On Our Selection: Perth, Ready Or Not

You were hoping that our Ashes predicament was too bad to be true? Expecting that those charged with running a multimillion dollar enterprise were possessed of calm minds, steady nerve and clear vision? That they would have ready answers to what currently ails us? So how reassured are you by the events of the past week?

Ten days of Ashes cricket have been sufficient to cast doubt on most of the conventional wisdoms underpinning Australian cricket in the present day. When we reigned supreme on top, we were only too happy to boast of our superior foresight. Of our academies producing endless rivers of talent. Of how the Sheffield Shield was the best domestic competition in the world. Of how much better off those poor Poms would be if only they followed our example.

As we survey a suddenly barren cricketing landscape, and consider the limited options currently available, how comfortably does that hubris sit now?

The truth is that golden sporting periods- such as Australian cricket has enjoyed until recently- always come about through fortuitous circumstance, as much as sound management. No matter what system you establish, you can’t guarantee the production of a Shane Warne. If there was a formula, everyone would soon be onto it. But whilst success can’t be guaranteed by process alone, lack of proper process is a sure step to failure.

The current angst amongst the Australian cricketing public isn’t about the fact that Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist haven’t been replaced like for like: even the most one-eyed optimist accepted that reality years ago. The current disenchantment lies in the opportunities passed up in the last 18 months, and the apparent lack of a clear vision for assembling the next successful Australian team.

Administration, selection, coaching and captaincy have all recently worked at odds with each other to accentuate the decline in our playing stocks. From the marketing-inspired demand for a premature naming of the Brisbane squad, to early season fixturing that left the visitors better prepared than the hosts, to a preceding selection policy that left few viable alternatives to foreseeable shortcomings, our current situation isn’t just the result of an English on field resurgence.

Having given the appearance of settling on their desired team well in advance of England’s arrival, Australia’s selectors have lacked conviction in many of those plans in very short order. Admittedly, the debacle that was Adelaide demanded some sort of response, but has that response produced a balanced team to suit Perth’s conditions?

The most obvious of the selection changes was Hughes replacing the injured Katich. Though Hughes has been a little shy on runs of late, and appears in the midst of tinkering with his technique, there appeared few other creditable alternatives. Hopefully previous treatment at the hands of the selectors hasn’t rendered him too self conscious of his natural style.

The return of Mitch Johnson was also foreseeable, but speaks eloquently to the lack of alternatives and the many confusions of approach in recent times. What do we make of the decision to prevent him playing a Shield game in preference to working in the nets? Has net practice usually been seen as adequate substitute for serious match play? Whatever technical tweaking has occurred in the last fortnight, there can be no certainty as to how it will stand up under pressure. How Johnson performs in this game will reflect significantly on both the coaching and the judgement of the Australian dressing room.

By the reckoning of most- selectors apart- the replacement of Marcus North should have been dealt with well before now. He has shown he isn’t without abilities at test level, but a team in the doldrums can’t accommodate his inconsistencies. I’m of the belief that Watson should fill this spot, to allow him to play properly as an all-rounder. However, I can understand the arguments for leaving him as opener.

Having made that decision, the selectors chose not to pick Ferguson or Khawaja, who have the best recent form of those touted as contenders. They also continued to ignore the claims of David Hussey, who has the best long standing pedigree of all. By picking Steve Smith, they have replaced a specialist with an all-rounder, albeit one whose batting and fielding currently take precedence over his bowling. Smith will undoubtedly help the fielding stakes, though his recent batting form has been just so-so. But he has obviously been an anointed one for some time now.

It is hard to assess how seriously Smith’s bowling is figuring in calculations, particularly when we consider the Curious Case of Beer. As I sat under the trees at Ballarat’s Eastern Oval in January, watching St Kilda play in Premier League’s country week, I had no inkling that the left arm tweaker who picked up a couple of tail end wickets that day would be a test cricketer within the year. Neither, no doubt, did the tweaker himself. But at least I can say I’ve seen him bowl in the flesh, which is more than apparently can be said for Australian coach Tim Nielsen.

The selection of Michael Beer is undoubtedly the most left field test choice since Peter Taylor was plucked from obscurity in 1986. That it should occur for a test in Perth only adds to the curiosity. Since when has Australia ever played two spinners in Perth? If we don’t play him, then how will four quicks plus Watson work? I suppose, if we expect to concede another 600, then everyone should get a decent bowl. Presumably, we aren’t planning for such an eventuality.

On issues of team balance alone, the selection of both Smith and Beer for Perth seems hard to reconcile.

Andrew Hilditch’s stated defence of Beer’s selection is typical of many recent pronouncements from Australia’s hierarchy- it just doesn’t stack up with known facts. Beer’s “local knowledge” amounts to three games at the WACA. As for his “good performance” against the English in the tour game? 3-108 (at 4.5 runs per over) and 2-99 (at as near as 6 runs per over) wouldn’t normally be the basis for test selection. And on just what evidence is the current mania for left-arm finger spinners based?

Once again, the selectors have largely discounted Shield performance- or at best cherry picked performances- and looked to other criteria for making their selections. If the Sheffield Shield is truly the world’s best domestic cricket, then why can’t it’s performances be trusted? Does this reflect more on the Shield or the selectors? Nathan Hauritz must be pondering the irony that now, as his form finally seems to warrant test selection, he’s suddenly never seemed further away from another cap. If you were a Shield cricketer looking for higher honours, just what messages are the selectors sending you about what’s required?

If, by chance, Mr Beer finds some success in Perth, are we to credit an inspired selection? Or will we think the selectors just luckily plucked one from you-know-where? It’s little wonder that rumblings over selection are beginning to form from the direction of Cricket Australia’s board. As is all too typical nowadays, a post mortem of failure, rather than it’s prevention, seems on the cards.

Are there any causes for optimism in Perth? As England went through the motions at the MCG, it was possible to detect traces of a hangover about their efforts. And Broad’s absence will undoubtedly affect their side’s balance. But these factors alone won’t be enough. Australia simply need to produce an effort vastly improved on their last to even be competitive. Have they got it in them? Let’s pray for a Johnson purple patch. It is the season of Christmas miracles, isn’t it?

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Messy state of affairs JB. Maybe Hauritz should have been picked as an opener. He has form with the bat, at least.

  2. Australia could really do with Brad Hodge right about now, eh? :P

  3. At least it can’t be 5 – zip.

    Maybe we could get a bit of banter going to get under the Balmy Army skin.

    When they have their sing song to the old Liverpool Lennon and McCartney classic about a brightly coloured underwater boat:

    You all live in a convict colony, a convict colony, a convict colony;
    You all live in a convict colony etc., our crowd could respond.

    Here’s some starters.

    We saved youre arse at Galipolli, at Gallipoli, at Gallipoli;
    we saved your arse at Gallipoli…

    We send you canned lard and vegemite for tea, vegimite for tea, vegemeite for tea…

    We’re all republicans and we don’t need a Queen, we don’t need a Queen, we don’t need a Queen…

    Your beer tastes like Koala piss from trees, Koala piss from trees, Koala piss from trees…

    You come here to give your shielas space to breath, your shielas space to breath, your shielas space to breath….

    etc, etc, etc…

    (No apologies for political incorrectness. That’s all they know. If you listen to their banter they are really quite rude; but they are Poms)

  4. Great stuff Phantom.

    As an aside, can anybody confirm if the below really happened? It was sent to me today via email:

    Fox Sports 3’s Inside Cricket, transcript:

    Brendan Julian “So where do we go from here boys, Junior what do you reckon?”

    Mark Waugh “Mate if I was a selector there are at least five, maybe six, of those blokes who’d be looking for something to do next week, because they wouldn’t be playing cricket in Perth.”

    Damien Fleming “Such as?”

    Waugh “Mate, Doherty for a start. I mean jeez, we’ve picked a bloke because we don’t know who our spinner should be. Should we seriously pick a guy who has played 10 state level tests in his life to go up against Pietersen, Cook and those guys?”

    Julian “Bit harsh”

    Waugh “Bit harsh? He was chucking that many pies at Pietersen he may as well have opened a bakery on days 2 and 3.”

    Fleming “North?”

    Waugh “Gone”

    Julian “Bollinger? Siddle?”

    Waugh “Gone”

    Gladstone Small “ Can I interrupt for a minute?”

    Waugh “No”

    Julian “Junior is on a bit of a roll here Stone”

    Waugh “No I mean fair go, we’ve got it wrong here. If I’m the only bloke not happy that we’ve been rolled for an innings and 70 odd runs on a runway of a pitch and that lets be honest we’re going to have a summer of the poms handing us our **** in this series then fair go boys, something’s wrong here. What’s Clarke doing after getting out? He’s on twitter saying sorry for not walking? Mate if he did that in our side there’d be hell to pay. AB would chuck his twitter box off the balcony or whatever it is. Sorry for not walking? *expletive*

  5. John Butler says:

    Hugely entertaining chaps. :)

    Tim, I’ve seen part of that transcript repeated elsewhere.

    I’m glad someone connected with Australian cricket is perturbed about the state of things.

    Phantom, all the sledging in the world will be for naught if the team can’t raise a yelp. :(

  6. John you made a very good point about process, I think the board has 17.5 million reasons to explain what they have done with the federal sporting grant.
    As it clearly has improved the process to produce minimum standard international cricketer as we all know the very good will always rise to the top when the rest are unable.

  7. Maybe we could get a bit of banter going to get under the Balmy Army skin

    (To Rule Britania)

    Poach a Saffie….to bat for Eng-a-land
    Pommies never never will play for Eng-a-land
    find a Saffie from somewhere on the veldt
    Pommies haven’t played for england since 1963.

  8. Further Mulcaster:

    You’ve got no Poms in your cricket team, in your cricket team, in your cricket team…..

    Without the Normans you’d still live in trees, you’d still live in trees, you’d still live in trees….

    You Poms bulster our economy, our economy, our economy….

    We bath every day not just Saturdees, not just Saturdees, not just Saturdees….

    Point taken JB but just because the players are less than competitive at the moment it doesn’t mean that the entire nation should lie down.

    What’s that old saying: when the going gets toug….stick it up the Balmy Army.

  9. John Butler says:

    If only the team showed as much spirit Phantom.

  10. JB
    of all the stories I heard in the Adleaide post-mortems, this one would have to take the cake:
    When Katich was run out in that first over, Ponting was not even padded up and ready to go!
    When you are batting at 3, surely you must be prepared for the chance that you could be facing
    the second ball over of the innings? He was still getting organised as he was walking out onto the field. No wonder he was out first ball. To make matters worse, Clarke (the number 4), was having a net out the back while all this was going on. I would also suggest that if he need a net that badly, he sould not have been playing in the Test!
    For those of us who believe the whole system has lost its way, it is further grist to the mill.
    I was no huge fan of John “Ned Flanders” Buchanan, but it is hard to imagine these sorts of goings on occurring when he was coach.
    DD

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