Well, what to make of Australia’s bid to regain the Ashes after the completion of the first round of ‘red ball’ cricket and the culmination of the Indian One day tour?
First, the 8 match tour of India has ironically seen strong performance both bring some players into Test consideration and solidify others as the future of Australia’s 50 over team looking to the 2015 World Cup.
George Bailey is definitely the winner, which is curious as he has overseen record breaking run chases against Australia and massive scores, including only the third International double ton.
In reality, rule changes and small grounds mean that no side can be complacent in setting a big score batting first, although the morale of our bowlers must be low after the last few matches become somewhat farcical in their power hitting. It is sad that a tournament with such brilliant individual performances on both sides (albeit mostly with the bat) will be consigned to the trash bin of cricket memories so promptly.
However, Bailey’s batting alongside his leadership and impressive dealings with the press see him as a potential middle order batting prospect, despite an unfaltering First-class record, and a bolter to take a leadership role in the Test team.
Elsewhere, James Faulkner, somewhat more for his explosive batting than his quite reasonable bowling, looked very promising to stay in the Test aside, even shorter odds now Watson’s hammy has again decided to go on strike.
The economics of world cricket, (which is code for what the BCCI wants, the BCCI gets), mean this tour had to be made, and in fact Australia still ‘owes’ India a tour, so the impact it has or will have on our Test preparation fades as far as the Australian administrators are concerned compared to the revenue. (Never mind the quality, feel the width)
Johnson’s role at some stages of the Ashes summer has been flagged early, and Mackay and Maxwell, and possibly Finch and Doherty, look to be in the long vision for the 50 over side.
However, the repurcussions of this long tour, with washouts impacting the players getting a consistent run on the field, and bowlers watching their hard work disappear over their heads repeatedly, will probably not be evident for a few months.
As to the longer form of the game, Michael Clarke at least played some cricket, and his first innings vs. Tasmania would have caused many to be relieved, as well as a few days in the field.
Chris Rogers would have blown away some cobwebs being serviceable for Victoria, but the best performances with the bat in this round came mostly from forgotten players like Forrest and North, or players outside (or ineligible for) Test consideration at present, such as Cooper and Botha. Only Alex Doolan of the group of potentials shone brightly with a brilliant knock, and there’s a lot to be said for the influence Ricky Ponting has had on Tasmanian cricket, especially last season, with stories of his willingness to coach and mentor his teammates filling them with confidence and awe, seemingly being translated into good performances.
Ryan Harris didn’t bowl in the SA second innings yesterday, with a virus hitting him and teammates. Ben Hilfenhaus bowled well, but the spinners are where the questions are being asked.
Nathan Lyon caused Tasmanian heart flutters with late wickets in their successful chase but in Victoria, after a first innings haul of 6 to Fawad Ahmed, it was Cameron White not Ahmed who made the breakthroughs against a WA side still rebuilding its list under Justin Langer. (Could he be a late prospect to coach the Saints now?)
Ahmed will suffer in the short term from the weight of expectations, but the reality is that despite his age and undoubtedly strong temperament, he is still reasonably inexperienced and will not be the next Warne or Qadir some tout him as. With a good uninterrupted run at Shield cricket, he should be strongly considered for eventual Test section, but after the dalliance with Agar in England, Lyon has done little wrong and should be retained and given time.
The critical questions remain on the Australian batting line up. Warner’s flourish in the Ryobi Cup will see him open regardless of how he performs in the Shield games and Bailey will get a chance this week to stamp what is becoming a surge of encouragement for him to play. If Faulkner comes in as the all-rounder, he is more a lower order batting option, which leaves us exposed at the top, which was a problem in England.
With regard to the tourists, not much should be made of their inability to make inroads in the first dig against the WA XI. It was in part the chance the get overs into bowlers like Anderson and to conduct an audition for the remaining spot in their first Test bowling squad. Admittedly, none really impressed, but with Broad and Cook, as well as KP, to get a go this week, Bell continuing his brilliant Test form and Trott getting back into the runs for a change, the poor performance of fringe batsmen and Prior’s continued poor form probably do not cause concerns for them, so far.
The return of the Indian tour side sees most Shield teams fielding strong line ups this week. With a combination of batsmen looking to impress for the remaining few spots and bowlers looking to get a (sport science controlled and managed with limited overs to avoid complete break-down) run as well, the Test team will be clearer this time next week.