When we previewed the Australian A tour of England, back when we thought everyone in the English dressing room were best mates, we raised doubts as to the point of the whole exercise. There is nothing wrong with ‘A’ tours, in fact we’re surprised there aren’t more of them, but when the players involved are patently not competing for a Test spot (or in the case of Steve Smith should be in the Test team already), something has gone terribly wrong. Our doubts were only magnified when it was revealed that Australia were holding concurrently a development camp in Darwin, which included most of the players who should have been in the ‘A’ team in the first place.
So whilst some were describing the two unofficial ‘Test matches’ between Australia A and the English Lions as the ‘Baby Ashes’, it really was nothing of the sort, instead being more of an extended training camp and acclimatizing experience. The fact that both encounters ended in non-remarkable draws seems somehow fitting then. It wasn’t a series that warranted a victor (with all the associated gloating rights), and on the whole came across as more of a goodwill building exercise between the ECB and Cricket Australia than a legitimate tour.
It’s probably best if we climbed off our high horse though, and actually had a look at the cricket played. Although considering that Steve Smith didn’t feature in either game, don’t expect us to be charitable about it.
Apart from Ravi Bopara’s bizarre in/out turnaround, the two games were almost entirely positive for the home side. A number of players made the most of their opportunities to impress and, with the grownup England side suddenly a shadow of its former self, make a claim for a place in or around the Test squad. England are likely to evolve, rather than revolve, but the fact remains that there are definitely chances to force a way into the side over the coming months.
Unfortunately for Craig Kieswetter, the position of wicketkeeper is the most secure in the whole England side. Despite averaging 194 across the two games, Kieswetter is unlikely to get beyond first reserve for the tour of India. Chris Woakes, another who made runs, might stand a better chance but he failed to take a wicket across the two matches. Other players to make runs were Jonny Bairstow (who has already confirmed his promise with the senior side), Joe Root (who will probably have to wait for Strauss to retire and then Trott to lose his place) and Samit Patel (who will be taking a suitcase full of Bounty bars to India later in the year). Even forgotten man Eoin Morgan made a half century.
In terms of the bowlers, Simon Kerrigan starred with six wickets at Old Trafford and may be an outside bet to travel to India as second spinner. James Harris, a man that we’d completely forgotten existed until a couple of weeks ago, took six in the second game. He’s still about twelfth choice for England though.
The only way in which this tour could have provided some value for future Australian Test teams would have been if a couple of players could have seized the opportunity presented and made some serious contributions in English conditions. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. Ed Cowan probably made the best case for his continued presence within the Test team with some solid performances, but they weren’t of the calibre to silence his critics. He fell short of centuries in both games, but even then any runs scored on tour mean very little, it’s how he copes with the working over he is expected to receive from the South African pace battery in a few months’ time that really matters.
Likewise Nathan Lyon failed to impress, and achieved the remarkable feat of being shown up by Jon Holland. Mitchell Johnson performed to expectations, with one decent spell being followed by about four or five of utter crap. His new ball partner, Jackson Bird, likewise did little to confute criticism that he is a decent domestic quick on friendly decks, but otherwise far too pedestrian to threaten international batsmen. At least Bird managed to get through the series without injury though, which is more than could be said of the likes of Ben Cutting, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, all of whom showed they understood what being an Australian pacemen is really all about by withdrawing from the tour without bowling a ball.
The respective English and Australian Test teams have a few months until their next engagements and whilst both can now be safely considered as being deeply entrenched in rebuilding periods, this recently completed series won’t have provided the selectors with much new information. For all England’s recent woes, you wouldn’t expect the team that lines up against India in Ahmedabad to be much different from that which featured at Lords this past week, excepting perhaps the inclusion of a second spinner. Likewise whilst it’s clear the current Australian top order will be dead men walking against the South African pace attack, the selectors will wait until the following Sri Lankan series before making any necessary adjustments.
So, on the whole, the English Lions vs. Australia A series was a bit of a waste of time from the outset. It’s a good concept that was poorly applied. Maybe the two contests will, in time, prove vital in providing insight on future Ashes combatants, other than reminding everyone that English bowlers are good in English conditions and that Australian batsmen tend to be crap in them. But as a platform for allowing fringe cricketers to stake their case for international selection, it surely runs a poor second to actually playing in proper domestic contests.