Late September and early October is a weird time of the year as far as cricket as concerned. It’s something of a shoulder season, when the only fare on offer is a nonsense tournament organised by the ICC that shows every sign of being scheduled by a distracted toddler, and where you are best advised to steer well clear of the officially provided bottled water if you have any interest at all of being around next year in order to see Leicestershire destroy the county scene. Again. That is, of course, unless you have the singular good fortune to live in the best bloody country in the world, with the best bloody domestic cricket competition in the world.
As we mentioned in our season preview, the Australian domestic season is off to an extraordinarily early start; its earliest ever to be exact. Officially it’s to accommodate the Champions Trophy tournament but unofficially it was a move made out of sympathy for cricket fans around the world, deprived of any real cricket action, and just gagging to see Steve Smith in action once more. Well, it’s certainly delivered so far on that front.
The season got off to a cracking start when Steve Smith peeled off a Luke Wright-esque 99 not out in the opening one day fixture. That match also featured the comedy stylings of one Mitchell Johnson, who was coincidentally making his limited over debut for Western Australian, despite having moved to the state about three years ago (his absence so far probably being the result of numerous blood infections caused by dodgy tattoos). Johnson’s match figures of 2/68 were the second worst by a debut bowler for WA in history, proving he is still keen to prove his detractors wrong and etch his name into the record books.
Aside from Steve Smith’s heroics (we’ll conveniently ignore his third ball duck in the corresponding Shield fixture against WA), the season’s opening was marked by some impressive performances from some of the ‘nearly’ men of Australian cricket, or, in Doug Bollinger’s case, the ‘please God, never again’ men. Two players in particular have stood out so far, Mitch Marsh and Moises Henriques.
Ever since breaking through in the 2010 U19 World Cup, Mitch Marsh has been drifting around on the fringes of the national setup, but aside from a single T20 appearance has yet to completely break through. This has been largely the result of inconsistent form, rubbish attitude, and an injury record that even Ryan Harris would be proud of. His strong start to the season (225 runs in six innings across all formats plus some handy wickets as well) bodes well for the future however, and every Australian supporter will be hoping he keeps it up, as it would mean that Dan Christian need never play for Australia ever again.
Moises Henriques record is similar, in that he has featured twice in the ODI team and only once in the Australian T20 setup and inconsistent performances since have precluded him adding to that total. He is hardly the most popular cricketer going round (think James ‘Jeremy’ Franklin, but with a slightly better haircut), but considering the dearth of batting talent in Australia at the moment, anyone who scores runs is instantly highly regarded, and so far this season Henriques has obliged, cashing in to the extent of 367 runs in four innings so far.
With the ball Doug Bollinger has started the season strongly, and he has likewise been quick to remind everyone that, as far as he is concerned at least, his national team aspirations are far from dead. Whether that is actually the case or not remains to be seen, but with Australia hardly lacking for fast bowling options, the prospect of the selectors returning to an over-the-hill waster with an appalling injury and fitness record seems unlikely. Maybe Doug is just looking to increase his bargaining position for the next IPL auction. As long as he stays away from Pune we couldn’t care care less to be honest. Otherwise the season opened with a predictable slew of wickets for Jackson Bird, whilst New South Welshman Josh Hazlewood has also begun his campaign strongly.
The other major talking points to emerge from the first few weeks of domestic competition were Ricky Ponting’s slow start to the campaign, with scores of 9 and 34, and Brad Haddin’s blistering start. Ponting’s place in the Test team is almost an innings by innings concern these days, and such is his tenuous grip on the baggy green that it wouldn’t completely surprise if a poor start to the domestic season saw him lose his spot even before the international summer begins. Admittedly that’s not a likely scenario, but it’s not a completely improbable one either.
Brad Haddin’s strong start to the season, a century against Tasmania that was his first in domestic cricket for over two years, also creates a problem for the selectors. Haddin’s position is a curious one, in that whilst the rest of the country is seemingly happy to never see him play for their country again, those people whose opinions actually count, i.e. the selectors and Test captain Michael Clarke, have always spoken of Haddin as a current Test player. With Matthew Wade seemingly entrenched across all three formats, and Tim Paine back in one piece (for the time being at least) that doesn’t leave much room for Haddin. So how they fit him back into the national setup is anyone’s guess, although we will eat our proverbial hat if it’s as a result of turning Wade into a specialist batsmen as Clarke threatened earlier this year.
A word also should be said about Andrew McDonald. You may better remember him from the sterling job he did carrying the drinks in the 2009 Ashes, but the Victorian all-rounder has performed strongly in domestic cricket for years now, and opened this season with a century and a couple of wickets. But since there is no chance in hell of him being selected in any of the national teams, even though he would make a fine stand in the next time Shane Watson falls apart, there isn’t much need to say any more on the matter really.
Otherwise it’s been a fairly unremarkable start to the domestic season, as its gradual introduction from mid September onwards has given the impression that most players are still emerging from hibernation. Unfortunately, with the Champions Trophy set to intrude in October, it will be very much a stop start affair to the domestic season, which doesn’t bode well when the world’s number one Test team is just around the corner. Although given Darren Pattinson’s two wicket haul on debut for Victoria, perhaps there is still time to fast track him into the Test team. Probably to bat at number three.