Looking towards the Ashes


I’ve got a friend who’s a cricket fan, but who’s so depressed with the condition of Australian cricket over the last 12 months that he won’t read a word of what I write about it. I know plenty of others like that, disillusioned and disappointed by the events last year that they still can’t come at the Australian team.
I had a twitter conversation with one of these people recently, a political journalist in Canberra. I understood his perspective completely, I told him, but couldn’t he find a way to support a revamped, and hopefully reformed, Australian team? I urged upon him Tim Paine, a paragon of fair minded and mature leadership and he agreed with me, finally conceding that he would come around to it – just not yet.

No-one was more disappointed than me with what happened in Capetown. I know that’s a cliché, but fair dinkum, the outrage was raw and spontaneous, just as it was for thousands of others. This is something others struggle to understand, and perhaps that’s fair, perhaps there’s some wilful hypocrisy in such belief – but from day dot I was brought to believe there would be no more fearsome competitor than an Australian, but that at end of the day it would remain true to that great Australian dictum ‘hard but fair’. That meant, among other things, that after going at it hammer and tongs on the field all day it was all good to catch up for a social beer after it.

In retrospect I figure those golden days were long gone, and it was all a bit of a fondly held fantasy – though I still believe in the basic principle. While it always made eminent sense to us, to many of our opponents, coming from entirely different cultures, I suspect it was all a confounding nonsense. It was one of those tropes we innocent Australian supporters held dearly to, so that when we were shown to have transgressed it came as a shock to our mentality. That’s why the reaction was so extreme, why the penalties were stiff – they not only betrayed the sport, they betrayed our dearly held notions of Australian self.

I was one of those ready to move on once the penalties were handed down. In fact, I’m happy at the concept of rehabilitation, of – to abuse another famous Aussie dictum – giving the transgressors a ‘fair go’. I wrote in the heat of battle last year that Smith should never play for Australia again. That’s too harsh I think. He has his penalty, once completed he’s welcome to return to the team – though never as captain. I think he was a poor leader regardless of this controversy, but I think this episode should bar him from future leadership. That’s where the line should be drawn.

Now the banned players are poised to become available again, just in time for the World Cup and Ashes tour of England. Smith and Warner should almost be automatic selections, and even Bancroft, given performance. Should be a chance. There’s no doubt in my ever combative Australian mind that we can win both competitions, and that’s what I want.

The availability of these players raises selection questions. Australia finished the summer on a high having easily disposed of a weak Sri Lankan team.

There were some outstanding performances in those tests. Cummins continued his rise superstardom. Head, promising all summer, finally cracked it for his maiden test century. Likewise Khawaja, disappointing much of the summer, got a hundred in what was a virtual dead innings. And Starc finally returned to form with devastating effect.

What was encouraging though was the performance of newcomers. The Australian selectors finally bowed to public pressure and reinstated Burns to the team, and he promptly got a hundred. An injury to Hazlewood gave a fortuitous opportunity to Jhye Richardson, who performed very well. He’s a clever bowler who aims at the stumps and can swing the ball at pace – he’ll be perfect in English conditions. And Kurtis Patterson finally got his chance, and promptly scored a hundred too.

I’ve been a rap for Patterson for a while. I think he’s just the player we need to balance out our line-up. He’s got good technique and a good head on his shoulders. He’s patient too, something we’ve lacked. My only disappointment was that Will Pucovski, perhaps the next great Australian batsman, was denied his chance.

Much can happen before we head off to England, and there’s still a few rounds of Shield cricket to have a bearing on selection – things can change – but here’s my squad:

Warner

Burns

Khawaja

Smith

Head

Patterson

Paine

Cummins

Starc/Richardson

Hazlewood

Lyon

Stoinis

Pucovski

Handscomb/Wade

Worrall/Pattinson

Labuschagne

Harris

There’s a couple too many players there. I think one of Starc and Richardson will be selected in the starting eleven according to conditions and form. I suspect Pucovski won’t be picked. I’ve got one either of Handscombe or Wade will be picked as back-up batting/wicket-keeping. One either of Worrall or Pattinson – Worrall can swing the ball big time, and we know what Pattinson can do if fit. His Shield form will be telling. Tremain is stiff. Labuschagne because he’s an incumbent, and because he’s the only other spinner besides Lyon. And Harris as back-up opener, making way for Warner.

Maxwell might be an option, except the selectors have put a line through him. Will be interested in the final squad selected. It’s a pretty good first eleven though. England beware!

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The world cup squad


There’ve been a couple of tight, competitive ODI’s with India since the test series ended. Australia won the first, India the second, and the decider is tomorrow in Melbourne.

With the World Cup in England later this year everything is geared towards this – not just finding form, but putting together a team for the comp. That’s especially true of Australia, whose ODI form has been generally hopeless lately, and who will have Warner and Smith available again come tournament start.

That was the background when this ODI squad was announced, and there were a few surprises. For a start, none of the frontline test bowlers were picked. The reasoning behind that was to rest them, and fair enough, and also to blood some alternatives to see how they measure up. Then, some of the notable limited over batsmen were left out of the squad – Lynn, Short and McDermott particularly. Handscomb was a surprise inclusion, and Khawaja finally got another go.

In both matches we’ve batted first. In the Sydney game I thought we lacked urgency with the bat but posted a respectable score. In the second match we were heading towards a ver good score until a late order collapse left us probably 25 runs shy of what was likely.

I was sure India would easily surmount our score in Sydney, but some excellent bowling had them 3-4 at one point, and they never fully recovered. In the second match excellent partnerships and a century by Kohli saw them get up in the last over.

I’ve always got an opinion about cricket, and my first impressions were that we were too conservative. I was disappointed that Maxwell was coming in so late, but I was pleased with our application. On reflection my opinion is unchanged, but my perspective is. I understand that we are trying to build a template, a platform going forward. Get the architecture right and once it’s in place we can push it more, particularly with the players returning.

By my reckoning, with Warner returning and Finch back in form (I have doubts about his long term tenure, however) I reckon there’s an extra 15-20 runs in the initial powerplay to be had. I reckon there’s another 20 runs through the middle overs, and another 20-30 in the last 10 overs. That makes for an imposing total – assuming, of course, we keep our wickets. No-one said it would be easy, but limited overs cricket is inherently full of risk. It’s the game.

There’s still a match to go, but in my mind at least a shape is forming.

Warner and Smith are walk-up starts, probably for Khawaja and Handscomb in the first XI. We should adopt a floating batting order which changes depending on the situation of the game. In this series Maxwell has come in too late, regardless of what Langer says. He’s one of the best ODI players in the world, let’s capitalise. Stoinis can be a bruising batsman also, but he needs time to get in. In both cases I think they should’ve been batting ahead of Handscomb. In the WC teamI see Carey dropping back to the middle-order (from opening), which I think is a bonus. He’s a very capable and clever batsman and I see him – particularly in run chases – as being a critical cool head in the later overs, much like Michael Bevan was. In fact I see Carey as a future Australian captain.

Bowling is more interesting. I think we’ve lacked the variety previously, but now have the options. Richardson and Behrendorf have been impressive, and should be in the squad – not so sure about Siddle. Starc, who I’ve been critical of through the test matches, is possibly the best ODI bowler in the world. He’s the x-factor who can devastate opposition batting line-ups. I’d partner him with Cummins, who is just a winner, with the heart of Phar Lap. Both are pretty handy with the bat, too. Hazlewood is the one who misses out – he has his moments, but he’s neither really one thing or another. Stanlake is the other unknown.

For me the spinning option is clear-cut. Lyon has played the first couple of games and fair enough. He’s one of the best test spinners in the world, why not give him another go? The problem is he never really looks like getting a wicket, and doesn’t. He’s tidy, but unthreatening. And he’s an offie. Maxwell bowls clever off-spin, and leggies are all the go in limited overs cricket these days – and Zampa has the score on the board. Lyon out, Zampa in.

I’d be adding Darcy Short and Ben McDermott to the squad also. Both are explosive batsmen, and I think Short, particularly, will replace Finch some time in the near future. Lynn probably misses out because of his dodgy shoulders, which means he can’t dive and barely throw and isn’t up to it in the field.

The other thing I want to see is more urgency. Have been impressed with the attitude so far, no I want some of that fear factor back. Everyone has written us off, but I have confidence still, if only because we’ve done it so many times before.

Today, I expect Zampa to come in for Lyon and Stanlake to come in for either Behrendorf or Siddle.

The ’84 second-semi


Many years ago I attended a footy match at the MCG I’ve long thought of as the best match I’ve ever seen. That was the 1984 second-semi between Essendon and Hawthorn.

I’d never seen a replay of it since then, though I’d tried to get my hands on a copy over the years. Yesterday I finally caught up with it and watched it again for the first time since that dim Spring day.

The match is famous not just in my household. Many proclaim one of the best finals ever, and it featured those two titans and arch-enemies of the eighties. Hawthorn and Essendon hated each other, but there was also a lot of respect. They played in three grand finals in succession, and in the years since that bitter rivalry has continued.

I’m glad to say the game lived up to my memory of it. It was fast and skilful and hard and tough. It holds up very well against modern footy, which isn’t surprising given the roll call of absolute champions playing. There’s an argument that this era of footy was the greatest because it the VFL – as it was then – was a compact twelve team competition that drew the best talent from around the land. There wasn’t the dilution of talent once the competition went national and expanded – ultimately – to eighteen teams.

It’s hard to judge eras. Football is more professional these days, and more scientific. Coaching, in general, is more advanced, and the game itself has changed – less confrontational now, but more pressure. I’m not going to buy into the general conversation because the game ebbs and flows, quality rises and falls away. I’d safely suggest that either of these two teams playing would be top four today. And I reckon the 1985 Essendon side would be premier more often than not – the best footy team I’ve seen.

But anyway, back to 1984. In 1983 Hawthorn had smashed the Bombers in the GF. I was there that day, and all the excitement of an unexpected finals run ended ignominiously with the team over-awed and out of their depth. We finished top of the ladder in ’84, but Hawthorn had beaten us twice that year and was said to have the wood on us.

They won on this day too but watching the game again it was clear the game could have gone either way. On balance I think Essendon was the more dynamic team on the day, but Hawthorn steadied went it counted. It was pulsating game though, thrilling to watch then and now.

History tells us that the Essendon players came out of that game with renewed belief: they knew they could beat Hawthorn. The next week in the prelim we made a mess of Collingwood to the tune of 133 points – their best player that day an ex-Essendon man, Ronny Andrews. That was pure footy.

In in the grand final, Hawthorn and Essendon matched up again in what was to become one of the best and more famous finals in recent times. Down by four goals most of the day, despite playing well, the Bombers stormed home in the last quarter to kick a (then) record 9.6 in the last quarter to win by four goals.

That’s a game dear to Essendon hearts, with many great and indelible moments in that last quarter. We beat them again the next year, finishing up with a new (and current) last quarter scoring record of 11.3. That was a mighty team, hard as nails, but silky skilled, like no other team in history.

Great memories.

Flipping the coin


As I write this, the final test match against India has commenced in Sydney. Finch is out for Australia, unsurprisingly, and Mitch Marsh – no surprise there either. Labuschagne is in for his leg-spinning prowess, though he’s actually a batsman first, and mediocre at that. He’s batting at three. Handscombe is back as well. He made a big score in the BBL the other night and it looked like he might have changed his technique a tad, batting closer to the crease. He gets the gig because of his prowess batting against spin. Good luck to him, but better-credentialled batsmen are missing out.

Unfortunately, we lost the toss again. This is an under-reported stat. Tim Paine has won the toss just once since he became captain, and it just so happens that was the match we won. We’ve got a fair bit going against us regardless, but batting last generally means we’re behind the eight ball from the start.

I’m hoping that we can rip through India this morning, but I’m not confident. I’m with Shane Warne and believe some of our bowlers have underperformed.

Let’s start with Starc. On his day he’s an absolute matchwinner. There’s no more devastating bowler than him when on song. That’s pretty rare though, which is the biggest tick against him – a lack of consistency. He’s an undisciplined, often loose bowler. He reacts emotionally too often when he should stick to the plan. Counting against him is that I don’t think he’s the brightest spark going around. These traits are evident in his batting also, which is disappointing given the talent he has.

Then there’s Hazlewood, long touted as the next McGrath. He’s just about the opposite of Starc in temperament. He’s steady, reliable, intelligent. He’s also a bit of a soft cock at the batting crease and can be a bit vanilla with his bowling. I reckon he should be more vanilla. McGrath had the patience to bowl his way ball after ball and I think Hazlewood should do the same – aim for the top of off stump, and just outside. Too often he errs from that, particularly down the leg side – which is honey for Indian batsmen. I’m happy for him to bowl basically the same line every ball, vary the length a little, the pace of the ball and, of course, the direction – some coming in, some going way. Keep it simple and you’ll wear them out.

Then there’s Cummins. Not much can be said of him except he’s everything we want in an Australian cricketer – smart, tough, reliable, talented, and a matchwinner on his day. His effort never wavers, and his courage undisputed. Compare him to Starc and he’s all application and match sense. He does what needs to be done, and will sacrifice himself for the team. He’s good-looking and articulate, and a very decent bloke – no wonder he’s touted as a future Australian captain.

Likewise Lyon. I used to be hard on him. He lacked confidence and I used to think he bowled without courage. He’s a much smarter bowler these days and bowls a much more aggressive line than he did. Confidence makes all the difference. Not a lot of tricks, but can be a matchwinner.

As for this match? I came into it thinking if we bat first on a pitch that will deteriorate then we’d win. Unfortunately – and I hope I’m wrong – I think the best is more likely to be a draw. Must bat well.

Ranting from the sidelines


Look away now if it’s not your thing, for I want to expound at length on the state of Australian cricket.

On the scoreboard, at this moment Australia is level with India 1-1, but on the verge of losing the third test. More broadly, there are substantial issues that go far beyond the disgraces of earlier this year that must be addressed.

It’s an Australian pastime to bang on about Australian cricket selectors and their capricious choices – though I think it’s something common to many sports. Certainly, I have been vocal in these pages many times, and am about to be once more. The difference, this time, is that I’m about to sheet it home to Australian cricket administration.

Firstly this test match. There’s been a bit of comment about abject batting failures in this game, and in the games preceding – there’s only been one Australian centurion since last summer. You take your two best players out of the team, and another very promising, and it’s disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

In this match, there are some mitigating factors. India is well on top but was greatly advantaged by winning the toss and compiling a bunch of runs on a flat first-day wicket. That was the matchwinning score, with the pitch deteriorating thereafter. They made 440 odd, we followed up with a miserable 150 before India declared eight down for just over a hundred. As it stands it’s the fifth morning of the test with Australia 140 runs off victory, and India just two wickets away.

It will take a cricketing miracle to win this match, or divine intervention to save it. There are showers about – thunder has cracked this morning, rain has fallen – but India will need no more than a session to wrap this up, and likely much less.

So, you can make excuses, but the fact is there have been too many poor performances to accept. You look at the batting, which is the real culprit, and there have been repeated failures in application and technique. Some players aren’t up to it, pure and simple, and wouldn’t have got a game if not for the bans – but you have to question some of the decisions made.

Look at Aaron Finch, for example. I’m an admirer of his character, and in the shorter games he’s a brute – but this is test cricket. Watching him open the batting is enough to give you an ulcer. His discomfort and confusion are palpable. He just can’t cope with the moving ball and it’s only a matter of time before he departs. He averages sixteen this series and was out the second innings steering the ball directly to second slip the ball after surviving a DRS review. If he’s to be in the team then it should be down the order, but his shot selection – doubtless the result of a muddled mind – doesn’t aid his case. He might survive to play in Sydney, but really he shouldn’t.

Shot selection is an issue in general, as is technique. Throughout the series, the tailenders have often outshone the top order, this innings no exception. The difference generally is in application and concentration. A player like Head – who I think has a future – is let down repeatedly but poor shot selection and failures in technique.

Shot selection comes down to maturity and concentration. Some players have it, some never do. You want to select players who have it, or can learn it. Technique, by comparison, is something learned.

When I was a kid I was coached a few years by a former Australian test cricketer. The cornerstone of what I learned was the forward and backward defensive shots, from which all else flowed. I was an attacking batsman, but it came from a defensive foundation – the forward defense became a flowing drive, the back foot defence became a back foot drive (my shot), or perhaps a pull through midwicket. You learnt the fundamentals until they became second nature. On the few occasions, I play social cricket these days I find my feet moving automatically as I learnt.

These are test cricketers, they have more talent than anyone else in the country, but sometimes I wonder if my technique is not better than theirs. Head has been dismissed when well set at least half of his innings this series playing extravagant shots with the bat well away from the body. I learned: foot to the pitch of the ball when going forward, and back and across when the ball was short. You knew to play straight, and from a side-on position. Sure, there are some funky techniques these days, but at what cost.

So many batsmen play by the eye these days and you can’t help but believe that’s because of T20 cricket, where the emphasis is on expansive, attacking shots. In bash and crash technique becomes redundant – but in test cricket, with top bowling attacks and attacking fields, when the emphasis should be on building an innings, the absence of technique becomes telling. This is one reason our bowlers bat more surely than our batsmen – because they play within their limitations and know that technique is their friend.

Cricket administration in Australia has been complicit in this deterioration. Shield cricket has been weakened with the advent of officially sanctioned batting strips, an emphasis on youth over performance, and rotten scheduling. There isn’t the fierce competition there once was which crafted tough Australian test players for generations. The emphasis on crowd-pleasing, commercially rewarding hit and giggle fixtures have pushed four-day cricket to the margins while encouraging the spectacular over the proficient.

To highlight this, and against all advice, the ACB extended the wildly successful BBL this season, to the detriment of other forms of cricket – there’s a gap of nearly two months between shield games. There’s a risk of over-saturating the public with this form of the game – I’ll watch occasionally, without really caring – while it further undermines the production of test quality cricketers.

It’s easy to be critical of the selectors, but in truth, there’s a shallow pool to select from these days. Still, they manage to fuck it up. As noted, Finch should never have been selected as an opener, if at all. Young, virtually unknown cricketers get called up to wear the baggy green while others, less favoured by the selectors, are dropped without good cause (i.e. Maxwell).

It seems likely come the Sydney test next week we’ll be down 2-1 in the series, and with serious questions to answer. What do the selectors do? If it was me both Finch and Mitch Marsh would be gone, and maybe Sean too. I’d probably push Khawaja to open and replace Mitch Marsh with Stoinis or Maxwell, though there’s a push for Labuschagne given his leg-spinning in the UAE.

Longer term we need to straighten up. The banned players become available soon, and we need them. Any talk of Smith returning to the captaincy eventually should be quashed – he was never a good leader, and after what he allowed should never be in a position of authority again. Let him bat though, and Warner too (who, strangely, I respect more than Smith – because he is at least true to himself). I think Bancroft will find a spot also.

We have a great captain now in Paine, with a worthy understudy in Cummins – probably the most admired Australian cricketer at the present time. There’s a lot to love about Cummins – talent certainly, but great application and unyielding effort, and cricket smarts rare in this team. If Starc played with as much heart as Cummins then he’d be a great bowler, rather than just teasing us with it.

On the field, these have to be our building blocks – Paine, Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, Lyon, the banned players, and Khawaja. The other spots will sort themselves out.

Off the field, the challenge is greater. We need to fix the game here in Oz. There needs to be better coaching at every level, with an emphasis on technique. And we need to re-prioritise good, tough domestic cricket with players selected and rewarded on merit. Fundamentally a big part of that means shifting or amending the BBL, and I can’t see that happening.

Winning again


As expected, Australia wrapped up the second test against India yesterday in short order. It had been a fascinating match throughout, but in context, the end result was a thumping.

I take two things out of this win. In recent memory, it’s hard to think of a more important victory. It’s been a while between drinks, but the true worth of this win is symbolic. Australia, disgraced by the events in South Africa earlier in the year, widely mocked and derided – even in Australia, and decimated by the bans on their best players, had staggered along in the time since, trying their best but pretty well lost. It was a time marked by uncertainty, in performance and in purpose. The win yesterday is a marker, proof that we can win still – and against the best team in the world – and can win playing within the bounds of respectable behaviour. We found our mojo and it was fine.

I expect Australia to improve from here. Confidence is a wonderful teacher, and the hot contest these newbies have experienced will only improve them. By comparison, India is showing signs of stress, though they will take a better team to Melbourne. Conservatively I would expect the two teams to split the remaining two games. We’ll see.

Otherwise, the game was marked by some notable banter, both biting and witty. There’s a lot of talk that this is the way forward for the Australian team, and I agree. There was no abuse, nothing personal, no send-offs or histrionics, but it did get heated.

Kohli, who at his worse is an immature and petulant leader, was up to his tricks – but it misfired. He was perfectly defused by Tim Paine, who I’ve long admired. Paine was brave with the bat and supreme with the gloves on. He’s a handy captain, and a fine leader – it’s been a while we could say that about an Australian captain.

Paine took on Kohli in a very Australian way, laconic, almost nonchalant, never rising to the bait. Instead, he controlled the debate with his coolness, and in the process dropped some classic lines – the best of which when he asked Murali Vijay if he could possibly like Kohli.

I’ve always had a lot of time for Tim Paine. I’ve believed him very capable and a man of courage and integrity. He is an Australian archetype we would do well to emulate.

Playing to win


Midway through the second test with India in Perth and Australia have their nose just ahead, after losing narrowly in Adelaide.

This has been a great series so far, though only early days. A couple of more than usual sporting pitches has added a lot to the contest. India is striving, hungry, competitive, have some great players and are ranked the number one test team in the world (incorrectly imo). They are searching for their first series win in Australia, which would be a historic achievement. With Kohli in charge, you can bet they’ll go at it hammer and tongs.

It’s been a tough year for Australian cricket. The disgrace of early in the year left the team much weakened after the banning of some of their best players. The batting was gutted and what followed was a succession of performances that ranged from feeble to brave, but hovered around the mediocre. It’s an unfamiliar place for the Australian cricket team to be. We’re used to bossing it on the field, often dominating, but always competitive.

Added to that is a new code of conduct that many ex-players believed would make Australia toothless on the field. They argued that aggressive, combative cricket is what gave Australia it’s the edge. It was innate to our nature and to repress that was both unnatural and self-defeating. ‘Nice’ Australia, they reckoned, could never win.

I agree that aggressive cricket is in our blood. It’s what has made us great. By nature and upbringing, we’ve always been competitive. I don’t believe we should subvert our natural selves, but likewise, I don’t believe it means we must be obnoxious and disagreeable. They don’t equate to me.

This is only an opinion but born of my own experience. In many ways, I think my character epitomises the traditional Australian approach to competitive sport. I hate to lose. I’ll bleed trying to win. I’ll go hard, I’ll be aggressive and unyielding, I’ll be overtly defiant. I might even say a word or two, though hopefully, it will contain as much wit as hostility.

It doesn’t condone cheating though. Nor is it personal. A lot of the so-called banter is ridiculous to the point of pointless in my book. Striving to be belligerent is not a good look, and is rarely effective.

Above all, I think we should never cease to respect our opponents, and indeed the sporting public, which is where we’ve gone wrong in the past. We got carried away over a period of years and lost perspective. You play hard, you play to win, but in the end, it’s just a game, and your opponent another human being. It’s not personal, nor should it be, and at the end of the day, you should be able to share a beer and a laugh no matter how hotly contested it’s been on the field.

That’s what I think. I certainly don’t believe being respectful and decent is incompatible with being hard and competitive. I’ll go so far as to suggest that was the greatness of Australian sport once upon a time.

I support the Australian team’s quest to redeem their character, though I think they’ve yet to find the right balance. In Tim Paine, I think they have the perfect leader – strong, capable, calm, decent.

So this is the context for the series. For the first time ever India came in favourites playing against an Australian team at home. India is a formidable team and led by the best batsman in the world, against a once mighty Australia toppled by its own flaws, weakened in personnel, uncertain of its purpose, undecided in composition. But playing at home.

It makes for a fascinating series, and it has been. In Adelaide, an enthralling contest saw a brave Australian team fall short by 31 runs.

In Perth, they stuck it out on a troublesome pitch to make an above-par score in the first innings and, despite a Kohli century, secure a 43 run lead on the first innings. Batting again, a batsman down and wickets falling regularly the lead had been stretched to 175 at stumps last night.

It was a day full of drama and conflict, as has much of the series so far. Four down at stumps if Australia can stretch the lead to 250 they’ll start to feel safe, and at 300 they should be secure. Finch is injured though, the pitch is playing tricks, and Bumrah, particularly, is a very good bowler. You’d put Australia just ahead right now, but that can change quick. Should make for a great days cricket.

While I’m here it’d be remiss of me not to make some comment about selection. With the players missing it’s a tough gig – put Smith and Warner in this team and they’d have won the first test in a romp, and would be clearly ahead here. But they’re missing so you have to make do. That’s tough when there’s no-one who really puts his hand up. They’ve made some odd calls recently, but now they’re faced with a decision leading into the Boxing Day test. Handscomb is struggling big time and while normally I’d back him for another chance (which is what I think the selectors will do), the problem is not really that he’s just not making many runs, it’s that his ugly technique means he’ll always be vulnerable. I’d go so far as to say I wouldn’t pick him for Australia until he changes his technique. Until then play someone else in his place – if an all-rounder than either Marsh or Stoinis, and I think Maxwell deserves another chance.

That can wait though. Let’s win this match first.