Australia v South Africa – Adelaide Test, pre-game: Agile, innovative, creative selection

The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative” – Malcolm Turnbull.


Bravo, Cricket Australia.

What a time to be alive”  – Malcolm Turnbull.


You couldn’t predict this.
Except that people did.
John Butler – “A confederacy of dunces pt 1” (2011)
John Butler – “A confederacy of dunces pt 2 – Big Bash League” (2011)


You couldn’t diagnose this with any accuracy.
Except that people did.
Malcolm ‘Rulebook’ Ashwood – “Australian cricket is stuffed” (2016)


Problems have spawned secondary problems, such as a toxic inner sanctum
e.g. MJ Clarke, SM Katich here, MJ Clarke, SR Watson, JM Arthur, etc, etc.


And a toxic wider squad culture
e.g. B Geeves here.


All of which has resulted in calls for change.

And sure, even a life that is lived in an exciting time to be alive needs some stability. This aligns with the idea of selectors needing to “pick and stick”. But sticking with SE Marsh? MR Marsh?
In comparison, what did AJ Doolan do wrong? GJ Bailey?
Or every player from the Sheffield Shield -winning state of Victoria over recent years?


The Dark Art of Selection at any level is only ever partly based on merit. On scoresheets. The rest is whispers in ears. Potential. Contacts. Justified under long-term “project-player” tags or else under the umbrella term “team balance.”


So it’s goodbye AC Voges, PN Nevill. Goodbye JR Burns. Goodbye CJ Ferguson, JM Mennie. We hardly knew you.
And hello to MT Renshaw, PSP Handscomb, NJ Maddinson and CJ Sayers. Wicketkeeper MS Wade has also been recalled with paceman JM Bird.


“I’m embarrassed to be sitting here,” said SPD Smith after the embarrassment of Hobart. “We are not being resilient, we are not willing to tough it out and get through tough periods and the longer you spend out there things get easier, albeit the wicket was doing quite a bit and it was hard. But, the boys have got to start being a bit tougher and getting in a grind and getting in a contest and try to build a few partnerships because right now it is not good enough.” It seems there were not enough tough boys in the team, as selectors made some changes.

‘Extreme’ would be one adjective appropriate in discussing the six team changes from Hobart. JR Burns got a good one in the first innings, unluckily caught down leg side in the second. Is that irresponsible batting? Is that a batsman incapable of scrapping, fighting? DA Warner, on the other hand was out to an indiscriminate howler in the first innings; the opposite of tough. But we accept different standards of behaviour from him, because his eye like a dead fish picks up the ball more often than not. Which works when the pitch is flat and the bowling straight.



To the weekend just gone.
JR Burns probably awoke thinking he should stay in bed. That’s what Tim Winton’s Sam Pickles would have known. The shifty shadow had him. “Sam knew damn well that when the shifty shadow is about, you roll yourself a smoke and stay under the sheet and don’t move til you see what happens.” – Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

MT Renshaw awoke to feel his arms tingling; his nerves jangling. “…he was on a life long streak.” – Cloudstreet, Tim Winton.


The only certainty is that the shifty shadow of luck has allowed some to be selected. It doesn’t make them the best cricketers in the country; what it does mean is that they now get a chance. History says that if they play a few Tests, they will probably fail a bit, succeed a bit.

(History is of limited value here, as some of these recruits have backgrounds unlike any other debutants; playing as they do in straightened and riven cricketing times, forced to adapt to varying games, game circumstances and bosses at an incomprehensible scale.)


Sure. Whatevs.


The most important thing these guys can do, regardless of the shifty shadow, is to welcome each other, to help each other, to find out about each other.


There can be no model of the ideal Australian Cricket Test cricket team environment, for all people are different. One player’s darts and pin-ups is another’s cryptic crossword, is another’s 500, is another’s social game of cliques and factions.


But what should be common across all ideal models, is the idea of playing fairly, playing proudly. With and for their teammates. Playing the game as the game should be played. For if this is done well, the game is the ultimate winner.


I hope these guys welcome each other, help each other, find out about each other. I hope they are given enough rope to swing, enough leeway to imagine. I hope all players are left to themselves. And that they prove to be agile, innovative and creative.


What a time to be alive.



Check out the “Doggies Almanac 2016” – what it is, how to get one – here.


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. JR Burns was a bit stiff, but batsmen are often judged by the shot they don’t play rather than the shot they do. He should not have been swishing at a ball ghosting down leg side. Says something about mindset. Warner, on the other hand, can crash through a game and tear it apart. JR Burns is not in that league.

    PN Nevill also stiff. I am not a big fan of MS Wade.

    What a time to be alive indeed!

  2. G’day Dips.
    Arguments can be made for any decision, really. And yours a good example: judged on the shot he didn’t play.
    It becomes Kafka-esque.
    I get what you’re saying.
    It’s such an art.

    Talk of Nevill v Wade in terms of personality, brashness, is interesting.
    There is a school of thought that says the keeper needs to be your yappy, on-field cheerleader. GCJD Haigh on The Offsiders last Sunday spoke of personality types within a team.
    I’ll dig it out.

  3. NJ Maddinson is extremely fortunate. They have been waiting for him for a few years now, but he has not taken the opportunities afforded to him. I am a great believer that the averages (particularly batting) do not lie.
    Like Dips, I believe Nevill was stiff – his fighting innings in Perth has been quickly forgotten amidst the detritus of Hobart. A victim of the failures of the top 6.

    In all seriousness, I welcome the new broom approach.

  4. charlie brown says

    Nevill is stiff. I hope Wade’s keeping and batting in Adelaide are commensurate with his chatter behind the stumps.

  5. In football the players stuff up and the coach is sacked.
    In cricket the coach and administration stuff up and the players are sacked.
    Go figure.
    I get the need for change, but I went searching for precedents about underprepared young Australians being sent into battle by incompetent generals.
    Lone Pine?

  6. It’s murky and curious, Smokie.
    I’m happy with a new broom, too. But wonder about the first class records and temperaments of those selected.

    Charlie Brown – that would be a good start.

    I found the Offsiders from Sunday.
    GCJD Haigh suggested that Duncan Fletcher used to have an argument about the balance of personalities required in a cricket side.
    A mixture of 8 steady hands and 3 volatile personalities was about right.
    He said you could work it with 7 and 4.
    But at 6 and 5 you start to run into problems.
    And that recent Australian teams had been a bit strong on the numbers of flighty players – up when they’re up, but down when they’re down.

  7. I’m happy, fairly confident with this side. I can’t imagine Voges, Burns or Ferguson returning. Voges is going to have a test average to savour, Second only to the Don ?

    Patterson is unlucky, though his time will come. Nevill may return , as Wades keeping will have to improve. Sure he bats well, yes he has spirit but he lost his spot on account of his keeping. that’s his primary role. Now he must deliver.

    Do we play Lyon on Adelaide ? Is a spinner required for pink ball use ?


  8. Good call PB.
    Though footy players do get dropped.
    There is a remarkable teflon coating on this “high performance” unit/group/clutch of hangers-on.

    Vive la révolution.

  9. Ben Footner says

    I was mightily impressed with Steve Smith’s press conference after the last test. He was clearly disgruntled about the way the team had been constructed. I seemed as if he was agitated about not being listened to or consulted. Despite the obvious frustration, he was very measured and spoke with strength, passion and conviction, which indicates to me that he is clearly the right man to lead this team.

    I hope that with this latest incarnation of the test side he is able to build a team culture that he can work with, and he gets some fighters that will stand with him when the chips are down.

  10. As someone who takes a passing interest in cricket these days – here are 2 left field observations.
    Joe Burns – he always looked a good middle order batsman to me. Thrown to the wolves by being shoe horned into opening when Rogers retired. His elongated backlift and front foot prop looked all wrong for an opener to me. Very different opening in short form cricket than when the red ball is swinging on wickets with grass. But I reckon he can bat, so should not be written off.
    Pat Howard – everybody’s whipping boy. The “hasn’t played the game at the highest level” parrots have had a field day with him. But there are a half dozen plus former players on the day to day coaching staff. Isn’t he there to manage and provide strategic direction and challenge the coaches – not to be one? The coaching culture seems to insular and matey “Boof’s Boys” – mates or dills like Hick who make Boof look good by comparison. If Howard is not tough enough and challenging them enough – that should be the criticism – not the cheap shot about not having played the game. I was struck while proof reading some of the Doggies Almanac on the weekend – how much people praised Beveridge for “thinking outside the box” with ideas from soccer and rugby. Double standards?
    Would like to know what our cricket aficionados think.

  11. Peter Crossing says

    Enjoyed the article David (E.regnans)
    The Australian cricket selectors are to be commended on selecting “younger” players Renshaw, Maddinson and Handscombe – along with the perennially overlooked Sayers.
    However, it begs the question as to why Ferguson was chosen in the first place and why Bird wasn’t.
    The recall of Matthew Wade is another matter. It is obvious that he has not been selected on the basis of his wicket keeping performances. His on-field sledging during the recent disastrous ODI tour of South Africa was an embarrassment and he was eventually sanctioned for “displaying behaviour deemed contrary to the spirit of the game”. His selection now condones this behaviour. It is a nonsense that interim national selectors chairman Trevor Hohns can see it as nothing more than Wade being a “tough competitor”. I believe the Sydney Swans have an “unwritten” rule about such selections – except, of course, when it suits.

  12. John Butler says

    ER, these are interesting times indeed. (Remember, the Chinese regard that as a curse).

    I’m not sure if panic is the same thing as nimbleness. But it at least provides colour and movement for distraction. Much like Prime Minister FIGJAM used to do before he got what he wished for.

    Get Clarrie’s saddle strapped tight. We may be in for a bumpy ride.

  13. G’day Ben – me too.
    SPD Smith has written a good ‘un on Hobart and this week at the Cricket Australia website:

    PB – Hadn’t thought about that for Joe Burns. Can he bowl?
    On Pat Howard and thinking outside the box – they are probably two different things.
    Lateral thinking is always welcome (e.g. Malcolm Blight). The genius sees things the rest of us can’t.
    But I wonder about the job description of a high performance group leader. Is it to monitor the coaches? Where will it end? Who monitors the monitors? A touch 1984.

    P Crossing – thanks. Very kind. I agree that inconsistencies in selection are (almost always) baffling. Logic, reason and evidence only stretch so far in fields of Dark Arts. Interesting to relate re: MS Wade.

    J Butler – the whole enterprise is supposed to represent the circus, I guess; distracting us from important things. Climate change, governance, refugee policies anyone? It’s a bit grim when the Big Top catches fire. Clarrie’s got a sweat up.

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