Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Getting ready for the resumption

Anyone sitting down, a week out from the resumption of hostilities in the Two Part Ashes Series, scratching the noggin and pondering the absence of lengthy dispatches from The Little House of Concrete Sports  Desk can relax.

We know there's someone out there since a glance at the Blogger stats reveals around twenty hits on the blog page on 12 November, around the time the side was named.

We’re back, but we’re not sure how long it’ll last because we’re not sure how much we’ll have to talk about.

I’m inclined to see the whole two part exercise as something like a football match, played in two halves. We’ve spent the first half running players on and off the field as we try to establish the right combination. We’d sort of got things right by the time we got to The Oval and a couple of players who needed to put their hands up, then headed off at half time for a break with most of the selection issues settles.

That’s most selection issues, but not all of the buggers. We have the predictable questions about who’s fit in the bowling department and one can’t help suspecting Faulkner got his guernsey in a sort of What if Watto can’t bowl scenario, which meant there was still a possible gap at Six.

White ball form had established Bailey as the most likely contender at Six, and when you look at matters like The Captain’s Back and the lack of alternative leaders in the side most likely contender probably got transformed into lay down misere.

Ain’t hindsight wonderful?

Actually, when you look at it, after all the tinkering this six at the top of the order is probably as good as we’re likely to get for the next six months. Messrs Cowan, Hughes and Khawaja haven’t done enough to upset the applecart. Doolan doesn’t quite seem to have come on as expected. Queenslanders seem to be ineligible by origin. End of story.

Which is fine, in a way, because there are longevity issues with Rogers and Clarke, Watson is a game by game proposition, so there are spots up for grabs in the medium term. All we need is a few contenders coming to the fore.

The batting may not be fine, but for the next six weeks this lot is probably as good as it gets and could do very well indeed.

The bowling ain’t too shabby either, with Johnson having hit some white ball form. He’ll deliver the shock attack (or shocking, you can never tell). Harris and Siddle will work their guts out, and Lyon continues to come along nicely. He’s a work in progress, and I think progress is being made.

And then there’s Watto to act as a fourth seamer if he’s not the fifth because we’ve included Faulkner at Lyon’s expense on a Gabba green top.

Straightforward is the term that springs to mind when it comes to this particular selection, which explains the absence of lengthy Hughesy analysis over the past fortnight or so. The only bloke who can claim a degree of disappointment is Cutting, but he’s a Queenslander, and, therefore, ineligible by origin.

There’ll be issues further down the track, and that’s where the thoughts have been headed on the morning walk over the past couple of days.

The issues, predictably, relate to the bowling, and the propensity for young quickies to break down and spend extended spells on the sideline. They also come back to the need to create a bowling attack that can take twenty wickets in a Test, bowl ninety overs in a day   and come through five days without someone breaking down.

That last point seems to have something to do with bowling more than fifty overs in a Test, so let’s just linger on the mathematics of all this once more. As we do so, we’re not looking at this series, more casting an eye towards the horizon, trying to see where we’re headed in two years’ time.

We’re looking at the standard Test eleven of six bats, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers, figuring you’re going to bowl three days out of five.

Take four specialist bowlers, divide that number into ninety, multiply the answer by three and you come up with a tad under sixty-seven, which is a fair bit more than fifty. We’re assuming there is an actual statistical base for that fifty overs in a Test bit, which may not be exactly right but you have to start from somewhere.

The easiest way to get to ninety is to look at it as four twenties and a ten, which in turn comes back to a current line up of Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Faulkner/Lyon as twenty over bowlers, with Watson taking the ten.

That standard Test eleven cited before has your four bowlers batting Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, but you can open things up and start looking at Six and Seven in the long term, or in the shorter term if Watto breaks down again.

Which means we’re back with the all-rounder question again, and we’ll have Geoffrey rolling his eyes once again. But we’re looking long term, and things possible contenders should be working on rather the here and now that might stretch into the week after next.

It all comes down to how you define your all-rounders, which in turn decides how you select them.

A genuine all rounder will be good enough to bat in the first six and go close to bowling his twenty overs in a day. He probably bats six, since batting higher up seems to bring constraints with the bowling workload. Dunno why that has to be the case, but it seems to be the way it is.

Alternatively he can bat Seven if the ‘keeper is close enough to a specialist bat to slot in at Six.

Genuine allrounders are few and far between. We tend to get bowlers who can bat, and the occasional batsman who can bowl. Bowlers who can bat will send down their twenty overs a day and contribute useful runs while occupying the crease, hopefully with an established batsman at the other end. Bowlers who can bat are good prospects at Eight and Nine.

You’re always going to have someone in the side who’s a candidate for Eleven, and more than likely another who’s a Ten. Looking at a Gabba scenario that could have Harris and Siddle at Ten and Eleven if Lyon gets the drinks waiter’s job is an atypical state of affairs. Neither of them are bunnies.

On the other side of the pseudo all-rounder coin,  we have batsmen who can bowl, and here we’re looking at someone who can bat in the top six and deliver around ten overs of Test standard bowling.

Note we’re talking Test quality here, not someone who is there and can roll the arm over if required.

And this, folks, is where we turn our eyes towards the horizon.

Along with the fifty overs in a Test there also seems to be some statistical basis for a suggestion that it’s the young quicks who are most likely to break down badly. The older ones, when they’re injured, seem to have issues that relate to normal wear and tear.

On that basis, it might seem to make sense to have some of your up and coming quicks, once they’re out of age group cricket, looking to bat up the order for club or state sides which could tend to put some constraints on their bowling workloads. Note the use of could, tend and some there, and we’re not talking right up to the top of the order, more like Seven or Eight if the ‘keeper’s batting Six.

You never know. That might just get them through the danger period safely, after which the work rate could be ramped up, and you’d have a bloke who could handle himself in a Test side at Eight, Nine or Ten.

More particularly, if you’ve got someone who can bowl and can also build himself into a Five, Six or Seven (if the ‘keeper bats six) you might have a way forward for the likes of Ashton Agar, though one notes that the all-rounder bit requires ten or twenty overs of Test standard bowling. Could be a way forward for Glenn maxwell as well, but revealed form suggests the bowling isn’t quite there yet.

If that all seems to be looking too far into the future, let’s just say you’ve got to do something while we’re waiting to see which way the coin falls at the Gabba in a week’s time.

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