When Australia last completely overhauled their pace attack in successive Test matches…and lost

(From left): Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and John Hastings © Getty Images

When Australia announced their team sheet for the third and final Test against South Africa at Perth, one would have expected a couple of changes with James Pattinson’s injury in the second Test and the possible comeback of all-rounder Shane Watson after missing the first Two games due to a calf strain.
But the South African think tank would probably have been surprised with what they saw on Friday morning. As many as four changes were made to the home side that played in Adelaide – all of them in the bowling attack.

Watson came in, as expected, in place of Rob Quiney who failed to make an impression after being handed a debut in the series. However, the names of both Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were missing from the sheet, owing to exhaustion from the combined 67 overs they had to chug in at Adelaide in the second innings after Pattinson left the field; Siddle ran in for almost 64 overs throughout the Test match. This brought the two Mitchells – Starc and Johnson – in for Perth. Another bowling all-rounder, John Hastings, got his Baggy Green on the morning of the Test and this completed the overhaul of the seam attack for the Aussies.

Channel Nine’s commentary team mentioned, as the new-look seam quartet reduced the Proteas to 75 for six, that this was the first time since 1885 where Australia have fielded a completely different pace attack in consecutive matches. A few questions to Mr Google and one learnt that the “combined eleven” of Australia that played England in the second Test match of five at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) from January 1, 1885, in a timeless match, fielded as many as eleven new players. This meant that none of the Australian eleven, including captain Billy Murdoch, who played at the Adelaide Oval a fortnight ago showed up on New Year’s Day. However, the decision was not due to injury or exhaustion. It was due to a dispute regarding the division of ticket money for the match. The Australian players demanded 50 percent of the share and when refused, decided not to play the match.

The series was marred in dispute right from the start over issues of money and umpiring. Apart from the row over the sharing of the gate money, the Australians complained against 42-year-old Englishman James Lillywhite who wanted to be the umpire for the match. Wisden says that “It is not clear why, although Lillywhite had controversially given a Victorian “not out” for a good lbw shout from Alfred Shaw in a game against Victoria in 1881/2, which was partly marred by match-fixing allegations. Therefore two local umpires were used for the match, and there were many complaints that the Englishmen put pressure on them by over-appealing. However, they did not excel themselves for either side.” England won the match comfortably by eight wickets.

Now, while the South Australia Cricket Association (SACA) intervened and settled the dispute over the gate money for the first match – which resulted in the Englishmen feeling “hard done by” – the Australians demanded half the share for the second at the MCG. They were turned down and, as a result, Australia fielded 11 changes in Melbourne. This ended wicket-keeper Jack Blackham’s record run of playing in the first 17 Tests ever to be played. Also, for five Australians who benefitted from this turn of events, it was to be the only Test they would ever play. Lillywhite was allowed to umpire, but it was the last time he did so. England won by an even more comprehensive margin – 10 wickets – this time and went 2-0 up in the series.

Thus, the seam attack comprising Harry Boyle, George Giffen, George Bonnor and Tup Scott that played in Adelaide were to be replaced by William Bruce, Alfred Marr, Sam Morris and Sammy Jones. Incidentally, this second string attack was more successful than the original, taking nine wickets in the first innings at Melbourne compared to a combined match total of five in Adelaide. It is to be seen whether, nearly 128 years down the line, the quartet of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and John Hastings can outperform their predecessors and perhaps notch up a win.

They’ve certainly started well, restricting the South Africans to 141 for seven at Tea on the first day, before Faf du Plessis dug the visitors out of the hole with the lower order to take them to 225 all out. Starc, who was the 12th man for the first two Tests, is back in the starting eleven after April when he faced the West Indies at Roseau and is playing only his fifth match. Coming off a successful Champions League T20 campaign with the Sydney Sixers, claiming 17 wickets in seven games, the six-feet-five-inches left-handed seamer didn’t take long to impress in the longer format as he claimed a brace in the first session itself. Starc struck the woodwork of opener Alviro Petersen (30) and the talismanic Jacques Kallis (2), leaving the Proteas foxed with his consistent line and length.

His namesake, Johnson, last played a Test in November 2011 – against South Africa at Johannesburg – where he impressed with the bat more than the ball, remaining unbeaten on 38 and 40. His last outing at Perth, in December 2012 against England, was among his best performances. Johnson took six for 38 in the first innings and also chipped in with a valuable 62; he then took three for 44 in the second innings as Australia leveled the Ashes 1-1 with a 267-run win. Johnson would hope to impress the selectors with a strong showing this time around and took the wicket of debutant Dean Elgar in the second session.
Watson, meanwhile, was eased back into his role and bowled a tidy nine overs on Day One. The 31-year-old struck the first blow of the morning as he got South Africa skipper Graeme Smith to edge one to the slips for 16.

Debutant Hastings too did well in his first Test outing, taking AB de Villiers’ wicket for the second time in a month after scalping him in the tour match at Sydney prior to the start of the series. He’s not the quickest bowler Australia has produced, but did well with his rather odd bowling action. He bowled deceptive slower deliveries after being given the new ball and kept things tight at one end while the quicks attacked from the other. The 27-year has come into the Test squad after playing just 25 First-Class games, which shows the amount of trust the selectors have in him.

Will this revamped attack emulate, or better, the Australian team of 1885?

Stay tuned…

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and Editorial Consultant at Cricket Country. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber )