BRETT GEEVES: ‘Borderline unplayable with the pink rock’

Brett Geeves, Cricket, featured, Michael Neser, The Ashes, The Ashes 2021

Win the toss and bowl at the Gabba. It’s pretty bloody simple.

Particularly when your favourite Uncle and Aunty of the Sinaloa cartel, El Nino and La Nina, are visiting for Xmas and general preparations on the wicket have been lean.

I know everyone is singing the praises of chief selector George Bailey for picking Travis Head, but he’s not free of sin when it comes to winning the toss and batting first at the Gabba.

Batters and their theories.

As a first year captain, 2009-2010, George was big on batting first. Anywhere. Anytime.

Raging green seamers the country over – bat. “Just don’t play any shots for the first two sessions” was the team’s mantra.

Something to do with not wanting to bat last on a deteriorating wicket. Oh, and the seam movement on day two has more bounce and is faster, making it harder to withdraw your bat because of the increased firmness of the surface.

He also said it was easier to control the game – whatever that means – and that I needed to respect his voice as leader of the team, which was tough to do, given I had placed a handful of pine bark in his batting gloves and helmet the day before.

There was one particularly stormy morning in Brisbane where the darkest of storm clouds rolled through and the lights were on when we arrived at the ground for day 1.

If you want the key triggers for bowling first at the Gabba, they are:
• Cloud cover
• Tinge of green
• El Nino and La Nina visiting for Xmas.

If you want the key triggers to peeing your pants with excitement for bowling first at the Gabba, they are:
• Storm clouds
• Lights on

As George walked out for the toss that morning, the sun popped out. He won the toss. Batted.
Within minutes of George electing to bat, the clouds were back, and they were laughing!

Within seconds of our innings starting, we were 1-2. Within minutes we were 2-4. Then 3-6, 4-25, 5-27 6-48.
I walked out to bat not long after the first drinks break. Top scored with 40 … Smacked ’em.

“It wasn’t even that hard out there,” I barked at the batters in the post day de-brief.

Drop in wickets in Adelaide and Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Alice Springs – bat first.

Hobart, Brisbane, Perth – check what level the grass has been cut at, check if the lights are on, check if there is a storm in town – bowl first.

It doesn’t matter what the pitch does on day 2 if you are 6 for fekken 48 at drinks on day 1.

The other major blunder by England, on the morning of day 1, was the non-selection of Stuart Broad.

You know who hates facing Stuart Broad? David Warner, Seven times he dismissed him in the last Ashes.

David Warner of Australia is bowled by Ben Stokes of England prior to it being ruled a no ball during day two of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 09, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

David Warner of Australia is bowled by Ben Stokes of England prior to it being ruled a no ball.(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Broad was the last guy the Australians wanted to see on an overcast Brisbane morning; on a wicket with a strong showing of green; in the first session of the opening day of the Ashes. 94, made on Day 2, no Broad, bowled off a no-ball, dropped – this was a day of gifts for Warner.

But not nearly as big a gift as Jack Leach’s offering of left-arm T20 practice – 13 overs, 1 for 102 at 7.05.

England must be aware that their finger spinners have been hammered in Australian conditions for the last decade. Christy Doran from Fox Sports knew, which is how I knew, so I stole the below passage from him.

“During their lone Ashes success on Australian shores in 2010-11, Graeme Swann only took 15 wickets at 39.90.

“Three years later he took seven wickets at 80.00 across three Tests. That same year Monty Panesar took three wickets at 85.67.

“The last time England was Down Under Moeen Ali took five wickets at 115 in five Tests while Joe Root took two wickets at 39.”

In Australian conditions, if you are a finger spinner with no doosra, it is strongly advised that you fake an injury, get your injury pay, eat all the pre-game triangle sandwiches, and allow your team to play with the full 11 contributors.

For new captain of Australia, Pat Cummins, it was the perfect start – other than the injury to Josh Hazlewood, the form and continued selection of Marcus Harris and the concerns around the declining statistics of second innings effectiveness of the Australian bowling unit.

The Hazlewood injury is the biggest concern. He is the work horse. Being able to plug a quick in from the end the firebrands don’t want to operate from and have them go at under 3 runs per over, AND impact the wickets column, is very rare.

It is why Michael Neser might be the best option for the second test in Adelaide over the electric pace of Jhye Richardson. Hurts me to say, because we all love pace, but Starc and Richardson in the same team could leave the Australians exposed if the England batters find some momentum on what has become a benign day-time Adelaide wicket.

Australia A's Michael Neser during the Tour Match between Australia A and England Lions at Ian Healy Oval, on December 11, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Peter Wallis/Getty Images)

Michael Neser. (Photo by Peter Wallis/Getty Images)

Neser’s point of difference is his lack of pace to complement Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Cameron Green’s surprising pace. His batting is excellent too. The best wrist control in Shield cricket for the last five years would be borderline unplayable with the pink rock under the lights.

Mind you, Jack Leach, bowling whatever left-arm medium pace he can muster, would be a handful under the fabricated night-time lights with the pink Kookaburra. And maybe that is his best role.

So, put your 20c pieces out for all the captains who have stitched the team up by batting first on a green monster, because with Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney to come, we might not see grass on a day 1 wicket until Hobart gets its turn.

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