2019-20 Australia vs. New Zealand Test Series – Preview

Australia versus New Zealand. One of the great rivalries in world sport, and in cricket that is no exception, and although New Zealand haven’t won a Test series against Australia, either on home soil or on Australian soil, since they won the only test match against Australia back in March, 1990 at the Basin Reserve, and a Test series with multiple test matches against Australia in either New Zealand or Australia since February and March of 1986, where New Zealand won the third and final test match at Eden Park in Auckland to claim a one-nil series victory, the Black Caps are the higher-ranked team according to the ICC Test Match Rankings, second in the rankings behind India, while Australia is ranked fifth, just behind South Africa (4th) and England (3rd).

However, Australia have moved up into second behind India in the ICC World Test Championship after their completely dominant two-nil series victory against Pakistan, and despite winning their recent two-match series against England (1-0), which was not a part of the ICC Test Match Championship, New Zealand (60 points) come into this Test series third in the ICC Test Match Championship, but 116 points behind Australia (176 points), and 300 points behind India (360 points) after drawing their two-match series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka back in August.

So, who are going to be the key players in this series?

The Australian top order of David Warner, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne starred in the two-match series against Pakistan, and while Burns scored 101 runs at an average of 50.50, Warner and Labuschagne dominated the Pakistan bowlers, with Warner rebounding from a torrid Ashes series in England, where he only scored 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50, to scoring a series-leading 489 runs from two innings (one not out), including his highest Test match score of 335 not out in Adelaide, the first time anyone has scored 300 or more in a Test match innings at the Adelaide Oval, and the second-highest Test match score by an Australian, while Labuschagne scored 347 runs at an average of 173.50, scoring his first two Test match centuries in the process.

However, you sense the main man for this Test series for Australia as far as the batting is concerned will be Steve Smith, and despite his lean series against Pakistan, his 774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries in the 2019 Ashes series is still not far from mind, and he is just 186 runs away, with two test matches remaining in 2019, from scoring 1,000 runs for the fifth time in the last six calendar years. It would be an extraordinary achievement, even by Steve Smith standards, given the difficult times he has had over the last year or so, circumstances we all know so well!

Of course, the Australian bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, who were incidentally the Top Four wicket-takers in the two-match series against Pakistan, with Cummins (51 wickets from 10 matches (19 innings) at 20.31) the only bowler to have taken 50 Test match wickets or more in 2019, will play a huge role, but you sense that Matthew Wade, Travis Head, and Australian captain Tim Paine will need to lift with the bat for Australia (if and when they get the chance) if they are to continue their superiority against New Zealand.

Looking at New Zealand, the obvious key player is their captain in Kane Williamson, who has scored 500 runs in Australia from five test matches (10 innings, one not out) at an average of 55.55. Williamson is also 43 runs away from scoring 500 runs in eight-consecutive calendar years, currently averaging 76.16, which is currently his second-best average in a calendar having averaged 90.15 back in 2015. Williamson was also the leading run-scorer for New Zealand when they last toured Australia back in 2015, scoring 428 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 85.60.

Ross Taylor is also a vital player for the Black Caps, having scored 405 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 81.00, including scoring 290 at the WACA, which is his highest test match score, and the third-highest by a New Zealander. Taylor is also 153 runs away from becoming the third Kiwi to score 1,000 Test match runs against Australia.

However, those two will need to be supported by the underrated Tom Latham and BJ Watling, who have scored 525 runs at 65.62 (six test matches, eight innings), and 482 runs at 80.33 (six test matches, seven innings, one not out) respectively in 2019, as well as their bowling attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, and Mitchell Santner.

Boult is under an injury cloud with a side strain injury, along with Colin de Grandhomme, who has an abdominal tear, injuries which kept both of them out of the second test match against England.

Boult was the equal-leading wicket-taker in the 2015 series in Australia, taking 13 wickets, while Wagner is New Zealand’s leading wicket-tacker in 2019, taking 29 wickets at 16.62, but like with Australia with Wade and Head, the likes of Jeet Raval, and Henry Nicholls will need to lift with the bat if New Zealand are going to win their first Test series on Australian soil since 1985.

So, who will win the Test series between Australia and New Zealand?

New Zealand have just won eight of their 57 test matches against Australia overall, with only three of those victories coming in Australia, but they have never won against Australia at either the Melbourne Cricket Ground in three test matches (two draws), or the Sydney Cricket Ground in two test matches (one draw), and have never played at the Optus Stadium in Perth, and although you sense New Zealand are at the top of their games in Test match cricket right now, you certainly can see Australia are on the rise once again, and when that happens, it is close to impossible to defeat them in a Test series in Australia.

AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0, WITH A DRAW IN EITHER MELBOURNE OR SYDNEY.

 

2019-20 Australia vs. Pakistan Test Series – Preview

On Thursday, it will be the start of the first Test match and subsequently test series of the Australian summer of cricket, but it feels much bigger than that!

It is the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to play their first test match in Australia since the 4th to the 8th of January, 2018, when Australia completed a four-nil Ashes series victory against England, but a lot has changed since then, with the Ball Tampering Scandal just over two months later in South Africa, with Smith, Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, the player who committed the attempted ball tampering, were banned from playing international and domestic cricket for 12, 12, and nine months respectively, with Smith and Bancroft banned from holding a formal leadership position for a further 12 months, and Warner never allowed to hold a formal leadership position in Australian cricket, and as a result, Australia have only achieved one test series victory since then, which was a two-nil series victory against Sri Lanka in the 2018-19 Australian summer.

However, although there is still a lingering feeling, a very minute feeling that others involved, most if not all of them no longer working for Cricket Australia, haven’t taken full responsibility for their roles in the Ball Tampering Scandal, and the subsequent aftermath, you feel like everyone who is within the current Australian team set-up have moved on from that harrowing experience.

774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries, and a further three scores of 50 or more from Smith during the 2019 Ashes series in England, and you sense that he has taken his batting to a whole new level, but despite this incredible series, the fifth-most runs scored in any Ashes series in history, Australia were unable to win the series, and the pressure will be on Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, and Matthew Wade to lift their games.

Labuschagne was Australia’s next best batsman after stepping up in place of Smith to become the first concussion substitute in the history of Test match cricket, scoring 353 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 50.42 with four fifties, and while Wade was solid in scoring 337 runs in five test matches (10 innings) with two crucial centuries, although at the slightly mediocre average of 33.70, every other Australian batsman scored less than 200 runs, with Warner scoring just 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50.

However, Warner’s form since returning to Australia has been more promising, and given his record of 3698 runs in 38 test matches in Australia (67 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 59.64 with 15 hundreds and a further 12 fifties, Warner is surely going to play a huge role, not only in this test series against Pakistan, but also in the test series against New Zealand.

Tim Paine has been excellent since taking over the Australian captaincy, not only in terms of his leadership, but also his wicket-keeping, taking 20 catches in the 2019 Ashes series, while the bowling attack of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Nathan Lyon in Australian conditions pick themselves, and while Cummins (29 wickets (leading series wicket-taker) at 19.62), and Hazlewood (20 wickets at 21.85) were superb throughout the 2019 Ashes series, and Lyon (20 wickets at 33.40) bowled generally in his consistent normal self, you feel like Starc has a point to prove after playing in just one of the five test matches in England, taking four wickets at an average of 31.50, and being overlooked for the likes of James Pattinson (five wickets at 33.40), and Peter Siddle (seven wickets at 42.14).

Meanwhile, Pakistan are quietly building a team that could be very competitive in Australia with captain Azhar Ali expected to lead the way with the bat, having scored 406 runs in three test matches (six innings, one time NOT OUT) at an average of 81.20 back in the 2016-17 series in Australia to be the second-leading run-scorer in the series behind Smith (441 runs at 110.25), which from an Australia point of view happened after the series between Australia and South Africa, which featured the Hobart Debacle, and in hindsight, the events afterwards were the catalyst to what happened about a year and a half later.

On paper, you would expect that the job of the top order of Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, and Haris Sohail to lay a good and solid platform to allow the likes of Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam the ability to shine!

Asad Shafiq was good in patches in the 2016-17 series in Australia, scoring 239 runs in three test matches (six innings) at an average of 39.83, including 137 in the second innings in the first test match at The Gabba in Brisbane to help Pakistan to within 40 runs of what would have been an historic victory, earning the Player of the Match award in the process, while Babar Azam has been dominant in the shorter forms of the game, averaging over 50 in both One Day International cricket (3359 runs in 74 matches at 54.17) and Twenty20 International cricket (1405 runs in 36 matches at 50.17). If he can translate this level of run-scoring into this Test series, and in his Test career in general, where he has scored 1235 runs from 21 matches (40 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 35.28, he could potentially be the difference.

Mohammad Rizwan should be the wicket-keeper, replacing the sacked Sarfaraz Ahmed, but the bowling attack is set to be a mixture of experience and youth. Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas are set to be a part of the attack, with both of them set to bowl a lot of overs throughout the course of the series.

Yasir Shah struggled badly in the 2016-17 series in Australia (8 wickets in three test matches at an average of 84.00, and will be looking to perform better this time around, while Mohammad Abbas (66 wickets in 14 test matches at 18.86) will be the man with the task of bringing down the juggernaut that is the great Steve Smith, and you almost feel from a Pakistan point of view that Mohammad Abbas has to be the Player of the Series if Pakistan are to win a series against Australia in Australia for the very first time.

Then you got competition for the final two spots in the bowling attack between Imran Khan, Muhammad Musa, Naseem Shah, and Shaheen Afridi. If Naseem Shah makes his test match debut on Thursday, he will become the youngest player to play a test match on Australian soil in what would be just his eighth first class match, having taken 27 wickets at an average of 16.66 in his seven first class matches to date.

So, who will win the series?

Pakistan have won just four of their 35 test matches against Australia in Australia, and haven’t won a test match in Australia since November 30 to December 4, 1995 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Pakistan have also never won at either The Gabba (one draw in five test matches) or the Adelaide Oval (three draws in four test matches), but you sense they have a better chance on paper at the Adelaide Oval compared to The Gabba, but while you sense Pakistan are on the rise, you just have that inkling that Australia are going to be better at the crucial moments during this series and that will be the difference in the end!

AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0.

Australia vs. India – Test Series Preview

After the drama of the last few weeks, and the drama of the last eight and a half months, the Australian Cricket Team finally has a chance to prove the critics of Cricket Australia, and of the Australian Cricket Team wrong by defeating the world’s best Test match team, the Indian Cricket Team led by the great Virat Kohli over the course of a four-match test series.

But, will they? And, can India conquer their final frontier, and win a test series against Australia on Australian soil?

As far as the Australia Cricket Team is concerned, they come into this test series under extreme pressure, and after a time of unbelievable and unthinkable turmoil, both for Cricket Australia and the team itself after the Ball Tampering Scandal at Newlands in Cape Town, the subsequent punishments of Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, and the huge uproar (regardless of your thoughts about what happened, the punishments dished out, and the culture of the team, and of Cricket Australia as an organisation) that it caused among former players, the media, and the fans of not just the Australian Cricket Team, but of cricket as a whole.

In addition to this, the Australian Cricket Team has a new captain in Tim Paine, a new coach in Justin Langer, and Cricket Australia has had an administrative clean-out of sorts, although there is muted debate as to whether that has gone far enough, and whether the punishments of “the banished three” have gone too far, taking into consideration all aspects of the situation, including various factors, sensitive factors even that I might touch upon at a later date.

And, while all of the attention has been on how the Australian batsmen will perform in this series, the blowtorch must be turned towards the Australian bowlers of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, and their rather cocky attitudes heading into this series, a series which could define their careers and their futures within the Australian Cricket Team at test match level.

Their recent form at test match level has been just off their career averages in general. Since the start of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, with the exception of Pat Cummins, who has taken 45 wickets in nine test matches at an average of 23.08 during this time compared to a career average of 23.81, all of Australia’s bowlers have an average worse than their career average, with Starc (38 wickets at 29.15 in nine tests, compared to 28.52), Lyon (49 wickets at 34.28 in 11 tests, compared to 32.21), and most worrying Hazlewood (33 wickets at 30.75 in nine tests, compared to 26.84).

While it doesn’t sound like much, over a long four-match test series like this one, it could prove the difference between Australia winning this test series (thus regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy), or losing/not winning this test series if this pattern continues, especially if you believe the Indian batting line-up is stronger than the Australian batting line-up. The Australian bowlers must lift to a whole new level if Australia is to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, or risked having egg all over their faces, and losing their tags as “the chosen ones” of Australian cricket, particularly the three fast bowlers in Starc, Hazlewood, and Cummins.

The Australian bowlers need assistance in order for them to do a successful job against India, and this assistance must come from Mitchell Marsh.

Marsh, at the age of 27, must start living up to his potential as Australia’s next great all-rounder, or risk being labelled as the greatest underachiever Australian cricket has ever produced. Marsh has scored 1200 runs at an average of just 26.08 across 30 test matches, and taken 35 wickets at an average of 42.45, and really for someone who has been tagged as Australia’s next great all-rounder, it is simply diabolical.

Marsh should be approaching a batting average of close to 40, and a bowling average of closer to 30 at this stage of his career, and in this series, Marsh should be averaging double his current batting average, and half of his current bowling average. If he fails in this regard, Australia could be headed for a historic series defeat, and his international career could be over.

It is a make or break series for Mitchell Marsh!

And, what makes it even more make or break for Marsh is that Usman Khawaja, who has scored 565 runs at an average of 47.88 in seven test matches in 2018, is coming into this series underdone after tearing the meniscus in his knee in Abu Dhabi, subsequently undergoing surgery to repair the injury, and on his return, Khawaja made 41 and 18 for Queensland in the last Sheffield Shield match against Victoria.

So, I think the pressure will be on Mitchell Marsh, as well as his brother Shaun Marsh, captain Tim Paine, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marcus Harris, and Peter Handscomb to be more productive with the bat in this series, and compared to previous performances in their careers if Australia stand to be a chance of regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

So then we get to the Indian Cricket Team, and their inspirational leader Virat Kohli, who has now scored over 1000 Test match runs for the third-successive calendar year, and is just eight runs away from scoring 1000 test match runs in Australia, will be the key player who will determine whether India wins in Australia for the first time or not.

India have drawn three of their 11 test series against Australia in Australia, drawing 1-1 in 1980/81, 0-0 in 1985/86, and 1-1 in 2003/04 in what was the then-Australian captain Steve Waugh’s final test series, scoring 80 in his final test innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground to help Australia save the final test match of that series to avoid an historic test series defeat at home.

Since Kohli has started batting in the nets in Adelaide, the word/visual evidence coming out suggests that Kohli is seeing and hitting the ball superbly, perhaps the best he has in his entire career to date, and most certainly ominous signs if you are the Australian Cricket Team.

However, you sense Kohli needs some support as well from his fellow batsmen, in particular his vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who has scored 605 runs in nine test matches at an average of 40.33 against Australia, just below his career average of 41.40, and only needs one run to score 400 test match runs in Australia, but also Cheteshwar Pujara, who has scored 4905 runs in 64 test matches at an average of 49.54 in his career, and is currently India’s second-leading run-scorer in 2018, but has only scored 509 runs in 10 test matches at an average of 31.81, 554 runs behind Kohli’s tally of 1063 runs at an average of 59.05 in the same number of test matches in 2018.

In addition to this, Pujara has a poor record against Australia in Australia, scoring 201 runs in three test matches at an average of 33.50, so needs a big tour, like Rahane, to help assist Kohli in getting India enough runs to starve off the threat from Australia.

The bowling attack from India is probably the best they have ever had as a collective group, with the ability to chose from the likes of  Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav.

In all likelihood, India will pick five of those eight bowlers for two or three of the test matches in this series, with three fast bowlers (out of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav), and two spin bowlers (out of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Kuldeep Yadav) the likely combination, but regardless of who India pick as their bowlers, I think they can match or better the output of the current Australian bowling attack.

This leads me to my series prediction, and my gut feel tells me that India are going to do it! They are going to conquer their final frontier, and defeat Australia in a test match series in Australia.

I think India will win the first test match of the series in Adelaide, but I think Australia, under the most intense scrutiny from the media, fans and legends of the game, will hit back in the inaugural test match at the Optus Stadium in Perth to level the series heading into the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

However, just like last year against England, the Boxing Day Test will turn into a lifeless draw, generating a massive crisis within Australian cricket in regards to the drop-in pitches at the MCG, and a massive crisis within world cricket in general in regards to the performance and suitability of drop-in pitches, despite the fact the drop-in pitches in both Adelaide and Perth performed extremely well.

This all leads into the final test match of the series, the Pink Test Match in support of the McGrath Foundation at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), and a calculated gamble (which will be widely panned from the media, experts, and fans before the match) from the Indian selectors, in consultation with captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, will lead to three specialist spinners being selected, and India bamboozling Australia on a traditional SCG pitch to claim an historic series triumph.

In short, India will retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy!

 

My review of the Fifth Ashes Test

Australia have finished the 2017-18 Ashes Series in the best way possible after defeating England by an innings and 123 runs in the fifth and final test match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to win the series four-nil.

After a rain delay which wiped out the scheduled opening session of the test match, England started off well after winning the toss and electing to bat first, reaching 3/122 at tea, and were 3/228 before Joe Root got out just 17 runs short of a 14th Test match century, and a elusive century in the series after building a 133-run partnership with Dawid Malan for the fourth wicket. After Jonny Bairstow elected to come out to bat late on Day One (instead of a nightwatchman), he got out for five caught behind thanks to some good bowling from Josh Hazlewood on what proved to be the last ball of Day One to be 5/233 after 81.4 overs.

From 3/228, England proceeded to lose 7/118 to be all out for 346, a total which proved to be nowhere near enough as Australia began to assert their authority over the test match. However, England did start well, knocking over Cameron Bancroft for a duck, but that joy was soon short lived as the next five batsmen went onto score 50 or more, with three of them making hundreds. Surprisingly, David Warner and Steve Smith weren’t one of those three.

Warner, who was looking for his fourth Test century in his last four test matches at the SCG got out caught behind by Bairstow off the bowling of James Anderson for 56 as England once again contained his normal fast rate of run-scoring.

Smith, who scored the 26 runs necessary to become the equal-second fastest batsman (111 innings) to 6,000 Test match runs, joining Sir Garfield Sobers, and with only Sir Donald Bradman ahead of those two in the record books, fell 17 runs short of a fourth century for the series, which would have equalled Bradman’s record for most centuries in a single Ashes series, and would have equalled Smith’s own tally of four centuries in any test series, which he achieved against India back in 2014-15.

Smith also fell 13 runs short of a remarkable 700 runs for the series, scoring 687 runs at an average of 137.40, which was 242 runs more than the next best batsman from either Australia or England.

For once, Warner and Smith weren’t the main stars of the show, with Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh all scoring centuries, important not only for Australia, but important for themselves.

Khawaja reached his sixth Test match century, which was his first since November 2016, scoring 171 as he went past 2,000 runs in his Test match career. Now, it is up to the selectors to keep faith in Khawaja in all conditions and believe that he is the best number three batsman in Australia on all pitches. However, if I did have a suggestion for Khawaja to remove the perception that he lacks a presence at the crease, I would suggest that Khawaja needs to work a lot harder at his fitness, as he has had injury troubles in the past with knees and hamstrings, which may give him more confidence within himself, and give the sense that he has a greater presence when he bats.

Shaun Marsh also reached his sixth Test match century, scoring 156 to finally fulfilling his immense talent, while younger brother Mitchell Marsh made his second Test match century, scoring 101 to cement his spot in the team going forward to South Africa in an innings that was powerful and brutal. In addition to this, Shaun and Mitchell became the fifth set of brothers to score centuries in the same innings in Test match cricket, joining Ian and Greg Chappell, who achieved this feat three times, Steve and Mark Waugh, who did this twice, while Mushtaq and Sadiq Mohammad, and Grant and Andy Flower each did this on one occasion.

As a result, Australia declared at 7/649, and from there, England were no chance of forcing any kind of result, and despite a brave, and in some ways courageous performance by England captain Joe Root, scoring 58 despite retiring ill on two occasions throughout that innings suffering from the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, and spending some hours in hospital in an attempt to treat the condition, England were bowled out for 180 to lose the test match, and the series convincingly.

However, the summer of cricket is still far from over, with five one day internationals (ODIs) between Australia and England, as well as a Twenty20 (T20) triangular series between Australia, England, and New Zealand, with matches being played in both Australia and New Zealand, with all of these matches sure to produce exciting, entertaining cricket that will leave us on the edges of our seats, and produce some close results!

I predict Australia to win the ODI series 4-1, but for either England or New Zealand to win the T20 triangular series.

 

My review of the Fourth Ashes Test

The fourth Ashes Test match of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, the Boxing Day Test match will be a test match that won’t be remembered fondly by many people as it turned into being a dull draw due in most part to the drop-in pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, and both Cameron Bancroft and David Warner put on an opening partnership of 122 before Bancroft fell leg before wicket off the bowling of Chris Woakes for 26, before David Warner brought up his 21st Test century the ball after getting caught at mid-on on a no-ball off the bowling of debutant Tom Curran.

After Warner (103) and Usman Khawaja (17) both got out, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh put on a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket before Curran officially got his first Test match wicket after Smith chopped-on for 76. From there, Australia lost 7/67 to be all out for 327, a score well-below what Australia was expecting with Shaun Marsh (61) being the only other player to pass 50.

From there the match changed, and Alastair Cook was the star of the show, scoring the highest score by a player who has “carried the bat” in the history of Test match cricket, 244 not out as he regained the form that has seen him approach the 12,000-run milestone in Test match cricket, and is now the sixth-highest run-scorer in the history of Test match cricket, surpassing Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Brian Lara during that wonderful innings at the MCG.

In terms of other contributions for England, Joe Root got out on 61, which is the fifth time in a row that Root has failed to go onto make a century after reaching 50, while Stuart Broad made 56, surpassing the 100-run milestone in the series as England got bowled out for 491.

From there, the chances of an Australian victory and a five-nil whitewash were all but gone. However, Australia managed to save the match comfortably in the end thanks to the Australian captain Smith (102 not out) as he surpassed 600 runs in the series, and his deputy Warner (86), who missed out becoming just the third batsman to score centuries in each innings of a Test match held at the MCG.

However, the talk towards the end of the match, and certainly afterwards, was the pitch, and the supposed lack of life in the pitch for anyone to truly succeed on, which meant neither Australia or England could make a realistic push for victory.

In my view, the pitch offered variable pace and bounce, but it was only subtle, which meant it was difficult for the bowlers to take wickets, and the batsmen to score runs. There was little encouragement for the spinners as the match progressed, which meant no team could progress the match forward to force a positive result.

Overall, when you consider the facts, it was a below average pitch, and something needs to be done to make sure drop-in pitches perform more closely to the characteristics of a normal pitch.

I don’t think the MCG needs to rip up their drop-in pitches to start again, but I think the answer to “naturalise” the drop-in pitch lies below the pitch, at the bottom of the pitch rather than on the surface of it, and I think the bottom of the pitch needs to be softened and broken-up a little bit to get the types of pitches that people are looking for.

In addition to this, the MCG drop-in pitches should be installed at a lower-level ground during the winter months to allow the traffic of different sports, such as Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union, and/or football to run over it to make the pitches more natural and maybe a touch softer. However, getting a club(s) to agree to having these pitches installed at their ground during the winter months will take a lot of convincing, and not too many, if any, would agree to such a strong request.

So, while the drop-in pitch debate continues, Australia and England head to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the final test match of the series with Steve Smith just 26 runs away from reaching 6,000 Test match runs, and if he does it in the first innings of the match, he will be the equal second-fastest (along with Sir Garfield Sobers) to reach the milestone in the history of test match cricket, in terms of innings.

David Warner will be aiming to score his fourth test match century in as many matches at the SCG, while Stuart Broad is currently two wickets away from 400 in Test match cricket.

The pitch at the SCG will be under scrutiny since it hasn’t hosted a first-class match this season, but historically, it has been a pitch that has always turned, and has also been a pitch that has been good for batting.

I think Australia will bounce-back from a difficult Boxing Day Test match to win the final test match of the series in Sydney to claim the series four-nil.

My review of the Third Ashes Test

Australia have regained The Ashes! They have taken a three-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after defeating England in the last-ever Ashes Test match, at least for the foreseeable future, at the WACA (Western Australian Cricket Association) Ground in Perth by an innings and 41 runs in what was a dominant display for the most part from the Australians!

England, in fact, started off the match very well, making it to 2/91 at lunch on Day One before Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow built a fifth-wicket partnership of 237 runs after being 4/131 midway through the second session on the opening day. However, England managed to lose 6/35 in the second hour on Day Two to be all out for 403, a total well-below the score of 500-plus that they and many others were expecting.

Australia made them pay with Steve Smith and the returning Mitchell Marsh dominating the England bowling attack, smashing them into submission and towards another Ashes defeat. Smith made 239 in a man of the match performance, his highest test match score and the second double century in his Test match career, both achieved against England, as he reached 1000 runs in a calendar year for the fourth-consecutive time to move within one of Matthew Hayden’s record of scoring 1000 runs or more for five-consecutive years.

Smith only needs a further 27 runs to reach 10,000 first-class runs, and has the most runs after batting in 108 innings in the history of test match cricket. He only needs 204 runs in the Fourth Test Match to become the second-fastest player to reach 6000 runs in the history of Test match cricket, with only Sir Donald Bradman (68 innings) reaching the milestone in quicker time (should Smith reach the milestone at the Melbourne Cricket Ground).

In addition to this, Smith (62.32) has the second-highest batting average in the history of Test match cricket (minimum of 20 innings), and looks set to be the best batsman since Bradman.

And what about Marsh?

He has really tightened up his technique while maintain the devastating stroke-play and shot-making that we have become accustomed to seeing in limited overs cricket to score his first Test match century in his 22nd Test match, defying the critics that have been on his back, and in fact on the back of his brother Shaun, the critics who feel like they have been given an easy run into the Australian team, in particular Mitchell, due to their father Geoff Marsh playing 50 Test matches and 117 one day internationals for Australia between 1985 and 1992, showing symptoms of tall poppy syndrome.

However, the selectors kept faith in Mitchell Marsh throughout the good times and the bad, and he has managed to repay their support, at least for now, by breaking through to get his first century in Test match cricket.

Australia declared at 9/662, a lead of 259 runs, and from there, England were no chance of coming back, being bowled out for 218 to surrender The Ashes back to Australia.

England have a number of questions to answer, in terms of selection, for the final two test matches of the series, but in terms of what they are lacking, England need a quality all-rounder, a quality spinner, and a fast bowler who can actually bowl express pace and intimidate the opposition.

Ben Stokes should be ashamed of himself for letting England down, as he would have been the quality all-rounder in the England Cricket Team if he wasn’t stood down from his duties after an altercation outside a nightclub in Bristol back in September. He will be castigated by many people until The Ashes are returned to England!

In terms of a quality spinner and a fast bowler who can bowl express pace, England, other than Graeme Swann in the spinning department, have not produced either a quality spinner or an express fast bowler in years! England need to give leg spinner Mason Crane a go, and actually believe in him for a period of time.

As for the fast bowlers, James Anderson is still bowling very well, Craig Overton is a promising prospect, while Stuart Broad has been awful and should be dropped from the England team immediately, while Chris Woakes hasn’t been much better, and is seemingly a stop-gap option for England at the moment in place of Ben Stokes.

I am not sure who England should select to replace Broad, but it must be someone with express pace that can intimidate the batsmen! Do they go back to Jake Ball? Do they give George Garton a go? Do they go with someone outside of their current squad? Or, do they ignore my advice and continue on their current path, hoping that things turn around like magic?

And talking about their current path, there is no way in the world that Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, let alone the previous management, should have barred Kevin Pietersen from playing for England again, and English cricket is paying for that decision today.

Pietersen may be portrayed by many people as a man who disrespected team culture, and only had a clear focus on himself when in fact that was far from the truth. I think Pietersen was more than willing to help the team, and probably had many, many ideas as to how the England team could improve, but no one was willing to listen to him, or if they did listen to him, weren’t willing to take him seriously because he was different!

While Andrew Strauss and the previous management of the England Cricket Team have been painted as “the good guys” of this whole debacle, but they should be described as bullies, people who should never, under any circumstance, be put into positions of responsibility of any “minor” organisation, let alone in management positions inside the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Organisations run by these bullies, or have bullies in key management positions within organisations will struggle and eventually fail! Organisations who don’t allow people within them to be themselves, or find the best way of doing certain things for themselves will fail in the end! Organisations that don’t hire people that are different to most others and think outside the square will die!

In fact, Pietersen should be the current-day England captain, and should have taken over from Alastair Cook after the 2013-14 Ashes Series! I think he would have captained England in a similar fashion to the way that Steve Waugh captained Australia, and would have taken over the England captaincy at a similar age to Waugh.

I believe Pietersen would have led England potentially into a glorious era, and I believe he would have finished his Test match career with an average over 50, and with over 10,000 runs in Test match cricket! In addition to this, I think other players, such as Cook and Joe Root would have benefited from Pietersen being the England captain, allowing them score runs without the pressure of responsibility, something which Root is struggling with at the moment!

Talking about Cook, since the 2013-14 Ashes Series, he has scored 3665 runs at an average of 43.63, which is lower than the rest of his career, where he had scored 8047 runs at an average of 46.51, and before the start of the 2013-14 Ashes Series, Cook had scored 7801 runs at an average of 47.85.

As well as this, Cook has gone 10 innings without scoring a Test match half century or better, which is the longest streak without scoring 50 or more in an innings in his entire career. In my opinion, I think his mind is just not there any more, and I think his career is coming to an end at the end of this Ashes Series.

However, even if many of these suggestions were taken up sooner rather than later, only poor weather can prevent Australia winning the 2017-18 Ashes Series five-nil!

The stadium issue in Sydney

Back in December 2014, I wrote an article on The Roar about the stadium issue in Sydney, and talked about the various options for sports stadia developments in Sydney.

I talked about ANZ Stadium, and the options for redeveloping the Olympic Stadium that has delivered Australia so many wonderful sporting memories. I talked about the options for Western Sydney, for which they have now decided to go with demolishing and building a new stadium on the land of the old Parramatta Stadium, as well as the options for Allianz Stadium, and for Brookvale Oval, a ground clearly in need of rejuvenation!

However, it has only been in recent times that all the stakeholders have moved to decide which stadiums should be redeveloped or built in Sydney.

As I briefly mentioned before, work on building the new Western Sydney Stadium on the site of the old Parramatta Stadium is well and truly underway with the 30,000-seat stadium set for completion in 2019, but news on the futures of ANZ Stadium, also known as Stadium Australia, and Allianz Stadium, also known as the Sydney Football Stadium, have been recently announced.

ANZ Stadium is set to be demolished and rebuilt into a 75,000-seat stadium, and reconfigured into a rectangular field, meaning that only sports played on a rectangular field, like rugby league, rugby union, and football can be played at the stadium. The stadium is set to feature a retractable roof, meaning that matches can be played in perfect conditions all year round. Construction works will begin in late 2019.

This is a slightly different plan from the one I talked about the stadium back in 2014, which planned on catering for all sports, including Australian rules football, and cricket, as well as having the possibility of hosting major athletics championships, such as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship, due to the ability of being able to reconfigure the stadium from a rectangle to an oval, and vice-versa!

I would prefer that a redeveloped ANZ Stadium was able to cater for all sports (both rectangular and oval), and even if the cost of redevelopment is slightly more than to demolish and rebuild, would it matter if you had more sports and more teams using the venue on a regular basis?

I am not sure if I agree with the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s decision to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, but I certainly agree that Allianz Stadium needs to be demolished and rebuilt, with construction works for Allianz Stadium beginning at the end of 2018.

The stadium is riddled with so many violations of safety standards, including violations Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Standards, and is not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act in terms of offering the amount of seats/spots for people in wheelchairs to watch their favourite sports from a great vantage point.

In addition, I have heard that the standards of media facilities at Allianz Stadium is poor, as referenced by Phil Gould back in September, and with so many issues with the stadium, it is time for Allianz Stadium to be rebuilt!

However, the issue I have about the rebuild of Allianz Stadium is not that it is going to be rebuilt, but the eventual seating capacity of the new stadium is going to be around 45,000, which is roughly the same amount as it is right now, where in logical reality, it should be at least 5,000 to 10,000 more than that!

Overall, I fully agree to Allianz Stadium being demolished and rebuilt, but I think it is a massive call to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, and I still believe that it should be a unique stadium that has the ability to cater for a multitude of sports, in all shapes and sizes, and that this could be down by a major redevelopment of the stadium, rather than a total demolition and rebuild job.

Don’t be surprised, perhaps in the near future, that if Sydney wants to host an IAAF World Championships, a Commonwealth Games, or even an Olympic Games that people will start complaining that Sydney doesn’t have an adequate, as in modern, stadium to host these kind of events, and that a brand-new stadium would have to be built, one that is extremely expensive, to cater for these kind of events, even though those same people complaining supported the decision of the NSW Government back in 2017 to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium into a national stadium catering for just rectangular sports!