England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 4th day August 4, 2013

Australia still don't make much sense

If the rain holds off Australia could still win this Test and keep the Ashes alive, but a lot of their decisions continue to suggest confused thinking

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 Twenty20 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 ten 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.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mick on August 7, 2013, 4:48 GMT

    Jarrod, Some good points and some silly ones. O.K. was silly to bat Agar at No. 11. It was not silly to promote him up the order. Tail enders typically get placed in the order based on who has the highest score. Agar then had a very high score and significantly a batting average better than Starc and miles better than Siddle. Surely you don't want to claim that Siddle is a better bat than Agar?

    Starc was dropped as changes had to be made. Harris has been in form and was a good replacement. Pattinson was unfortunately out of form. Bird is in form consistently but not being used.

    Cowen has never had the form batting at any position at any stage. Is batting at 3 harder than opening? Scored big in just one match where everyone scored big. A batsman's paradise. Hopefully Cowen will never be used again.

  • Reece on August 5, 2013, 18:44 GMT

    Watson should have opened in the second innings because as much as he is flawed around his front pad, he is more at ease when given license, if I was Lehmann I would give him full license to get Jimmy and Broad unsettled early, Warner should have done better when he got given the opportunity at 6 to be blunt, there was turn for Swann, but other then that he should have done better with a good pitch and an old ball.

    Steven Smith looks like a good, not yet solid investment, he has a solid defense and plays spin better than most, keep him in the side. Bird has to probably take 15 wickets in a match to be considered I suppose, he is a great prospect I would have hoped he would have got a game or two by now.

    Clarke could not have done anything better besides probably reviewing the KP lbw, but he puts his body on the line for his country and his optimizes what a team man is, he is the symbol of the grit and determination that is associated with the baggy green.

  • Irfan on August 5, 2013, 15:41 GMT

    If anything that didn't make sense was the deciion to declare too late in the game ... rain or no rain.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2013, 15:18 GMT

    I kind of agree to the author bt not much with all the process of team selection for aussies....... the best team in such scenario is ....

    1 Hughes 2 warner 3 khwaja 4 clarke 5 watto 6 smith 7 hadin 8 starc 9 harris 10 siddle 11 lyon with same batting line up and bowling line up u can still beat this english team with trott and cook struggling !!!

  • Zulu on August 5, 2013, 10:29 GMT

    Well then - Root and Cook to open. Eng obviously playing for the rain. .I mean, the draw ;-)

  • John on August 5, 2013, 10:00 GMT

    @Rahul_78 on (August 5, 2013, 5:44 GMT), but if Wraner opening instead of Watson is such common sense then why did it not happen in the first innings?

  • Colin on August 5, 2013, 9:45 GMT

    As someone who watched England during the 90s, I have lots of experience of watching a team misfire for a long period of time. We then and Aus now seem to have a fundamental problem and that is, not knowing your best team. We shuffled the pack with ridiculous regularity and the Aussies are doing the same now. From the start of the 2010/11 Ashes when they picked 17 for the first Test and have had a revolving door policy ever since (particularly the spinners). Just like in the late 80s, they need to identify who they think is up to the job for that series and stick with them.

  • andrews on August 5, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    Jarrod, I think you mean tenth-wicket partnerships. For someone in your position, you really do struggle with the terminology and realities of the game.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2013, 8:23 GMT

    I'm all for entertaining various perspectives, but comments disagreeing with this article absolutely baffle me, almost as much as the management of the team. How Sutherland, Howard and the selectors are still in their respective jobs is beyond me. They have no idea what their best team looks like or what they even want from the 11 best cricketers in Australia, let alone who those 11 are. The process of developing players is absolutely appalling and is killing a team which at its best could be described as competitive if they were all given a bit of confidence and some sort of defined role to play.

  • Cameron on August 5, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    I think they are close to getting the team right. Warner should open. Agar back in for Lyon. It's a closer series than the score line suggests but the only thing that matters is winning and hats off England have done that and deserved it. I hate their style of cricket with KP and Prior the exceptions but they are up 2-0 and will likely 'retain' the Ashes today. The time wasting and constant subs are annoying but they are in the rules. The 'spirit of cricket' is a joke these days. Players stay when they are out, umpires make senseless decisions and teams disrespect the fans wasting time and with purposely slow over rates.Playing for a draw? What 'spirit of cricket'?