Why should we care about a meaningless tour game held meaninglessly between the First and Second tests of an Ashes series? Well, we shouldn’t, if that is all it is. If it is just a chance for our players to get some match practice, and it has no bearing on selection, then we shouldn’t care. Is that what it is? Or is it something more?
It is often said amongst Australian teams that you never change a winning team and, if we keep to that idea, then this match doesn’t matter. But don’t forget that we won our last test match before the Ashes, yet we made 6 changes between that test and this. Sure, five months passed in between time and Australia’s two best batsmen returned from a ban in between time, but did it really justify six changes?
Australian test team vs Sri Lanka: Marcus Harris, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson, Tim Paine (c) (wk), Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
Australian test team vs England: Cameron Bancroft, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c) (wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon
We changed numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 9 and 10 in the batting line up. Only Khawaja, Head, Paine, Cummins and Lyon kept their spot. And this is a team that won!
With that in mind, certainly the ones who came in should be held to some kind of scrutiny. While Warner and Smith, being cut due to bans, not to form, perhaps warrant less scrutiny, the others absolutely do, so let’s see how they went.
Cameron Bancroft, replacing the in-form Harris, scored 8 & 7 and looked utterly hopeless. Matthew Wade, replacing the in-form Labuschagne, was magnificent in scoring his first test century in 6 1/2 years. James Pattinson and Peter Siddle were decidedly ordinary in taking just 2 wickets each, but both scored valuable late order 40s, Siddle to rescue a flailing first innings while Pattinson helped Australia to declare with some big hitting under no pressure whatsoever.
It is safe to say that Wade did enough to keep his spot, but Bancroft, Siddle and Pattinson should be feeling pretty nervous, with Harris, Starc and Hazlewood the three most likely to replace them, though, as I said previously, Labuschagne could also replace Bancroft, with Khawaja moved in to open.
Therefore, the tour match is looking at the performance of those three players, namely Harris, Starc and Hazlewood, plus perhaps Labuschagne, at least if they decide to open with Khawaja.
The first thing to note is that they didn’t open with Khawaja, suggesting that they are not looking at Khawaja as an opening option, and therefore, sadly for Labuschagne, the leading run-scorer in County Cricket, is unlikely to get a shot. While he might get a chance if Khawaja does badly in the 2nd test, for now Khawaja keeps his spot, so that side of things is not relevant.
They did go in with Harris, though, but curiously opened with Bancroft next to him. It was notable that Warner didn’t play at all, suggesting that the selectors are interested in the idea that Bancroft and Warner can’t bat together.
Bancroft’s 33 was better than Harris’s 14, suggesting that Bancroft might just keep hold of his spot, but it might be about more than just who scores more runs in practice games, as Bancroft’s negative influence over the team, especially Warner, is likely to be a major talking point.
In the bowling stakes, neither Pattinson nor Siddle even bowled, suggesting that either they are being rested and will play, or else the decision has already been made to drop them. Starc and Cummins were magnificent in the short period that they bowled on the first day.
Curiously, both Mitchell Marsh and Michael Neser played, though the declaration came before Neser got a chance to bat. It was also curious that Tim Paine played, when surely his spot is secure.
Travis Head scored a century, continuing his good form from the first test, but he didn’t need to play.
There is a chance that Australia will go all-pace at Lords, which traditionally has very little in it for the spinners, in which case Lyon may miss out, and in that case it may be that Starc and Hazlewood are fighting for one spot. Alternatively, both may play and it may be a choice of Siddle or Pattinson for the other spot, with surely Siddle the one to make way.
Or this could just be a meaningless practice match as Australia keep the same XI from the side that won their last test, in spite of making six changes from the side that won the Test before that.