- England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 4th day
Australia still don't make much sense
David Warner replaced Shane Watson at the top of the order. A solid gold pony, a woman wearing a Punisher costume could have just as easily replaced him or Hank Williams singing 'Your Cheatin' Heart'. Australia are in deep panic mode this Ashes. They have created a situation where nothing could surprise. They're gambling with Test wins and players' careers by keeping their team on random.
There was logic to sending Warner in to open the batting in this situation. Australia needed quick runs. Warner opens the batting in T20 and limited-overs cricket for Australia. But so does Watson.
Chris Rogers doesn't open for either of those sides. He never will. Rogers doesn't even play in the Big Bash that often. In the entire history of the Big Bash, he has played eight matches. So why was Rogers still opening and Watson was not? Someone on Twitter suggested it was because Rogers was a better runner between wickets than Watson. It was a ludicrous suggestion, except that, it made as much sense as anything.
You could suggest form. Rogers was stroking the ball around the field with glee and pomp in the first innings. Watson sat on his bat like it was a prop for much of his innings. But Watson is Watson, and an out of form Watson could have sprung to life with a bit of freedom and a chance to dominate. This could have brought him back to form, back to life. His chance to be the Shane Watson he should be. Instead he watched Rogers make 12 off 23 balls, and then Usman Khawaja come out to bat ahead of him. Of the top four, Watson would end with the top strike rate.
Australia are still in a good position to win this Test. They also had plenty of chances to win the first. They are not as bad as Lord's showed, nor as good as their ninth-wicket partnerships suggested. With a few more flukey runs they win the first Test, and they are one England collapse away from winning this one. This against a team that out does them in almost every single important thing.
They have flaws and weakness in their team. But many teams do. What they have mostly is a completely random and unexplainable way of making decisions. Perhaps some of this isn't their fault. A coach got dropped on them a few minutes before the first Test. One who had a very different way of looking at cricket from the previous coach, and was a completely different personality. Had Australia decided to allow all coaching decisions to be made via a sponsor's app (not out of the question), it would have only slightly made things more complicated.
It started with Steven Smith being picked from outside the squad for the first Test. All the selectors saw Smith bat in India; if they had wanted him to play, they would have picked him for the squad. It was the new management that wanted him to play. But once he had batted at Trent Bridge, the thought that he wasn't even in the squad to begin with was an obvious error.
Ashton Agar was picked out of the squad too, and also out of the ether. There is no doubt that part of the reason that Agar was picked was because of his batting. But he batted at No. 11. It turned out he batted at No. 11 like a magic pixie dream girl. But why bring in someone to solidify your batting, and bat him at 11? And why drop your senior bowler after taking nine wickets. And why pick a 19-year-old over him?
In the second innings, Agar was promoted ahead of Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc in the batting order. Starc had made 99 a few Test innings before. Siddle had made back-to-back Test fifties and a first-class hundred. It was the sort of move you make as you hum 'do you believe in magic' to yourself.
After that Test Australia dropped Ed Cowan, despite it being his first attempt at batting at No. 3, and with full knowledge that he had spent the entire first Test vomiting. His entire bile-inducing Test was enough to show he wasn't good enough for three. Starc was dropped despite taking five wickets and having the luxury of having a five (or six with Smith) man bowling attack. Starc was seen as a bowler who took the pressure off England and was too random. He is now back, even though he plays the same.
Agar went from the saviour to the discarded in two Tests. His selection may have been odd, his 98 even odder. But to drop him after only one bad Test showed that his original selection was terrible. As talented as he is, he has now done more press opportunities than bowled quality deliveries in Test cricket. Despite mention of a hip injury, and his movement around the field looking more KP and Watson like than the smooth cougar moves of Agar, he bowled in the tour match against Sussex.
Phillip Hughes was dropped for the first third Test of his first Ashes. He was recalled for the third Test of his second Ashes. Now has been dropped for this third Test of his third Ashes. In many ways, this is one of the most consistent things Australian cricket has done in the last four years. In Hughes' last three Tests he has batted at No. 3, 4 and 5. This from a player who started as an opener. It's surprising he hasn't got confused and gone out at the wrong time. Now he has been dropped. Three whole innings after making an unbeaten 81 and very nearly stealing a Test.
Jonny Bairstow has played 10 Tests and he averages 32. He has some technical problems with playing the ball across the line. If Bairstow was Australian he would have batted in many different positions in this series, and then been dropped already. Not just because Australia are losing. They would see his technique as a reason to drop him. A weakness they couldn't help. And in two Tests they would have seen enough and needed to move on. Even if England lose, and Bairstow fails again, there is a very good chance he won't be dropped.
England have only dropped one player this series. They thought Steven Finn let the pressure off. And they knew Tim Bresnan would keep it tighter. They were right.
'They were right' is not something the Australian management have been hearing much this Ashes. If the rain stays away, and they win this Test, they will have done it on the back of their captain and fast bowlers. It won't be a random win, and it won't be because of all these changes.
It will be in spite of them.