December 22, 2011 by dixwah
Australian cricket is in a phase of real change. We used to be good and now we’re average. Our best players of our golden era are treading water, relying on past successes rather than recent form to remain in the team.
Our domestic focus is changing from producing quality, hardened longer-form exponents to hit-and-giggle franchises that will win over the youth market according to American Sports Marketing 101 (which presumably says children react more favourably to weird, incomprehensable team names than traditional animal or community affiliations – the Byron Bay Buccaneers will seal the deal).
The holy grail of Australian cricket, the glossy, philosophical Argus review, has, perhaps in a forecast of the similarly hyped NRL Independent Commission, talked the talk but implemented nought.
You didn’t need a decision review system to work out our previous selectors were rubbish. But the changes requested by Team Argus, including the dismissal of coach Tim Nielsen (but not batting coach Justin Langer?), and a new whiz-bang selection panel, including voting rights of coach and captain, has not produced anything productive in it’s current tenure.
The decisions to drop the underperforming Usman Khawaja and terribly out of form Phillip Hughes have been heralded within the Australian media as a sign that this selection panel ‘means business’. No longer will mediocre form be tolerated, players will be accountable for their performances and blah blah blah.
But this apparent hard-line stance is contradicted by the continued inclusions of fellow batsmen Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.
I certainly have no problem with the sackings of the two NSW lefties. Khawaja is a good player who couldn’t quite make the big score needed to stamp his footprint, while Hughes, not the prettiest batsman when in form, was shot and needed to go back to domestic cricket. Both will be back.
But if two of the best young prospects in Australia are thrown to the wolves, how do Hussey and the ex-skip escape censure?
The arguments from the baggygreen brigade (Hayden, McGrath, Warne, Clark) is that experience is needed. They offer a lot in the dressing room. Too much instability will have negative consequences.
Wrong. Australia doesn’t need experience. We need runs. After an ordinary Ashes, Ponting has scored 293 runs at under 27, a record even worse than Hughes. It’s now 31 Test innings without a hundred.
Ponting is a great of the game, and his time has come. The argument of ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ used to justify Pat Cummins’ successful selection applies here. If Ponting kept scoring runs he could play until he was 92 for all I care. He’s not, he should be out.
I have a slightly different take when it comes to Hussey. In the same period Hughes, Ponting and Khawaja have faltered, Hussey’s numbers are accepatble. Admittedly he scored the overwhelming amount of these runs when he won the series in Sri Lanka off his own stick, but he has 546 runs at a tick under 50 in the same time Ponting amassed 293, Hughes 360 and Khawaja 205 (less innings).
Hussey did nothing against the proteas or Black Caps, but I’d give him at least the first Test against the Indians as only four Tests ago he was in unbelievable form.
The next worry is the guys coming in. Ed Cowan deserves a shot, he scored runs at the right time, good luck to him. But I have serious questions about the inclusion of Dan Christian.
Talk of the need for an all-rounder is incorrect. Australia needs runs. Diluting an already underperforming batting line-up to offer a bowling option in case India piles on the runs is losers talk.
The packed schedule of four Tests in a month and a bit is not in question. If the bowlers can’t handle their workload, find some who can.
While Shane Watson’s bowling would be a great asset, Dan Christian doesn’t compare. He’s an all-rounder who’s in rare – very rare in fact if you consider he has a career average of 30 – form with the bat. He has a bowling average of 50 in Shield this year, hardly stuff to scare a good batting line-up as a fifth bowling option.
Christian is not the best batsman waiting in the wings, nor the best all-rounder (Hopes springs to mind immediately).
Then there’s Mitchell Starc. The great left-arm hope. With a first-class average of 34, hope is all the selectors have. Ben Hilfenhaus hasn’t been outstanding for a few years, but will be the stock bowler selectors are hoping will get a mediocre side to the second/third new ball.
I’d take Michael Hogan. Like Adam Maher at Tassie last year, Hogan has transferred from NSW due to the lack of opportunities, and come through the other side. He’s sharp, taking wickets (32 this year leads the competition) and in Cowan-like circumstances (and with Ben Cutting out) should get a gig.
That’s my team. Essentially my beef is the change of selectors, and moreover the Argus ‘reforms’, have been fruitless. Tough decisions are needed and the system has been changed to promote a boy’s club attitude. India will need to play badly for Australia to not get walloped this summer.