Monday, July 16, 2012

Cricket Squads Feel the Winds of Change

The squads for Australia's short-form games against Pakistan in the U.A.E. have been named, and some changes have been made after th ethrashing that took place in England

One-Day Internationals
Michael Clarke (c) (NSW)
David Warner (vc) (NSW)
George Bailey (TAS)
Dan Christian (SA)
Xavier Doherty (TAS)
Callum Ferguson (SA)
David Hussey (VIC)
Michael Hussey (WA
Mitchell Johnson (WA)
Glenn Maxwell (VIC)
Clint McKay (VIC)
James Pattinson (VIC)
Steven Smith (NSW)
Mitchell Starc (NSW)
Matthew Wade (VIC) 

After a 4-0 whitewash in England it was obvious that changes had to be made.
All three injured players from the England tour - Pat Cummins, Shane Watson and the newly retired Brett Lee have been omitted. Peter Forrest's international career is now on an indefinite hiatus after his failure in English conditions, while Ben Hilfenhaus has also been relieved of ODI duties.
Returning to the side are Mitchell Starc and Dan Christian, both of whom arguably should have been in the squad from the beginning. In the long run they will have been happy to have missed the carnage of the previous tour, and can now cement themselves in as permanent fixtures of the ODI team. Michael Hussey also returns to the team after sitting out the English tour for family reasons. He was sorely missed in those matches. Callum Ferguson, who finished 4th in aggregate in the domestic Ryobi Cup in 2011/12 has earned a recall as well, and given the dearth of candidates has a great opportunity to cement himself in the team for some time. Also added for the first time is Victorian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. On ability he looks like he could be a terrific asset, he just needs to transform that ability into results.

T20 Internationals
George Bailey (c) (TAS)
Shane Watson (vc) (NSW)
Dan Christian (SA)
Pat Cummins (NSW)
Xavier Doherty (TAS)
Ben Hilfenhaus (TAS)
Brad Hogg (WA)
David Hussey (VIC)
Michael Hussey (WA)
Glenn Maxwell (VIC)
Clint McKay (VIC)
Mitchell Starc (NSW)
Matthew Wade (VIC)
David Warner (NSW)
Cameron White (VIC)

Probably the biggest surprise of this squad is the recalling of former skipper Cameron White on the basis of no form whatsoever from the previous Australian summer. However, some recent good form with the bat for Northamptonshire in the English domestic T20 competition, and the real lack of any batting power in the current Australian middle order, has elevated him to a position where he could possibly resurrect his international career in time for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. Brad Hogg continues his revival after three years of retirement, which is probably a sign of the new world of T20 cricket. It is hard to see whether this squad can pull together to be a chance of winning the upcoming World T20 Championship - but also it is hard to care too much.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Australia Struggling With English Transition

Corkhead Ian Bell keeps making runs
Two losses in two games of the England sojourn is a fair indication of the series so far. England have found ways to get out of trouble with bat and ball, while Australia has been unable to dictate any part of the two completed matches.

When Ricky Ponting was finally given the tap on the shoulder to signal the end of his ODI playing days, it was the point where Australia started to look forward to the 2015 World Cup. The line had been drawn in the sand. Peter Forrest was given his chance, and despite some solid knocks was not chosen for this tour to England, no doubt because it had been decided that the one day format is not his strength. Mike Hussey's last minute drop out meant that Forrest was given a reprieve, but the story hasn't changed.
Steve Smith was afforded the opportunity to bat at six in the first game, but was not given a bowl. After one game he was sacrificed for Forrest. On the surface it seems a tad unfair, and slightly strange that Wade should be batting behind him in that line up. Smith and Forrest probably aren't the answer the team is looking for, but it is no fault of either player that they played. Tight and terrific England bowling in the second ODI kept Forrest almost scoreless until his dismissal. Perhaps the bowling should be receiving more of the credit for stifling his innings than immediately attacking the batsman's performance. Certainly Warner was all at sea against Finn in the second ODI, and George Bailey was very slow in the first half of his innings before blossoming towards the end.

England have been playing constant cricket for two months in all forms of the game against the West Indies. They are playing at home on their pitches, and playing much better in the conditions. Australia has had a break since its tour of the West Indies, and has had a couple of almost pointless warm up games against inadequate opposition. England has their best team on the paddock and is keen to exert its dominance. Australia has injury concerns and is still trying to come up with a new combination that fits. The 2-2 result for the ODI team in the West Indies was a similar situation, where the Australians were up against home opposition familiar with their conditions, and a team that was in flux. The story remains the same.
The Australians came on tour a batsman short and have been shown up because of it. That won't change in the last three games of this series. Batting Wade at six and Smith at seven would alleviate it the best they can with the squad available. Smith will make more runs that Doherty, and he along with Clarke and Hussey can share the ten overs required of the fifth bowler. Doherty has been ineffective with the ball and should be sacrificed to help strengthen the batting.

Historically Australia like to attack with pace men, despite the (regular) chance of them going for plenty of runs. Lee and McKay appear the first choice seamers. No doubt all of those taken on tour will get a run in at least one match, to at least justify taking them. In that case, it will be just as harsh to judge efforts from guys like Hilfenhaus and Pattinson in one-off games as it is to guys like Forrest and Smith in their one off appearances.
Johnson in front of Pattinson? Why?!
Mitchell Johnson played his first International match in nine months in the second ODI, and carried on from where he left off, with twenty runs from his first two overs, including boundaries off 'free hit' balls brought on by no-balls. It was revealed that when the new contracts for Cricket Australia were being offered that Mitch Johnson was assured of getting one, as he had signed a two year agreement the previous season. this begs the question - was Johnson picked for this tour purely because he had been given a contract, and it needed to be justified with selection? This would be denied by both the NSP and CA, but it probably isn't very far from fact.

Australia's squad is under strength because Australian cricket is under strength. Despite the pleasing results of the past twelve months under Michael Clarke, there is still a big gap to transcend. Whatever the result of the final three games here, the stage has been set for the home summer. Australian spots are open for any batsmen who can show they can score consistent big runs, and bowlers who can get wickets while maintaining line and length.
Australia's line will be that, no matter the result of this series, the introduction of the players to English conditions will be invaluable in the lead up to next year's Ashes. If England win 4-1 or 5-0 they will say they are the dominant force of the two teams and be dining out on it for twelve months.