With Australian cricket in its lowest states since the early-1990’s, many questions are being asked as to what lies ahead for the once-mighty Australian line-up. Who are the next generation of stars? Will they develop in time for the next Ashes series? With so many questions needing to be answered, all eyes have shifted to the Australia ‘A’ Tour of Zimbabwe, a month-long tour consisting of four one-day matches, one two-day match and two four-day matches.
An extended squad of 20, captained by Tim Paine, features some of the best young talent in Australian cricket and will be looking to stake their claims ahead of a packed 2011/12 season. The squad includes;
Tim Paine, Callum Ferguson, Luke Butterworth, Trent Copeland, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Steve O’Keefe, Mitch Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Michael Beer, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Jason Krejza, Nic Maddinson, Peter Siddle and James Faulkner.
The first match of the series saw the young Aussies take on a full-strength Zimbabwean XI at Harare Sports Club. Batting first, the Aussies lost David Warner (1) and Aaron Finch (21) early, before a 98-run stand between Nic Maddinson (63) and Callum Ferguson (52) steadied the ship. Mitch Marsh (23) batted uncharacteristically slow and that combined with failures from Steve O’Keefe (2), Luke Butterworth (3) and John Hastings (7), ensured the Aussies struggled through the middle overs. However some late hitting from Tim Paine (37*) and Mitch Starc (12*) saw the Aussies muster together 8/232 off their allotted 50 overs.
This total didn’t look to be enough, especially when Zimbabwe raced to 1/93 however three quick strikes from off-spinner Nathan Lyon turned the match on its head. Together with John Hastings, the pair tore through the brittle Zimbabwean batting line-up, ensuring they were dismissed for just 142. Lyon finished with an impressive 4/22 while Hastings finished with 3/22. Mitch Starc also bowled tightly, taking 2/26 while Luke Butterworth took 1/19 at the start of the innings.
Batting first, the Aussies got off to a good start through David Warner (27) and Aaron Finch (59), however struggled through the middle and late overs. Mitch Marsh (41), Tim Pain (21), Luke Butterworth (18) and John Hasting (28) all made handy contributions, however Nic Middinson (8), Callum Ferguson (1) and Steve O’Keefe (2) all failed to get a start. At the end of their allotted 50 overs, the Aussies finished at 9/214, a total which was unlikely to be enough.
The bowlers though had other ideas and quickly set about demolishing the South African batting line-up, taking constant wickets and ultimately restricting their opponents to just 154… Running out victors by a comfortable 60 runs. John Hastings was one again the pick of the bowlers, taking 4/28, whilst he was ably supported by Luke Butterworth (2/19), Steve O’Keefe (2/37) and Nathan Lyon (1/20). Tim Paine and Nathan Lyon also starred in the field, taking 3 catches apiece.
After two solid wins in two games, the young Aussies were once again ready to take on Zimbabwe in Game 3 and were keen to continue their hot form! Bowling first, the Aussies dominated the play from the start and managed to restrict Zimbabwe to just 159 when they took the tenth wicket in the penultimate over. The stars with the ball for the Aussies were Trent Copeland (1/22), Mitch Starc (3/34), John Hastings (1/27), Steven O’Keefe (1/32) and Nathan Lyon (3/38).
When it was time for the Australian innings, David Warner batted slowly and made just 3 before being dismissed in the tenth over. Despite this, Aaron Finch was going nuts at the other end and was dismissed not long after for 47. At 2/58, things were still under control however when Tim Paine (0) and Steven O’Keefe (5) were quickly shot out, the Aussies were in strife at 4/67. John Hastings (19) and Mitch Starc (18) however provided strong support to Callum Ferguson (57*) before Trent Copeland (9*) finished things off for a third sucessive victory.
Game 4 of the Tour was against South Africa A and it proved to be their biggest challenge to date. Bowling first, the Australian attack struggled as the South Africans rattled-up a massive 7/298 off 50 overs. Trent Copeland (0/55), Mitch Starc (0/45), Nathan Lyon (0/48) and Luke Butterworth (0/34) were all expensive and went wicketless, whilst David Warner (1/32) was also expensive in his 3 overs. The only bowlers who produced reasonable figures were Mitch Marsh (2/15), Steven O’Keefe (1/34) and John Hastings (1/33). Tim Paine had a good day with the gloves, taking 3 good catches.
With a tough ask in front of the young Australian side, the top-order approached the chase with a positive flair and confidence which was beyond their young age. David Warner (22), Aaron Finch (39) and Tim Paine (33) all made good starts however the real damage was done by Mitch Marsh (72) and once again Callum Ferguson (66). Luke Butterworth (19) and Steven O’Keefe (11) produced handy cameo’s before John Hastings (2) and Mitch Starc quickly fell in quick sucession. At 9/275 with just 21 balls remaining, all hope seemed lost despite the positive start.
Trent Copeland (14*) and Nathan Lyon (14*) though have other ideas and together smashed 28 runs, seeing the Aussies home with 1 ball to spare, finishing on 9/303.
Game 5 of the Tour was the Final of the One-day Tri Series, of which the young Aussies faced South Africa ‘A’ in what was sure to be a tight contest. Batting first, the Aussies got off to a flyer through David Warner and Phil Hughes, who together smashed 206 in 37.3 overs before Warner was dismissed for 120. John Hastings (2), Mitch Marsh (5) and Aaron Finch (20) all followed quickly, and when Hughes departed for a majestic 138, the Aussies had failed to capitalise on a great platform. Callum Ferguson (1) lasted two balls and Tim Paine (1*) and Luke Butterworth (2*) failed to hit boundaries at the death. The final total of 6/293 was good, but should have been much higher. The highlight of the innings was certainly Hughes’ innings, especially given it was his first hit of the Tour.
When it was the Aussies turn in the field, frequent wickets throughout the innings saw them stay on top and when they had reduced the South Africans to 6/175 in the 33rd over, the game seemed over… Enter Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Rory Kleinveldt. Together the pair took it to the Australians and had raced along to 6/253 before van Jaarsveld departed. Some late-order hitting saw the South Africans need just 3 runs from 2 balls with 2 wickets in hand, however Mitch Marsh held his nerve as the Aussies took wickets off the final 2 deliveries to record a thrilling 2-run victory and steal the trophy! Mitch Starc (0/42), John Hastings (0/65) and Steve O’Keefe (0/39) were all expansive without taking a wicket, however Luke Butterworth (1/27) bowled well. The two stars for the Aussies though were once again Nathan Lyon (3/55) and Mitch Marsh (4/56) who’s wickets proved to be the deciding factor.
The One-day series proved to be a great success for the young Australians, having won all 5 games. The Top-5 performing players were:
Nathan Lyon (15 runs & 11 wickets)
John Hastings (58 runs & 9 wickets)
Mitch Marsh (141 runs & 6 wickets)
Aaron Finch (186 runs)
David Warner (173 runs & 1 wicket)
The focus now shifts to the remaining two 4-day matches, set to occur in the coming weeks. Be sure to come back and see how that transpires.