In their last five Test matches Australia’s batting has been nothing less than atrocious. They’ve struggled to cope with swing, bounce, spin and just about any other variation a bowling side can use via the conditions and pitch.
The loss to Sri Lanka was tolerable considering the quick adjustment to conditions and the squads inexperience in the sub-continent. However a possible whitewash on home soil is simply unacceptable and downright embarrassing.
With three changes made from the Perth Test to Hobart, two forced and one unforced, I don’t believe a complete overhaul of the Test squad for Adelaide is necessary, however it is obvious that things need to be different.
The serious problems lie here. It’s obvious things aren’t being dealt with correctly not only in training but also the pathways. The problems with spin and swing have existed for many, many years.
We’ve lost series in England and India based upon our inabilities to cope with local conditions and with such behaviours festering throughout Australian Test squads continuously over the years, the education for combating such variations must be trained early in the careers of our up and coming cricketing superstars.
Currently there are problems at the top, middle and lower order. Joe Burns failed in his recall, Adam Voges has struggled with the swing and accuracy of Kagiso Rabada and co while Callum Ferguson was subject to one of the toughest debuts against a world class attack.
Further, Peter Nevill has yet to blossom in the baggy green, faced with the difficult challenge of replacing Australia’s greatest wicket keeper-batsmen in Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin. To make matters worse Australia has always possessed a tail with the ability to wag, however, the likes of Joe Mennie, Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nate Lyon and Peter Siddle have added only 119 runs in 4 innings with 63 of those scored in the second innings at Perth.
The man we all hope would’ve scored a breakthrough century by now, Mitchell Marsh, was dropped for Hobart after a duck and 26 in Perth. Personally I see Marsh, at 25, as the type of player Steve Waugh was at the start of his career. A player who struggled in the beginning, not ready for the brutality of the Test arena, but benefited from the experience to become one of Australia’s greatest. Only time will tell.
For Adam Voges it’s unfortunate that someone who waited so long for an opportunity and capitalised substantially will be dropped after only a few poor matches. However the dead rubber Adelaide Test presents a chance to blood a youngster or as Allan Border said today, “a gut feel selection.” For me that selection should be Travis Head. With an extremely modest first class average of 33.39 Head’s selection would be questionable, however nothing’s on the line and the South Australian left-hander is a future mainstay in the Australian Test side.
Callum Ferguson would feel very hard done by if dropped. His performance was certainly underwhelming and he looked out of his depth in the second innings with a very soft dismissal. However he should be given an opportunity to prove himself on his home pitch after overcoming a host of injuries to finally secure a baggy green. With 15 first class centuries and an ODI average of 41.43, Ferguson has earned the chance to prove himself.
With Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Steve Smith safe the last two batsmen with question marks are Joe Burns and Peter Nevill. Burns’ position at the top order depends on the fitness of Shaun Marsh.
Burns was unlucky in the second innings and had shown significant amounts of promise and solidarity before the Sri Lanka disaster but his position will always be precarious when an in form Shaun Marsh is fit.
Finally, Nevill has struggled to adapt to life as a Test cricketer but will most likely retain his spot with no obvious replacement available. Matt Wade would present an aggressive alternative however with scores of 78, 26 and 3 in the two latest Sheffield Shield matches he’s hardly set the world on fire.
Other alternatives include part-time wicket keepers Cameron Bancroft and Peter Handscomb however with both not keeping for their state it’d be a bold move from the selectors.
In terms of bowling Starc and Hazlewood are well and truly safe. Nathan Lyon has come under pressure of late for an underwhelming series in Sri Lanka and has failed to leave a mark on the South Africans with an average of 102.50 from the past two games.
However there’s a reason they call Lyon the GOAT, and it should be a matter of time before he puts forward a decent haul which could be on the turf he used to assist curating at Adelaide Oval.
If not, the calls for the inclusion of Steve O’Keefe and Ashton Agar could become even louder with O’Keefe performing consistently over the past few Sheffield Shield seasons while Agar continues to improve and deliver on the talent seen early on his career after match figures of 10/141 in his recent clash against New South Wales.
Similar to Ferguson it’d be tough to drop Mennie after only one bowling innings. I’m one of many that believes Chadd Sayers or Jackson Bird would’ve been more suitable additions to the squad over last year’s Sheffield Shield leading wicket-taker.
As a selector I’d be willing to take a massive punt and replace Mennie with Sayers for the third Test. It’d be extremely unfair on Mennie however the Australian side is crying out for a genuine swing bowler after returning match figures of 6/108 against Western Australia in Perth and 11/66 against Tasmania in Adelaide.
With Geoff Lawson and Carl Hooper recently rating Sayers as a darkhorse, the time might be right for the man compared to Terry Alderman early in his career.
Finally there has been an array of questions regarding the side’s preparation for this series along with the role Twenty20 has played in the techniques of various players. Personally, I find the amount of Twenty20 players are participating in as alarming with more cricketers at a younger age preferring the reverse sweep over a simple forward defence or even the option of offering no shot.
However our current Test crop is hardly playing enough T20s to impact significantly upon their own technique and with the coaching and technology available it should hardly be an excuse.
The argument regarding the schedule is fair considering before the first Test only one Sheffield Shield match was played, providing players like Voges, Smith and Nevill little time at the crease to work themselves into some sort of form.
However Moises Henriques stated today, “Last year we were brilliant at home, we piled on the runs, we were dominate and it was pretty much similar, if not the same structure back then and no one questioned it.” The South Africans, however, are a completely different beast to New Zealand and the West Indies, with more red ball cricket only logical to prepare the Australian side for one of the world’s best sides.