Selection frustration

by Darren Dawson

The name Brett Forsyth would be familiar to only the keenest of cricket fans. Don’t fret if you have never heard of him. Forsyth is a batsman who plies his trade for Dandenong in Premier (District) Cricket, the level immediately below the Bushrangers. It is worth noting that Forsyth, with 632 runs at an average of 70, was the leading run-scorer in last-season’s “Futures League” (the second-XI competition played by the states). I must emphasise that I do not know Brett Forsyth, but I believe this relatively unknown cricketer is a prime example of a distasteful and worrying selection policy which has steadily crept into Victorian cricket over the past few seasons.

Whilst not exactly a household name, Nick Jewell would be reasonably well-known to Victorian sports-lovers. A handy contributor at the top of the order, after playing valuable roles in Victoria’s back-to-back Shield victories over the past two seasons, Jewell declined a contract for the 2010/11 season to concentrate on coaching.

In the first Sheffield Shield game of this current season, Victoria travelled to Perth to take on Western Australia. Regular opener Chris Rogers was nursing a knee injury, offering the Bushrangers the perfect opportunity to blood a youngster. And to whom did the selectors turn? Why Nick Jewell, of course.

Other decisions, such as sticking with Bryce McGain, a 38 year-old leg-spinner, and other long-time fixtures as Shane Harwood, have seen Victoria toppled from the top of the pile this domestic season.

This is in no way a dig at those fine servants Harwood, McGain or Jewell, the latter of whom performed admirably with 74 and 20 in Perth (although an alleged incident in the rooms after the match means he is unlikely to be selected for his state again). The Victorians comfortably won by 8 wickets. But I reckon that selection decision is a stark example of coach Greg Shipperd and the selectors’ pursuit of silverware and Twenty20 monetary riches at the expense of developing young Victorian talent. Young Victorian talent which should then be further developed with a view to vying for national honours. After all, is that not the role of the states?

Twenty20 can obscure reality in many ways. Do mercenaries such as Dwayne Bravo really drag more punters through the gate? The crowds will come whether he or a fresh young player from district level is in the navy blue! It is true that Victoria, with six players, was well represented in Australia’s 20/20 teams this season. But of this half-dozen, only Peter Siddle played any meaningful role in the Ashes series. It is possible that Bravo, and Matthew Prior, took the spots of future Australian Test players, but we will never know. (The imports’ performances were underwhelming, to say the least).

It would once have been heresy to suggest that Victoria should recruit from outside its state boundaries for young cricketers (remember the Lehmann experiment?), but these days it happens as a matter of course. Hussey, Wade, Sheridan, Wright, Rogers, Cleary and Hastings are examples of current Victorian players who all began their careers in other states. One could argue that they have all played a role in strengthening this state and helping it to win trophies, but at what cost? How many talented young Victorian players have migrated to other states to pursue their dreams as a result of the influx? Is it not a massive slight on the local competition, and its ability to develop young players for the Victorian team, that the coaches feel it necessary to look further afield? The only answer I can deduce is that Greg Shipperd does not rate Premier Cricket, and would prefer to look elsewhere for young talent.

Look at New South Wales. They have a seemingly endless production-line of young fast-bowlers: Hazlewood, Starc, Cameron, and now Abbott and Cummins. The latter two are teenagers who were introduced into the Blues 20/20 at time when they are still in the hunt. Our northern neighbours always seem willing (even if by necessity) to back in their young talent. Victoria finally made some selection changes last Saturday night with Salpietro, Gulbis and Keath all picked in the Vic squad. But by this stage, Victoria was out of contention for the 20/20 finals and would have looked foolish if changes to a losing line-up were not made. But can you imagine the Vics selecting two teenaged fast bowlers? Neither can I.

When the Shield season resumes, it will be interesting to see which way the selectors move when it comes to picking teams. From my point of view, the Bushrangers were caught napping by subtle changes in the 20/20 format (spinners opening the bowling, quick-fire bowling changes etc), so hopefully they can stay at the front of the pack when the longer form of the game returns. The selection of Keath in the England tour game was encouraging.

After such a sustained period of success in all forms of the game, and at a time when the national team is struggling both on and off the field, the Victorian selectors should be looking to return to this state’s core reason for being; and, that is, developing players to put before the Australian selectors. In 2003, the visionary David Hookes appointed a 20 year-old Cameron White to the captaincy. A bold decision, the likes of which one could not envisage happening at present.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Interesting points Smoke. Prior was a disgrage – from a selection and performance perspective. Keath, of course, is a “project” (counter-AFL) choice with no Premier League rationale for selection. I guess James Pattinson has been a young quick identified.

  2. Crio,
    Bravo was a success (and a typical West Indian crowd favorite) last season so I understand the reasoning behind signing him again, but Prior was a mistake on so many levels.
    Pattinson does indeed look promising. He was identified by the Vic (and Aus) heirachy a fair while back and it is obvious he is highly rated by those who matter (the bonus is that he is home-grown).
    I guess another point I was trying to make is that because the Vics have been on top for a long period, other states have now caught and passed them (as happens in so many other sports), while the Vics have remained loyal to an ageing group of players. (I really felt for Shane Harwood in the 20/20 game in Hobart when he was carved up by the young Tassie batsmen…he didn’t deserve to go out like that).

  3. John Butler says

    Smokie, these are timely and pertinent observations.

    When watching Rogers, Hodge, Hussey et al in recent Shield seasons, it was hard not to conclude much Victorian success was built upon Australian selectors’ intransigence, and our interstate recruiting; both of which had the obvious effect of stifling opportunity for youngsters.

    The outflow of players to other states is the result. Have we emptied the well back home?

    The presence of O/S recruits in the 20/20 invites the sort of discussions that England have about county cricket for the last 30 years. States are obviously chasing the big money, but a what longer term cost?

    The transformation of the Big Bash into city-based sides is unlikely to help.

    Australian cricket has a lot of important structural questions to face, but administrators seem trapped in the thrall of the dollar.

  4. JB,
    Another example of states putting the here and now before the future is WA’s recruitment of Mick Lewis for the Big Bash. Good luck to Lewis who is 36 and getting some superannuation, but surely there is a young quick in the Perth district ranks who could fill that role? I mean he would only have to bowl 4 overs per match, and what invaluable experience that would be on a bigger stage.

  5. I’ll defend Rgers’ motive…he was still hunting National honours – if not for injury he may well have made it. A very, very good opening bat.
    Bravo’s an all-rounder. We’ve plenty there. Start with Ronnie and The Duke!

  6. Crio,
    No argument from me regarding Rogers’ quality. Has monstered them in county cricket for years. Over 14.000 first-class runs at 52 tells a story. It’s a shame his chance at Test level came when he was not in peak form.
    However, he migrated to Victoria just after Elliott left for SA…so another spot for a local bloke went begging.

  7. Smokie – Terrific stuff.

    Forsyth has struggled a little this season (137 at 13.7) after his move to Prahran. Easy to understand when blokes who make runs and are overlooked will eventually go off the boil.

    Another player that falls into this category would be Tom Stray – entered this season with an average of just under 37 (3771/36.91) over eight seasons at Ringwood, but has been overlooked for higher honours (12th man once?)His form this year has dipped (similar to Forsyths) and averages 19 (190/10) in 2010/11. Glad to see he made a ton yesterday for the Vic 2nds at Toorak Park – not sure if the selectors are paying attention.

    Being a follower/fan of District cricket I’m sure you could have named many players over the past two decades who deserved a crack at state cricket – Mick O’Keefe’s failure to get at least one state game is a disgrace. Doug Gott is another from days gone by.

    Keep up the good fight.


  8. 2010/11 an extraordinary season due to rain interventions. Your points stand.

  9. Select a Shield side for Rd1 next season?
    Do you reckon the Future’s League a success?

  10. Steve Fahey says

    Interesting chicken and egg argument re Vic opening batsmen.

    Rogers and Jewell were the foundation of recent Shield success. Until this season, Mash was the only other one tried, and was clearly not up to standard.

    This season we’ve seen all sorts of combinations, mostly blokes that don’t open in Premier League, e.g. Hill and Quiney. Maybe time to give Stray a crack after his ton in the seconds match. One of the issues with the fixturing is the huge gap between Shield matches due to 20/20, especially for those players that don’t play the short form.

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