The Australian people have just voted in another federal election. It’s a bit of a national sport. Knowing which voting booth cooks up the best sausage sizzle is important. In Queensland, it’s an imperative that the locals vote in a quack or as was the case again this year, a flaming racist by the name of Pauline Hanson.
This walking headline of hate claims that Australia has a problem with Asia. Unfortunately, she is dead right. Australia just don’t know how to play cricket there. How’s that for a segue?
Over the last 10 years, Australia have won only a single Test in Asia. Just one.
Granted, they haven’t played in Bangladesh or even Pakistan, but India, Sri Lanka and the UAE have seen their fair share of green and gold.
The first Test in Kandy has just finished. Scribes have deployed their craft talking about the stories from that match. Whether it be the game changing Mendis ton, Herath doing what Herath does, DRS, O’Keefe’s hamstring or the non use of lights.
But the real story, the one that has been building for ten years, is that Australia continue to get it wrong with selection when touring Asia. And I’m not talking small errors like picking the wrong number six. I’m talking monumental errors like picking the wrong squad.
The world of cricket has only recently woken up to the fact that T20 sides are different from ODI sides, which in the 2000s, we discovered should be different to Test teams.
What Sri Lanka showed us this week is that Test teams also need to reflect the game that is about to be played based on local conditions. Not a small tweak around the edges, but a gigantic upheaval to ensure the best chance of success.
There is a good reason why the only fast bowler of note to be produced by Sri Lanka is Chaminda Vaas. It’s not because Sri Lankans are somehow naturally unable to bowl quickly. It’s because their wickets don’t support blokes who need a long run up. Bounce is lacking. Pace is lacking. But turn is everywhere.
Sri Lanka’s two best ever bowlers are spinners. One of those holds the world record for chucking down the most wickets. When Sri Lanka announced their team for Kandy, it had four spinners in it. It was the equivalent of a 1980’s West Indian side playing a prank.
Australia’s side only had two. Its wider squad fell back to the good old days of being loaded with all rounders. Moises, Mitch Marsh, Nathan Coulter-Nile. Then pile on the pace of Starc, Hazlewood and Bird.
Did they learn nothing during their last Test tour to India? Not only did Homeworkgate embroider itself into Test history, but so did a Test team containing Watson, Moises and Maxwell. It got slaughtered 4-0. Medium paced bowling all rounders don’t work in the subcontinent. At least here, Australia tried to be somewhat braver by opening the batting and bowling with Maxwell.
What about that defeat in the UAE to Pakistan. Again, a fairly ho-hum predictable side. In return, Misbah hit the fastest ever Test 50 and 100.
The point is, part timers and pace have never helped Australia in Asia. If you park Pakistan, which is a weird hotbed of cricketing strangeness, then Asia doesn’t produce quicks. So why would you stack a squad full of them to try and beat a team there?
You could argue that Lyon and O’Keefe was an ok start. But where was the 3rd spinner? There isn’t one in the squad. O’Keefe has now been replaced by Jon Holland. But why send a debutante to one of the hardest places to play when you are 1-0 down? Surely Fawad Ahmed was the logical choice? A hard experienced head who has been dominating Shield cricket over the past two years. Let debutants learn at the Gabba or the SCG.
Where’s the learnings? Why not three spinners in the team? Why play Mitch Marsh as a bowling all rounder at 6 and then only use him for 9 overs for the entire match?
If Australia truly wish to address their Asian problem, then they need to pick appropriate Test squads. Bird and Coulter-Nile should never have gotten on a plane. Fawad and perhaps Zampa should have. There’s an argument that Maxwell should be the permanent number 6 when playing in that part of the world. At least he’s likely to bowl more than 9 overs.
It’s ok for Australia to roll out dramatically varied Test squads depending on the conditions. They just need the balls to do it else this 10 year nightmare will continue to haunt them.