Rotation, rotation

In the 2012-13 Australian summer just past there were 33 days of what might be designated top-class cricket in my home city of Adelaide: a Test match against South Africa; a single one-day international match against Sri Lanka; 19 days of Sheffield Shield cricket; four limited-over Ryobi Cup matches and four Big Bash home matches of the Adelaide Strikers. To get a picture of the Australian season as a whole one could roughly multiply the number of days by six. But apart from a truly superb Test in which there was a once-in-a-century bonanza of 5-482 runs scored on the first day, and a gripping, defensive rearguard action by the Proteas on the last day, the main point which must be made is that very little of this cricket in Adelaide was top quality and the same could be said for other cities.

 

I must admit I cannot report on much personally. At home I ignored the one-day international match against Sri Lanka on 13 January and the Ryobi Cup and Big Bash competitions entirely. Call me old-fashioned, call me a purist, call me an aficionado if you like but don’t call me a tragic for two reasons: (a) I don’t like the term for its own sake and (b) it has me rubbing shoulders by association with a former Australian prime minister of a different political stripe.

 

If I consider the matter I suppose I might be called a ‘cricket reactionary’, a term which the novelist and scientist C.P. (Lord) Snow applied to himself in a splendid article ‘What cricket has meant to me’ which he wrote for the 50th anniversary edition of The Cricketer magazine in April, 1971. Towards the end his piece Snow remarked:

I have no use whatever for forty-over cricket. It is technically monotonous, and has only about 10 per cent of the genuine cricket arts. It is also quite unmemorable. No one will ever write about forty-over cricket, or be able to talk over a game long afterwards. It has no imaginative appeal at all. For myself, I wouldn’t walk across the road to watch it. If one is searching for a short-term time-limited game, baseball is far better – an absolutely first-class game which has developed according to its own nature, not as a bastard shortening of a quite different organism.

 

Criticism of short-form cricket has never been put better. In my own case my paid employment for fifteen years at Adelaide Oval entitled me to see many fifty-over international and domestic games but few of them stick in the mind and the number of times I have paid to witness a limited-over game could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In fact, probably the most memorable match I recall was a Gillette Cup game between Western Australia and Queensland at Perth in December 1976 which I saw on television. In that game the result seemed a foregone conclusion when the home side had been dismissed for 77 and Queensland had Viv Richards opening the batting and Greg Chappell at number four for the visitors. In the event Dennis Lillee turned the match on its head with a scintillating first over to Richards consisting virtually completely of bouncers which had Richards ducking out of the way before yorking him for a duck. Unnerved by Lillee’s ferocity – he took 4/21 – the Queenslanders collapsed to be all out for 62. Alas! Those were the days before multiple restrictions were placed on bowlers.

 

One charge against the fifty-over game was that overs 25 to 40 were tedious with well-spread fields and batsmen picking up singles mainly to long-on and long-off. In a sense T20 cricket would be the fifty-over game without the boring bits except it provided a quick thrash and not much more. I’ve always thought baseball the much superior game for a three hour contest and thus thoroughly concur with Snow.

 

I popped down to the Adelaide Oval for a couple of long lunches in Shield games in the last few months and saw the odd session of play. However, the first-class competition which had a long gap between October and the end of January is totally devalued by Cricket Australia and must be seen presently as a poor developing ground for the Test side. The various state teams frequently fielded sides in which half of the eleven had played less than half a dozen first-class matches so that the games were really being contested much of the time between club cricketers. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s New South Welshmen would often argue that a Sydney grade team could beat an English county now perhaps a lot of the English counties would account for an Australian state side. On the basis of experience one would expect that this might occur.  In my only away game, a regular pilgrimage to the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, the Sri Lankans provided poor opposition and were thrashed by an innings and 201 runs in two and a half days.

 

Thirty-five players have worn Australia’s cricket colours this season but how many of those thirty-five could genuinely style themselves Australian cricketers?  Twenty-two players donned the baggy green cap in ten Test matches which ended with four ignominious defeats on the Indian tour. Twenty-two players also appeared in ten one day international matches and sixteen represented us in three Twenty20 international matches in the home season. Selectors John Inverarity, Rod Marsh, Micky Arthurs and Michael Clarke have had their work cut out and the task has been made more difficult by the pace men dropping like flies with injury. At one time or another Pat Cummins (stress fractures in back and foot), Ryan Harris (shoulder surgery), James Pattinson (side and rib injury), Ben Hilfenhaus (side strain), John Hastings and Josh Hazelwood (foot injuries), Shane Watson (calf), Jackson Bird (bone stress injuries in back and Mitchell Starc (ankle) have been indisposed for greater or lesser periods – in Cummins’ case for most of the time since his Test debut against South Africa in Johannesburg in November 2011.

 

Fifty years ago Fred Trueman used to get through huge workloads as a fast bowler for Yorkshire and England on not much more than a diet of pies and pints of beer while across the border his Lancashire and England team-mate Brian Statham prepared for a day’s play with a cup of tea and a fag. Both Trueman and Statham were remarkably durable for twenty years for their counties and country. In more recent years so too was West Indian Courtney Walsh for a similar time span while taking over 500 Test wickets and reaping a further rich harvest of wickets for Derbyshire. Somehow the so-called benefits of sports science, training and diet don’t seem to be able to produce Australian pace men who can stand up for more than two matches in a row. If Fred Trueman was alive I imagine he would be saying not only ‘I dunno what’s going on OUT there’ regarding doings on the field of play. I also imagine him saying ‘I dunno what’s going on IN there’ regarding fast bowler preparation and some player selections across various forms of the game.

 

The number one ranked South Africans loomed as formidable opponents at the start of the season for the first Test series and our performances in the first two Test matches in Brisbane and Adelaide did the home side great credit which might have resulted in a 1-0 lead. However, picking Rob Quiney at number three to debut in the first match saw him jump an admittedly short queue on the basis of a single success in the Australian A tour game. Quiney’s subsequent failure of nerve as much as technique meant his tenure was short but making wholesale changes to the attack for the vital third Test in Perth was truly inexplicable. This was the first major criticism of the rotation policy when Peter Siddle (almost an Adelaide hero) and Ben Hilfenhaus, who might have enjoyed swinging the ball into the Fremantle Doctor were rested for Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and John Hastings who to all intents and purposes appears likely to be a one-Test wonder. The side was not unbalanced but four alterations when the series was there to be won resulted in the team going down by 309 runs. The blogosphere allows the crazies to vent their views and it was not surprising that some conspiracy theorists would question Arthur’s role in selecting sides against his former team.

 

Sheer weight of runs saw Phil Hughes get a third trial in the Test arena and a succession of solid scores against Sri Lanka firmed up his place. The pace bowling rotation meant that Siddle and Hilfenhaus returned in Hobart for the first game of a new series but Hilfenhaus’s breakdown made a new opportunity for his Tasmanian team-mate Bird who made an impressive debut in Melbourne. Disappointing treatment, however, was meted out to Starc whose six wicket second innings haul in Hobart made him the match-winner and yet he was cast aside for the Boxing Day Test in the biggest match of the year. Injury to Watson saw four pace men – Siddle, Starc, Bird and Johnson – play in the last match in Sydney alongside off-spinner Nathan Lyon who, while failing to bowl opponents out in the second innings, appeared to face no threat to his position. In six Tests the home side performed creditably against South Africa apart from Perth and had a comfortable win over Sri Lanka yet with Ricky Ponting’s woeful loss of form and Michael Hussey’s shock retirement there were more questions over the makeup of the team in January than there had been in November.

 

Questions, naturally, kept being raised in India and remain unanswered after only the third white/black/brownwash in our history following a similar 0-4 drubbing at the hands of South Africa in 1969-70 and an 0-3 loss to England in 1886. While Moises Henriques made a brilliant debut in Chennai his selection along with that of Watson and Glenn Maxwell in the second game in Hyderabad reveals that we have too many spare-parts players and no specialist batsmen with strong techniques putting their hand-up for selection. In some respects Henriques’ selection (despite his excellent start as a batsman ) looks a little like that of Andrew McDonald several years ago when the Andrew Hilditch-led panel spoke of the Australian team having a lot of options. An eighteen-man squad in India certainly provided options: the trouble is that they were unconvincing options and Lyon’s sacking for Xavier Doherty and Maxwell in the second match appeared harsh.

The fallout from the banishment of four players – vice-captain Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja – in what was labelled ‘Homework-gate’ before the third Test strained credulity and among sober assessments was one from Tom Moody who stated that it was all very well to draw a line in the sand but you didn’t want six blokes on one side and six on the other. The irony, of course, was that Watson (as captain in Michael Clarke’s absence), Pattinson and Johnson all played in the final Test at Delhi along with Lyon whose first innings analysis of 7/94 was one of the few highlights of the tour.

 

So much for the Test side. Observers are used to large-scale changes in Australian line-ups for limited-over games and this pattern is established throughout the cricket-playing world. Nevertheless, the Australian side which played Sri Lanka at Adelaide on 13 January, captained by George Bailey and consisting of Aaron Finch, Phil Hughes, David Hussey, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin, Ben Cutting, Kane Richardson, Clinton McKay and Xavier Doherty contained only one current Test player (Hughes) who was himself playing only his second ODI. Not surprisingly there were severe rumbles that spectators and sponsors should expect more value for their dollar. Who were these guys? Kane Richardson is a promising South Australian fast-medium bowler but with just one previous Sheffield Shield match for the season and only five T20 games for the Adelaide Strikers as a form guide his promotion was premature. When the Australians were easily defeated Test captain Michael Clarke, opening bat David Warner, first choice wicket-keeper Matthew Wade, and left-arm pace men Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc quickly returned.

 

Of all the selections during the 2012-13 season, however, perhaps the most ludicrous were those of Sean Marsh and Ben Laughlin for the first T20 international match against Sri Lanka in Sydney on Australia Day, 26 January. While Marsh had been a Test batsman a little over a year ago, his state form had slumped to such an extent that he was averaging little more than 10 for Western Australia and had been left out of his state team. As for Laughlin, the son of Test player Trevor Laughlin, he had never established a state career with 11 wickets at an average of 60 in first-class matches over four years with Queensland and a specialty only as a limited-over player. Australian caps, no matter what the colour, should not be handed out as cheaply as this.

 

© April 2013

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books - The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. Thirty-five players wore Australian colours this season. 22 of them wore the baggy green. Staggering and disturbing. The casual cricket observer has no idea who most of these blokes playing for Australia are. The rotation policy is a joke, if you are fit you play. I shudder to think what we will be hearing tomorrow morning when the Ashes squad is announced. The way Sheffield Shield cricket has been devalued is disgraceful.

  2. Lachlan Waterman says:

    The Adelaide Test was a beauty and typically went the distance. I too am a traditionalist Bernard, the shorter version of the game is a little like fast food – goes down ok but never really satisfies.

    The ‘Miracle Match’ is still spoken about over here in WA, an amazing match!

    As an Adelaide boy if they ever knock down that magnificent scoreboard they will have to get past me first.

  3. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Luke and Lachlan for your appreciative comments.

  4. bob speechley says:

    I’m not a fan of rotation and consider that it’s a weak excuse to extend the boundaries for selectors but it has had the opposite outcome. No longer do teams “pick themselves” as indeed they should and the muddy water arising from the array of limited over offerings needs thorough examination by the authorities. The injuries to bowlers suggest s to me that Freddie Truman’s diet was appropriate for a fast bowler – think of Beefy. for example. Bernard raises much food for thought and his article should be broadcast widely.

  5. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Bob. Please spread the word via social networks and encourage others to do the same.

  6. Lawrie Colliver says:

    Pity you didn’t take the chance to watch a bit more of the South Australian team in the Shield this summer, Bernard.
    The excitement plus the ups and downs of the last 3 Shield home games was some of the most nail biting and exciting cricket I have watched at that level in ages. They were all low scoring affairs and there was great elements of tension on each days play.
    While the batting most of the time was below par, the bowling was excellent, witnessing old fashioned swing bowling, paceman attacking the stumps and now we have Chadd Sayers knocking on the door for Australia selection. Joe Mennie isn’t far of either.
    As thin as the batting is, with a bit of polish Jake Brown showed a bit and Callum Ferguson is close to a special season, lets hope it comes in 2013-14.
    I concur on the Big Bash – at time it was rubbish, but 3 of the 4 Ryobi games at Adelaide Oval came to thrilling conclusions, so it’s a shame you can’t warm to that format. Again, you say there aren’t many great ODIs to remember, but of all the Shield games youve watched, how many of those have been all that memorable?
    It’s also a chance to see young players coming through, so it’s a pity you didn’t have an interest in watching Alex Carey, Alex Ross and Kane Richardson progress through the ranks.
    As for you final comment re S Marsh and B Laughlin, we if you don’t watch the BBL, who are you to judge who is good enough to represent Australia in the 20 over format?

  7. bernard whimpress says:

    That’s quite a blast Lawrie but we’ll probably have to agree to disagree. I’d love to see Callum Ferguson string a few tons together and I’ve no doubt some good young players are emerging but my point about first-class cricket is that if half the players in any state team have played only a handful of games there’s an obvious drop in quality.

  8. Lawrie Colliver says:

    Yes it was a bit I suppose a bit of a blast. Normally at the pub Friday night where I can rant away to my fellow drinkers, without it appearing in print!
    I hope you take my point though – the standard can drop but the contest is still what counts.
    The SA state team has improved under Darren Berry and lets hope he can nurtur some quality young batsmen, so that 50 is credible average and not 35!
    If as expected Australia loses badly in the next two Ashes series, then finally CA might wake up and change things, in terms of program, the influence of the short game and the long gap in the Shield. Sadly, by the looks it will have to come to that

  9. Lawrie Colliver says:

    Oh and by the way, I picked up a copy of your Ashes treasures at Dillons on The Parade – bloody fantastic! Well done on it!

  10. bernard whimpress says:

    Glad you’re enjoying Ashes Treasures. Show it to your mates at the pub!

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