5 Thoughts from Early Summer Action

5 Thoughts from Early Summer Action

Channel 9 Commentary Box Needed a Clean Out

There has been a mixed reaction to Channel 9's decision to axe Brett Lee and Michael Hussey from the commentary box in favour of Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen this summer. In no doubt, however, is that Nine's coverage needed a freshen up, Hussey and Lee were just the unfortunate relatives newcomers that were easier to cast aside. Nine’s coverage had become lazy with the same old tired voices and cheerleaders over the years creating a bit of a boy's club mentality that focussed less on serious analysis and compelling commentary and more on cheerleading and the personalities of the men behind the microphone themselves.  With the tragic loss of Tony Greig and Richie Benaud, and Bill Lawry in semi-retirement, the Nine commentary box had lost some of that balance and stoushes which enhanced the coverage over the years and made those three figures somewhat revered callers. I feel too often the newer breed of callers have made the coverage about themselves or about telling us everything that is great about Australian cricket in hyperbole. Some appear too matey with players to properly analyse or critique their techniques or performances.  While Hussey and Lee were both extremely well respected and polished performers in front of the camera, I would describe them as a little wooden and bland behind the microphone. The whole coverage had become uninspiring for mine. 

In Michael Clarke Channel 9 have someone who I believe is capable of becoming a really good commentator, not just a cheerleader for Australia. Clarke was a meticulous and extremely driven cricketer who strived for greatness. I have no doubt he will apply that same level of dedication to perhaps being Australia's next best caller in the future. Clarke was extremely polarising as a player with players, fans and media across the country. He would probably not be the guy people in a change room wanted to share a beer with - Clarke might have been gone in a flash. For me this makes him appealing as a commentator as I am sure he won't be afraid to call things as he sees it. Indeed he did so two summers ago when injured, sparking bewilderment in the Australian dressing room as he analysed and critiqued his fellow players. Like Clarke, Kevin Pietersen is not everyone's cup of tea. He has a substantial ego and has made just as many enemies as friends in cricket over the years. However, he does have an excellent cricket brain and has been a huge success as a Big Bash caller and player over the past two summers. Pietersen is engaging and intelligent and is the sort of high risk move, that might be able to balance out the very pro Australia feeling on the commentary box. Whilst it remains to be seen how the new dynamic works, it was definitely time for a change and Clarke and Pietersen are two good moves in my opinion. 

Australia Belted 5-0 In South Africa

The five match One-Day series of South Africa did not seem a huge priority for Cricket Australia and they were duly dispatched 5-0 in an embarrassing clean sweep. After a long and draining tour of Sri Lanka, and with a huge schedule of cricket ahead, Australia's brain trust seems to have their minds firmly planted on the home summer, and this tour seemed to be treated as somewhat of a distraction.  With first choice fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood resting at home, Australia promoted three uncapped fast bowlers in Chris Tremain, Daniel Worrell and Joe Mennie. It was a huge achievement for the trio with all of them wallowing in Grade Cricket just a few seasons ago. Tremain impressed at times with his pace and aggression, and was  Australia's leading wickettaker for the series with 7 wickets at 36 . Mennie rebounded from a nightmare debut to bowl excellently in claiming 3-49 in the final ODI. Worrell went wicketless in his two games and all three prospects remain a bit raw, it being a major step up for the trio. Australia's batting also failed to fire with Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, George Bailey, Matthew Wade, Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh all averaging 30 or below. 

Without the services of AB De Villiers the hosts seemed a little light in the batting, however showed they have young talent and strength in depth. Rillee Rossouw had the best series of his young career racking up 311 runs at an average of 77, while Quinton de Kock managed 300 runs at 60. De Kock is a series talent and in 69 ODI's already has 11 ODI hundreds under his belt. He came hard at a young Australian attack, however is likely to face a much sterner examination in Australia against the likes of Hazelwood and Starc in the Test Matches. Faf du Plessis continued his impressive captaincy record in guiding the side to a 5-0 triumph after captaining the Test side to a series victory over New Zealand. Du Plessis managed 250 runs at 50 and with AB De Villiers seemingly burned out by the captaincy, Du Plessis might be a more full time option in the very near future. It's been a chastening time for Steve Smith as Captain having lost 8 of his last 9 games as captain. With home Test series against a strong South African side and an emerging Pakistan side, it's looking like a big summer for Australia's young captain. 

David Warner Stands Alone on Nightmare Tour

 David Warner recovered from some patchy form in Sri Lanka by playing a lone hand for Australia in this five match series racking up a hugely impressive 386 runs at an average of 77. In the process Warner broke a 25 year old record of the most runs scored in a 5-match series, eclipsing Geoff Marsh's 349 in the Caribbean in 1991. Warner also became the only Australian batsman to score over 150 three times in ODIs going past Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds with two.  Warner's strike rate in the series was 113.2 as he played, as only he knows how, by taking it to the opposition, even with the rest of Australia's batters floundering. Warner played an astonishing one-man hand in making 173 out of 296 in the final ODI in Cape Town after his 117 in Durban in the 3rd ODI just 7 days earlier. Warner is an outstanding player particularly on hard, true and bouncy wickets and he looks set for another huge summer. He seems to relish playing against South Africa with the verbals and competitive nature of the contests suiting his makeup to a tee. 

Warner's ODI record of nine hundreds in 85 matches at an average of 41 is decent, however probably a little bit below what he is capable of. Indeed Warner has been more consistent in the longer format which many thought impossible early in his career with a Test average of 48. Warner has 16 Test centuries to 9 ODI centuries and at 29 years old is at the peak of his powers. Having recently captained Australia to a ODI series win in Sri Lanka, Warner looks like he has taken his game to the next level and looks ready to knuckle down and become a truly great player for Australia. Again, many might have doubted his leadership credentials over the years and he has found his share of trouble. However with the life span of an Australian captain usually 4-5 years, Warner may still be in a position to take over from Steve Smith. More likely, I see Warner taking over the ODI captaincy full time in the short term to ease the burden on Smith. 

White, Ferguson and Henriques Push Their Cause Back Home

Whilst the Matador Cup ranks well and truly 3rd choice behind the Sheffield Shield and the all conquering Big Bash, some familiar names have been putting their names back in lights. Cameron White has not played for Australia since January 2015 and at 33 years old might not be at the forefront of selectors minds. However he has been in imperious form opening the batting for Victoria so far this summer. With two hundreds already under his belt, White has shown he remains a classy and consistent player in the 50-over game. White averaged a tick over 34 in 88 ODIS for Australia, however was predominantly employed in the middle order. 

Callum Ferguson has been the forgotten man in Australian cricket the past few seasons after two knee reconstructions and inconsistent form seeing him well off the radar. However, in captaining a young South Australian team and pulverising 293 runs at at an average of 72, Ferguson at 31 years old remains a prospect for Australia. Indeed in his 30 ODI's Ferguson has an excellent record with 663 runs at an average over 40 and a decent strike rate of 85. However his last ODI came over 5 years ago and, with so many injuries, he is likely going to have to prove his durability over the course of the summer if he is to make it back in green and gold colours in the future. 

Henriques would have been stinging after a poor Sri Lankan series saw him dropped from the 50-over side. However, he has responded in the best way possible plundering 281 runs at an average of 93 in the tournament. Henriques batting at 4 for NSW looks far more at home on truer surfaces and higher up the batting order. In Australian colours he looks to play in his shell a little and needs one or two big innings to really gather that belief that he belongs at that level. I have no doubt he has the talent and the game to make it at International level with his pure striking and ability to score off front and back foot. However he needs to take his next opportunity whenever that may be as, at 29 years old, opportunities may not present themselves with a host of promising youngsters.

Valante, Tye and Nair on the Rise while Cummins Makes Promising Comeback

Pat Cummins' latest comeback has been both exciting and fruitful as he cracks up the pace in the hope of getting through a home summer. Cummins has missed large portions of the last five summers, however has played in all five of New South Wales Matador Cup games and been their best bowler by some distance. With 10 wickets at an average of 15 and an economy rate of a tick over 5, Cummins is proving the strike bowling option in a strong Blues outfit. 

However, the bowling star of the series to date has been the unknown medium pace all-rounder Cameron Valente for South Australia. Valente is the clear leading wicket taker with 14 wickets at 14 and an economy rate under 5. Valente also has 123 runs at an average of 30 and, at 22 years old, appears to behaving a breakthrough summer. Valente was a product of the Australian Under 19s team however has played just two First Class matches. His ability to intelligently change his pace and use his subtle variations have made him a stand out on the somewhat two paced wickets in the Matador Cup to date. 

Fast- medium Western Australian bowler Andrew Tye has been somewhat of a late emerger coming on to the scene at 26 years old by leading the wicket tally in the Matador Cup for three seasons. Having displayed excellent skills in the T20 format, Tye broke his way into the Australian T20 side playing three games last summer. Tye has continued his good form this year with 8 wickets at 23 with his good mix of pace and ability to hit his yorkers at the death. 

There has been a little bit of hype about Arjun Nair for a couple of summers now and, playing for the Cricket Australia X1, In this series he has shown the hype might be well placed. As Nair says himself "I have the off-spinner, carrom ball, top spinner, slider, the leg break is something I am working on". Nair has claimed 8 wickets at 29 this series to date, after making his First Class debut for NSW last summer. Nair is also an accomplished batsman having made several scores in first grade cricket for Hawkesbury.