Where to baggy green?

The first test of the Australian summer starts today when Oz takes on the Saffers in Perth. Normally I’d be anticipating this pretty keenly, except for the last little while I’ve found myself disenchanted with Australian cricket.

It’s not the players nor the competition itself, it’s the administration and selection that really cheeses me off. I had a crack a couple of months ago at the Australian selection policies, but they never stop offering up stuff worth grizzling about.
So okay, grizzling about selectors is a blood sport all over, and there were probably Romans whinging about the gladiators selected to take on the barbarians/Christians/lions, etc. It’s a well-established sport. On top of that some of the things really irking me about Australian team selection can be sheeted home to the blithering policies of the high performance administration of the team. I’ll get to them. 

After the farce of Sri Lanka Australia took on the South Africans for a 5 match ODI series over there. Thanks to the ridiculous rotation policy pretty well our entire front-line attack was missing. Starc, quite possibly the best bowler in the world, and certainly the most devastating ODI bowler, was left in Australia, where he managed to injure himself anyway. Hazlewood, who could really use some hard work, was left home too. Mitch Marsh, the all-rounder, was given time off too, and I have no idea where Faulkner is these days.

There’s a growing pattern of rotating swathes of players out of the team for competitions the team administration obviously deem of secondary importance. I have a couple of problems with that. For a start it’s disrespectful, to opponents and to supporters like me who want see a close and committed contest. It’s a bad habit to get into as well. Once you start compromising on commitment levels it can be infectious. Australian teams should always be in it to win it – that’s our sporting heritage. Finally, do it badly and it has a double impact – it can knock confidence and give your opponent a big leg-up. That’s what happened in South Africa. 

South Africa arrive in Australia having whitewashed a third string Australian team 5-0. The rotations didn’t help, but then the selected replacements were a motley lot. Rather than select the predictable seasoned pros to step-up the selectors named bowlers straight out of a Australia A series. They were smashed. It didn’t do much for the contest, and unfortunately it wouldn’t have done much for the confidence of these rookies, effectively led like lambs to the slaughter. 

This highlights another emerging trend – selection for the Australian team has been devalued (along with the competition) by the left field selections of players not ready to step up. There was once a definite mystique about donning the baggy green for the first time. You had to earn it the hard way, and players stepping in were either prodigies or battle-hardened pros. 

As I see it two of the big problems are the rotation policy, which is too heavy and seems not to be on a needs basis. The other issue is scheduling. Why do we agree to these mini-tours if we’re not going to take them seriously? It gives me no pleasure watching us get thumped 5 zip. There is too much cricket, and Australian cricket would benefit by being more selective about the tours we agree to. It would give greater weight to the remaining contests also. 

But then there is selection. There was a fair bit of discussion going into the composition of the bowling attack for this match. Most contentious was the battle between Siddle and Bird. I’d have picked Bird, but Siddle got the nod. I can understand the selection, but in the past Siddle is a bowler who thrives on hard work, and on the way back from injury he comes into the match underdone. Also underdone, ironically, are Starc and Hazlewood, who were pulled from a Sheffield Shield match on the weekend to prepare for the test – although what they needed was a good work-out. 

Like I said, I can understand the selection of Siddle over Bird, what I can’t understand is the justification – that Siddle is a better batter. That shouldn’t be a consideration. I think Bird has a sharper cutting edge, and Siddle will keep battling on, and they should be the factors, not batting. 

Australian cricket administration has lost its way a little, and needs to get its priorities right and find a way back. I’m not the only one grumbling – this is not how Australian cricket operates.

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