Monday, July 8, 2013

Thirty-five hours out...

About thirty-six hours out from the first of ten Tests in back to back Ashes series, Hughesy is pretty upbeat about Australia’s chances of holding the urn by the end of the Australian summer.

Actually, I’m pretty upbeat about our chances of our having matters under control by the time we head home from The Oval, but I’m willing to concede some things take time to build.

While there’s every possibility something will roll along to upset the apple cart between now and the resumption of hostilities, recent speculation about who decides the Australian batting order and ponderings about whether Peter Siddle will be all right on the night (here) has me thinking things are shaping up rather well.

The question of who decides the batting order and the possibility of some sort of ruction between the Australian captain and the Australian coach suggests, to me at least, the journos covering the tour are in need of a story.

And since we haven’t had any members of the touring party making mugs of themselves in the course of a night on the tiles, with nothing else to write about, we get attempts to generate a storm in a teacup in the quest for column inches.

I’m willing to concede there’s the possibility of some disagreement, but it’s hard to imagine that Michael Clarke’s first sighting of the side he’s being handed will occur immediately before the toss.

The twelve will be done and dusted by now, with the most likely eleven just about set in stone. It’s just that they’re not telling anyone.

Which is fine with me, because we’re looking at a situation where any advantage, however slight, is going to be helpful. We’re actually looking at a situation where any member of the touring party except Matthew Wade and, possibly (but only possibly) Ashton Agar is likely to find themselves in the final eleven.

That means when the Poms are doing their planning they have a few more things to take into account, which delivers a slight tactical advantage. We already have a fair idea of what we’re up against, don’t we? The other side has a bit more guess work to do.

Getting back to that matter of the batting order, pause for a moment and consider the statement that the captain decides the batting order, which, of course, he does because the order in which the batsmen enter the arena is a tactical one, and tactical decisions are the captain’s realm.

I’d be betting that when Lehmann hands over the team list it’ll contain eleven names in alphabetical order and a specified twelfth man. Clarke will have a second list, which will be the suggested or likely batting order, so let’s pause for a moment and cast an eye over that little devil.

The only apparent given in the eleven is that it will feature Rogers and Watson at the top of the order, Clarke in the middle somewhere and Haddin at Six or Seven, depending on whether Faulkner is included in the eleven along with four other bowlers. Once you’ve made that call, One, Two, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven are more or less set in stone, aren’t they?

So the only decisions that Clarke has to make will involve the blokes who slot into the scoreboard at Three, Four, Five and Six. Compris?

So let’s pause for a moment and look at the candidates. In Rogers and Watson we’ve got a left hand right hand combination, and Clarke’s a right hander. So, for that matter, in the course of these calculations, is Haddin.

Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja and Warner all bat left, Smith is the only other rightie among the specialist bats. What’s to stop Clarke and whoever gets the nod out of the first three of those lefties both padded up as the openers go out?

A left hand/right hand opening combination is held to be useful because if they’re able to rotate the strike the bowlers are going to have a little added difficulty in maintaining a consistent line and length and building pressure.

Assume, for a moment that the first four reads something like Watson, Rogers, Hughes and Clarke. Pencil in the possibility that whoever goes in at Three (which should be the best bat in the side according to the conventional wisdom) depends on who is the first bat to be dismissed. If you want to keep the left/right combination going, Hughes replaces Rogers, Clarke replaces Watson.

Might be tricky if Watson goes early, but if that’s the way you’re thinking, you’d be looking at a definite order, wouldn’t you?

AS far as the bowling goes, things are fairly open, and I suspect the actual line up will depend on the team’s assessment of the best options against the English top order. You’d reckon Pattinson and Starc are certainties, so the question becomes whether you play a spinner, with Lyon most likely, but not a certainty, to get the nod.

Assume he does, and you’re going in with four specialist bowlers, and the choice comes down to one out of Siddle, Harris, Bird and Faulkner.

In these circumstances, kicking off a series where the batting has the question mark over it, I’d have Haddin at Seven, and I’d be going with the four bowlers, so I’d be giving the nod to Siddle and telling him to expect the work horse role.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, Hughesy’s side for Trent Bridge: Watson, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Warner, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon, Bird (12th man).

Par score after Day One, assuming weather, atmospherics, or any devils in the pitch don’t come into play 8 for 300. More than eight wickets or less than 300, advantage to the side bowling first. Less than eight wickets advantage definitely to the batting side, though they’re level pegging if there’s more than thirteen...

And tomorrow, reflections on the dynamics of a series, and why 2005 wasn’t the wonderful series it was cracked up to be..

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