Ashes 2021 tour diary: Australia name First Test team, Cummins head-scratcher, Anderson on the Gabba factor

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Mitchell Starc and Travis Head will fill the final two slots in Australia’s team (Getty Images)
Mitchell Starc and Travis Head will fill the final two slots in Australia’s team (Getty Images)

Standard Sport’s cricket correspondent Will Macpherson is in Australia covering the Ashes. Here’s his daily diary, keeping you up to date with all the goings on down under....

Australia show their hand

Joe Root says England are a long way from deciding their team, with decisions to make particularly at No6, and it is not certain who any of their bowlers will be. Root is leaving it until they have had a good look at the pitch and weather this week.

But four days out, Australia are confident enough to have named their XI. Having announced that Alex Carey would make his debut behind the stumps in place of Tim Paine, they had a couple of decisions to make.

The winners were Travis Head (over Usman Khawaja) and Mitchell Starc (over Jhye Richardson), giving the team an experienced look. No doubt England will be grateful that they can plan for exactly what is coming at them. Overall, it’s:

Australia: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (vc), Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

Head-scratcher

An interesting choice of words from Pat Cummins, Australia’s new captain, on the reasoning behind Head’s selection.

“It’s great to have Uzzie [Khawaja] in the squad,” he said. “But Travis is playing a bit over the last two years, he’s gone away, churned out runs in England, in Australia, and we feel he’s good to go.”

This might be the first mistake Cummins, who appears a near-flawless human, has made for years. Head played for Sussex this summer where, in 11 first-class innings, he made 183 runs at an average of 18.3, with a top score of 49 not out (which came in the third innings to set up a declaration). In the interests of balance, he has “churned out runs” in Australia. This season, he is averaging 49.

Aussie balls

Ollie Robinson joined Mark Wood in falling foul of the more humourless (or perhaps clickbaity) corners of the Aussie media, who took another lighthearted comment wildly out of context (Robinson joked that “Aussie chat is pretty horrendous” in an excellent chat with reporters this weekend).

Robinson did say something else pretty interesting. He reckons this year’s batch of Kookaburra balls are a little more bowler-friendly than his previous experience in Australia, notably the Lions tour in early 2020 (when he took seven wickets in the only first-class game).

“I think last time the ball was slightly different,” he said. “There wasn’t as much lacquer on it as this time. The ball has felt like it has swung a bit more. That’s obviously a bonus for us.

“If the balls stay like that we feel like we can get early wickets and really get on top. [In the practice game] it did swing after lunch, when the ball was 25-30 overs old, which it probably hasn’t done in the past. I think it has changed a little bit, the lacquer feels a bit more like the Duke lacquer, and there’s a lot of positives to take from that.”

Behind enemy lines

Australia’s bowlers might want to have a chat with their batting coach to get some tips on England’s batters. Michael Di Venuto coached Surrey for three years, giving him a front-row seat to the development of Rory Burns, the club captain and England opener, and Ollie Pope, to whom he gave a first-class debut. He will know every little weakness they might have.

“I worked closely with Diva for the first three years of my professional career,” said Pope. “He was great for me, I spent a lot of time with him. He was head coach, but also batting coach.

“I picked his brains as much as I could about out here, but also just batting. He gave me that confidence in the Surrey to team to bed me in the middle order, which got me an England go as well. I owe a lot to him, but I doubt he’ll be giving too much away if I catch up with him.”

Michael Di Venuto in his Surrey days (Getty Images)
Michael Di Venuto in his Surrey days (Getty Images)

The Gabbatoir is dead

The Gabba has a greater aura than any other ground on the schedule for this series, although things went infamously wrong for Australia last year, when India won after Tim Paine’s witless sledge to Ravi Ashwin. Still, England haven’t won there since 1986.

Jimmy Anderson has been in the England squad for three defeats and a series-shaping draw there, but thinks the venue’s history is irrelevant.

“There’s so many grounds where you think it matters what’s gone on in the past. But really, it doesn’t matter at all,” he said on Tailenders. “We’ve seen Australia get beaten there, India won last time. It’s not the fortress it used to be. I don’t think it matters what’s happened there before, it matters how we perform in the five days coming up.

Does The Gabba no longer hold the same fear factor? (Getty Images)
Does The Gabba no longer hold the same fear factor? (Getty Images)

“We’ve got plenty of guys who haven’t played at the Gabba, which I think is a good thing. Those of us who have use what we know works there and try to implement that and play better than we have in the past.”

Soft launch

The build-up to this series has been pretty shambolic, bedevilled by logistical nightmares. So it seemed fitting that the official series launch – where players talk to the media and Cricket Australia unveiled a typically garish 10-foot Urn – was a shambolic affair.

Hardly any media have been able to get to Brisbane, but the event was barely audible for those logging in on Zoom.

Read More

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