Sport

Cricket: There could be joy without six

By Antoinette Muller 26 July 2013

The Australians have a three-day game against Sussex to test some of their players out before the next Ashes Test starts at Old Trafford next week. All eyes will be on Nathan Lyon to see whether he can do enough to make the selectors realise just how much of an asset he could be to the side. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

If you can, imagine Darren Lehmann as an Oprah Winfrey-like figure for a minute. He barges into the Australian dressing room and says: Mitchell, have a bowl. Jackson, have a bowl. James, have a bowl. Both Ashtons, have a bowl. Nathan, even you can have a bowl. Everybody have a bowl!

It’s not so much out of generosity as it is out of desperation that Lehmann finds himself in that position. The Australians have a chance to go back to the drawing board with a practice match against Sussex starting on Friday.

The squad, though, is rather thin. Michael Clarke is being rested so as to not aggravate his long-term back issues. Brad Haddin is rested, Chris Rogers is rested, Shane Watson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris are also taking a break. As a result, Australia were left two short of a full squad for the tour match and were forced to pluck another young spinner from obscurity to make up the numbers. Ashton Turner, a player with no first class experience, will feature in the match.

For some players, like Matthew Wade and Nathan Lyon, it’s a chance to stake their claim for a recall to the Australian team. While Wade is unlikely to return to glove duties, there is a case to include him as a batsman, perhaps in the place of Phil Hughes. Hughes showed promise in the first innings at Nottingham, but since then has returned to his usual baby-deer-on-ice routine against spin.

Wade, who last played a Test in March against India, was relegated to the dressing room after the return of Brad Haddin. However, since his debut over a year ago against the Windies, the youngster has shown some real promise.

Tinkering too much with the team, however, would be a foolish notion for the visitors, but their approach to giving everyone a run out in a practice game hints at insecurities and uncertainties, particularly in terms of their bowlers.

With James Pattinson ruled out of the Ashes with a stress fracture in his back, it is up to Jackson Bird, James Faulkner or Mitchell Starc to take over the duties of strike bowlers. Faulkner is the only player who has not played a Test, but he featured in two warm-up matches before the Ashes started. His returns were sparse, though. Faulkner does offer a little bit extra with the bat, though. Occupying the crease has become the bowlers’ job in the current Australian line-up, but Faulker is probably second line to the promotion throne.

Starc played in the first Test and took five wickets, but was given the chop in favour of Ryan Harris at Lord’s. He is equally apt with a bat, with a high score of 99 in Tests to his name. He was perhaps rested as part of a player management scheme. Having suffered from acute ankle pain during the tour of India, Starc insisted he was pain-free at the start of July. The state of his fitness is clearly good enough to allow him some practice time against Sussex, and he should be the logical replacement, provided he is fit by the end of the Aussies’ visit to Hove.

Bird has an outside chance, having played for the Australian A team in June and also featuring in the warm up against Worcester, but he is relatively thin on inexperience and despite his four-wicket hall on his debut last year, Bird probably won’t be handed the baggy green back just yet.

The man who will be under most scrutiny is Lyon. He has showed serious signs of promise and improvement since he made his debut.  With 76 wickets in 22 Tests, that Lyon was cast aside so quickly in favour of a player who was plucked from club cricket seems bizarre.

Australia have been desperate for instant gratification for Shane Warne’s replacement and have picked whichever young, hot thing pops up. Ashton Agar pipped Lyon to his place in the side at Nottingham and although Agar impressed with his batting, he was rather average in terms of bowling. Both spinners will play, despite Agar carrying a hip niggle from the Lord’s Test.

Lyon was cruelly put up for questioning by Cricket Australia ahead of the tour match and he was straight-forward about his feelings towards being dropped.

“It’s not easy to cop when you’re playing Test match cricket,” Lyon said. “To be left out of the Australian team for an Ashes Test match is not that easy to take but that comes down to the personality of the person. I believe you still have to give for the team.

“I’m just trying to put the ball into the same spot and trying to get some good drop and bounce. I’m really happy with the way they’re coming out, actually. Best I’ve bowled in a long time. I believe my best ball can get the best batters in the world out. The thing is that I have to keep doing that over and over and over.”

Lyon is desperate to get back out there. During the Lord’s Test, he and Starc shared strategies of how they would be bowling if they were out in the middle.  While Agar’s fate might have been sealed, Lyon has yet another young hot thing to contend with. Turner was ushered into the team from playing at Chichester Priory Park as part of a development programme run by Cricket Australia and Hampshire.

While it shouldn’t be, the pressure is on Lyon to perform well against Sussex to stick to fingers up at the selectors and wriggle his way back into a team, which needs him far more than he needs them. – DM

Photo: Australia’s captain Michael Clarke talks with coach Darren Lehmann (R) on the dressing room balcony during the second Ashes test cricket match against England at Lord’s cricket ground in London July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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