Australia bumbles along as selection process fails

Australia’s capitulation in Durham last Monday night has ensured that England has now won four out of the last five Ashes series. That’s a humbling statistic for a cricket country that once ruled the world so proudly.

One of the features of England’s cricket during that period has been its outstanding selection and management of its team. Steven Finn looked a nervous wreck in the first Test, so he was immediately replaced by the dependable Tim Bresnan. England has reaped the rewards for common sense.

Australia, on the other hand, continues to get things horribly wrong. Admittedly there have been some unsettling influences both before and during this series, but decisions like the one to prefer Ashton Agar over Nathan Lyon for the first two Tests are unforgiveable. Someone should be accountable.

The list of blunders over recent years is embarrassing. How did the homework situation arise in India? Why did we select three new bowlers in the most important Test match last summer, in Perth? Why is a rugby man making important cricket decisions when we surely have some of the best cricket brains in the world in our midst?

Things still seem unsettled in the current touring party. Mitchell Starc needs a muzzle : surely the bowling coach has explained to him why he was left out at Lord’s and Durham, and now, with Lyon bowling well, he’ll come back into the side at the Oval. Or is Starc one of those players Mickey Arthur was referring to with an inflated pay packet and ego?

When I walked into the press box at Trent Bridge on the first morning of this series and discovered the news on Agar, I, like most others, was staggered. The word out of the Australian camp during the tour match at Worcester just before the series began was that Lyon was bowling poorly and without confidence. Little wonder. For the previous two months the Fawad Ahmed bandwagon had been careering out of control.

Every skerrick of logic and respect for cricket’s traditional systems was thrown out the window as we were led to believe that the 32 year old Ahmed was about to become our Ashes messiah. What was Lyon, who took 9 wickets in his last Test, supposed to think?

The Agar story at Trent Bridge has been well documented, and maybe it was fate that he got selected and performed his near-miracle. At least it sparked some interest from a cynical public back home who’d become fed up with the direction the Australian team was heading. However, by the time England had ground Australia into the dust at Lord’s, it was apparent that the fairytale was over.

A wise friend once told me that selection is the most important thing in sport. He was right. Never mind ice baths, core vales and culture, players need the chance to play and to feel they are wanted. Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris have just proven that. Let’s hope that under Darren Lehmann’s tutelage we can at least get those things right.

For years we’ve ridiculed England for its selection of South African-born players, yet in the space of a few months we’ve changed our civil laws to accommodate Ahmed, and now our cricket laws to accommodate dual passport holder Sam Robson. We are looking desperate.

At times over the last two years Australian cricket has shown it is emerging from the chaos of the Andrew Hilditch era. Yet still we manage to shoot ourselves in the foot. Mistakes like the Agar one have proven to be very costly.

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    Spot on, Brendan. Every word true. Common sense and the KISS approach are the rules to follow in terms of sporting selection (and life).

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    why has Bird been dropped for Starc? Clarke doesn’t sound happy about it.

  3. Normally I have a high regard for your views Brendan, but I fail to see that Agar was a mistake. OK he has a long way to go as a Test bowler, but Lyon is no world beater. Those 9 wickets were on a dust bowl mine field in India. Agar would have got wickets on that too.
    We simply don’t have the talent and skills for Tests because of the way that the Sheffield Shield has been debased by poor wickets and short form games. That is the problem – not selection.
    As we don’t have the specialist batsmen, playing young all rounders like Agar and Faulkner makes more sense than flakes like Khawaja and Hughes.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    Peter,

    Agar should not have been picked simply due to his lack of experience. Is it possible for an offie to be ready at 19? I doubt it. His innings was an amazing moment in Test cricket, but he was ultimately picked for his bowling. I hope selectors keep him in their sights because we don;t want to see Agar buried in the already full spinners’ graveyard. It will be no surprise if he disappears from view for a number of years and return ready aged 25 or thereabouts.

  5. Andrew,
    Daniel Vettori debuted for NZ at 18 years and 10 days. Chandrasekhar, Saqlain Mustaq and Ravi Shastri were also 18 years old on debut. All were great spinners that an early debut didn’t harm.
    Has Agar a lot of learning and improving to do – of course. Is the combination of his bowling, batting and fielding in the best 11 Australians now – yes, in my humble.

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    damn it Peter. It annoys me when people ruin a good argument with facts. Catches me out every time. Still don’t think he was ready. I pray he doesn’t end up a quiz question ina few years.

  7. Whether you like it or not, Nathan Lyon is the best spin bowler in Australia. He was the incumbent, and had taken a bagful of wickets in his previous test. Dustbowl or not, it was a disgrace that he was not selected for the first test. In not doing so, the selectors threw many conventions out the window.
    But then again, there appears to be no selection policy at present. Steve Smith played the final 2 tests in India and scored 92, 5, 46, and 18, which was way better than many other bats. For his efforts, he was then left out of the Ashes squad. But then was parachuted in for the first test.
    Even the players would have no idea what is going on.

  8. Andrew Starkie says:

    Smokie, Smith lost his contract after India as well.!

  9. Brendan McArdle says:

    Peter_B,
    I agree that Agar is going to be a big part of our future.
    He’s competent in all three areas of his game.
    But I think we missed a trick by Lyon not being there on those big-turning wickets of Trent Bridge and Lord’s.
    Apparently his bowling on the A tour was terrible, but we saw how he improved from Old Trafford to Durham. He should be a significant factor in this Oval Test. If he’s not, then we experiment as much as we like with Agar and Ahmed.

  10. The problem starts right athe top. We’ve seen players discarded like old socks, a high profile coach axed, but those behind the scenes like Sutherland, are exempt from any sort of rigorous examination, let alone removal. Truly, who the hell is Pat Howard, and what/why/how is he helping our cricketers?

    Australia had a long period on top. and it had to end ; all eras do. The one constant in life is change, but the inabilty to manage the changes in the direction of Australian cricket is dreadful.

    Finally does any body recall the much trumpeted Argus Report? Can any one tell me where it’s gone/what it’s acheived?

    Glen!

  11. Glen

    Good point on the Argus report.

    I wouldn’t blame the report, as it was a brilliant piece of work that truly highlighted soem systemic and pending issues into teh sport.

    In summary, it picked up the lack of succession planning, a failure to set real targets for performamce, a lack of communication within the team, a failure to connect with grassroots and emerging cricket, as well as giving tips for Australia to return to its market leader position.

    These are issues that companies face and as such, the Argus Report, written by a business leader, was spot in in identifying the issues that had started or were about to occur.

    The report was frighteningly accurate at the time and even more so since.

    What has become of it? I think look over in that outbox in Sutherland’s office marked “Too Hard”

    Whilst I agree we had a once in a lifetime set of cricketers from 89-05, there’s no excuse for the decline seeing we had warning

    Sean

  12. I think the selectors may well have excelled themselves this time.

    With our batting being our weakest suit by some margin on tour, we have gone in with an extra bowler. Unless Watson is unable to bowl, this is an absurd pick.

  13. e.regnans says:

    There seems a conflict in the notions of building confidence through a consistent team composition on the one hand, and selecting horses to perform on particular courses or against particular opponents, on the other.
    e.g. dropping X because the pitch looks like it will be a dry one. Dropping Y to combat the opponent’s off-spinner.
    Addressing that conflict is a good place to start.
    So let’s be clear about our aims. Short term pain can be understood if genuine rebuilding is seen to be happening (e.g. Gold Coast FC), but not if deck-chairs are being shuffled about (e.g. Melbourne FC).
    Where is our vision? Are we focussed on next week or on next year and beyond?
    Let’s have a plan and make it clear.

  14. You can’t pick blokes who don’t deserve a spot – hence the awful scenario of a keeper at 6. As mentioned on another thread, Watson is so talented he must play. Best Australian all rounder of my time. Not a No 3 but no one else can cope.

  15. Andrew Starkie says:

    Congrats to Watto last night. Cricinfo couldn’t bring itself to praise his efforts, just kept mentioning the series was over. But a ton is a ton. Not sure why Khawaja was dropped. Why won’t selectors simply decide to go with him for period of time. Give him some security and he will feel confident and maybe flourish. Clarke didn’t appear to like Faulkner’s inclusion. Agree with Crio, Haddin at 6 is awful.

  16. Mulcaster says:

    Watson’s hundred was the first by an Australian number three in over fifty innings. His century was splendid. However, it is indicative of a deeper problem. Australian batting seems to rely upon someone getting a 20/20 style century. Warner and Hughes’s style is to either get out quickly and cheap or to make a blazing hundred. It seems to me that usually (not last night obviously) Australian batting relys heavily upon Michael Clarke. This series has been about how England sucessfully dealt with Clarke.

  17. The root problem, in my view, is that the cult of managerialism has taken over cricket. J.Sutherland is a poster boy for it.

    Managerialists are addicted to novelty. They love to make a bold, left field decision, in order to display their awesome managerial instincts. Why appoint an Australian to coach Australia, when you can appoint a South African? Why appoint a cricketer to oversee cricket performance when you can appoint a rugby player? Why persist with an elegantly simple, time-honoured, meritocratic club/state/national pathway to big cricket when you can adopt a splintered, convoluted, age-based mish-mash of youth academies, talent identification programs and God knows what other gimcrack novelties? Why pick the best 6 batsmen, bat them at 1-6, play a specialist keeper at 7 and 4 bowlers from 8-11 when you can have medium-pace-bowling all-rounders batting at 3 and 7 and a jack-of-2-trades-master-of-neither keeper at 6?

    The nadir of modern Australian cricket thinking occurred between tests in this current series, when the idea was seriously floated from the camp of playing both Haddin and Wade in the same side, with Wade playing as a “pure batsman”. Give me strength.

    Ian Chappell’s worst nightmare has come true. The “gurus” have taken over cricket, and they are wrecking it.

  18. Skip of Skipton says:

    No ‘near miracle’ or ‘fairytale’ going on here, just class strokeplay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8h7SrfkY1k

    I’d be playing Agar as the no.6 and letting his spin bowling come along in due course, if at all.

  19. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Enjoyed the Article from the legendary Woodville All Rounder and can we remember the Pommy Sides when they were terrible such superstars as Pringle Ealam etc guys who did a bit of both bout were not specialists and now bugger me we have started Pick 6 specialist batters of which preferably 1 can bowl a bit a keeper and 4 bowlers it is not rocket science

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