09 December 2006

Ashes 2006/2007: A mid-series retirement

Well, that was unexpected. Australian batsman Damien Martyn announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Friday, with immediate effect.

While he was undoubtedly a stylish and important player for the Aussies, his impact on this Ashes series, and the 2005 series loss after which he was dropped, was minimal. His reasons for going and tributes to him are scattered all over the web already so I shall not dwell on it too much.

There does appear to be an element of going before he was pushed though: repeated failures in a team performing well stand out (actually, repeated failures stand out per se; please take note Duncan Fletcher re Geraint Jones) and Michael Hussey was promoted above Martyn in the run chase at Adelaide. Then again who can blame him for going on his own terms - especially if the failures are down to him not feeling it is right for him any more. What of its effect though - how will Martyn's unavailability change the series?

Well, it probably wont. Chances are he would have played in the third Test at Perth (starting on Thursday) from which he will now be absent and so the selection will change. However it seems likely he would have lost his place again for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne - contingent on the fitness of all-rounder Shane Watson, who would have played the entire series but for an injury picked up just prior to the first Test. Admittedly that would have been in place of Michael Clarke and not Martyn, but where Martyn has failed in his side's successes, Clarke has played himself into some form over the two matches, with a 50 in Brisbane and a stylish century in Adelaide and so the order of replacement would likely have changed - especially given Clarke has youth on his side while Martyn is firmly in the "Dad's Army" bracket with which the Aussie team has been branded.

Watson will return when fit, barring a miracle performance from whomever comes in for next week's match. In the meantime it seems the final spot in the Australian team for Perth is between an uncapped batsman Adam Voges and one-day stalwart (and Brummie-born) Andrew Symonds who can be lethal in one-day matches but has never established himself to the same degree in the Test arena. Symonds is more of an all-rounder and would probably weaken the batting and provide a stronger fifth bowling option, whilst Voges would be a straight batting replacement. Neither strengthens the side particularly - not that the Australian team is weak or in need of strengthening.

I suspect that England, given the choice, would rather Australian select Voges: a debutant is perhaps more likely to suffer nerves and fail, and his selection does nothing to ease the load on the veteran bowling attack. I also suspect that the Australians are more likely to use this opportunity to get Voges used to being in and around the squad (going double as he plays for Western Australia and the ground is his home turf) whilst picking Symonds for the match. Symonds offers more as a one-off - the potential for truly explosive batting (increased in effectiveness against a demoralised bowling attack) and another option in the bowling department. Besides, if Shane Watson is set to return for the fourth Test then whomever plays here is likely to be the one missing out in Melbourne - and a debut under such circumstances is hardly ideal; would failure mean casting into the international wilderness? Either way, I doubt Martyn's retirement has sent shockwaves through the Australian camp so there is unlikely to be any uncertainty for England to capitalise on - this going double since Martyn was failing against them.

Any hopes of this proving a turning point are unfounded, and there will be no weakness in the Australian camp as a result. All this retirement means in the context of the series, to anyone but Martyn himself, is a blip of interest whilst paying tribute to a stylish batsman. Business will continue as normal and the Australian team will not be affected by his decision - which means barring an unnatural turn around from England (selection and performance), the series will continue as it has done - in abject failure to enthrall.

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