With the return of Australian cricket imminent, it’s time for us to get back to thinking about the Baggy Green.
Australia play Sri Lanka in a three match Test series from Tuesday 26 July, in the tough, foreign conditions of Kandy, Galle and Colombo.
So who better to chew the fat with me than Sam Ferris, cricket.com.au journalist, fresh off a long tour to the subcontinent himself, covering the World T20 and the IPL.
I began with an easy question regarding the Test make-up for the first match of the series:
Will the Malaysian born spinner Stephen O’Keefe get a run for the third Test of his career?
“Well, he’s done everything right in that warm-up game,” Sam said.
“I think he’s the perfect complement to someone like Nathan Lyon. Nathan himself is a fantastic Test spinner, Australia’s greatest off-spinner, and he bowls that lovely loop and top-spin, and he’s proven his worth for many years now.”
“Whereas O’Keefe sort of darts it in, round-arm, doesn’t get a lot of turn but does enough to beat the bat. You would think that these wickets are going to spin, so Australia will play two spinners and O’Keefe will be that guy.”
One of O’Keefe’s potential team-mates is making the decision to include him a lot easier too.
“One of the bonuses for Australia is the bowling form of Mitch Marsh, he’s just so competent at the moment. His batting is probably not where he wants it to be but his bowling has kept him in the team.”
Hard to disagree with that analysis of Marsh, who averages 23 with the bat in Tests but has a bowling strike rate of less than 60.
“He got big wickets in the NZ series, (Brendon) McCullum in particular a couple of times, and having him at six and your third seamer is a real luxury for Steve Smith, so if they do go for two spinners I think it will be a really well balanced attack.”
Only three Aussies (Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Nathan Lyon) have played Test cricket in Sri Lanka, so should the Australian side consider this a danger series?
“Absolutely. I think Australia has said that winning away from home is one of the areas they really want to improve in, and their record in sub-continent conditions including the UAE hasn’t been good.”
“They got dusted up by Pakistan in 2014, their record in India since 2004 has been pretty ordinary, and even though the Sri Lankan team doesn’t have the likes of (Mahela) Jayawardene and (Kumar) Sangakkara (and Murali has been out of the team for a while now), they’ve still got (Rangana) Herath and they’ve still got (Angelo) Matthews, they’re a pretty dangerous team in home conditions.”
“If Sri Lanka get a couple of good toss results and Australia is chasing a target in the fourth innings on a wearing pitch, absolutely. It’s going to be a big test of Steve Smith’s men. They’re the number one Test team in the world so you’d think they’ll go into this series as favourites, but cricket’s a funny game. I think it could be a lot closer series than people think.”
This series marks the international career of Nathan Lyon coming full circle. What has been your favourite memory from his career thus far?
“The twelve wickets in Adelaide in 2014 in that memorable Test match for so many reasons, that was a real big turning point for him.”
“To get it done against a real good team who plays spin bowling really, really well, it was great. He bowled very patiently, I think in his first allotment of his overs in that second innings he didn’t get much reward, but Brad Haddin, who was the captain at the time (with Clarke off injured), just said “Keep putting it there, the wicket’s doing enough, and the chances will come.” Sure enough, the wickets came and he won Australia the game.”
“Even his first Test, his first ball against Sangakkara was just fantastic, and his fifth wicket, where he took the caught and bowled, it was a really great moment.”
“Not only is he a fantastic cricketer, he’s also one of the genuine blokes in the Aussie team and it’s hard to find a nicer guy. I’m rapt for him.”
Moving back into the domestic landscape now, and it has been announced that the Matador Cup will retain its format but be spread over three states. Is this a good decision?
“Yeah, I think so. I like the tournament-style they’ve been going with lately, how it’s played in one block. It’s been easy for the teams to have a home base and not have to travel much, but to get it around the country, in warmer climates like Brisbane and Perth, is great.”
“Cricket Australia doesn’t take these decisions lightly and it would’ve been made with the states in mind, so I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
Still no Melbourne in there though is there? Maybe next year.
And moving on from state allegiances; the CA XI will take part again after a somewhat disappointing campaign last time around. Thoughts on that situation?
“It was always going to be a two-year thing, Pat Howard (CA Executive General Manager) was pretty adamant saying it was a two year trial. Even though they won just the one match, I think they did pretty well, and they clearly improved as the tournament went on.”
“The matches they got heavily beaten in were against Mitchell Starc for New South Wales (6-25) and James Pattinson for Victoria (4-18), so to come up against two of the best fast bowlers in the world, and Starc destroyed everyone in that tournament, shows it wasn’t just a bunch of young kids who got pumped.”
“I think it’s a great concept, I’m a big fan of these pathway programs. They’ve got the quad-series up in the Top End again this winter where they’ll play South Africa A and India A. I think to expose these young guys can only benefit them.”
“Does it cheapen the tournament? I don’t think so. At the end of the day you’ve still got to go out there and get the runs or take the wickets.”
Sam is so good at this journalism thing he asks himself questions.
“Anything we can do to enhance the pathway and getting future stars into state teams and then into national teams, I’m all for it.”
“I think they should work on the name though. They’ve got to have a nickname, maybe the Colts or the Cavaliers, or something like that.”
Have you been watching the England and Pakistan Test series? It’s quite a fascinating battle those two have got going on at the moment.
“I watched the last day (of the first Test), almost right until the end. It’s a great series, they’re such an exciting team and they’re great under Misbah. He’s now 42, he’s still getting hundreds, and at Lord’s no less, he’s a calming influence and a great player.”
“I’m a big fan of (Yasir) Shah, he did a number on Australia in that 2014 series, and he’s the number one Test bowler in the world right now. England, still, have not worked out leg-spin, so for an Australian fan it brings back memories of Warnie. And that ball he bowled to Ballance was very similar to Strauss in ’05.”
“I’m glad Mohammed Amir is back. He was a young kid when it all went down… he’s served his time so it’s great to see him back. Every time he bowls you feel like something is going to happen, like Shah, so we want those guys playing.”
“As for England, it’s only one Test so I wouldn’t panic too much. They’ll bring back Anderson and Stokes and they’ll be a better team.”
Here’s hoping they don’t get too much better.
Follow Sam Ferris on Twitter @samuelfez.