After the briefest of flirtation with the general public’s conciousness, the Australian domestic scene has since reverted to its usual station of utter anonymity, characterised by a limited overs final played in front of only friends and family on a wet Wednesday night. With the Big Bash and now the Ryobi Cup out of the way, all that’s left is the Sheffield Shield to end. Not that many would realise it’s still running, but we digress. The last matches of the regular season were remarkable in the manner that they underscored the flaws currently crippling Australian cricket, flaws that the Test team are doing a sterling job of demonstrating to the rest of the world.
In the second last round of fixtures three matches kicked off concurrently (Tasmania vs. Queensland, Victoria vs. New South Wales, and South Australia vs. West Australia). At the end of the first days play across all three matches, 801 runs had been scored for the loss of 31 wickets which, by our reckoning, works out at about 25 runs apiece. In the end, aside from Tasmania’s relatively epic 342/6 declared in their second innings, no team posted a total of over 300 in any innings, with Victoria faring the best with a second innings score of 289, after accumulating just 128 in their first dig (and that after being 55/8). On these efforts it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that Australian batting is up shit creek sans paddle. When Mickey Arthur claimed the batsmen included on the tour to India were the best available, he wasn’t lying. Which, if you’re an Australian supporter, is a bloody scary proposition.
The most consistent run scorer in the competition, with a Bradman like average of 87.50, is the retired Ricky Ponting. After him, there are the likes of Phil Hughes (673 runs at 56.08), Callum Ferguson (639 runs at 39.93), and Alex Doolan (552 runs at 46). We’ve conveniently passed over both Chris Rogers and Mark Cosgrove, because despite decent numbers neither has a chance in hell of Test selection. Our man Steven Peter Devereux Smith has 296 runs at an average of 37, while Usman Khawaja has 438 runs at 39.81. Only two players scored centuries in the most recent set of fixtures (discounting players who are not either retired from Test cricket or David Hussey): Jordan Silk (in only his second appearance) and the Allan Border Young Cricketer of the Year, Joe Burns, who has 448 runs at 34.46 for the season. Depressing barely begins to cover it.
What these woeful numbers indicate is that current selection policy of choosing a handful of batsmen and desperately hoping they come good in the Test arena is perhaps the best out of a lot of bad options. Nobody else is scoring enough runs to threaten the incumbent selections. Which in practise means English fans probably will get their wish of Phil Hughes being in the Ashes squad.
The bowling stocks are, of course, far better populated, and every week seems to unearth a new quick with boundless potential matched only by their ability to break down at any second. Gurinder Sandhu, who took seven wickets on his First-class début, is the latest in a long line of players to emerge this season (not counting Kane Richardson, obviously). If Sandhu ever does develop into a Test class bowler (he also looked impressive at the U19 World Cup), it will be hilarious if only because Australia may have stolen India’s one outstanding fast bowler of this generation. Which is about the only amusement Australian cricket can find these days.
On the topic of adopted bowlers, one Fawad Ahmed has been making news of late, and the leggie has 16 wickets at 28.37 to date. Not a bad return at all, although somewhat outdistanced by Steven O’Keefe’s 24 wickets at 22.22. Depending on how the rest of the Indian tour goes both players may well find themselves in the Ashes squad later this year. By which we mean both can already begin packing their bags.
And on a final note there has been the Lazarus-esque return of Ryan Harris. During the aforementioned Ryobi Cup Final, Harris snared 4/26 to help lead Queensland to a two run victory, and furthermore didn’t fall apart at any stage. He then backed up to play his first game of the Shield season where he grabbed a few more wickets, and still stubbornly refused to collapse in a heap. If he keeps it up he is another who could force himself into Ashes reckoning before long.
All that remains now of the Australian domestic season is the Shield final, set to be contested between Queensland and Tasmania. To those Aussies who are looking forward to the Ashes, it looms as a potential shoot-out between Joe Burns and Alex Doolan for a spot in the Australian touring squad. Of course the vast majority of population couldn’t care less and just wishes that the cricket would go away. For a few years maybe. At least till James Anderson retires at any rate.