It has been reported that Tim Paine and Trevor Hohns alone will decide if there are any changes to the XI for the Second Test, as coach Justin Langer didn’t go to Worcestershire to watch the match and can’t comment.
It has been widely reported that the three positions under the most significant threat are those currently held by Cameron Bancroft, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson. With Bancroft scoring just 8 & 7 in the test that marked his return to international cricket, his position is the one under the most significant threat. Siddle and Pattinson, with match figures of 2/80 and 2/111 respectively, are also in some danger of losing their spots, to Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc respectively.
Lords tends to favour pace bowlers more than spinners, but there is no suggestion that Nathan Lyon will miss out, after taking 9/161 in the 1st test. Happily for Mitchell Starc, though, the Lords slope tends to favour left armers and he is the only left armed pace bowler in the squad.
Bancroft, trying desperately to keep his position, managed 33 & 7 in the Worcestershire game, which will do his chances of keeping his spot no help at all. While it is nice that he top-scored in the intra-squad match, in his last three matches he has scored 17, 93*, 8, 7, 33 & 7, for 165 runs at an average of 33. Take out the 93 not out, scored with no pressure on him whatsoever, and he has managed just 72 runs at an average of 14.40. That’s not good form at all.
Marcus Harris, the man most likely to replace him, managed 14 & 62*, which makes his 6 & 15 in the intra-squad match look a lot better. Combined with his 34 & 50 in the match against the England Lions, he has now scored 181 runs at an average of 36.20. Take out his top score, the 62 not out in the ongoing match, and he still has 119 runs at 23.80.
The only argument to continue to keep Bancroft in the side is because you don’t change a winning side. If we consider that Australia were 2/17 and 2/27 in both innings Australia needed a massive effort from Steve Smith. This combined with England’s best bowler James Anderson injured after bowling just four overs, then we need to consider that it was a win in spite of Bancroft not because of him.
As for Starc and Hazlewood, they started off well, reducing Worcestershire to 2/0 and 5/43 but they ended up getting all the way to 9/201 before declaring, with Starc having 2/56 and Hazlewood 3/34.
Just the same, those figures are considerably better than Pattinson (2/115) and Siddle (2/90) in the test, and, most importantly, they looked good. In this match they didn’t have a whole lot of backup but in the test they will have Cummins and Lyon to help them to clean up the tail.
Lets imagine what the First Test would have been like had Starc, Hazlewood and Harris played instead of Pattinson, Siddle and Bancroft respectively. It is unlikely that Australia would have started off as poorly as they did, and if nothing else Warner wouldn’t have been as distracted.
Harris looked suited to test cricket while Bancroft didn’t, plus Harris didn’t get Warner banned for a year like Bancroft did. Australia may have started with 1/30 and 2/80 perhaps in the first innings, setting up a momentum that would have carried throughout the innings. In the second innings, with less pressure on, we could have expected perhaps a century partnership. As for Starc and Hazlewood, surely they wouldn’t have let Broad and Woakes add 65 runs for the ninth wicket, as Starc has a particular talent for getting rid of tailenders, and the various fights throughout the innings would have been that much harder to manage.
The problem is that we had a Big Three, with three incredible fast bowlers who should not have been separated. Even Jhye Richardson, great bowler that he is, only got a Test because someone else was injured, and that should have been the case for Pattinson and especially Siddle. Ideally, we’d have Jhye Richardson and Pattinson available, as wonderful backups in case one of the big three loses form, but we shouldn’t have them in ahead of them, not when they are in good form.
It is clear that both Starc and Hazlewood are in form and it is also clear that Siddle and Pattinson, right now at least, are not at the same calibre. While Pattinson certainly was that good back in 2013, right now he is not quite back to that level.
Don’t get me wrong, Siddle’s fighting 44 in the first innings, when Australia was struggling at 8/122, was wonderful, but don’t forget that Mitchell Starc is, on average, a better batsman than Siddle is, and is more likely to have done that well, if not better. Starc, for all we know, would have gotten a century, and then, in the second innings when Pattinson scored the cheapest of cheap runs, Starc could well have scored even cheaper runs.
In the World Cup, we saw a bowler bat well, with Nathan Coulter-Nile getting the man of the match award with a 90, but was still dropped for not bowling well enough, and that’s the situation with Peter Siddle and James Pattinson. They weren’t terrible with their bowling, but they weren’t Starc and Hazlewood level, and they needed to be Starc and Hazlewood level because they were the players they were keeping out.
The stupid thing is that Starc and Hazlewood did well in the intra-squad match too, but still were dumped. Starc got a 10 wicket match in his last test match, earning himself the man of the match award, and backed this up with 26 wickets in the World Cup, the most wickets ever taken. Yet he was dumped.
To dump one to experiment with Pattinson was perhaps reasonable, but not both. It was just silly to leave them both out. And, much as I love Pattinson, I have to say that the experiment failed. No, it wasn’t as big a failure as the Bancroft experiment, but it was still a failure.
If it was a choice between dumping Bancroft and dumping Siddle, I would take Bancroft being dumped any day.
Incidentally, there is yet a theoretical chance for Usman Khawaja to open in the 2nd test and for Australia to pick Marnus Labuschagne. It seems very unlikely, given that Khawaja didn’t open against Worcestershire, and in the second innings Labuschagne didn’t bat at 3. Labuschagne, the leading run-scorer in County Cricket this season, managed 15 runs in his only innings, to presumably leave that option off the table.
I don’t know whether to expect the changes or just to hope for them. The only way Bancroft lines up for the Second Test is if the selectors ignore this match and just blindly go in unchanged because Australia won the First test. Siddle and Pattinson might line up, and at least the gap between them and Starc and Hazlewood isn’t as enormous as the gap between Bancroft and Harris, but I’d like to think that Starc and Hazlewood will both play in the 2nd Test at Lords.