Who would have thought that the Australian tour of South Africa in 2018 would change the face of Australian cricket for years to come? The ball-tampering scandal where the Aussies were found to be using sandpaper to rough up the ball resulted in the former captain Steve Smith being banned from cricket for 12 months, leaving cricket Australia in chaos. Tim Paine, 36, was promoted to captain and was seen as the figure who would bring stability after the so-called ‘Sandpaper scandal’. With the Ashes series coming up it should not come as a surprise when looking at the drama filled sport, both on and off the field, that Australia has yet again faced more scandal and humiliation in the past week.
Australia has a captain crisis after Tim Paine, 36, the captain of four years, was forced to step down last week after it emerged that he had sent sexually explicit text messages to a former colleague at Cricket Tasmania in 2017. The former skipper explained his decision last week in an emotional interview which left the Aussies without a captain only three weeks before the first test in Brisbane. The emotional Paine announced this unexpected departure which lead to much speculation over who would take over from the Wicketkeeper as Aussie captain. Tim Paine also announced that he would be stepping down from not just his duty as captain but also from the Ashes squad. Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey is replacing Tim Paine in the Aussie squad and will make his Test debut this winter.
Pat Cummins, 28, has just been officially announced as Australia’s Test captain for the Ashes, with Cummings being the first fast bowler in 64 years to lead the national team. Ray Lindwall was the last fast bowler to captain the Aussies, however Cummings will hope that his captaincy will last longer than Linwall’s sole test match in which his side managed a draw during the 1956-57 tour of India. The promotion of Cummings from vice-captain was one that was suggested by many after Paine’s retirement however, it was not expected to be so imminent. But why is it so unusual for fast bowlers to captain their side? There is a heated debate in international cricket as to whether a revved-up fast bowler can make precise on-field decisions such as when they should end a side’s own bowling spell. The cricket community will be looking intently at the dynamics of the Australian camp and be scrutinising on field decisions made by the fast-bowler. However, It does seem slightly odd that Steve Smith has been re-appointed into a leadership position as vice captain after he was banned from the sport amid the previous scandal.
Cummins is arguably the best player in the Australian team, and he is generally perceived as being a reliable, dependant player who would bring credibility to an Aussie team that is desperate for stability. The cricket community has been anxiously looking forward to the five-match series with caution after there had been concerns that covid would disrupt the matches. With the emergence of the Omicron variant, Ashley Giles, the England director of cricket, is holding talks with the Australian government to assess the implications. Australia is expected to announce tighter travel restrictions and the implications for the England team and competition in general will be known in due course. There is some doubt over whether the final test will be able to go ahead but this will not take away from the exciting build up with the first test on 8 December.
The historic rivalry between England and Australia makes this the most anticipated event in Test cricket. With the Ashes being the cricket’s toughest test England will inevitably be up against it playing in Australia, as playing at home is a significant advantage in cricket. History is not on England’s side however after such an unexpected year, maybe England will provide an unexpected victory.
England squad: Joe Root (Cpt), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (Wkt), Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (Cpt), Alex Carey (Wkt), Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Steve Smith, David Warner.
8-12: 1st Test, Brisbane
16-20: 2nd Test, Adelaide
26-30: 3rd Test, Melbourne
5-9: 4th Test, Sydney
14-18: 5th Test, Perth