So, the talk (and by god hasn’t there been a lot of it) is nearly over and this Thursday either Jimmy Anderson or big Mitch will steam in from the Vulture Street end and get the second Ashes series in a few months underway.
The last few weeks, besides prognostications about team selection, captaincy skills, hamstrings, egos and lunch orders, have also seen some actual cricket played. And in a trend sure to be swiftly addressed and changed in future seasons by Cricket Australia, it has involved players getting ready for 5 day red ball cricket with, (wait for it), Shield and representative cricket that virtually mimics the same conditions and rules!
This weekend just gone saw the culmination of the England warm up games against so-called representative sides around the country and the third round of Shield matches. As the Australian team has been selected in advance, and some players rested as a result, the tension for performances was somewhat lessened.
For our guests (and aren’t we treating them well, special soaps in the bathroom, we’ve been down the shops to get food they’ll like and free use of the spare car) their issues have been deciding on who’ll support Jimmy, Stuey and Swanny. Finn seems to have booked his spot I’d venture, just ahead of Tremlett.
For mine though, our hospitality has gone too far. I get that CA has wanted to hide our test bowlers from the English since they arrived and virtually give them batting practice so they get shocked in the first Test. But I fear that has backfired.
The start of the English tour has coincided with the start of the Shield Season, which is in turn predicated by the completion of the Ryobi cup, which finally is completely dictated by the Big Bash schedule. As the Shield shuts down while the BBL is on, we’ve played Shield matches every weekend now. The English have therefore not been able to play against full strength state sides, instead getting ‘invitational’ teams to warm up against.
In the first 3 matches, the English have played against a total of 4 bowlers with Test experience. Their batsmen, adjusting to conditions significantly different to home, and the last series, have faced the might of 4 players with a huge total of 10 Test matches between them, as they get their eye in. In the WA game, they faced the might of Michael Beer (2 tests). In Tassie, they faced Copeland (3), Maxwell and Henriques (2 each). In the recently completed NSW game, they faced mostly strong Sydney grade bowlers.
As a result, Carberry has capitalised on strong county form to forge a solid opening pair with his captain, Root has seamlessly moved back to the middle order, Bell hasn’t missed a beat and Trott has had time to iron out some of the perils he faced in the last series.
KP is short of match time and patience, and may be injured, but that’s of less concern I’d say.
So, we have effectively played them into form. You could mount an argument that they haven’t faced real bowlers and will get a shock, but often when you add form to class, people do well.
Elsewhere, Bailey continues to make scores that virtually match his average, and will be under some pressure when he walks out. I do feel though that his temperament means he is better able to handle that than Hughes, Khawaja or even Quiney were.
Rogers had a poor weekend, and a wet day one in Tassie didn’t help by the time he went in late in the day. Warner and Smith are seeing it well, Clarke took the week off and DRS (Don’t Review Shane) Watson hasn’t faced a ball in anger since 2 November in India.
Outside the side, Marcus North seems in best form, and Phil Hughes made another so-what big state innings that probably means absolutely nothing. Ed Cowan does what he does well, making consistent and unglamorous scores and shouldn’t be ruled out in the future if Rogers isn’t retained in 2014 or later. Callum Ferguson frustratingly missed his chance to impress.
Of the bowlers, none of the Test waiting room candidates are making a significant mark, and Lyon’s stability in the team is strengthened by Agar’s performances with the bat far outweighing his with the ball and Ahmed taking mostly tail and lower order wickets.
The talk is almost over (although in reality, it will continue on for ages). What sort of first spell, session and day will we see? Harmy bowling to second slip? Slater slashing square cuts? Ponting getting struck on the helmet?
Hopefully the Australians have time to clean up their whites from the new Ashes ad in which they are covered in dirt and mud and will be ready to start the long climb back to credibility, then success.
Seconds out. Bring it on!