Almanac Cricket: Boxing Day preview

Let’s be honest. The Gabba Test provided a contest of ebbs, flows, punches and counterpunches, that no amount of T20 cricket could hope to provide. It was four and a bit days of fabulous Test cricket. Fair play to the Pakistanis: many teams would have rolled over in the pursuit of that ridiculous target of 490, but early on Day 5 they began to believe they could get those runs. It would have been a stupendous chase down. But my thinking is that sooner rather than later – particularly on those lifeless drop-in wickets – we will see a Moby Dick-sized target reeled in.

So where is the Australian team at? Despite recording two wins on the bounce, the team is still very much in a state of flux. There are a few positions still up for grabs, and the addition of “Hoss” Cartwright to the squad continues the El Dorado-like search for a successor to K R Miller. I can still remember when serious pundits believed S P O’Donnell was the anointed one.

Unlike some, I still have my doubts about Matt Renshaw, and will continue to do so until he can play more freely through the off-side. His second innings dismissal (a leading edge) was instructive; he either leaves the ball or turns it to leg. Any left-hander worth his salt can play off his pads – it’s the Hussey-esque cover-driving that warms the heart of rusted-on observers such as myself.

At present, “Davey” Warner is going through a mini-slump in the long form. To paraphrase G S Chappell, I was of the opinion that Warner had been batting well but just kept getting out. Until that second innings at the Gabba. Yuk. I don’t think he would have spent too much time replaying such an ugly dismissal on his big screen tv. He really needs a big score in Melbourne, particularly after throwing his wicket away in the last Boxing Day Test (can anyone else sense a theme here?)

Usman Khawaja’s innings in Adelaide was one of the best knocks I have seen live. It was a wonderfully mature and composed century – particularly given the circumstances in which he was asked to deputise for Warner at the last minute. He is still prone to moments of laziness – witness the lame chip to mid-wicket in the first dig at the Gabba, but he is the best number 3 in Australia.

And Steve Smith is the best number 4. What a gun. I recall talking to M G Hughes during the 2013 Manchester wash-out. A number of our group were pillorying Smith and questioning his credentials. Merv was insistent: he will be a good player. Merv 1, Smokie and friends 0.

Peter Handscomb has been a revelation, and his overdue selection ticks the box that says “Pick players when they are in form”. What has struck me most about him is his composure; he is completely unflustered at the crease. Speaking of the crease: his preference for batting well back in his will be sternly examined by Ashwin, Jadeja and co in February.

Can I make it any clearer other than saying Nic Maddinson should not be in this team? He has looked totally out of his depth, as would any middling Shield player who has a first-class average of 37. I wonder if Hohns and co are regretting allowing Smith to have a “captain’s pick”? Sir Prince Phillip could advise them just how well “captain’s picks” usually work out.

Peter Nevill was stiff to be dropped after the Hobart debacle. His 60-odd in Perth was forgotten in the rush to turn the side over. His replacement Matthew Wade has been a major disappointment, both with the bat and the gloves. Batting-wise, he is chasing balls well outside off-stump that he has no business chasing; keeping-wise, we are getting what we all knew we would get. He needed to make that stumping in the Gabba first innings but missed it completely, and the chance went begging. A good Test keeper snaps up those chances every day of the week. On this form, you just cannot see Wade keeping in India. If he fails again in Melbourne, Nevill could be back for Sydney and India. But will the selectors be prepared to lose face?

Despite Pattinson, Siddle, Cummins, Coulter-Nile etc being injured and/or on the comeback trail, while Starc and Hazlewood are on the field the fast-bowling department looks in good shape. Jackson Bird bowled too short at times in Brisbane, but has done little wrong. I would not be at all surprised to see Chadd Sayers make his debut in Melbourne

I have spent far too much ink on Nathan Lyon, and my feelings on him have been discussed at length in the thread of my Day 4 review of the Gabba Test. Suffice to say, I believe him to be very fortunate to be in the team. After 4 Tests this summer, he has 8 wickets at 60 apiece. That is nowhere near good enough. A second spinner is needed for Sydney, as a trial run for India as much as anything else. Because if Lyon is our only spin option for the sub-continent, we will get thrashed.

Actually, we will get thrashed in India regardless. In fact, it could be more ugly than the caning the Indians just handed out to England.

In recent times, I have steered away from attending Boxing Day, preferring the more comfortable environs of Day 2. So if you are anywhere in the vicinity of Bernard Callinan Bar from lunchtime onwards, be sure to join me for a beer and banter.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. I’m actually looking forward to this Test Smoke. I’ll be painting the front fence and the cricket will be chirping along in the background. Along with the cicadas.

    Has anyone ever looked more like a future captain than Handscomb?

    I agree that the Indian tour will find a few out. I’m not a huge fan of Starc. He’s wonderful when the conditions are all in his favour, but lacks a bit of imagination in my view. He doesn’t seem to think the batsmen out, he just tries to blast them out. He might struggle big time in India. Watch for the omission from a Test or two over there for “general soreness”.

  2. In terms of Nevill, I think they took too long to drop him. I think they would gain face by bringing him back, they could argue it has all worked (he got da boot up da arse, Smith got to see that “his ” keeper wasn’t good enough, and the team had been winning anyway.)

    nothing wrong with a bit of dropping in my book

  3. Smokie there’s an interesting set of figures about Khawaja batting at number three this summer. In all three first innings he’s had that role he’s scored 4, giving him a first innings of 4 whilst batting at three.

    Re Captain Smith and his picks, likes/dislikes, yep Maddinson ha snot measured up , bring in Cartwright. We’ve had this fetish with all rounders since the early 80’s, so bring him in. On that tangent, in my youth (many moons ago), Australia did not go looking for the all arounder panacea. We had plenty of batsmen who were handy bowlers. Stacky, Dougie Walters, the Chappell brothers, all handy wicket takers. A few more overs from our batsmen would be of use

    With some hot, dry conditions in Melbourne Lyon will play. How Smith bowls him remains to be seen. It’s not been a happy summer for the Lyon/Smith pairing. I’m not holding my breath here, Then there’s the SCG and India to follow.

    Nevill so unlucky to be dropped. Wade has not yet performed with the bat, his keeping has been sloppy at times, the reason he lost his spot. Will we see a revolving door for wicket keepers.


  4. John Butler says

    Nice work Smoke. Hard to argue with much of that, with the notable point of disagreement being Lyon.

    I believe our Lyon problem is very much a Smith/Lyon problem, as Glen suggests.

    Despite rebounding since Hobart, we’re only a Starc or Hazlewood breakdown away from having a pretty threadbare attack. And does anyone think we look ready for India?

    Merry Christmas Knackers.

  5. Peter Warrington says

    it’s possible Bird may do the Kasper role in India.

    think we need two spinners but also some low sliding trundlers. Steve Waugh types. who can bowl like that (what happened to Warner’s mediums?)

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent preview Smokie. Really looking forward to this Test. Huge game for N.Lyon.
    Totally agree with your views on Renshaw, at his age there’s plenty of learning and development in him, but may be years away from becoming a top line opener.
    After watching much of the India v England series, we’re in for a torrid time on the subcontinent.

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