The Sydney New Year’s Test is soon to be here.
The spinner’s wicket.
Australia have pulled a selection surprise (or disaster) by naming Ashton Agar in its squad to face India.
His only previous two Tests in the 2013 Ashes series netted him 4 wickets at 124.00 a piece. His strike rate of 252.00 translates to a wicket every 42 overs that he bowls.
The numbers scream that he is not ready for Test cricket.
He was initially selected because he bowls left arm orthodox. To be more accurate, he was a net bowler who confused a few of the Australian batsmen during a practice session.
It was suggested that Kevin Pietersen had a weakness against this type of bowling and therefore, Agar could be a secret weapon against him.
Yes. Serious professional cricket people (read Darren Lehmann) made the decision to play him on that basis. A net bowler who uses his left arm and had no track record of success at any level was to be Australia’s nuclear bomb.
What a joke.
Well, in a moment of cricketing de ja vu, Australia are repeating that same failed effort at comedy.
This season Agar has taken 7 Shield wickets at over 40 a piece. He hasn’t exactly been knocking the door down.
However, the Aussie selectors have a fetish for finding a gun left armer.
Why? Who knows.
They tried Stephen O’Keefe in the UAE against Pakistan. Of the left armers available, at least a sane argument could be mounted for his selection. Not a strong one, but a coherent one based on serviceable returns at Shield level over a period of time.
O’Keefe failed. But to be fair, every Australian bowler failed on that tour.
On the back of one Test match, it appears that O’Keefe is now behind a bloke who has one of the worst bowling records in the Shield this year.
Can someone please explain this logic to me?
History suggests that the drive to play two spinners in Sydney is based on tenuous anecdotes.
In recent times, there has not been a flood of spin bowling pair successes at the ground.
Warne and MacGill took 12 wickets between them in the 2005 SCG Test vs Pakistan.
Kumble and Harbhajan also took 12 between them in 2007 at the ground.
Nathan Lyon took 12 wickets in Adelaide by himself just a few weeks ago, suggesting that 12 wickets is not a massive feat above the norm.
Is Sydney really a spinner’s paradise and does it make sense to therefore play two spinners at the ground?
Legendary cricketing statistician Ric Finlay kindly prepared the following numbers for me.
On average, spinners take 12.12 wickets of the 40 available per Test at the SCG.
This is the highest rate of any Test ground in the country.
Adelaide is next at 10.96
Melbourne is 10.31
This is cold comfort for Jason Kreijza, who after taking 12 wickets on debut in India, them got belted at Perth in his 2nd Test match and was never seen again.
Given these numbers, does it make any sense to play a 2nd spinner in Sydney?
Versus say the MCG, spinners don’t even average an extra 2 wickets for the match. Surely one would expect the existing spinner to up his ante and make up that gap?
The nomination of Ashton Agar to the squad for Sydney now looks remarkably negligent on so many levels.
He hasn’t earned his spot based on his performances. It gives a horrible message to every other Shield spinner who have put in the hard yards. Playing a second spinner has only really paid off twice in the last 20 years or so. Those times that it did work, the spinner’s involved were world class.
The selection also signals to Agar that he has some sense of entitlement. No need to perform. Australia will just pick you because you bowl left arm orthodox.
This is also known as ‘Shaun Marsh Syndrome’.
It may be that Agar doesn’t play in Sydney.
However, his inclusion in the squad should have Australian Test cricket fans nervous on so many levels.