While the cricketing world sees George Bailey’s recent form as his primary selling point, we like the Test debutant for a completely different reason – because he’s a debutant. Let us explain.
Heralding George Bailey as the saviour of Australian Test cricket has become so commonplace in the lead up to the 2013/2014 Summer of Cricket that many fail to realise this rhetoric is based more on hope than expectation. With a First Class average of just 38.13 and just having scored just 128 runs at 32 this Sheffield Shield season, the man formerly dubbed a ‘specialist captain’ when he made his international debut in February 2012 has done little to prove his critics wrong. Aside from a Bradman-esque ODI series in India which yielded 478 runs at 95.60 with a strike rate of 116.01, two composed half-centuries against England in September and an admittedly brilliant unbeaten century against the West Indies in February, any selector would have abandoned hope of salvaging a Test career from a 31-year-old veteran of some nine, unimpressive seasons in domestic cricket.
From this relatively scathing assessment of Bailey’s career, it would appear we aren’t fans. On the contrary however, from the sheepish character many saw for the first time as a T20I debutant last year has emerged an cult figure worthy of a nation’s support. Endearing himself to a population through sheer work and a sometimes uncomfortably ever-present smile, George Bailey has become the embodiment of what the Australian public have craved since the retirement of Gilchrist, Hussey, Lee, Katich, McGrath and Hayden – someone you’d want to invite over for a barbeque. No Bonds ads, no celebrity girlfriend, no twitter feuds; not a ‘Julio’ but a ‘nerd’ in every sense of the word; a down to earth character genuinely thankful for an opportunity he knows many pundits, fans and couch selectors would deny him the privilege of.
Regardless of our endorsement and the expectations Bailey undeniably has of himself, certain trends have emerged in recent Ashes battles which place the ‘Gabba debutant at the forefront of Australia’s aspirations of reclaiming the urn. Since the beginning of the 2005 Ashes campaign in which England ended a streak of eight consecutive series defeats, just three specialist batsmen have made their Test debut on this most traditional of sporting stages. Of these, two have gone on to become the national legends and at times, amongst the most dominant players in the game. The remaining player finds their international career at a cross-roads after failing to realise their admittedly over-hyped potential. In fact, the last time an Australian batsman of note made their debut in an Ashes series was Simon Katich over a decade ago in 2001.
There is no fluke that England’s Ashes success has coincided with Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott taking to Test cricket like the proverbial duck to water. Usman Khawaja on the other hand has become on of the several poster boys of Australia’s failed search for players of the ‘next generation’. In walks Bailey, a traditionalist, forcing his way into contention from a position of obscurity with consistent runs on the international stage. Unlikely to be overwhelmed, Bailey enters an Australian camp more positive and optimistic than any in recent years, primarily due to Darren Lehmann. Bailey is part of Lehmann’s plans and as the national coach said himself, anyone selected will have job security and will be instilled with every confidence required for them to prove their worth.
|Player Name||Ashes Tests||Ashes Runs||Ashes Average||Ashes Strike Rate|
|Usman Khawaja (AUS)||4||172||21.50||39.63|
|Jonathan Trott (ENG)||11||898||52.82||52.82|
|Kevin Pietersen (ENG)||22||1864||49.05||57.16|
Statistics rarely lie in cricket. They may not be blindly relied upon as in baseball but they possess a significance that few players provide an exception to. Bradman was the greatest of them all with even the recently retired Sachin Tendulkar failing to transcend the seemly never-ending conversation of ‘who is number two?’. With regard to Bailey however, his averages to date may be nothing more than the deceptive foundation from which a respectable Test career is born. He possesses the current form, the shots, the grit, ability in the field, leadership potential and nous to be not only a valuable contributor, but Michael Hussey’s direct replacement. His strengths outweigh his weaknesses, and when a player’s ODI career is so vastly different to their domestic statistics, you can’t help but wonder whether he thrives on the big stage. Luckily for Bailey, he’s debuting on the biggest stage of all.
Right-Handed | Unlike pitches prepared in England, the decks seen this summer won’t be conducive to spin. The hard and abrasive surface will lend itself to footmarks and rough so that on Day 4 and Day 5 we will see some turn, but Graeme Swann will have a smaller role to play than he did in his 26-wicket performance last series. Advantage Bailey. Then, consider that Swann’s bowling average in Australia is an unimpressive 39.80 (5 Tests), whilst his average in England is just 28.94. Against left-handers he averages 26, against right-handers, that number grows to 33. Immediately, one of England’s two greatest bowling threats is nullified.
Experience | Whilst not at the international level, Bailey’s experience has facilitated him knowing his various strengths and weaknesses. Expect him to target cover and mid-wicket off both the front and back foot, aerially and along the ground. Experience however also amounts to predictability. England will most likely set their fields squarer to Bailey than they otherwise would, forcing him to play down the ground. For this reason, James Anderson emerges as a significant threat when the ball swings. Expect the outside edge to come into play and Bailey to possibly find himself caught LBW as he forces himself to play straighter in a Watson-esque manner. The greatest analogy we can draw between Anderson and an Indian bowler is Mohammad Shami. Shami is faster than Anderson but can only swing the ball one way so whilst this link is tenuous and Bailey only faced Shami for 16 balls in India, he negotiated them well, scoring 29 runs.
Preparation | The 2012/2013 Sheffield Shield season was a difficult one for George Bailey. With just 256 runs at an average of 18.29, what the statistics don’t tell you is how difficult Bellerieve Oval, Bailey’s home ground, was to bat on. Ponting (911), Cosgrove (784) and Doolan (715) all dealt with that adversity far more successfully than the out-of-form Bailey to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd on the Sheffield Shield run-scorers list, however the experience was undoubtedly beneficial. Skip forward to his recent ODI tour of India and Bailey was the Australian most appreciative and capable of exploiting the almost disgracefully flat wickets on offer. Whilst the pitches on offer in Australia will be nowhere near as luxurious to bat on, should Bailey negotiate the first 30 minutes of his innings (as he has done in all 4 Sheffield Shield innings this season), he will get deserved value for his strokes and convert starts into the scores witnessed in India.
Running | There must be something in the Tasmanian water because both Ed Cowan and George Bailey are horrible between the wickets. Most recently, Bailey ran out Alex Doolan in a Sheffield Shield match. Before that, he ran himself out in the 7th ODI in India with one of the more YouTube worthy cricketing moments of the year. Just for god measure, he has another embarrassing run out on YouTube for your entertainment.
Bowling | Gone are the days where Australia’s number 6 was required to bowl. The reason for this is Shane Watson and his all-round capabilities further up the order, however with a nagging hamstring injury and doubts over his fitness, Bailey’s specialist nature becomes a hindrance over someone like James Faulkner who performed admirably in the 5th Ashes Test in England.
Statistics | When we look at Michael Carberry’s probable selection in the 1st Test, we can’t help but feel that Australia are smiling at the prospect of a relatively average batsmen with serious vulnerability outside the off-stump taking them on away from home. Despite England having seen what Bailey can do against an average Indian attack on very flat pitches, they most likely view Bailey in the same light. As we said, the numbers rarely lie, and the onus is on Bailey, not England, to prove that this is an exception.
Luckily for Bailey, Rohit Sharma has provided him with some incredible footsteps in which to follow. After becoming the 3rd player to score an ODI double-century, Sharma made his Test debut against the West Indies. He now averages 288 with 2 centuries under his belt.
Ashes debutants have shaped the current batting landscape between Australia and England. For just the 4th time since 2005, there will be a new name on the scorecard. That name will be Bailey, and he will determine who wins this upcoming series. Will he follow in the footsteps of Pietersen and Trott? Or will he become just another stepping stone on Australia’s path to find quality batsmen?