Thursday, December 9, 2021
Home Game Australia badly need some games for their fringe Test players

Australia badly need some games for their fringe Test players

I’ve been reading, with huge amusement, comments on The Roar about the sort of form Australian Test players are in.

If my take is correct, the only bloke who’s doing himself any justice at present is Travis Head and he’s not even in the Test side!

The reality is, we’ve had little cricket of any kind since last summer and what cricket we’ve had, has been T20 tournaments in overseas domestic competitions or white-ball international series with a lot of key players missing.

This means none of us, not the players, the selectors, coaches or us fans, have a good picture about who’s in form with bat and ball for the Ashes.

Cricket Australia has done its best to manage this situation, by starting the domestic season in September, but as we all know, state-imposed restrictions thanks to coronavirus outbreaks have meant only three one-day games have been played, along with four Shield games, with two states not playing any first class cricket to date.

There’s still time to organise matches and with border restrictions likely to lift in the coming weeks, cricket should get more or less back to normal in time for the first Test.

That sounds good in theory, but selectors, including the newly-appointed Tony Dodemaide, have the tough task of trying to work out a squad when there’s no consistent form line and little cricket being played.

I’d love to see Cricket Australia walk back its decision not to play a Test against Afghanistan. The announcement by new NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet that NSW would soon be allowing international arrivals and no quarantine for vaccinated passengers should banish many of the barriers to that match taking place.

That said, it’s clearly stuck in the realms of politics and it’s also debatable what value Australia’s cricketers would gain from the match, given the standard of the opposition. The obvious alternative is to stage two four-day matches between ‘possibles’ and ‘probables’ teams.

In terms of timing, there’s no reason why these games cannot take place. The final of the T20 World Cup takes place on the 14th of November, and assuming the unlikely happens and Australia makes it that far, there are still well over three weeks before the first Test, which starts on the 8th of December.

The other sticking point to these matches taking place was the 14-day quarantine, but as previously mentioned, this is in the process of being removed.

The teams I’d like to see play are:

Team Gold
David Warner
Marcus Harris
Marnus Labuschagne
Steve Smith
Travis Head
Cameron Green
Tim Paine
James Pattinson
Michael Neser
Jhye Richardson
Mitchell Swepson

Team Greeen
Bryce Street
Usman Khawaja
Nic Maddinson
Will Pucovski
Matthew Renshaw
Josh Inglis
Alex Carey
Pat Cummmins
Mitchell Starc
Nathan Lyon
Josh Hazlewood

I’ve deliberately chosen the likely Test bowlers to play the likely Test batsmen for two reasons. One, I think the public needs to truly see the sort of form our likely Test team is in and what better way to do that, than to pit Test batsman against Test bowler.

The other reason is to make these matches sporting contests worth watching. On paper, if the Australian team played an A side, there are only two results likely: a draw or a comprehensive win to the Test players.

Watching Warner, Labuschagne and Smith trying to cope with that attack would be great viewing and the contest would be far more even.

A by-product is the tough hit-out our bowlers will gain, as well as our batsmen being forced to quickly change their mental approach from white-ball to red-ball batting.

I don’t think there are any surprises in the Gold team line-up. These are either incumbent Test players or those very likely to be called up if form drops or injury happens.

The Green team is far more open to debate, especially the batsmen and the batting order.

I’ve quite deliberately named Usman Khawaja as an opener because I believe he can still do a job for Australia in that position if required.

Usman Khawaja of Australia plays a reverse sweep

Can Usman make a shock run for an Ashes spot? (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

There’s an assumption that he’s perhaps too old and certainly there are others in front of him, but not many. Dave Warner has to prove he still has what it takes and Marcus Harris has to show his County form means he’s now ready to be a good Test opener.

Will Pucovski is not an opener. He is a genuine No.3, 4 or 5 and at this stage of his career, he should bat no higher than 5, if he ever bats again at first class level.

Many would say he has a great technique to succeed as an opener, but the number of concussions suffered while batting suggest otherwise. That has to bring Khawaja into the frame, given his great record as an opener in Australia and the indifferent form of the other Shield openers.

Nic Maddinson is one of the game’s forgotten players. He’s been in very good form for the Vics over the past couple of seasons and deserves a shot at proving he can make a comeback to the Test arena.

I’m sure there are more than a few raised eyebrows at the inclusion of Josh Inglis and especially Matt Renshaw as a middle order player. There are a couple of other names in the mix – Ben McDermott and Josh Phillipe, but I’m not convinced by either as a consistent middle order option in red-ball cricket – yet.

I’m a real Inglis fan and think his attacking flair could be perfect at No.6 in Test cricket, while Renshaw has quietly made some decent scores for the Bulls in the Shield. He’s also shown he has the temperament to play Tests and will be determined to do well if given another opportunity.

Pat Cummins would skipper this side. He needs to show selectors he can do the job, given the lack of other candidates at present. He’d receive plenty of support, particularly from Alex Carey and Usman Khawaja, so would not have to make every decision himself.

The real key to these matches would be the pitches. These have to be genuine cricket wickets and a true test between bat and ball.

In an ideal world, they’d give the quicks plenty of help on day 1, play truly for day 2 then start to spin late on day 3 and into day 4, but that’s expecting too much. As long as they’re not complete roads, that would be fine.

Ashes series are such an important part of Test cricket, so getting selections right is critical. More to the point, making sure selections are based on sound metrics is vital, so everyone knows why certain players were left in or excluded.

If a Test team was selected tomorrow, at best it would be a guess who should play because there is no form line.

If the team was selected after playing the matches described in this piece, it would be far easier to comprehend decisions. It would also give everyone a taste of what was to come over our Test cricketing summer.

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