Australia has a serious shortage of openers at the moment.
This is an obvious statement being demonstrated by not one, not two, but three of our opening batsmen this Ashes series, with Australia’s highest opening partnership being a grand total of 13.
Stuart Broad has figured out how to exploit the Australian left-handers and has done so with gusto, having claimed an astonishing number of his wickets bowled and LBW.
I recently wrote that Australia must drop David Warner and I stand by that. Warner has always been rotten against the moving ball in England and he is showing it once again this series. The selectors must think very hard before selecting the team for the final Test at the Oval, with one eye being turned towards the future.
The coming home summer will place Australia against the dark-horse nation of New Zealand – currently ranked second in the world – and the cricketing powerhouse of Pakistan, ranked seventh. These matches will be played at the traditional five Test summer venues, with the only deck looking to add some spice being the Gabba as per usual.
Most the other pitches will be flat and easy for scoring, with minimal ball movement with the Kookaburra balls. This will lead to the selectors having to stick with Warner or Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft for a length of time when they know they need someone else.
I am not opposed to Warner playing in Australia. He is phenomenal at home and can help us win a series in a session, but I would urge the selectors to not pencil in an opening partner before the results of the first few Sheffield Shield rounds. They will be pivotal to determine who shall be the other opener, but my gut feeling would suggest a Joe Burns or even Matthew Renshaw at a gamble.
Burns should be playing the next Test as an opener, but the selectors missed a chance to select him in the touring squad and play an opener with experience in tough conditions and one with a proven track record when we need him most. The lack of quality openers is a major issue, and we must address this issue immediately.
Although Australia’s bowlers have had a remarkable series with the ball, by far outplaying England, they have a habit of slipping back into old habits, such as bowling far too short in England, allowing the batsman a much easier time at the crease.
There have been stages when the Australians have bowled too short and lost momentum, but except for Day 4 at Headingley, they have managed to regain the upper hand. But that leaves some lingering questions like the non-selection of Peter Siddle for that match, but all the bowlers have been performing up to standard, bar James Pattinson.
There was much talk and fanfare leading up to the Ashes about the return of Pattinson, with many expecting his return to Test cricket from his long injury hiatus to resemble Pat Cummins’ comeback.
Unfortunately it hasn’t quite materialised as the fairytale fans were hoping for, with an anti-climactic series resulting in five wickets at 33. This is not the worst, with Siddle sitting on five wickets at 36, but Siddle has been incredibly unlucky with umpiring and poor fielding, looking more threatening over long periods than Pattinson.
That being said, Pattinson has never gone long without taking a bag of wickets, so I look forward to three of our great quicks – and hopefully four – playing the Gabba this summer.
Nathan Lyon has had a torrid Ashes series so far, with the old enemy having figured out how to nullify his spin and scores runs. This leads to Lyon bowling far too quickly. Lyon lacks the confidence to pitch the ball up and encourage the big flashy drive that has been so pivotal to getting him wickets.
Admittedly he has been on the end of some bad fielding and umpiring, but by bowling flat, fast and straight, he takes away that lovely flighted delivery that just drifts in and turns away from the left-hander, taking the outside edge. Lyon just needs to be encouraged to keep pitching it up and enticing the big shots that so often reap the rewards for him.
And what article would this be without mentioning Steve Smith and his new partner in crime Marnus Labuschagne. Smith has taken his batting to the next level by becoming the leading run-scorer for 2019 in only four innings, and a 200-odd day delay over everyone else.
What a true legend. He is the best since Bradman. His return after 15 months on the outer has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fans. He has scored 671 runs in only five innings, with most matches being rain-affected, and if Smith played at Lord’s in the second innings then at Headingley, he would have challenged Don Bradman for the most runs scored in a five-match series (974 in the 1930 Ashes).
Smith still has a good shot if the Aussies bat first and go for a huge total at the Oval. Labuschagne has been a terrific deputy, providing a strong example of how to play in English conditions. There was not much he could do about the Jofra Archer delivery that got him for 11 in Manchester, as it bounced sharply off a length.
Travis Head has been disappointing this series, as have Matthew Wade and Tim Paine. They all would have wanted better series. Paine is coming off a 50 but Head, and to a lesser extent Wade, need to pick up their game quickly. They are slowly sliding towards the axe, especially with quality batsmen like Kurtis Patterson waiting in the wings.
The only change I would make to the XI for the fifth Test is flying in Joe Burns for David Warner.