2018 county performance – 513 runs at 51.3 and three 100s – overrides his 2018-19 Shield form and earns him a spot at his home ground.
My other batting inclusion for the Gabba Test is Glenn Maxwell. His unorthodox technique may have its detractors, but his first-class record speaks for itself and certainly warrants an opportunity on home soil. Throw in his elite fielding and handy off spin and you have a potentially game-changing No.6. One of many players horribly mismanaged by Cricket Australia in 2018, a little bit of love may take his game to the next level.
If not Maxwell, Joe Burns has a proven Test record and consistent Shield performances behind him and would prove to be a safe selection.
As for the bowlers, a rest for the frontliners provides an opportunity to explore the next wave of Australian quicks. James Pattinson is a walk-up start at his best but needs to prove that he is back at that level. Several candidates have put their names up in lights in the first half of the 2018-19 Shield season, including Victorians Chris Tremain and Scott Boland, West Australian Jhye Richardson and South Australian Daniel Worrall, while Chadd Sayers is built for English conditions.
I like the look of Richardson, who has raw pace, can move the ball and has troubled batsmen across all competitions this year, while Tremain is the form bowler of the competition, with 157 wickets at 20.96 since 2015-16. Both bowlers have been in and around the Australian set-up in recent series and are ready to go.
Any number of quicks will get the job done, but selecting the right batsmen if critical if we want to compete in England.
My Australian XI to face Sri Lanka