Pakistan v Australia Tests: Green Aussies keen for fresh start under Tim Paine

Alex Broun 6/10/2018
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Australian Test captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer

Australian Test captain Tim Paine has identified professionalism and respect as the two key pillars of his new look team to face Pakistan in the two-Test series that starts in Dubai on Sunday.

The 33-year-old was given the difficult task of rebuilding Australian cricket’s tarnished image after the sledging and ball-tampering episodes in South Africa back in March, which saw then captain Steve Smith and openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft given lengthy bans.

This is the first time since that infamous series that the famous Baggy Green cap will be worn on to the field of play and Paine and his team mates will be relieved that it is being done far from the glare of their native land.

The Tasmanian wicketkeeper does not, however, see the series as a new beginning for the team.

“What happened was unfortunate but we’ve got to move on,” Paine said at a brief media conference at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on the eve of the Test.

“Yes it’s a new group of players and a new coach but we’re still the Australian Test team, that hasn’t changed. It’s really exciting. We’re going to have three guys debut the next couple of days.

“I suppose it is a little bit of a new era but we’re hopeful that the guys that were involved in that will be back in the next six to eight months.”

Smith was handed a one-year ban for his role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.

Smith was handed a one-year ban for his role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.

The new look team to play against Pakistan shows five changes from the ball tampering XI: the suspended Smith, Warner and Bancroft, as well as speedsters Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood (both ruled out through injury).

Remaining are Paine, the Marsh brothers – Shaun and new vice-captain Mitchell, off spinner Nathan Lyon, top order batsmen Usman Khawaja and speedster Mitchell Starc.

They are joined by three debutants – South Australian captain Travis Head, limited overs specialist Aaron Finch and South African born Queensland bat, Marnus Labuschagne.

The other two spots are taken by two recalled veterans from Victoria – medium pacer Peter Siddle and left arm off spinner Jon Holland.

Also gone is coach Darren Lehmann, replaced by the astute Justin Langer.

Paine is aware of the responsibility that rests with this chosen XI, whose every action on the field will be closely watched and dissected over the next fortnight.

But repairing the image of Australian cricket aside, Paine says the main focus in the Test series “is about winning.”

“We’re playing international sport so it’s the highest level and at the end of the day as players when it’s all said and done we’ll be judged on how many games we’ve won. So that’s really important.

“But on the flip side of that, the image of Australian cricket is also really important to me and Justin and the rest of our team so we’re going to be going about things in a really professional, really respectful manner and we’ll continue to do that for the forseeable future while we’re all involved.”

It’s impossible to know the conversations that have gone on behind closed doors about on-field behaviour but it was noticeable that the Australian team we’re very restrained in their “chat” against Pakistan ‘A’ in the four-day warm up game at the ICC Academy.

For now it seems the days of ‘mental dis-integration’ are over.

The infamous “sledging” tactic that rose to prominence in the Steve Waugh era has fueled much of Australia’s success over the last decade or so.

But it’s hard to imagine two more different leaders than Waugh and Paine, with the current captain admitting as much in the presser.

“I’m probably a little more inclusive than other cricket captains have been in the past,” he said.

“I’ve come from a footy background so I’m a big believer in the power of the team and certainly take the value and opinions of my team mates really seriously.

“We’re all involved to some point in a lot of the decisions that are made and I think that’s really important when you’re trying to get buy in and trying to get guys to play for you.”

The Australians will play for their new captain and their nation over the next week – but the way they do it is yet to be seen.

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Untarnished Aussies out to repair the Baggy Green reputation against Pakistan

Alex Broun 4/10/2018
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Mitchell Marsh.

Mention the words “team culture” to newly appointed Australian test cricket vice-captain Mitchell Marsh and you can almost hear a groan.

After the ball-tampering and sledging controversies of Australia’s tour to South Africa earlier in the year, which led to the suspensions of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsmen Cameron Bancroft, as well as the resignation of coach Darren Lehmann, you can imagine said “team culture” has been a big topic in the international media.

The appointment of new captain Tim Paine, vice captains Marsh and Josh Hazlewood and new coach Justin Langer is directly aimed at addressing that culture and moving it in a more positive direction.

So Marsh is fully expecting the question coming his way and practiced at replacing the silent groan with a toothy grin and letting it pass through to the keeper’s gloves.

“Look I think right now we’ve got a great bunch of people here,” he tells Sport360, smile firmly in place. “A great bunch of young guys who are striving to get better everyday.”

“We want to work hard and we want to live by certain values as Australian cricketers and make Australians proud.

“I think if we do that the word ‘culture’ hopefully won’t be mentioned as much.”

Older brother Shaun (l) and Mitchell Marsh

The new-look Australian team, currently in the UAE to play a two Test series against Pakistan starting in Dubai on October 7, contains a number of players with a clean slate – young and not so young – untainted by former controversies: Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Brendan Doggett, Matthew Renshaw and Jon Holland.

Of those Finch and Head look certain to make their Test debuts at Dubai International Cricket Stadium while Neser and Labuschagne could bring the number of debutants to four.

Renshaw at the moment looks the only player out of the running after being struck in the helmet with a sickening blow while fielding at short leg in the four day warm up match against Pakistan A at the ICC Academy.

“Obviously never nice to see someone get hit in the head,” said Marsh during the match. “But from what I’ve heard from the doctor he’s getting better and better, he seems in good spirits now.

“It’s obviously a bit of a shock to see someone go down like that but from all reports he’s all good now.”

Marsh is still settling in to his role as vice-captain but excited to be leading such a new crop of future stars.

“Oh it’s a huge honour,” he said of his role. “When I was originally told I was pretty stoked and it probably took 24 hours for me to sit down and think.

“It’s a real achievement but it’s just the start for me as a leader in this team and I’ve said a few times now that I don’t necessarily need a ‘VC’ next to my name to be a leader around this team.

“So I’m really excited about what we can all achieve as a pretty young group and young leaders.”

Travis Head scored a quick fire 90 not out.

Travis Head scored a quick fire 90 not out.

One player Marsh is very excited at working with is Head who scored a brisk 90 not out in the warm up match which finished on Tuesday.

“He’s ready for test cricket,” said Marsh of Head. “He’s in really good form. He looks in really good touch.

“He’s proven over the last couple of years that he can score big runs for South Australia, so he’s ready to go.

“He’s a great guy, a great young leader as well so if he gets this opportunity I think it will be really special for him.”

Credit must go to Cricket Australia who have bucked the trend of players playing too much cricket in these days of ODI, T20 and T10 – and made sure the squad for this tour was well rested and well prepared, including a short tour of India by Australia A which Marsh went on.

“It was huge for me (the India tour),” explained Marsh.

“Obviously having five months off, I didn’t have much cricket under my belt so I was really excited to get over to India.

“You have four months training in the gym and in the nets, it was nice to get out in the middle. I felt really ready coming here which was really important.”

Finch agrees the side is well prepared coming into this series.

“Obviously a lot of boys are coming off the Indian A series which was a great opportunity for them,” said the experienced white ball bat said during the practice game. “And a lot of us coming off some County cricket and a few boys have had their feet up for a while really getting fit and preparing for this series.”

“It’s just been a great build up and these four days of cricket have been great for us as well.”

Aaron Finch is enjoying working with new coach Justin Langer

Aaron Finch is enjoying working with new coach Justin Langer

The 30-year-old also faced up to the dreaded “culture” question

“I think any time when you have a bit of a turnover of players and turnover of particularly a head coach you’re always going to have a few different ideas and a few different theories,” said Finch.

“It’s just been great to get over early and train really hard and start to acclimatise.”

Both Marsh and Finch are also full of praise for Langer.

“Outstanding,” said Finch of working with the new coach. “He was the batting coach when I first started for Australia, obviously played a lot against him when he was coach of Western Australia.

“Now working with him he’s been brilliant – to have the ODI series in England, the T20 series in Zimbabwe, the tri-series with Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and now (here) it’s been great fun.

“Obviously his work ethic,” Finch continued when asked about Langer’s qualities. “His expectations on demanding excellence on and off the field. I’m not saying we didn’t have that but it’s always front and centre.”

Under Langer’s guidance both batsmen have toned down their more aggressive tendencies on the slower UAE pitches.

It paid dividends in the tour match with Finch notching up a patient 54 and Marsh an impressive 162.

“The conditions dictate that as well (being less aggressive)”, adds Marsh.

“It was a pretty hard wicket to score in front of the wicket so you had to be very patient and that was my game plan to be really patient, play every ball on its merit.

“Softening the hands. It’s just practice, playing the ball later and being really strong on my defence.

“Took me a whole day to get a 100, so be it. It was really nice to be able to spend so much time out there.”

So for now its full steam ahead into a bold new era of Australian cricket and certainly from the evidence of the tour match (against an admittedly weak Pakistan A line up) it seems to be on course.

But the real test will be to see how these very green Baggy Greens hold up in the unforgiving cauldron of Test cricket.

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Australian vice-captain Mitchell Marsh hungry for revenge against Pakistan

Alex Broun 2/10/2018
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Mitchell Marsh tuned up with an impressive 162 against Pakistan A

Revenge is on the mind of Australian vice-captain Mitchell Marsh, coming into the two test series against Pakistan in UAE this month.

Marsh made his Test debut in the corresponding series four years ago, and even though it was an impressive debut for him personally with the bat (164 runs at 41.0) it was a bitter experience for Australia as they were well beaten in both Tests.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to play them,” said Marsh on Monday after scoring 162 in the drawn warm-up four day match against Pakistan A at the ICC Academy.

“I’ve played here once and we didn’t have much success but I think from the last team we played (in 2014) they (the 2018 team) are quite young.

“I don’t want to throw the word vulnerable out there but we are certainly looking forward to the opportunity to play them.”

Pakistan did themselves no favours selecting a very young side to take on the Australians in the warm-up – a move that allowed the tourists to get in some quality batting practice, racking up 494 for four wickets in their only turn at bat.

As well as Marsh’s big total his brother Shaun knocked up 94, in a third wicket partnership that was worth 207 runs, and Travis Head 90 not out.

Pakistan did not play a quality spinner in the match, thereby not allowing Australia’s batsmen to acclimatize to the turning ball on UAE pitches.

“For us it’s actually irrelevant,” said Marsh on the non-selection. “We’ve faced plenty of spin (in the game) but ultimately you’ve still got to play each ball on its merits and you’ve still got to make runs and spend time in the middle.

“So for us it’s been really good practice facing their quicks. They’ve had it reversing for a little while and that’s going to come into play in this series so we’ve still had a good work out.”

Marsh refused to concede that playing a weakened attack had backfired on Pakistan.

“It’s a tactic you see around the world these days, that’s for sure (hosts playing a weakened line up in warm up games)”, he said.

“We haven’t spoken about it at all. We’re here to get on with the job and we’ve prepared really well for this tour.

“So I think if we got to this practice game and we needed to face spin we’d probably be in a bit of trouble. We’ve had a long time to prepare for this series so we’re raring to go.”

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