Three Selection Masterstrokes That Won The Test For Australia
We all love to bag the selectors. But very occasionally, they get it right.
And for all the runs made by Steve Smith, and the wickets taken by Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins as Australia thumped England by 251 runs in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, this was a victory engineered in the selection room.
The three masterstrokes?
The first was Peter Siddle. The veteran vegan Victorian was widely seen as the fifth paceman in the Ashes squad -- a reliable man to fill in, if one or two of the strike men should break down or lose form.
But in sport, defence is often the best form of attack, and Siddle has always been a miserly bowler. Over the course of his career, he's conceded 2.9 runs per over compared to 3.4 by Mitchell Starc -- the man whose spot he took.
Aussie captain Tim Paine talked about how the Aussies "controlled the socreboard" in England's first innings. The slow English scoring -- as Siddle conceded just 1.92 runs per over in his 27 overs -- meant the hosts didn't rack up a larger lead than 90.
"Siddle is someone we see as a handful in these conditions," Paine said after Australia had sealed a memorable comeback victory.
"Even today on a day-five wicket, he took no wickets but he was still a handful. He asks questions all the time and with the Dukes ball in English conditions he is a real handful."
And while Siddle stopped the run flow, England batsmen took risks against Nathan Lyon. Australia sprung the classic trap, and England fell into it.
The second masterstroke was Matthew Wade at number six in the batting order.
In the past 12 months, Wade has made runs, runs and runs in all forms of cricket. In the Sheffield Shield last summer he was one of just two batters to top 1,000 runs -- and to put that in perspective, the third-best batter only had 760.
So on form, Wade was a long way in front of a lot of contenders, and was hardly a risk. But here's the thing.
This is a guy who last played Test cricket for Australia as a wicket keeper. The 31-year-old Tasmanian was also taking the spot of Kurtis Patterson, who made a century in Australia in his (and Australia's) most recent Test outing.
But in the second innings on day four at Edgbaston, Wade showed that he truly is a gifted player, capitalising on the first-hour grinding of Steve Smith and Travis Head to blow England away with quick runs. Wade could end up being a serious weapon for Australia in this series.
The third masterstroke? Dropping Mitchell Starc. See the Peter Siddle section above for the reasons why. It's not that Starc has done anything wrong. Heck, the bloke just took a record 27 wickets in the World Cup. But the selectors had a strategy with their bowling attack and they stuck to their plan.
Having said all this, ominously for England, you sense that Australia still hasn't quite found its best XI.
The bowlers may yet rotate during this series, and Starc and Josh Hazlewood will likely play a part at some stage.
Opening batsman Cameron Bancroft is also not secure in his spot. The upcoming three-day tour match against Worcestershire could prove to be a showdown between him and the unlucky Marcus Harris -- who topped the Sheffield Shield scoring last summer above Matthew Wade.
That aside, it would hard to change any of the men who made such a spirited recovery in Edgbaston after a slow start on day one. Even Bancroft chipped in with three sharp catches in England's second innings on the final day.
Guys who perform moderately in a winning side often get a reprieve. Whichever way the selectors lean, for once it will be hard to argue with their thinking.