Why the Australian selectors should want to pick Cameron Bancroft

During their decade of dominance in the 2000s, Australia’s batting machine was fronted by two stroke-playing aggressors in the form of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. One towered over opposition bowlers, belligerently clubbing the ball back whence it came. The other had reinvented himself as a swashbuckler, playing his shots as if to atone for his previously grafting innings. Together they hunted down pacemen and their domain was the first twenty overs of an Australian innings.

As such, with the success of the Hayden – Langer days in mind, the Australian selectors have gravitated towards this model of “positive batting.” Since that point in time, each sustained opening partnership for Australia has included an aggressor, but – to the reluctance of the selectors – an accumulator. Shane Watson had Simon Katich. David Warner had Ed Cowan and later Chris Rogers. It reveals much about the attitude of the selectors (and the press) that, of the pairs, the accumulator was the batsman who came under the most selectorial pressure.

It wasn’t until the 2015/16 Tests against New Zealand that the National Selection Panel got the Christmas wish they so thoroughly desired with the chance to pick Joe Burns, an attacking Queenslander, along with David Warner. To their delight, the young man hit his way to consecutive sixes to reach a second innings hundred in the first Test of the summer. Two more tons would follow with similar verve against the West Indians and the Kiwis. All was well.

Then came Sri Lanka. The signs were clear from the start: prior to the first Test, according to cricket.com.au’s “Unplayable Podcast”*, Muttiah Muralitharan, consulting for Australia, chose to have a bowl against the Australian batsmen and, although Steve Smith “worked him out alright”, Joe Burns “had no clue.” Embodying Australia’s struggles against spin, Burns ended up producing scores of 0, 2, 3 and 29.

Although Burns was dropped for the third Test against Sri Lanka, it seems likely that he will return for the home series against South Africa and Pakistan. Now, this is probably justified given that he scored three hundreds in eight Tests the previous summer. But, with a view to the future and, more specifically, the tour of India in February – March 2017, the more inspired option for the National Selection Panel must be to pick Cameron Bancroft. (My previous preference would have been to pick Ed Cowan, but it seems that both he and the Panel are heading in different directions.)

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Future Test Stars XI

[Minimum qualification – At most one Test century or one five-wicket haul]

  1. Sami Aslam (Pakistan) – Having scored an impressive 82 and 70 against Anderson, Broad and Woakes in the recent Test at Edgbaston, Sami Aslam seems to be one half of the solution to the decade-long mystery of the Pakistan opening positions. To play so well in foreign conditions and against a high class pace attack is noteworthy for any international batsman, let alone a twenty-year-old.
  2. Cameron Bancroft (Australia) – Although he has yet to play a Test, this 23-year-old’s ability to apply himself and occupy the crease for long periods of time has been well-noted by Australian selectors over the past several Sheffield Shield seasons. With Joe Burns’ deficiencies against spin being exposed in Sri Lanka, Bancroft will surely get a chance to show his wares in the 2016/17 home summer.
  3. Kusal Mendis (Sri Lanka) (captain) – Scoring possibly one of the greatest hundreds ever made by a Sri Lankan a couple weeks ago, Kusal Mendis has demonstrated why Kumar Sangakkara cited his name when listing his favourite cricketers to watch. As a former Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Mendis follows in the footsteps of Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jaywardene, who were similarly prodigiously talented from a young age.
  4. Jermaine Blackwood (West Indies) – Having been given permission by his captain Jason Holder to play his natural game, the talented stroke-maker scored two boundary-saturated fifties in the recent Test against India. If he can continue to play in an unrestricted manner, he could produce match-winning performances such as his run-a-ball 85 against England in a low-scoring match in Bridgetown last year.
  5. Mitchell Marsh (Australia) – The fact that he has played seventeen Test matches without a century or five-wicket hauls and is still not in danger of being dropped illustrates just how highly regarded Marsh is. But, as a hard-hitting batsman and incisive fast-medium bowler, he fits the archetype of the classical, match-defining all-rounder that Australia has been searching for since Keith Miller.
  6. Corey Anderson (New Zealand) – Ever since he bludgeoned a 36-ball ODI ton – then a record for the fastest such ton – Anderson’s aggressive batting has been well-known by the cricketing community. Combined with his handy mediums, he looks set to be New Zealand’s premier all-rounder provided that he remains injury-free.
  7. Jos Buttler (England) (wicket-keeper) – As the owner of a few outrageous – well at least, outrageous by English standards – ODI centuries, Buttler’s batting talent is manifest. Although he will likely come back into the England Test side as a keeper once he returns to form, freeing up Jonny Bairstow to focus on his batting, there has been talk of his inclusion as a specialist batsman.
  8. Mark Wood (England) – Having played a crucial role in winning the 2015 Ashes, Wood should be able to come back into the England Test side in the near future. However, his lively fast bowling seems to place a tremendous strain on his body, which should be heavily monitored by the English set-up.
  9. Pat Cummins (Australia) – After being named player-of-the-match in a Test match at the age of eighteen, Cummins was hailed as the next [insert pace legend] by the cricketing media. However, he has been held back by injuries over the past few years, leading to a severe deficiency of red-ball experience. But, as he is only 23, he still has plenty of time to develop.
  10. Lakshan Sandakan (Sri Lanka) – Bamboozling the Australian batsmen in Pallekele on his recent Test debut, Sandakan is a rare talent with an even rarer bowling style – in the history of Test cricket, there have been very few successful left-arm unorthodox spin bowlers. With 164 first-class wickets at an average of 22.75, Sandakan is an impressive 25-year-old slow bowler.
  11. Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh) – As I have written before, Mustafizur Rahman will be one of the premier quick bowlers in the world in a few years. Having achieved extensive success already in the international limited-overs arena, Mustafizur will be looking to translate his white-ball form into red-ball form, utilising his variations and bowling intelligence.

ODI Specialists XI

[Minimum qualification: 30 Tests or less in a career or (if currently playing) little chance of exceeding 30 Tests]

  1. Nick Knight (England) – The stylish opener with a certain flair deserves to be remembered as one of England’s best one-day players, playing at a time when the English were struggling to make an impact. However, his reputation seems destined to be marred by his stuttering Test career.
  2. Upul Tharanga (Sri Lanka) – Tharanga, an aggressive opener, has formed successful partnerships with both Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan. At the age of 31, he has managed to already play nearly 200 ODI’s but has flitted in and out of the Test side for a career of just 23 Tests.
  3. Darren Lehmann (Australia) – Given his marked impact as the coach-saviour of the Australian national side, people might forget one day that he was an excellent strokemaker in the one-day format. Blocked from the Test side during Australia’s dominant reign in the 1990s, Lehmann could only establish himself in the side after the age of 33.
  4. Andrew Symonds (Australia) – After being barred from the national set-up after a series of off-field issues and falling out of love with cricket, Symonds’ international cricket career ended in 2009 at a time when he was producing peak performances in all formats. However, he left the one-day arena with a formidable record as a belligerent batsman, electric fielder and handy bowler.
  5. Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe) (wicketkeeper) – Putting his county duties above his international duties for Zimbabwe due to financial reasons, Taylor looks unlikely to add to his tally of 23 Tests, which would have been more if Zimbabwe had been available for Test cricket. However, he is likely his country’s best batsman since the Flower brothers.
  6. Michael Bevan (Australia) – Regarded as the best finisher in the history of one-day cricket, Bevan had the ability to both save an innings after an initial collapse and force the issue at the end of an innings with a boundary blitz. While you might point towards MS Dhoni and Michael Hussey as possible betters, it should be noted that Bevan was the one who invented the style these two would later adopt.
  7. Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) (captain) – The ballistic batsman in Shahid Afridi – in his first ODI innings, he swung his way to a hundred off thirty-seven balls – often overshadows the cunning legspinner in him. With nearly 400 wickets in 398 matches, his cricketing brains were much more evident in his bowling than his batting.
  8. Ajit Agarkar (India) – A Indian bowling all-rounder with serious batting talent – in his brief Test career, he hit a Lord’s Test century – will always draw comparisons to the great Kapil Dev. While he didn’t quite live up to these standards, he enjoyed an extensive one-day career with nearly 300 wickets in less than 200 matches.
  9. Brad Hogg (Australia) – The wily left-arm unorthodox spinner had big shoes to fill after the unexpected omission of Warne for the 2003 World Cup. With his tongue sticking out and a ball thrust into his hyper-active hands, Hogg ended up starring in two unbeaten World Cup campaigns for the green and gold.
  10. Nathan Bracken (Australia) – It was unfortunate that the left-arm swing bowler’s career ended right when the modern Twenty20 phenomenon was taking off with the IPL: his control over his variations would have outfoxed many a heaving batsman, providing him with T20 riches and fame.
  11. Shane Bond (New Zealand) – In an injury-stunted career, Bond’s fragile body could only really withstand the strains of one-day internationals. When he could get on the park, his bowling was destructive: against the top-ranked Australians, he took 44 wickets in 17 matches at an average of just 16.

Can the West Indies’ T20 stars resurrect their Test side?

After the dust has settled from Carlos Brathwaite’s World T20-winning quartet of sixes, I am sure that the following question has flashed across the minds of fans of this charismatic West Indies side: if they can dominate Twenty20 cricket, why can’t they perform in Test cricket? Although success in one format does not necessarily translate into success in the other, some of this talent should be transferable. In the wake of another innings defeat today, the question has to be asked: in the event that everyone was available, how much better could the West Indian Test side be?

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Prime Ministers and Cricket (Part 2)

As I have written in a previous article, Australian Prime Ministers and cricket have combined to form a complex relationship. As a prevalent strand in the fabric of Australian culture, engaging with cricket is necessary for political survival. Otherwise, they run the danger of appearing out of touch with the electorate. In this article, we will cover some new developments and expand our coverage to Prime Ministers outside of Australia.

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Ashwin, the greatest spinning all-rounder of all-time?

When you think about the great fast-bowling all-rounders of Test cricket, a litany of charismatic players spring to mind such as Ian Botham and Kapil Dev. However, if you were to turn your mind to the great slow-bowling all-rounders, you would struggle to come up with a comparable list of names. Apart from perhaps Wilfred Rhodes, a dominant figure in early 20th century English cricket, there is not one who has been able to rise to the level of greatness.

Indeed, among the players with 1000 runs, 100 wickets and a positive average differential – the mark of a strong all-round cricketer is one with a higher batting average than bowling – just three are spin bowlers. Given that being a fast-bowling all-rounder places such a tremendous strain on the body, it is surprising that this number is not higher. But, even more surprisingly, the one with the best average differential is Ravichandran Ashwin of India with a batting average of 34 and a bowling average of 25.

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Record Watch (July)

Monthly update on upcoming Test records/milestones

As the Test series roll on, record and milestones tumble for players from all sides. While these might seem like statistical oddities, they often say quite a lot about the longevity of a player or the rapidity of their rise. Take for example, Yasir Shah, who is on track to break the record for the fastest to 100 Test wickets. This encapsulates just how unprecedented Yasir Shah’s breakthrough has been in Test cricket. As such, this is the start of a monthly log of what’s happening in the Test arena.

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The Remarkable Tale of Misbah-ul-Haq (Lord’s edition)

As Misbah-ul-Haq reeled off a Lord’s hundred at the scarcely believable age of forty-two, I had a quick glance at the records for “Oldest player to score a Test hundred“. Not surprisingly, he was reasonably high on the list – sixth oldest – but he was leapfrogged by players from the 1920s/1930s era; their careers were often extended by years of inactivity during the First World War and the absence of the cut-throat professionalism of modern times. The noteworthy thing, however, is not his position on the list, but it is the fact that he is on the list at all, given the circumstances of his career.

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Things to note so far from CPL2016

Match 1: Trinbago Knight Riders v St Lucia Zouks at Port of Spain, 29 June – Match 10: Guyana Amazon Warriors v St Kitts and Nevis Patriots at Providence, 9 July

As I’ve explained before, the rapid pace of the domestic Twenty20 schedule means that it is pretty difficult to keep up with the noteworthy features of the games. Hence, I’ve written on a few of the features of CPL2016 that have emerged in the first ten matches so far. (Although the Natwest T20 Blast is going on at the same time, I probably won’t write about it until finals time since it has progressed further than the CPL.)

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