Is the key to Ashes victory in the selection of the wicket keepers?

Australia’s wicket keeping woes going into the first Ashes test could be summed up by the cliché phrase ‘pick your poison.’

Should there be a show of faith in the underwhelming ability and all round incompetence of incumbent Matthew Wade or should we revert back to the man he replaced, Peter Nevill? Nevill is a player that has the skills with bat and gloves to be a very fine test performer but has been largely frustrating in the 17 games in which he has donned the Baggy Green. A batting average of 22.28 coupled with some foibles behind the stumps defines his performances. Nevill showed this in the first round of the Sheffield Shield. Most saw the Ashes position as his for the taking in the wake of Wade’s profound struggles only for Nevill to once more struggle with bat and stand out for a keeping howler.

Another option is investing in young South Australian Alex Carey who is a throwback to the past with his delightful glove work that is truly elite. Much of the aversion to investing in Carey is concerns over his batting. The potential in his batting is well touted but he is yet to perform to this potential in the Sheffield Shield where he only averages 24.54. This will be an irrelevant point if the selectors stay true to their controversial ‘horses for courses’ selection policy. The dominance of the Australian top five batsmen in home conditions where they all average near or well above 60 negates the reliance on the keeper to be a major factor with the blade. Hilton Cartwright, who is likely to be at 6 in the line up will add to the batting dominance of the team giving further weight to the inclusion of Carey. Cartwright has been dominating with bat at Sheffield Shield level with an average of 50.80. When you couple this with the noted weaknesses in the English batting and with the strength of the Australian bowling line up, the support for an astute gloveman would fit well within a ‘horses for courses’ policy.
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The batting ills of the English team raise an interesting prospect when looking at their keeping position. Jonny Bairstow is the current incumbent and is respected as one of the strongest parts of their line up. Much of the focus is on his batting because it gives such depth and versatility to the line up. The ability of Bairstow to shift through the gears from defensive gritty knocks to attacking counters would make him perfectly suited to be a permanent number 4 in the line up. To make this happen however, would be dependent on Bairstow giving up the gloves. The demands of being a wicketkeeper along with taking on greater responsibility by batting in the top order would be too much. It would also rely on English Captain Joe Root moving back to number three from the number four position he currently occupies. This move however would be seen internally as the ‘tail wagging the dog’ in the current English set up, as shown by Joe Root being averse to batting at three along with Bairstow following suit when it is suggested he give up the gloves.

Keeping things as they are though is not the optimal batting configuration of the team. This configuration is a prospective top 5 for the Ashes of Cook, Stoneham, Root, Bairstow and Stokes and would represent both class and solidity. The presence of Stokes is in question but there is little doubt that the cynics are right and his brush with the law will be made to ‘go away’ by the powers that be, allowing him to be part of England’s Ashes defence. This prospective top 5 would be a better choice than investing in speculative entities like James Vince, Gary Ballance and Dawid Malan. This line up could be further solidified at 6 if either young batting prodigy Dan Lawrence or Liam Livingstone are added to the Ashes squad from the English Lions Team.

The potential effect on the English batting is supported statistically by the recent example of the Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara. He averaged 40.48 with bat as a full time keeper compared to 66.78 as a specialist batsman. Brendan McCullum from New Zealand also showed improved output in his batting going from averaging 34.18 when keeping to 42.94 as a specialist batsman. Both saw a distinct improvement in their batting when freed of the mental and physical demands of keeping.

The presence of Ben Foakes in the squad not only supports the move but begs the question of why it hasn’t been done already. Foakes was recently referred to as the ‘best wicketkeeper in the world’ by English great Alec Stewart. It seems absurd not to fully utilise this. The inclusion of Foakes would provide the same added support to the English bowling attack as has been touched on when touting Alex Carey for a role in the Australian team. Foakes’ glovework would turn half chances into dismissals with his profound skills. His batting is also of a high calibre as shown by his average in English County cricket of 41.84. The move would add further depth to the batting while facilitating Bairstow to be the answer to the batting ills in England’s top 5.
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A simple re-jigging of the English line up could greatly enhance their chances of retaining the cherished urn.


Is Usman Khawaja following in Dean Jones’ footsteps?

Recent conjecture over the makeup of the Australian team for the upcoming Ashes test has centred around who will occupy the problematic sixth and seventh positions. The remaining eleven are seen as certainties in the eyes of most fans and experts.

The top five will comprise Dave Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith and Peter Handscombe. Each of these players is backed by dominant figures at home where their batting averages all hover near or well above 60. The bowling line up is arguably the best and most diverse in world cricket. The opening pace combination of the left and right arm pairing of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins is a fearsome duo. Josh Hazelwood accentuates their threat with his combination of skill with a ball and the pressure he exerts on batsmen with his relentless lines and lengths. The unit is perfectly rounded out by the off spin of Nathan Lyon who, after his efforts in 2017 where he has taken 46 wickets at an average of 21.95, has entered the discussion as the best spinner in test cricket.

Purely on figures, Usman Khawaja should be one of the first selected. A dominant overall home average of 63.73 has ballooned out to 78.21 since re-inclusion to the team in 2015.

The statement of support in favour of Khawaja taps into another aspect governing selection, one that harkens to the past and Dean Jones’ shock axing from the test team for the start of the 1992/3 home series against the West Indies. Jones was dumped from the team despite having a lead into the series of 433 runs from his previous 4 tests at an average over 70. The unspoken aspect is the behind closed doors dynamic of the Australian set up. Jones was known for ill advised utterances to the press about the decisions and motives of the Australian selection process. This part of Jones’ personality would have irked many and perhaps this led to a target being placed on his head.

It led to vicarious reasoning in the wake of his dumping from selector at the time John Benaud:

*Jones had a very poor record v the West Indies. This poor record was partly obscured by his tendency to make big hundreds in dead test matches at the end of a series. His lone fifty and lone hundred v the West Indies were both dead rubber affairs;

*While he did make runs in Sri Lanka prior to the series, he was dropped quite often and didn’t look that good. His form had been in decline for 2 years and he could easily have been dropped 12 months earlier before making another last test century v India;

*In the lead up to the start of the Australia – West Indies series, Victoria (Jones’ home state) had just 2 shield games so Dean got very little match practice. To make matters worse, he played badly in those games, where the conditions were not great for batting; *Steve and Mark Waugh both made hundreds against the WI that summer, Steve for an Australian XI side and Mark for NSW. Steve made 95 and 100 and Mark 200 not out;

*Damien Martyn had played a few excellent innings at 1st class level that demonstrated his considerable class. He seemed a player of the future and one who might not be intimidated by the West Indies.

This walk down memory lane has relevance to Khawaja, notably in recent times, where it seems a day doesn’t pass without him having a place in the tabloids.

Khawaja stole world headlines by portraying Australian cricket as being ravaged by ethnic bias. The basis of his claims centred on his own hardships in dealing with discrimination as a Pakistani immigrant in both Grade and State cricket. As you dig a bit deeper it paints Khawaja in a very dim light, exposing him as a somewhat erratic entity. The racist drum that he recently chose to beat is in opposition to this previous quote only a few years earlier:

“According to Khawaja, his life in Australia has been untainted by prejudice.”

“Both cricket, especially his State and Test teammates, and the wider society have embraced him and his family.” Said Khawaja:

“I have not had any incidents of racial stuff. Nor has my mum, who wears the hijab.”

This was followed by him taking aim at Australian selectors for their controversial ‘horses for courses’ selection policy, chiefly for being overlooked for the final 11 in any of the tests away to India followed by being dispensed in Bangladesh after just one test despite a dominant performance at home as a lead in to both series. It seems that Khawaja felt that his good showing at home justified a greater showing of faith in his place in the team selected to play on tour.

This selection gripe raised many eyebrows, notably Australian skipper Steven Smith who pointed out what was patently obvious to all bar Khawaja, that he has been stellar at home however has played poorly away. Khawaja’s Asian average of 14.62 after five tests in Asia pulls no punches. The call for a show of faith by Khawaja has merit. Sadly, it is diminished by his inherent denial, as shown by his reaction to his dropping in Sri Lanka in 2016. Rather than accept his failing against spin and the need to work on his game, he claimed both he and Joe Burns were made the ‘scapegoats’ for the team’s dismal tour.

Aside from his denial, what’s rarely touched on is his career long struggles in the field and the fact that he is not in the shape he should be. In Australia this is not such a factor with him predominantly fielding in the slips. It becomes a bigger issue in Asia where he is away from slips, allowing a weak link for opposition batsmen to exploit. This is a key point where the game is so attritional meaning the suffocation of runs and the pressure it exerts is key in gaining ascendency, leading to victory charges. One only has to look at the huge difference Hilton Cartwright made in this respect, in place of Khawaja for the second test in Bangladesh, that Australia won to tie the series.

If the batsmen on the outskirts of the team lit it up in the three Sheffield Shield games leading up to the first Ashes test and Khawaja is less than stellar, a similar shock dumping to Jones’ from 25 years back could ensue. The reasoning behind this decision would be the team’s desire to be a more complete entity – one that can win both home and away. Khawaja’s aforementioned frailties and one dimensional nature could be the reasoning for his demise.

In the lead up to the first Ashes test, Khawaja should stop murmuring to the press and as the age old cricketing saying goes, he should ‘let his bat do the talking’. He has played well in the current Sheffield Shield match, currently sitting on 99 not out at stumps.

Hawthorn Football Club: 30 Memories from the past 30 Years (25-21 edition)

25. The ‘rolling maul’ in the 1988 Grand Final
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Winning the 1988 Grand Final by 96 points against the Melbourne Football Club, Hawthorn coach Alan Joyce described this passage of play with these words,

“I have never seen a more awesome, more inspiring passage of play than the 15-minute mark of the second quarter. I saw about a dozen Hawthorn players in a wave going down the field. It was a human chain, crashing through a desperate opposition and forcing the ball forward”.

The team of that era was filled with a constellation of star players who would often steal the focus, but this victory highlighted an aspect of that great Hawthorn team that would rarely get talked about and that is its heart and the players’ relentless desire and sheer bloody-mindedness to prevail in any circumstance.

The cost never mattered, whether it meant having your head kicked off whilst diving on a ball or your ribs crushed in order to win a contest. The self sacrifices were willing and endless.

This attitude defined the ‘Hawthorn-Way’ as described in our team song:

“Riding the bumps with a grin at Hawthorn
Come what may you’ll find us striving
Team work is the thing that talks
One for all and all for one
Is the way we play at Hawthorn
We are the mighty fighting Hawks”

24. Buddy’s final against the Western Bulldogs in 2008
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In 2007, Buddy left us in wide eyed wonder after his stunning performance in the first elimination final against the Adelaide Crows, when he kicked an impressive 7 goals. However this was merely the entree to an even more amazing display the following year in the second qualifying final between the Hawks and the Western Bulldogs.

The ‘Scrays’ held the early ascendancy, however Buddy stepped in with a brilliant first quarter goal to put a halt to this and then fully flipped the game on its ear with an outrageous display of sheer talent.

His cat-like crumbing of goals demonstrated his genius along with his epic long bombs from way down town. Franklin was never much lauded for his overhead marking, in fact it was seen as a notable weakness in his game. However his strong mark and goal that followed on the lead defined how complete he was in this final.

Kicking an incredible 8 goals, this saw him equal Brereton and Moncrieff’s record for the most goals kicked in a final by a Hawthorn player. To this day, I still view this performance as his best in a Hawks jumper.

23. Last round at Kardinia Park against Geelong in 1987
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It makes me laugh when Hawks fans and the media talk up Hawthorn’s supposed rivalry with Geelong. In my mind, rivalries are created out of heartache, something Geelong has never administered on us. In a sense, the relationship between the two clubs is defined by this saying,

‘You might cut us with a pen knife…but we bludgeon you with an axe…’

This game was delightful. After Stoneham kicked a Geelong goal deep in time on to put the Cats 9 points up, I still to this day remember hearing the exaltation on a nearby radio that ‘Geelong is going to make the ’87 finals…’

This would have put the fear into the rest of the final five teams, for the Cats were an erratic team that year but one that, at their best, put the fear of God into even the best of opposition teams. They could have won the flag from 5th position.

Enter Jason Dunstall. A goal to bring the margin back to 3 points. Then, with the siren imminent, the ball was in the hands of Russell ‘Fly’ Morris. I was behind the goals at the other end of the ground and saw him pump it forward. Rod ‘Snuff’ Lester-Smith had been thrown forward and was in a joust with his Geelong opponent as the ball hovered in the air. It went over flailing fingertips and fell into Dunstall’s lap. He went back with ice in his veins to score a goal, which put us in front and with the sounding of the siren, eliminated Geelong from the finals.

The irony is that after the game was dissected, it actually looked like the ball had gone over the post.


22. Smashing the Pies by 125 points at Victoria Park in 1987
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This memory is based on a tradition of losing to Collingwood. In fact, after joining the VFL in 1925, our first 48 (out of 50) games against Collingwood were losses, including a record 29 game losing streak.

Victoria Park was a citadel of pain for the Hawks. Our supporters who were brave enough to venture there knew they would be mocked and that we were most likely going to lose. It was not until 1960 that we recorded our first victory at that dung heap, when John ‘Elvis’ Peck kicked a match winning goal after the siren.

The exultation felt in administering Collingwood’s worst ever defeat at Victoria Park would have delighted the many Hawthorn players, fans and coaches who had suffered there for so long in the past.

I remember Brian Taylor throwing a hissy fit in the last quarter, reminiscent of a two year old. He dragged the clipboard out of the hands of a Pies official and then threw it out of the ground. This just added to the sheer joy I felt, which was overwhelming.

Sadly, by that period in the game, the Collingwood fans had long run for the exits. They were like the quintessential rats fleeing the sinking ship, which sadly robbed this Hawks fan of the opportunity to borrow E J Whitten’s iconic catch cry: “STICK IT UP THEM!”

21. Chance Bateman getting life membership at the Club.

I often think to myself, ‘since coming here from Ireland in 1971, whose autobiography, out of all the numerous Hawthorn players I have seen play for the club, would I most enjoy reading?’

Without question, the answer is Chance Bateman.

Bateman was the second indigenous player to play senior football for Hawthorn, after Cyril Collard in the late 1950’s. Only the second Aboriginal player drafted after Willie Rioli in 1990, Bateman was Hawthorn’s first indigenous player to reach 100 and 150 games. He was also the first to receive life membership after 177 games at the club. He was, you could say, the first raindrop that led to the waterfall of many great indigenous players that followed.

Chance Bateman faced tragedy when his 15 year old sister Candace was killed in a train accident in 2001. This was during his early days at Hawthorn and he had to overcome the homesickness of being away from family which would have been compounded by this terrible incident. The club showed its heart by trying to facilitate a trade back to Western Australia in the aftermath of this event, however no interest was shown in Bateman by either of the WA clubs.

Bateman stayed, and the rest is history.

He is supremely underrated as a player and was a highly respected leader during a very fine Hawks era.

Hawthorn Football Club: 30 Memories from the past 30 Years (26-30 edition)

2017 marks thirty years of the Australian Football League (AFL). In honour of this, I thought I would reminisce on the thirty most memorable moments from this era for the Hawthorn Football Club.

These moments were compiled from a survey of over a dozen Hawks fans. The eventual order was judged on by a panel of five.

Moments 30 to 26 are as follows:

30. An immaculate passage of play against Freo in 2014.
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Hawthorn’s greatness has been defined by big statements in big games throughout the AFL era. This moment was a statement within the statement. The lead up to the 2013 grand final rematch was all about Fremantle and how powerful they had been in the first two games of 2014. Also how they were going to show this power and redress their GF loss while announcing their take over as top dog.

An opening blitz from the Hawks evaporated the fantasy.

There was no let up as the ball went deep in their forward line to the hands of Ryan Crowley, who was free in the pocket. A tinge of disappointment was felt amongst the Hawk throng who were baying for Dockers blood and it was apparent they would score.

30 seconds later exultation replaced impending disappointment. The legacy of what was just witnessed was epitomised in the tension built roar. It became even louder and built to a frenzy when the kick went out to Rioli on the bounce on the wing. Cue the Jaws theme music and watch while the ultimate predator stalks and then strikes. He burned off his Freo opponents and then delivered it on a plate to Luke Bruest.

As Bruest sold some candy to sidestep and put the goal through, you just looked around to witness all the Freo players with their heads slumped in the knowledge that, even in moments where they held a seeming ascendency, they were hopelessly out of their depth.

29. Alastair Clarkson instigating a tribute to Phil Walsh.
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The untimely death of Adelaide Coach Phil Walsh was a tragedy on many levels. His death devastated the football community, as well as the wider community.

I really thought the whole round should have been abandoned as a tribute to him. When it went ahead, I never felt such lack of care for the result of a game. His death took such precedence that it deemed the result as meaningless.

Alastair Clarkson embodied this sentiment in the huddle at the end that perfectly conveyed the collective grief felt by all. It was a perfect sign of respect. This filled me with immense pride to have Clarkson as the figurehead of the Hawthorn Football Club.

28. Max Bailey getting a Premiership medal in 2013 after 3 knee reconstructions.
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After seeing the recent birthday tribute to Max Bailey, I feel a tad guilty for giving this moment such a low rating. The big ruckman was destined to be a very fine player until cruel fate intervened on three separate occasions. I still remember a pre-season game where he rag dolled Ben Rutten in the goal square to mark and kick a goal. It made me think, ‘here is a big defining ruckman that can go forward, pluck a big mark and kick a goal… BINGO!’

Aside from his potential, he had such a natural and endearing nature – one that had star appeal and the words “firm fan favourite” written all over it.

For him to come back to receive that medal was very moving. The medal was given real meaning by the iconic preliminary final against Geelong a week earlier. That was a game he played very well in and Bailey went on to be serviceable in the Grand Final. On receiving his winning medal, the roar from the crowd was fully justified and married with real respect, born out of awe of his never say die attitude and associated persistence. He’d done it, despite many galling moments that would have buried lesser types.

27. Last game at VFL Park.
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There was a part of me that was happy to see the back of VFL Park. It meant no more searching for your car for an eternity after matches, firm in your belief that the mythical ‘car park gnomes’ who somehow moved cars around while you were inside the stadium were, in fact, real.

The ground was a citadel of so many great Hawthorn moments, many which are represented in the upcoming memories of this list.

One that stands out for me from the previous VFL era was the Queens’ Birthday match against Collingwood in 1981. Over 92,000 fans were packed into the ground. The walkways were full of people standing, along with steps being used as impromptu seats. The mosquito fleet of Norm Goss, Lethal and Alan Goad dominated forward, leading to us towelling up the Pies in a romp.

The last game at VFL Park was a smashing of the Swans by 85 points. When the final siren sounded to end this game, it felt like a goodbye to an old friend that I had shared a gamut of emotions with. Upon walking out amongst the 70,000 capacity crowd, the sense of loss was shared by all the Hawks’ faithful

26. Tucky’s 400th game, 1990 versus ‘Norf’.
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Among the Hawthorn faithful, there are few players more loved than Michael Tuck. He was the shy country boy that always avoided the spotlight but away from it was genuinely welcoming to fans.

When the siren sounded on this game, it ended a tight and tense affair that was sealed late by Dermie running into an open goal after roving a crumb off the pack. Afterward, all the focus fell on Tuck for his 400th game. He characteristically and instinctively ran for the race to avoid the attention. Platts and Langers both shielded his escape and insisting on hoisting him onto teammates shoulders and carrying him off.

All stood in tribute to his accomplishment. It seemed very apt that one of the many of those applauding was the opposition coach, Wayne Schimmelbusch. The Kangas’ great was the same age as Tucky. Schimmelbusch was a central figure from the Kangaroos’ teams of the 70’s that were involved in a heated rivalry with the Hawks. This was during the same era that Tuck was lauded as being the finest ruck rover in the game, as part of the iconic Scott, Tuck, Matthews trio.

In a sense, his greatness as a player is underrated. This greatness lay not just in his heady pomp as a dominant onballer, but also in his versatility. This saw him as a very able centre half forward in the early 80’s and also as a very clever rebounding half back and tagger in his later years. What stood out in his career was that he never played a bad game. He made his mark with longevity and good to excellent performances.

My only disappointment from this game was that he did not unfurl one of his trademark torpedos. It would have been so “box office” to see him bang one through from way out as he had often done throughout his career.

Test cricket – is it even a test anymore?

The true appeal of test cricket has always been that it’s a contest that lives up to its name. It acts as a stern examination of its participants on many diverse levels, exposing imposters and ensuring that only those truly skilled in the discipline and with the matching mental fibre will prevail.

The essence of test cricket is being constantly overlooked. The loss of appeal and impending demise of test cricket dominates many headlines followed by remedies touted to re-invigorate it. What stands out is that the powers that be, the International Cricket Council (ICC) seem oblivious to the obvious. They seem ignorant of the traditions of the game as a ‘test’ for players and teams. The recent implementation of a 4 day test for the upcoming South Africa versus Zimbabwe Boxing Day fixture highlights this. It is the culmination of a generation of standardisation that has diminished the game’s appeal.

This standardisation started in 1994 with limiting the amount of bouncers bowled in an over to 2. This law was brought in to curb the fearsome chin music of the four pronged West Indies’ pace battery. It was viewed by many as the ‘Malcolm Marshall ruling’, in honour of the great fast bowler’s lethal bouncer that had laid waste to many. On its inception, long term Umpire Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird labelled the ruling as ‘farcical’. The umpires already had the power to put a halt to what they deemed as overly intimidating bowling. One only has to remember the reins being pulled back on England’s John Snow many times during the 1971/2 Ashes series, or on a blisteringly quick Michael Holding who was determined to leave a distinct mark on Brian Close during the West Indies versus England series in 1976.

This ruling was an initial blight that sent out far reaching ripples. The traditional essence of the game has always been in the depth of its challenges and the theatre of its varied responses. This essence was defied and betrayed by the Malcolm Marshall ruling and it was a crucial fork in the road. From then on, the game took a path that skewed it away from the previous evenness in the contest and more and more distinctly towards being in favour of batsmen. This initial departure from tradition became a yawning fracture with a change in the power base of the game at the time. The traditional English origins moved to a more Asian focus with India as the notable powerbroker.
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Corporate considerations also usurped traditions. The riches of TV rights began taking precedence. The desired outcome became that a test match should go 5 days in order to fully profit from it. The ‘test’ essence was sacrificed once more, as seen in everything being compromised to suit the batsmen. Advancements in bat technology were accentuated by smaller grounds along with ropes being used on bigger grounds to shorten the boundaries. Space age protection for batsmen came into vogue. The coup de gras was the flattening of pitches to ensure that games went the full available time by facilitating batting dominance.

Favouring the batsmen has diminished the credibility of the game. An average of 50 for a batsman has always been the barometer of greatness. 42 players have achieved this feat in the 140 years of test cricket. It stands out that 21 of those had careers in this period or after, the same number as in the previous 117 years.

The game has become one dimensional where the only ‘test’ is for the bowlers. The powers that be perpetuate this, as shown in their views on pitches. Any pitch seen as providing a challenge for batsmen is deemed as ‘poor’. This is despite the quality of game it provides for onlookers who are captivated by the arm wrestle between the two disciplines and with the real worth attached to the runs scored by batsmen due to having to overcome more traditional conditions. The litany of batting friendly, or worse, ‘road’ pitches is wholly supported, a point epitomised by the abysmal WACA pitch for the Australia versus New Zealand test in 2015. If the ICC were focussed on the present and future of test cricket this would have received heavy sanctions.

In fact, the diminished nature of Australian pitches defines the malaise. They have been taken from their lauded past and bastardised into cynical roads in order to uphold the corporate ethos. The game in Australia was arguably the flagship of the test game because of the diversity of challenges facilitated by the pitches. Their traditional natures were as follows:

GABBA- The pitch offered assistance for bowlers through the seam it offered. An advantage added to by the swing that the often humid conditions allowed;

WACA- Lauded as fast and bouncy. Its dual nature was in the test that it involved for all. Batsmen were found out because of the speed and bounce, but if they were a proficient back foot player they dominated on it. It was often viewed as bowling friendly but this was a disguise. Only the truly skilled bowlers who didn’t fall into the trap of pitching it too short excelled;

SCG- Always a spin friendly deck;

MCG- The unpredictable entity on the Australian scene. In the period between 1979-81 it was arguably the most difficult pitch in world cricket;

Adelaide- Batting friendly but offered something for the skilled bowlers, whether they be the pacemen or spinners. Often supported spin late in the game.

Besides the flawed governance, the most worrying aspect of the change in test cricket is the accompanying cultural change it has invoked. This is epitomised by how test cricket is currently viewed as opposed to during the traditional origins of the game. Labels such as ‘raging turners’ and ‘green tops’ are plentiful on fan sites and are used disturbingly often by supposed experts covering the game. These terms pertaining to pitches belong very much to a bygone era with only very fleeting meaning in the current age. The liberal use of these words points to a lack of clarity that is perpetuated by the batting bias dominating the modern age. Any struggles by batsmen are rarely attributed to technical deficiencies, or temperament flaws that the shamelessly favourable conditions have fostered. It is always because of the pitch.

In the current environment it is hard to foresee a revival for test cricket. The ICC are so clueless as to what test cricket should be coupled with, with similar ignorance abounding in other forums. This ignorance eliminates any chance of a resurgence because of the absence of watch dogs barking about what test cricket currently lacks when compared with its true appeal in the past. That can only be remedied by embracing the traditions of the ‘test’.

Cricket’s lost art

‘Busy’ is a term that used to dominate the cricketing landscape. It was a quality insisted upon in every individual as the basis for the success of the team.

The term went hand in hand with batting, as seen in the old style when its nuances were embraced. It was an immersion in the art of accumulating runs crucial in the building of an innings. It was a wink at your partner as the fast bowler started to run in, followed by the blunting of the ball at your feet to get off strike and then scurrying through for a single. It was a deflection tapped into a gap for another single here and a hard run two there. It got into the bowler’s head space by the irritation it created. It was all the more infuriating if the batting partnership was between a left and right hand pair. The change in lines and tactics for the bowler along with the accompanying fields was an unspoken victory within the greater battle. There was a sense of satisfaction from seeing the respective fielders swearing under their breath as they had to rotate in the field two or three times in an over as the sun scorched down on them.

‘Busy’ defined the crucial nature of partnerships. The ability to rotate the strike furthered an individual’s own needs while supporting their partner’s. Subtle and risk free, but decisive in the ascendancy gained. The burden of pressure was imposed with the ticking over of the scoreboard. At the same time opposition plans fractured due to the targeting of players never backed by sustained assaults. The benefits for your following mates was underrated, similar to the boxing ethos of working the body to rule the mind, knowing that it is a marathon rather than a sprint.

This depth is lost in the current age where everything revolves around immediacy. It is now a proven strategy consigned to a bygone era. The embrace of what is considered sexy is king in the modern age of batting, complete with the transparency that goes hand in hand with this.

The aptly named ‘Mr Cricket’, Michael Hussey was the last noted disciple. He was a batsman lauded for his completeness, as shown by his domination in all three forms of the game. The superficial meaning of his moniker was understood by most, but his adherence to the traditions of batsmanship give it a greater depth that facilitated his dominance in the modern era. He embraced the name by walking to the crease and in a blink of an eye he would be on 30 and fully set. It left one and all befuddled as to how he could do this, with no evidence of booming cover drives, or blazes over cow corner. Just heady batting that most struggled to fathom.

In bringing up Hussey, the indictment of the current batsman is damning. An unhealthy reliance on boundary hitting for runs now rules. The predominantly flat pitches are the key to why. It has seen a generation of one dimensional batsmen standardised by the conditions that are shamelessly in their favour. A seeming batting underclass that can rule in conditions they feel comfortable in but be hung out to dry when in conditions that are foreign to them.

A poster child of this malaise is Australia’s Usman Khawaja. His average is 63.73 at home, as opposed to only 27.21 away. His massive struggles against spin in Asia are well publicised. The unspoken problem is the inability of Khawaja in these confines to rotate strike. This makes his weakness easy to fully exploit by ruthless and unyielding opponents, along with burdening his respective batting partners with pressure.

Babar Azam of Pakistan is similar. He is a batsman regarded as one of the best in the shorter forms of the game. The limits on bowlers and restrictions on fields allow his dominance. In the test arena, his incompleteness is exposed. Like Khawaja, his inability to show dexterity in the subtleties of batting for run accumulation exposes him.

It is easy to cite other similar examples. The key indicator is their effect on the prospects of teams, as highlighted by dominance at home and struggles away.

My thoughts on the Peter Crimmins Medal

This year’s Peter Crimmins Medal event was a showcase of the Hawthorn Football Club’s future.

As expected, Tom Mitchell was the recipient of the main award.

The top 10 vote getters were as follows:

1. Tom Mitchell 192 votes

2. Ben McEvoy 138 votes

3. Luke Hodge 131 votes

4. Ryan Burton 117 votes

5. Isaac Smith 111 votes

6. Jarryd Roughead 107 votes

7. Jack Gunston 104 votes

8. James Sicily 104 votes

9. Shaun Burgoyne 100 votes

10. Liam Shiels 91 votes

Mitchell’s run away win was a just reward for what was a dominant season. The inside midfielder was prolific in his ball winning ability and during rounds 12-17, he especially showed his potential from an attacking viewpoint that the club can hone in the coming seasons. Combining this with his pre-eminence as an inside force makes him one of the most complete midfielders in the game.

Unfortunately, from a team perspective, Hawthorn lacked the necessary outside support this season, which would have allowed the full effect of Mitchell’s ball winning ability to be felt on oppositions. The adding of a few outside threats that Mitchell could transition to would make him even more dynamic.

The choice of Ben McEvoy as runner-up was justified and paid respect to how immense he has been throughout 2017. The highlight this year was his leadership. The natural quality that McEvoy exudes brings back memories for this old scribe of another ruckman from yesteryear – the saviour of the club and premiership captain, Don Scott.

The evolving role of ruckmen in the AFL also brings a focus on players like McEvoy. There is a tendency now for clubs to play only one genuine ruckman supported by undersize types to accentuate their dexterity in clearances. This strategy has placed an emphasis on the around the ground work of the big men. This is something that McEvoy excels at and his expertise in this area should have seen him rewarded with a place in the All Australian team.

The role McEvoy played in the team’s second half turnaround cannot be understated. This was highlighted by the club’s re-invented forward line which was supported by a suffocating forward press. McEvoy anchored this. He brilliantly adapted the traditional ‘kick behind play’ role of the ruckman. Rather than sit in the hole at centre half back, McEvoy operated behind the forward press when the club was in possession in the forward 50. It stifled oppositions’ exit points due to his elite contested marking. He was also effective when he floated into the 50 as a scoring threat. His reading of the play and knowing when to do this was top shelf.

Ryan Burton exuded our future in winning The Most Promising award. Head coach Alastair Clarkson’s skills as an educator were on display with Burton throughout this season. The master coach stationed him as a key defender in a role the young tyro was brilliant in. Burton’s future, however, belongs in the midfield – a destiny that will no doubt one day see him being viewed as a silken version of Nat Fyfe. Burton is a similar big bodied midfielder but possesses better skills than the Dockers’ star.

The young Irishman Conor Glass winning the club’s Best First Year award offers a tantalising prospect going forward. His pace is an obvious answer to the club’s greatest need as a blitzing defensive rebounder, or as a blazing wingman. In the Carlton game he showed another sign of a potential future path, where he was at times matched against the 6’5 Charlie Curnow in one-out duals. He more than matched the young Blues phenom. Based on this evidence, the club could develop him as an undersized 2nd key defender, similar to Dane Rampe at the Swans. The club always plays loose men in zone off roles in defence which would support this idea. In an era where rebound in defence is so sought after, playing Glass in this role would make the Hawks defensive rebound comparable to any in the AFL.