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2009 Ashes - Third Test at Edgbaston - Australia's team changes

Category: Cricket. Published: 31 Jul 2009

I was stunned and amazed at the change to Australia's team for the Third Test at Edgbaston. The biggest problem with the team is Mitchell Johnson's bowling, so the solution is to drop the opening batsman? The selectors have again gone for bits and pieces rather than picking the best players.

There are a number of points to be made here.

Mitchell Johnson is out of form but his problems seem to be more mental than physical or to do with his technique. He may be better off out of the team where he can sort out his off-field problems. He is likely to be getting advice from anyone and everyone about his technique, which is only going to confuse him and make it all worse. His technique has not changed significantly -- he has always had a low action and has always sprayed the ball wide of the stumps. His problem is in his head.

Stuart Clark is one of the best bowlers in the world, he has bowled well in the games he has played on tour, and would have strengthened the team, no matter who he replaced. Given the problems with Johnson, this was the obvious change if any was required.

Phillip Hughes is now being told by the coach and selectors that he has problems with his technique -- the same technique that he's always had and with which he has scored a lot of runs for NSW and against South Africa. If they thought he had technique problems why was he picked in the first place? If he had been left alone for a few years he would have sorted out his problems in first class cricket, without the pressure or spotlight that is now on him. He is likely to struggle to get back into the team in the short term. I always thought he was picked too early -- with the instant success of players such as Hussey, Clark and North over recent years there appear to be good arguments for picking players who are a bit older and have a better understanding of their own game and are able to work through problems.

The selectors were always asking for trouble by not picking a third opener for the tour, especially when they were relying on a 20 year old who had played 3 tests and has an "unusual" technique.

Shane Watson is not an opening batsman -- he failed dismally when opening in first class cricket for Queensland. He has been picked because he can bowl a few overs and reduces the reliance on Johnson. In my opinion he is very lucky to be there in the first place. With his constant injury problems he should have to demonstrate his fitness for Queensland over at least 12 months before being picked for Australia. He has never done anything to convince me that he is worthy of the attention that he is given, but some very good judges seem to think that he has something going for him.

Replacing injured players after the game has started

The other interesting change is replacing Brad Haddin with Graham Manou.

Firstly, Haddin appears to be a very good batsman, but his keeping doesn't appear to be quite so good. I haven't seen a lot of Manou, but good judges seem to rate him as the best keeper in the country.

But the really interesting part of this is that it happened after the toss, after the captains had exchanged team sheets, because Haddin broke his finger during the warm-up. This raises the bigger question of replacing injured players after the game has started.

In most team sports an injured player can be replaced without too much hassle, but generally not in cricket. In any variety of football, in hockey, netball, and similar sports, if a player is injured there are substitutes who can come on and take their place, but not so in cricket, and with a game of cricket being played over 5 days, and with positions in the team being far more specialist than in other sports, there is a risk that any injury can significantly weaken a team, reduce their chances of winning and reduce the game as a contest. In this case permission had to be given by the England team, who would have been within their rights to refuse. If it had happened during play then it's unlikely the replacement would have taken place and Australia would have been playing without a keeper.

It's an interesting issue and I'm not sure of the solution. Just because "that's the way it's always been" doesn't mean that's the way it should be. There was a time when the 12th man couldn't field in a "catching" position, but that rule's been changed so that the 12th man can field anywhere. Perhaps the time has come that if a player is genuinely injured during the match they can be replaced by a player of similar type -- a wicket keeper for a wicket keeper, or a fast bowler for a fast bowler. But then comes the issues of who determines if the player is genuinely injured and cannot play, and of who determines if the replacement is of similar type.

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