As of today’s date, men’s ODI cricket has witnessed 54 bowlers take at least four wickets on debut.
Australia will head into their traditional festive fixture at the MCG in pretty good spirits.
Having made short work of Pakistan and following this up with a resounding series-opening defeat of New Zealand in Perth, the Aussies have worked up a head of steam and they will quite rightly be placed at short odds to extent their run of victories.
Putting up hefty totals on a regular basis and having a bowling attack that consistently holds sway is a more or less foolproof way of winning cricket matches, with the proof being in the pudding and all that.
England, in contrast, could well be slightly unsure of themselves as their tricky-looking series in South Africa gets underway at Centurion’s Supersport Park on the same day.
Their form over the past month or so has been indifferent, with a series defeat in New Zealand exposing the all-too-familiar Achilles heel of taking wickets abroad.
And while the batting hasn’t been too bad, it definitely needs to go up a notch if the shortcomings elsewhere are to be negated.
In a reflection of their respective teams’ varying form and fortune, the output of the men at first drop – Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne and his English counterpart Joe Denly – provides a neat point of focus.
The former, adding to his solid displays from the recent Ashes, has been in outrageously good touch. Labuschagne’s 542 runs in four goes with three centuries is Bradmanesque, or Smithesque if you’d rather a current comparison. And if Usman Khawaja wasn’t fearing for his future as a Test batsman before, he should be now.
The way Labuschagne goes about his business is obviously well-suited to the longer format and when you add together all the ingredients – the sound method, the unflustered demeanour, the willingness and ability to concentrate for long periods – you end up with a very good Test batsman.
I’ll admit to not having seen or heard much of the Queenslander prior to his appearance as Steve Smith’s concussion replacement at Lord’s but the reports of his performances for Glamorgan in the County Championship in the first half of the season had been positive and the powers that be must have known something.
The extent to which he has built on a handful of decent efforts in England to produce such stellar performances back on home soil may well have caught many by surprise but there are occasions where the right circumstances meet the right person and this is a prime example.
If Labuschagne’s march up the world rankings has coincided with his team’s strong run of form, Denly’s showings have – by their inconsistent nature – reflected those of his.
It hasn’t helped that he has had a whistle-stop tour of the top four spots in the order but it is the inconsistency that stands out.
There have been some high points – a career-best 94 at the Oval, a good half-century before Ben Stokes stole the show at Headingley, 70-odd in the defeat in Tauranga – but a few too many of the low variety, which is reflected in an average of 30 and the sense that the answer to ‘who should bat at number three?’ lays elsewhere.
This may be viewed as being a fraction harsh – after all, as with the opening positions, England isn’t blessed with a raft of outstanding candidates. But if the aim is to improve England’s standing in Test cricket, then more is needed.
Denly hasn’t done a particularly poor job and there have certainly been glimpses of a very good player who has played better than many would’ve expected. But while big hundreds from your top order win matches, respectable scores here and there rarely do.
So as the turn of the year prepares to present itself and the days are ticked off before the attention turns to the Ashes all over again (if it has ever actually stopped), Australia seemingly have a number three who is bedding in for the long haul while England remain in the hunt for their equivalent.
On a seasonal note, happy Christmas and best wishes for 2020.