What Australia could do ahead of the back-to-back Ashes series

The men in charge of the Australian team have a lot of thinking to do ahead of the Ashes © Getty Images

By Adrian Meredith

In just over two months from now, Australia will be heading over to England for the first leg of back-to-back Ashes to be played home and away. And, if Australia keeps going the way they are right now, they are going to lose both sets of Ashes.

So let’s look at the tour to India to see what went right and what went wrong:
What went right

  • James Pattinson delivered and showed that he is the real leader of the attack.
  • Michael Clarke showed that he is in a supreme form — one of the best batsmen in the world right now.
  • The David Warner/Ed Cowan partnership at the top of order had its moments to savour.
  • Nathan Lyon picked up a bucket load of wickets in the final Test in helpful conditions.
  • Peter Siddle picked up a lot of wickets in the 3rd Test, but without being of much help.
  • Mitchell Starc’s batting lower down the order was extremely useful.
  • Peter Siddle became the first No 9 batsman to score 50s in both innings and the first at No 9 to top score in both innings.
  • Steve Smith batted like a star in the last two Tests, highlighting why he should have played in all four Tests.

What went wrong

  • The decision to send two bits-and-pieces all-rounders in Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques, neither of whom could bat or bowl close to Test level. Neither of them had extensive international experience.
  • Philip Hughes. He is not only not good against serious pace, but also not good against good spin as well.
  • Protecting Pattinson in the first Test, after he had just taken two wickets in three overs, was a stupid decision. It destroyed any chance of Australia winning the match.
  • Absurdly giving Lyon endless overs when he was being smacked around.
  • The appalling use of the bowlers, especially Mitchell Starc in the first Test.
  • Leaving Mitchell Johnson out for the first three Tests.
  • Shane Watson. He looked all at sea batting at No 4 and did not bowl at all. While he didn’t totally fail, he wasn’t as good as he should have been.
  • Michael Clarke’s struggles against Ravindra Jadeja. The Indian left-arm spinner made Clarke his bunny.
  • The decision to dump four players for not doing their homework — an absolute joke.
  • The bad decision to persist with Siddle when he was not bowling well, especially when it meant keeping out much better bowlers like Jackson Bird, Johnson and Starc.

How Australia can improve things

  • While Maxwell and Henriques may one day be good at Test level, they need to get some more international experience first. For now, they are players who can’t bat or bowl to Test level standards and are liabilities. They need to be dumped.
  • Phillip Hughes needs to be axed. He should never have been brought back.
  • Australia needs to include more specialist batsmen in the squad, instead of bits and pieces all- rounders.
  • Australia needs to use some of the better players in First-Class cricket, especially young and in- form players.
  • Australia needs to put in their best players, utilise them properly and show faith in them.

Suggested squad
Shane Watson, David Warner, Ed Cowan, Michael Clarke, Jordan Silk, Joe Burns, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Matthew Wade, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson, Ashton Agar, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon.
In: Jordan Silk, Joe Burns, James Faulkner, Ashton Agar, Ryan Harris.
Out: Phillip Hughes, Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, Xavier Doherty.

Reasons for excluding the five players named above

Phillip Hughes: While he is good against weak bowlers, it is becoming just too easy for bowlers to sort him out — Steve Harmison, Chris Martin and now all the Indian spinners. He should never be considered again, regardless of how much he scores at First-Class level.

Glenn Maxwell: While it’s understandable the merits to include him in the squad to India as an extra spinning option. The fact is his batting wasn’t good enough for top six made him a liability. Even though he did ultimately pick up a few wickets, he didn’t bowl well enough to be in the side as a bowler either. He was basically being carried and Australia don’t need to merely carry another player to England.

Moises Henriques: He got a big score in the first Test, but that was it. He never looked a dangerous bowler, and, apart from that one innings, he never looked a decent bat, let alone good. He just isn’t suitable for the English tour, though perhaps in time he could be considered again.

Peter Siddle: While it may seem a bit harsh, I don’t see Siddle deserving a place ahead of Starc, Johnson, Pattinson, Harris or Bird, nor can I see any justification for the inclusion of six fast bowlers. There was merit in considering Siddle in India because he tries hard, but ultimately it didn’t work. Siddle is a trier who is always going to be in or around the squad, but which of the others would onedrop? Starc because his Test record isn’t quite as good? But Starc is a supremely- good bowler and records don’t really matter a lot when you know just how good he is. Dumping Harris is foolhardy, given how good he is.

Xavier Doherty: Doherty was picked for the tour of India because his style of bowling suited the conditions, but it won’t suit the conditions in England. He turns the ball a lot which, in England, is not going to work. Doherty did fairly okay in India. Had he played in the 4th Test, he could have picked up a bundle like Lyon.

Reasons for including the five players named above

Jordan Silk: He may be in his first season but what a season he had! Gurinder Sandhu is the only other player who started so well, but as a gentle medium-pacer, he may not be suitable, not to mention that Australia already have ample fast bowling options — but they don’t have anything like enough bats. Silk has been magnificent this season — averaging over 60. He deserves a call-up.
Joe Burns: He has been pretty impressive for some time now and deserves a shot at the big time. He is probably behind Silk in terms of average, but not by much, and he now has enough experience to make it at this level.

James Faulkner: He just finished an amazing series and, while Australia have a lot of fast bowlers that are pretty good batsmen, Faulkner has already shown at One-Day International (ODI) level that he has what it takes at the highest level as a bowler. As a batsman he could almost bat at six. He has been that good. It defies belief that the likes of Maxwell or Henriques were considered ahead of him. Even Faulkner’s fellow-Tasmanian Butterworth is doing better than those two. But I think that one genuine all-rounder is all that Australia needs, and Faulkner is the real deal.

Ashton Agar: After being on tour in India for the warm-ups, and doing fairly well (better than Lyon did), he then came back to Australia and was simply amazing to now have the best record of any spinner in the country. He bats quite well too, and in the recent Under-19 World Cup he was one of Australia’s best players. In England, there will be times when Australia will need two spinners and on those occasions Agar could be picked. Australia could consider Steve O’Keefe, but he doesn’t look good yet for Test level.

Ryan Harris: Australia’s best bowler has to come back into consideration, especially given just how good his First-Class form has been lately. He is a real attack leader and with his inclusion there is no need to include Siddle just for his experience, or because he is a real fighter. Harris will win Australia matches by himself, and at other times will be the rock that others work around.

Others to consider
Steve O’Keefe: It would be tempting to play O’Keefe, instead of either Agar or Lyon, because he has been a very good all-round cricketer. But the problem for O’Keefe is that he doesn’t fit with the squad make-up. He doesn’t bat well enough to bat at No 6, nor does he bowl well enough to take the place of either Agar or Lyon. I wouldn’t mind him in the squad, but he isn’t quite there yet.

Chris Rogers: He had an average of almost 50 this season and an overall average of over 50. And, given how weak the batting is, he should have been in serious consideration. Except that he is 35 years and over the past few years has struggled with injuries. The fact that he is yet another opener makes his case even weaker. Would he do so well batting at 6? Unlikely.

David Hussey: He has just as good a First-Class record, has done well at international level and would be good. Except that the selectors won’t consider him due to his age [he is almost 36].

Brad Hodge: He has considered a return to First-Class cricket to make a last-ditch effort at an Ashes spot, but quite frankly it seems unlikely that they would put him in even if he did it all, because he is 38. He was hated by the selectors long before he got old, so why would they love him now? As with Rogers and Hussey, he is too old for selectors to want anything to do with him.

Luke Butterworth: He has a similar record to James Faulkner. I wouldn’t mind Butterworth in the squad, but it’d have to be instead of Faulkner — as they are both similar types of players. Right now, Faulkner is ever so slightly ahead.

Alistair McDermott:  What a player! It is shameful that he has been rejected by the Australian selectors for this long. Bird turned his First-Class form into Test form and there is no reason why McDermott couldn’t do the same. But the problem is that with all of the best fast bowlers being fit, there is just no justification for putting him in. It is safer to give him a shot in the ODI team and see how he goes from there.

Gurinder Sandhu: He did well enough at Under-19 level and, when finally given a shot at First-Class level, did so unbelievably well that people suddenly went from thinking “ho hum” to thinking “wow – he isn’t just an Indian-born Australian cricketer; he is special”. But whether he can keep it up is another matter. His pace may also be a bit too low for Test cricket.

Brad Haddin: He could be considered purely as a batsman, or as a backup wicket-keeper for such a long tour. Haddin did well enough as replacement keeper in India. The biggest problem is that if the selectors pick a 35 year old has been keeper on the same tour as their main 20 something year old keeper, then they are sending the wrong message. They are telling Wade that his job is on the line. So unless Haddin is told he is playing purely as a batsman, I can’t see him being considered. And at age 35 that might not be an option anyway.

Clint McKay: The ODI specialist tag on him is a strange. He has a magnificent First-Class record, does well in ODIs and T20s at international level and yet, based on one Test match, he is said to be bad at Test matches! One Test in which many other good bowlers were harshly dealt with too.

Doug Bollinger: Ditto for him, but with the additional note that he was foolish to say that he hit the wall back in the 2010 Ashes, as that said to the selectors that he should never be considered for Tests again.
How to combat English conditions

The Duke ball

As we all know, England changed their home ball [the Duke ball], which isn’t used anywhere else. They changed it so that it is heavier and can be hit further. It bounces differently, and it reverse swings a lot more quickly — if you know how to do it. Australia showed that they couldn’t do it last time they came, and the ball tormented them. But since then, both Pakistan and South Africa showed that opposition teams can use the Duke ball well. That’s the key. To reverse swing, Australia would need high-quality bowlers who bowl really fast. Starc and Johnson are obviously the two most likely, but also Pattinson and Ryan Harris are also real chance. I don’t know if Bird could, but he might be able to. There is no point even using Siddle, as he showed last time he went to England that he just doesn’t have a clue how to use it. Hilfenhaus did a little bit on that tour, but not nearly as well as the England bowlers did. Australia’s four best pace bowlers need to practice, practice and practice until they can get that Duke ball to reverse swing quickly. The batsmen also need to practice batting against this ball+. That’s it. In theory, Australia’s bowlers could do as well as Pakistan’s and South Africa’s. The issue is whether they can put it into practice.
Utilising varying conditions

Conditions in England vary hugely and they are going to need to use four pace bowlers in some grounds and two spinners in others. The old adage of three pace bowlers and one spin is just simply not going to work. They are going to need to mix it up a bit with their bowling. And they are going to need to get the most out of conditions. Simple as that.
Put a price on your wicket

The funny thing in India was that consistently the tailenders put a big price on their wicket. Mitchell Starc and to a lesser extent Peter Siddle in the fourth Test put a big price on their wickets, but others like Warner, Watson and especially Hughes often didn’t. If a good ball gets you out, you can’t do much about that, but if you are out playing a stupid shot then that is a different issue entirely.
Non-regular bowlers

When India were looking unstoppable, non-regular bowlers should have been tried. It was especially glaring when Nathan Lyon was smashed around while bowling 46 overs.

Stop protecting your bowlers

It is one thing for a bowler to have a four-over spell if he is bowling badly, but quite another if a bowler gets two wickets in three overs and is then given a break. Starc is too good a bowler to be wasted just bowling around the wicket endlessly to try to help Pattinson to get a wicket every so often.

Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses

Australia’s real strength is in their fast bowling department. Starc is an amazing bowler and should not be wasted. Johnson is scary and needs to be used properly. If Australia have to play Watson, he either has to open the batting or else bowl a significant amount and bat at No 4. This Australian side has plenty of batting depth, but doesn’t mean the specialist batsmen can throw away their wickets.
Play as per the situation

The only time in a Test match that you should stop putting a price on your wicket is when you are trying to lift the run-rate to go for a declaration. Or, in very unusual circumstances, trying to win a match when time is an issue but wickets aren’t. The rest of the time, one is expected to put a price on his wicket. But that doesn’t mean batting so slowly that it destroys any chance of a result. Players like Cowan play worse when batting slowly, and much better when batting a bit more quickly. If the going is tough, block more. If the bowling is getting weaker, go for your shots. But never give up easily.
I think that England will be enormous favourites, but the good news for Australia is that they start with ODIs to get themselves used to the conditions. With some luck, that will be enough time to get themselves sorted out.

(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)