Ah, the joys of the English summer. A perfect time to browse some old photo albums, play a game of chess or two, or perhaps just relax with a good book. Basically any activity that doesn’t require you to actually go out into the rain is perfectly suited to the season. In fact, the English summer is so endearing that a number of England’s most recent tourists are prepared to stretch the limits of their visas to the maximum just to stay on and enjoy it for a little bit longer. And no, we don’t mean the usual rush of athletes fleeing the Olympic village to claim humanitarian visas in an effort to avoid being sent back to such war torn countries as Botswana, Somalia and Scotland. No, we’re talking about the Australian cricket team. Most of whom probably also have good reason for not wanting to rush back home right now actually.
You would assume that an Australian ‘A’ outfit would be comprised of the best eleven players not currently featuring in the Test team. But it’s clearly not that, since the likes of David Hussey, Michael Beer and Peter Nevill haven’t made the tour. John Inverarity has conceded that the tour is aimed at introducing players to English conditions ahead of next year’s Ashes. But why then is Mitchell Johnson in the squad, considering he must by now have learnt everything there is to know about failing in English conditions? The team gives such an impression of being a haphazard, thrown together at the last minute affair that it was no surprise when George Bailey revealed in a recent interview that he owed his inclusion only to extensive lobbying of the national selectors. With the number of obvious names missing from the tour (you can further add the likes of Stephen O’Keefe, Usman Khawaja, Chris Rogers and Rob Quiney), it gives the impression that its composition is purely based on whoever could be bothered taking the time out of their offseason break to brave the typically miserable English summer.
There is a more ominous undertone to the tour however, beyond Cricket Australia’s usual bungling. Sending an ‘A’ team to tour England on the eve of home series against South Africa and Sri Lanka, which are followed by a tour of India, gives a very strong hint as to where the selectors’ priorities lie. It goes without saying really, but the days of the Australian Test team treating the tour of India as the pinnacle of the sport are long gone. Reclaiming the Ashes is the clear goal, and everything else is secondary to that. Even if the team is comprehensively trounced in every series in the lead up to next year’s Ashes, it will matter not a jot to the Australian public if they come back home with the urn. Well, a small glass replica of it anyway. Considering that Cricket Australia is more than a little concerned about its bottom line these days, it’s an approach that is at least understandable from a financial perspective.
But all the bureaucratic rumbling in the background is probably of little concern if your main interest is in seeing more over-hyped Aussies get whipped in English conditions. In which case you’re in luck, as this lot doesn’t look appreciably threatening, and the English Lions attack in particular should have no trouble running through the feeble Australian batting order. It’s all certainly a far cry from the glory days of the early years of the last decade.
As always the greatest amount of hype surrounds the visiting fast bowlers, and you can expect a fair amount of attention to be paid to the likes of relative unknowns such as Ben Cutting and Jackson Bird. The aforementioned Mitchell Johnson will also be along for the ride. We can only imagine Johnson was selected purely for comic relief, because if the selectors really had any interest in easing him back into international cricket they would surely have preferred to allow him to find his feet in domestic cricket, rather than another round of serving up filth on a tour of England. Nathan Lyon will also be there, probably hoping to pick up some tips from the local groundskeepers about pitch preparation. The other spinner in the squad is the Victorian left arm filth merchant Jon Holland who, with a First Class bowling average of over 40, can hardly be expected to set the world alight.
As for the batsmen, well, there really isn’t much to say. They’re hardly an intimidating lot. Surprisingly, the greatest amount of interest will surround the performances of Ed Cowan, who has performed well in his short county cameo over the past few weeks. For some reason David Warner is currently considered as undroppable from the Australian Test team, probably because the Channel Nine commentators assume they are responsible for selecting the team and already have next season’s memorabilia lined up, ready for Tony Greig to flog. But Warner has been pretty rubbish for a while now (remove his two centuries and his Test average plummets to a little over 22), and after a predictably underwhelming ODI tour of England, if Cowan performs here and Warner fails at home this coming Australian summer (a hardly unlikely scenario), it could well be Cowan opening the batting with Shane Watson when the Ashes rolls around.
Otherwise there’s not a great deal to interest English spectators, who have seen and mocked the likes of Peter Forrest and George Bailey already. One potentially interesting inclusion, however, is Joe Burns, a 22 year old Queenslander who averaged 46 in his first season in Shield cricket. A few years ago that would hardly have warranted inclusion in an ‘A’ squad, but in these more desperate times he’s already being spoken of in terms of a potential Test debut later this summer. A strong tour here could well see him padding up to face Sri Lanka in a few month’s time. Of course Steve Smith will be there as well, presumably not for his bowling, and will probably come in at number six and not do much. But that won’t make us love him any less. The other notable ‘batsman’ in the squad is Tim Paine. Seemingly the selectors have made a pact with Satan, because not only have they been able to patch Paine back together, he’s also the only recognised ‘keeper in the squad. There is plenty of potential for that not to end well…
The festivities kick off tomorrow with a three day tour game against Derbyshire, followed by a game against Durham, before we get down to the business side of things with back to back ‘unoffical’ Test matches against the English Lions, starting August 7th at Old Trafford. We expect both sides to be packed with Test level rejects, so if you’re tired of watching the world’s best athletes compete at the Olympics, watching this lot might make for a refreshing change of pace.
For what it’s worth as far as our predicting ability goes (a few of us have gone into hiding after suggesting the South Africans would fail to win a Test) we foresee a Lions whitewash.