March 31, 2013

A dark horse in the fast lane

The Ashes will be decided by the better pace-bowling attack, and Australia have plenty in that department, including the young sensation Chadd Sayers

While Australia's spin-bowling cupboard appears to be as bare as Chris Martin's head, fast bowlers abound Down Under. The strong, admirable James Pattinson heads the attack, with the indefatigable Peter Siddle by his side. Mitchell Starc and a rejuvenated Ryan Harris make up the Big Four, while Jackson Bird, who reminds one of a young Glenn McGrath, must join that illustrious foursome for the Ashes series.

A dark horse hoping for an Ashes run is 25-year-old South Australian Chadd Sayers, whose medium-fast outswing returned him 48 wickets in nine Sheffield Shield matches. As the new kid on the block (in 12 first-class games he has taken 59 wickets at 20.25), Sayers is not exactly odds-on for an Ashes berth, but the Australian selectors would do well to give him consideration, for the way he got his wickets has attracted much attention.

Sayers bustles into the crease and maintains his fast-medium stuff over long periods. He has stamina and belief, but above all else he gets the ball to swing away late, reminding us of how a similar bowler, Terry Alderman, reduced the great Graham Gooch to near mediocrity on the 1989 England tour, when he emulated his 40-plus wickets in the Test series of 1981. Sayers is no flash in the pan. He often clean-bowled many a good batsman with a late-swinging ball that swept past the outside edge to hit the top of off stump. That particular delivery happened too many times during the summer for anyone to suggest that it was a fluke.

If Harris is felled by injury, I'd go for Sayers ahead of a long list of hopefuls, including Tasmania's workhorse Ben Hilfenhaus, whose arm is a lot lower now than in his halcyon days, when he was able to do as Sayers does - move the ball away from the right-handers late, thus making the batsman commit, often getting the outside edge.

The exciting thing about a genuine swing bowler is that a team doesn't have to depend so much on reverse swing.

Before Craig McDermott, during his brief stint as the Australian bowling coach, told his men to bowl a fuller length to enable the ball to swing, most of them were hurling the ball into the pitch. This meant the ball rarely had time to swing. It was called, I believe, back-of-a-length bowling.

There was a time during the 1990s when few countries, if any, had genuine swing bowlers. This led to reverse swing becoming a greater force than ever, because batsmen throughout the world had forgotten how to play the swinging ball. When Waqar Younis started to bend his reverse swingers like a David Beckham long strike at goal, you'd think the Pakistani had reinvented the wheel. Truth is, if a batsman doesn't get to play quality swing of the conventional kind he will struggle when the ball starts to reverse.

Thanks to McDermott, Australia got the message about conventional swing when he advised his bowling charges to pitch the ball up. As soon as the fast bowlers pitched the ball fuller, surprise, surprise, they started to get it to move about. It was hardly rocket science. Mitchell Johnson reclaimed his deadly late inswinger to the right-handers, Starc revealed his talent in like fashion, and so it went on. I played in an era when every state and Test team had bowlers who could swing the ball.

Ashes series are traditionally won by the team with the best fast-bowling attack. This was true even before 1921, when Australia's Ted McDonald and Jack Gregory gave skipper Warwick "Big Ship" Armstrong the gift of pace

Reverse swing didn't mean a lot then because batsmen knew how to cope with the late-moving ball, whether it was a shiny new ball or a scuffed-up one that went Irish. Sayers gets the ball to move late. He bowls a bit faster than Bob Massie, who took 16 for 137 in an amazing debut at Lord's in 1972.

Massie and his team-mates learnt after that game that the England captain, Ray Illingworth, took his team to a hotel and got them to watch a replay of all the wickets that fell. Apparently the film somehow got flipped, with the result that the England team watched with hilarity a left-handed Massie bowling to a right-handed John Edrich and a left-handed Geoff Boycott. It ended in farce and Illy's mob ended up doing what they should have done from the outset - gone off together for a cold pint.

Whether or not the dark horse Sayers gets an Ashes start is not Australia's greatest concern, for they have great riches in pace bowling. As it was for West Indies in the 1980s, when the likes of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall blazed their way across the world, paving the way for a new set of pace bowlers led by Curtly Ambrose, Australia can be content with the standard of its young fast bowlers. Outside of the five best - Messrs Pattinson, Siddle, Starc, Harris and Bird - there are Johnson and Hilfenhaus, both successful, Test match-hardened cricketers.

You get the feeling that Starc, with his swing and pace and terrific batting, has stolen Johnson's thunder, while Sayers looks more dangerous than Hilfenhaus. Allrounders Luke Butterworth and James Faulkner are also in the mix, so too Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Coulter-Nile.

The Australian selectors know that Ashes series are traditionally won by the team with the best fast-bowling attack. This was true even before 1921, when Australia's Ted McDonald and Jack Gregory gave skipper Warwick "Big Ship" Armstrong the gift of pace, like others who followed also did: champions such as Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, Alan Davidson and Graham McKenzie, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

England found willing executioners of Douglas Jardine's Bodyline plans in Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Later came the lion-hearted Alec Bedser, Frank "Typhoon" Tyson, Brian Statham, Fred Trueman, Bob Willis and Andrew Flintoff.

Today England have a splendidly balanced attack, which includes James Anderson, whose consistency in bowling late outswingers at a lively pace has troubled all and sundry, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad, backed by the world's best offspinner, Graeme Swann.

Australia may pick two spinners (if they can find one other than Nathan Lyon), but no matter, Swann will easily outbowl them. It is pace that will decide this series, and whichever team's batsmen are able to cope best against a constant barrage of fast bowling will win.

We've seen pathetic Australian performances with bat and ball in the recently completed series in India, and England's miraculous escape in Auckland to avoid a series loss against New Zealand on pitches that were as sluggish as strips of rolled plasticine. However, we all know that Australia and England will put on a great show in the battle for the Ashes.

It promises to be a feast in the fast lane.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • James on April 3, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    I don't believe the Australian fast bowlers, generally speaking, bowl accurately enough. What is the use of bowling a yorker that is not actually on the stumps? What waste of energy! You see it from Australia all the time.

  • Mashuq on April 2, 2013, 11:47 GMT

    @Lyndon McPaul on (April 1, 2013, 0:15 GMT) The problem with the 4 quicks you name is that you need a lefty to add the angle/variety, so Starc and Faulkner would be better back up. That might work at Trent Bridge and Chester-le-Street, possibly at Old Trafford, but not at Lords and the Oval. As I mentioned before, if Lyon proves ineffective (as many fear), I'd like a wicket-taker in the squad. If Fawad Ahmed is eligible, take him! Agar is just too young for this right now, likewise Zampa.Having Sayers in the A tour party would ensure him being first reserve alongside a few other likely candidates.

  • Graham on April 2, 2013, 8:44 GMT

    Zenboomerang; Im not sure about your side think we need 6 batsmen in England. Yes Butterworth has batted well twice in shield finals when the Hobart pitch assembles a road but he bats at 9 for Tasmania so surely couldnt field a top 6 spot for Australia. Watto becomes the important 4th seamer. Its just a personal opinion as I have only seen Butterworth bowl in shield finals and seen a bit more of Sayers but reckon Sayers is quicker and swings it more than Butterworth and I believe he is a better bowler. My team would be Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade, Pattinson, Starc, Siddle/Bird?Harris and Lyon. As for back-ups I would be deciding from the A tour where they can look at Faulkner, Coulter-Nile, Sayers, Butterworth and Hilfenhaus. Batsman to chose from Smith, Fergusson, Doolan, Rogers. Take along Silk and Head for experience. With Payne to keep on the A tour.

  • Roo on April 2, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    Sayers seems to be another good seamer coming through - but just pipped Butterworth for the most wickets this year & Luke has been amongst the leading wkt takers in Shield for many years in a row & never gets a chance... Butterworth is also a good batter with a healthy average & in every Shield final has been amongst the leading scorers while still getting wkts - obviously someone who can stand up to pressure matches & would be very worthwhile in English conditions... I'd seriously look at a 5-1-5 team & look at Butterworth or Faulkner as the 4th seamer with Patto, Harris, & either Starc or Siddle...

  • Roo on April 2, 2013, 5:06 GMT

    @redneck / Edwards_Anderson / Lyndon McPaul... Adelaide Oval may have an even bounce but it is not a "batting paradise" - this year the MCG has the highest SS totals while last year it was the WACA... In Tests, using historical ground rpo (runs per over), Bellerive followed by the WACA have been the easiest to bat on by a big margin, while the Gabba & AO are nearly equal & just slightly easier than the the SCG & MCG... The Gabba was an easy wicket this year in Tests as it was in the last Ashes... The AO Test would have been won by Oz if Pattinson didn't break down (again) in the 1st innings leaving us with 2 seamers & Lyon - & with no allrounder...

  • Phil on April 2, 2013, 4:08 GMT

    If we're to have any chance whatsoever at winning the Ashes, we need technically strong batsmen. So we need an XI along these lines:

    Cowan Warner Doolan Khawaja Clarke Watson Wade Starc Pattinson Siddle Lyon Harris

    Its a tough call but i can't include Sayers over Harris, Siddle and Pattinson, its just too hard to.

  • Mariam on April 2, 2013, 2:22 GMT

    I wouldn't be surprised if Sayers is a bolter for the ashes but with Harris coming back it will be tough for Sayers to get in. I expect Harris, Siddle, Patts, Starc, Bird and Johnson to be our fast bowlers in the squad. Our boys may well land a fast bowling ambush once or twice but it is difficult to see us knocking over a vastly more experienced outfit more often than their blokes bowling over our less accomplished batsmen. Anderson is a very good bowler. Finn, Broad, Onions, Bresnan should be more than adequate back up, despite some flat patches. Swanny and Monty way ahead of Lyons.Surely the selectors will not attempt to continue with this allrounder theory?Six bats and try and stay in the game as long as possible. Khawaja will be a key batsman given how well he plays swing bowling along with Clarke and Watson who as the 2 most experienced guys will have to stand up with the bat. Should be a very exciting series.

  • Lewis on April 2, 2013, 2:19 GMT

    Sayers has impressed me simply because the pitch he bowls most on is a batting paradise in the Adelaide oval, good on the young man for making his mark this season. @katanthat3 i also expect Khawaja to fire in the ashes but also expect big runs from Clarke and Warner as well, for me its our batting which will decide the outcome of this series as both sides are strong on the bowling

  • hayden on April 2, 2013, 1:23 GMT

    i would have harris in over siddle any day. siddle is just a good honest tryer that keeps on going. the problem is he hasnt got the skill to back up his work ethic and we have too much tallent to keep perservering with him. on sayers he toped the shefield shield wicket takers playing at adelaide oval! this home ground seems to count against furgeson and klinger when it comes to batting spots in the australian team as the oval is a batting paradise. so my argument is it needs to count in sayers favor that he plays his home matches on a fast bowlers graveyard. when it comes to the ashes im not to worried about our pace stocks it is the batting that is more worrying. clarke aside cowan has the temprament to have success and hughes' county record demands he be given a shot but who else??? cosgrove should be given a shot. fat he may be but a quality first class cricketer he makes. skin folds should not be a prerequisit to making the aus team. ask boony or boof or warne for that matter!!!

  • Peter on April 1, 2013, 23:26 GMT

    Even if the Aussie pace-attack turns out to be as good as some are hyping it up to be, they're still going to need big runs from batsmen other than Clarke. I can't think of any other Aussie team since the Kerry Packer-era with so many unproven batsmen in their line-up. Their batting in India was an unmitigated disaster, and regardless of the totally different conditions of India and England, that batting line-up will go into the 1st Test very low on confidence. Pattinson's the only bowler England should be worried about, and Siddle's the only other bowler guaranteed a place in the pace attack. That's why I don't think the Aussie pace-attack is that special. Surely a strong attack should pick itself? With all the off-field turmoil and botch-ups going on, this Aussie team is a shambles. Without Hussey's quality, and, even more importantly, his unifying presence in the dressing-room, this is a rudderless side crammed with inexperience and uncertainty.