It’s Gabba, Brisbane in the year 2016.
Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Jhye Richardson.
Five high-class Test bowlers, all fit and raring to go when the first Test starts in November. Throw in other possible candidates for a bowling berth like Chris Tremain, Jackson Bird and Michael Neser, and it’s hard to think of an era Australia has had more depth in its fast bowling ranks.
The situation was similar earlier this year, when Peter Siddle was included in this list and, as a result, Australia adopted a policy of resting some bowlers. The reason given was that the players had a grueling workload with five Tests scheduled over a six-week period.
That policy looks like continuing this Australian summer, with six Tests scheduled from November 21 until January the 7.
This sounds perfectly reasonable, but is this actually covering up problems that are within Cricket Australia’s (CA) power to fix?
The British Army created an adage known as the seven ‘P’s – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. The seven ‘P’s should be applied to three things within CAs power.
1. Proper Tour Planning
2. Proper Pitch Preparation; and
3. Proper Fast Bowling Preparation and Workloads
As previously mentioned, Australia had to play a five-Test series in six weeks in England and will play six Test matches in seven weeks this summer, but why are these agreed schedules?
In the case of the Ashes, moving the dates forward would have been impossible, given the final of the ODI World Cup was played on the 14th of July, allowing only a couple of weeks to prepare for the First Test. There no reason though, why the series could not have been played out over a longer period. After all, the final County games were being played on the 26th of September.
In similar vein this summer, the first Test starts on the 21st of November, yet prior to that, there are some T20 internationals of questionable significance in early November?
If those T20 have to be played before Christmas, why not play them in early October, a week or so after Pakistan finished its T20 series against Sri Lanka, which would dovetail nicely with the end of the first round of Marsh Cup ODI’s?
This movement forward would allow the First Test to be played at least a fortnight earlier, thus creating more time between Tests (with the exception of the Boxing Day/New Years Day fixtures).
Proper Pitch Preparation
Test pitches in Australia used to be renowned for a variety of characteristics. Some were bouncy and fast, while others helped the faster bowlers on days one and two, then broke up and helped the spinners on days four and five. All though helped a balanced attack, if bowlers were prepared to put in the effort.
Most of these traits have largely disappeared, so attacks are now faced with the real prospect of losing the toss, bowling a collective 150 overs in the first innings and possibly bowling another 100 overs in the second innings – then having to repeat the dose a few days later thanks to Piss Poor Tour Planning.
Australia is one of the few countries where tens of thousands of fans will flock to Test matches, so Cricket Australia wants to cash in by making sure games last five days. Curators though have gone a tad too far in their pitch preparation and one result has been an increased bowling workload.
The day-night Tests have shown competitive pitches can be produced by making only small adjustments to how strips are prepared. Cricket Australia needs to try and re-introduce the characteristics that made these pitches both unique in world cricket, but also a real contest between bat and ball.
Proper Fast Bowling Preparation and Workloads
The original heading for this topic was going to be “Proper Bowling Preparation and Workloads”, because Nathan Lyon too, should have been included as part of the rotation policy. Sadly, there’s no spinner good enough to take his place, so the rotation policy focuses on the quicks.
The world’s best Test bowler, Pat Cummins, will have an unusual preparation for the summer this year, as will his teammate Mitchell Starc.
Cummins has rightly been given an extended rest after his efforts in the World Cup and the 200 plus overs he bowled in the Ashes series. He has however, been included in the T20 squad to play against Pakistan and Sri Lanka? Why? How will this help him prepare for the Tests that start only two weeks after the last T20 finishes?
Starc too, has also been included in the T20 series which makes even less sense, given he’s the type of bowler who needs work and would benefit from playing as much red ball cricket as possible. His place in the Test side is far from assured and he should be given every chance to stake a claim, rather than being limited to a couple of Shield games.
The other factor both have to overcome are the different mindsets needed for four day versus T20 cricket. In Starc’s case, if his place was guaranteed, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but this chopping and changing formats will not help his cause unless he’s in red-hot form and his last performance against Queensland suggests he’s far from that.
The final piece of the bowling preparation puzzle is how much energy are all of the Australian quicks using up on training and bowling, once the season starts?
The modern trend seems to be all players having lots of practice time, gym sessions, hours of warm up before play starts, etc., which is fine for preseason and early games in a summer, but why is this carried onto Tests, especially when series are crammed together with little down time in between games?
Cricket at this level is way more mental than physical and it’s safe to assume all players are in good enough shape to cope with the rigors of five day Tests. Surely rest and time away from anything to do with the game would be more beneficial than a prolonged net bowling session?
Shouldn’t this preparation also taper significantly, both as the summer progresses, but also depending on weather conditions? Why would a fast bowler be out warming up for hours, if the forecast was for 40-degree heat and they could be expected to bowl at least 20 overs?
Rather than address these issues collectively, Cricket Australia has gone down the path of bowling rotation. In effect they’re telling selectors not to pick the best XI based on fitness and form, but using this approach to cover up failings in other areas.
If each of these failings was collectively addressed, players chosen for the First Test would know they were likely to keep their places for the rest of the summer, assuming form didn’t dessert them or they weren’t injured.
As it stands, a bowler can be pulled from the team, because selectors guess he might not make it through the summer. I wonder what the old fast bowlers union would have to say about that?