23/04/2024

Pat Cummins leads his side off after England bravely held on for a draw at the SCG. Image: cricket.com.au

For a second straight year, Australia couldn't get over the line at the SCG while England faces a mounting injury toll to complete the tour, Australia has a few chinks to sort out of their own ahead of a big year

England held on for a famous draw in the Fourth Test in Sydney as Australia is left to ponder and wonder for a second consecutive year why they couldn’t finish the job at the SCG.

The weather played its role across all Five days but the Sydney Test still delivered plenty of action and feel-good moments, leading us to a gripping conclusion inside the final hour of the final day.

Usman Khawaja celebrated his return to the Test arena with twin centuries while Jonny Bairstow and Zak Crawley joined their skipper Joe Root in making a statement with the bat in hand for the tourists.

As we move to Hobart for the Fifth and final Test, Here are the Top 6 Talking Points to emerge from the fourth Test at the SCG.

“I’m not a selector but” Usman tons heads list of selection headaches for series finale

How can you possibly omit someone after making twin centuries?

With Travis Head making way from the Australian XI with a bout of COVID-19, the absence gave Usman Khawaja his opportunity to play Test cricket again for the first time since July 2019.

He took the opportunity with both hands, plundering twin centuries, 137 in the first innings and 101* in the second innings to cap off the most remarkable returns to Test cricket in history.

In moments that were widely celebrated across Australia, it only created an even larger headache in the head of Chairman of selectors George Bailey with the Fifth Test on the horizon. With Khawaja’s knocks making him virtually undroppable.

With Head poised to return in Hobart, Khawaja said post play on Day 4 that he is resigned to losing his spot for the fifth test.

Captain Pat Cummins dropped perhaps the biggest hint after play on day five when he spoke glowingly of the 35-year-old.

“I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a selector, but for someone who made 200 in a Test match it’s pretty hard to go past them a week after,” Cummins said.

“So we’ll work through that over the next few days … the way Uzzie played is fantastic.”

“I guess that’s why he was picked as a spare batter originally. We felt as if he could replace anyone from No.1-6 really well.

But as was the case with Marnus Labuschagne with his performances so good that they had to find room for him in the playing XI for the fourth test at Manchester and Khawaja was the fall guy then, the tables have turned and Bailey and co must simply find a spot for Khawaja for the fifth test in Hobart.

Another looming headache or question for Bailey will be the makeup of the seam attack in Hobart for the Day/Night Test.

Josh Hazelwood was this week ruled out of the game and will stay in Sydney to continue his rehabilitation from a side strain sustained in the first test. Mitchell Starc has played all four Tests while the most recent debutant Scott Boland has continued to just take wickets at Test level.

With Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser sitting on the bench and fit to play, having played in the pink ball game in Adelaide, there will be much to consider for Bailey before it is time to pick a final XI.

Green shoots gathering but breakthrough with bat pending

Cameron Green has the international cricket world at his feet.

At 22 years old, he can bat in the top six and bowl at 140km per hr. A rare commodity for any cricket team. The type of player that teams spend generations searching for.

The eight Test investment for the future in Green has been important on many fronts, with his impact with the ball this series having a profound impact after going wicketless in a restricted last summer having taken nine wickets at 15.44 across the four matches and sitting fifth on the leading wicket-takers for the series.

There’s no denying that his efforts with the ball have been great. But as much as it is a luxury for Cummins to be able to call on Green to bowl overs and be trusted upon to get wickets, it’s the first innings runs that are missing from this all-round package truly coming together.

Green averages 11.75 in the first innings in matches.

He has developed a reputation as a second inning specialist, scoring 273 runs at 68.25, inclusive of his two half-centuries in Test cricket.

As he continues to develop and grow into test cricket, big first-innings runs appear to be the only thing missing from the Cameron Green package.

With mid-series technical adjustment, some vital net time and Shield practice ahead of the tour to Pakistan will be vital before getting found out on the spinning subcontinental tracks

More Ashes News

Ashes: Root praises ‘team effort’ as England hold on for a draw at the SCG

Ashes: Fourth Test Day 5: The moments that mattered

Ashes: Cummins backs declaration call despite falling short of victory

The Carey keeping discussion that won’t disappear

George Bailey had three key selection decisions prior to the First Test. The opener, the number five, and then just weeks out, the wicketkeeper.

He settled on the batting spots and then made his decision on the wicketkeeping position, picking the notional next in line Alex Carey over the uncapped but highly rated Josh Inglis.

Carey had the previous international experience over Inglis, which won him the starting position in the first Test despite the calls from many former players to select the younger Inglis.

He had a great start behind the stumps at Brisbane and was impressed with his maiden half-century in Adelaide but has fallen away as the series has worn on.

A missed chance on the last day in Adelaide which could have significantly altered the complexion of the day and a couple of hesitations in Melbourne increased the questions and the scrutiny on the wicketkeeper grew.

Having not been really properly tested with the bat yet this series, Carey failed twice with the bat again at the SCG, making 13 in the first innings, skying a ball off Joe Root, and caught and mid-off for 13 before being brought out for the final ball of the second innings and edging behind off Jack Leach for a golden duck.

The start to the fifth day didn’t get much better for the South Australian when he spilled a chance early in the day off the bowling of Cummins.

While he made up for it the next over, pouching an easy chance to remove Haseeb Hameed, his first of two catches for the innings, the critics are growing over his long-term place in the team.

Former Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin analysed his starting position and some of the technical changes he needed to make.

“Technically he had a bit of an achillies heel, Alex Carey, this series, just low to his right,” Haddin said on Triple M.

“As the replay’s showing there now, he’s very flat-footed when he goes… you’re meant to be pushing hard off that left foot.

“All he’s doing, he’s dropping his right leg to make way. He’s not getting any power to go and get power out of that left foot to go for that catch.”

Carey is sure to play the Fifth Test in Hobart and be included in the touring party to Pakistan, along with Josh Inglis with the extended squads due to the uncertain times we find ourselves in. He will be sweating on the uncertainty and hoping for a strong performance in Hobart to rubber-stamp his place long term.

Marnus’ kryptonite found?

Not many bowlers have routinely been able to find the outside edge of Marnus Labuschagne’s bat since the middle o  2019 with very little troubling the Queenslander who before Christmas, rose to number one on the ICC Test men’s batter rankings.

Since he ascended to the mantle of number one, he has been stopped in his tracks though by one man on three consecutive occasions, in the same fashion: Nicking off to Mark Wood.

Three wickets might not make a bunny, but Labuschagne might be one in the making for the express English quick who has gathered the Wood on the Australian.

Prior to the Melbourne Test, Labuschagne looked a man completely unfazed by England’s advances, making scores of 74, 103, and 51 to average 76 for the series.

But since Wood returned to England’s attack in Melbourne, Labuschagne has been dismissed for 1, 28, and 29. All in a distinctly similar fashion.

Wood hit a fourth-stump line with a hint of movement forcing an unsure Labuschagne to go feeling for contact.

Crucially, all three deliveries were quick at over 145km/h to create uncertainty in Labuschagne, who in the first two Tests against a slow attack, left the ball with utter clarity.

It was the third time that Wood had collected Labuschagne’s wicket in 24 deliveries too.

Ultimately, no batter likes fast bowling — and it seems like Labuschagne has met his match.

Will England make their lion heart press on as injuries mount?

The strain of a long unsuccessful and now an injury list is mounting and showing for England.

After Ben Stokes injured himself while he was bowling in the first innings, sustaining a side strain, it was a brutal couple of days on the injury front for England with key players copping blows and in doubt for the fifth and final test match.

Along with Stokes, who batted on and fielded on admirably through the pain came further injuries to middle-order cogs.

Ben Stokes walks off the field after being dismissed on day five. Image: Izhar Khan

First, wicketkeeper Jos Buttler took a blow to the hand when wicketkeeping on the second day. Scans revealed that he has a fracture in his left index finger. He was visibly struggling to hold the bat in the first innings and didn’t take the field in the second innings, with Ollie Pope substituting in.

To go with both of these, first inning century makes for England Jonny Bairstow got a blow on his right thumb. He battled on through the pain to post his century but was batting on through pain throughout. Like Buttler, he didn’t take the field in Australia’s second batting innings, and while he batted, would put him in some doubt for the fifth test.

England has announced that Kent wicketkeeper batter Sam Billings will join the Ashes squad and is well in line to make his debut in place of Buttler. The question is, how much does England want to push their lionhearted spiritual leader Stokes. Stokes has never been one to shirk the pain and play through adversity, but with the series lost for England, they might take the decision out of his hands.

The opener England must invest in

England’s opening combinations have had a torrid time of it this series. Right from the very first ball of the series up at the Gabba when Mitchell Starc bowled Rory Burns, it was a sign that it would be another long tour of underwhelming performances from the England opening pair.

England has spent years searching for an opening combination to replace retired greats such as Andrew Strauss and more recently Sir Alistair Cook. The positions at the top of the order have been somewhat of a revolving door for England in recent seasons, with poor performances and not being able to settle on a combination and back it in for the long haul.

After the England selectors made the decision to drop Rory Burns after an underwhelming first two Tests, England recalled Zak Crawley to partner Haseeb Hameed.

While Hameed hasn’t covered himself in glory on this tour, making six single-figure scores since the Gabba test, Crawley has been one of the few England batters to enhance his reputation on his first tour of Australia and was rewarded with some runs on the final day in Sydney.

The 23-year-old has played 17 Test matches with a highest score of 267 against Pakistan at Southampton back in 2020. He has since been in and out of the England side floating between opening the batting and batting at number three.

Former England opener Michael Atherton said on SEN on Day 4 that Crawley is a young batter that England should and need to invest some considerable time and faith in with an extended run in the Test team.

“He is generally a player who tries to take the ball on its merits, and that ball merited a solid defensive shot really, rather than an expansive drive,” Atherton said on Friday.

“Crawley is a little bit different, he’s someone that likes to take the game on and take it to the bowlers, and I don’t mind that.

“I personally would invest some time and faith in Crawley, I think he’s got a bit of presence at the crease, and if you’ve scored a double-hundred in Test cricket, as he has, I don’t believe that there’s not a future for you in the game.

“Albeit he does need to tighten up technically.”

Crawley scored 77 before getting dismissed LBW by Cameron Green.

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