The important stuff


A lot of talk lately given their erratic performances about changes to the Australian test team. For the last few years now I’ve been pushing the need to elevate some youngsters into the team and to call time on some of the declining veterans. The dip in performance we’ve seen in the last two years from stellar to mediocre is reflective not just of waning skill, but of the failure to properly manage the transition from one era to the next. The selectors in general failed to promote the up and comers when they should have, and clung too long to the host of stalwarts that have served so long. Ideally the transition should have been gradual, introducing the rookies into a stable environment where they might benefit from the experience around them. Over time one team would have been replaced with another. Instead the lack of an over-arching strategy has meant that the transition has been bumpy and controversial, with the team losing clumps of players between series, and sometimes within them.

We are now faced with a similar situation, with widespread calls for Ponting to be given his marching orders ahead of the Boxing Day test, with perhaps Hussey also, as well as the misfiring Hughes. I find I’m in a different state of mind to most.

I’m wary of losing such great experience all at once. Sentiment has little place in sports management, which is as it should be, but I think Ponting especially should be allowed a graceful exit from the game. He’s probably our best batsman since Bradman, captained the team for years, and has been a tough and inspiring example to those around him. His batting is not what it was, but nor is it as bad some are making out – he’s certainly outbatted a few in the team in recent times. He also remains one of the very best fieldsmen in the world.

Hussey is a different case. He too has served Australian cricket with great honour, and besides being a terrific batsman Mr Cricket is a bit of a cult figure. Strangely enough he’s possibly the second best fielder in the side after Ponting. His form over the last 18 months has dipped and soared and dipped again. Fantastic in Sri Lanka he was woeful against both South Africa and New Zealand. Time is certainly catching up with him, and he hasn’t got the credits Ponting has. If I were to drop a veteran for the Boxing Day test it would be him.

Hughes, a relative youngster, should go, which is a pity in a way because he has talent, but bleedingly obvious in another because it is badly flawed talent. My inclination as a test selector would be to tell him to go away and fix those technical deficiencies and don’t come back until you do. I’m not sure if he can, or if he can if he’ll be the same player. Fact is his technique is not up to test standard where you get found out very quickly. I think he has a couple of seasons hard work ahead of him before he can be considered for a baggy green cap again.

Usman Khawaja has also had question marks raised over him. Unlike Hughes Khawaja has a great technique. He’s still very much a work in progress, but I think he’s a keeper. He might go in and out of the team, but I seem him steadily improving as his confidence increases. One thing he needs to do is increase the tempo of his scoring. He has it in him – he’s a brisk scorer at state level, and a good one day cricketer for NSW. Right now he’s too ponderous for a number 3 batsman, and for the style of cricket Australia has always played and always aspired to: aggressive and attacking. I’d keep him.

Not so sure about Haddin. He seems the safest of this lot, but I’ve definitely got his card marked. He has talent, is a great striker of the ball and a reasonable wicket-keeper, but he is prone to do stupid things with the bat in his hand. Vice captain against New Zealand I hold him responsible for the loss against them. His shot to get out was evidence of deplorable judgement after he had been dropped the ball before. He had only to bat sensibly for Australia to win with ease. He didn’t and we lost.

Haddin is lucky that his obvious heir apparent Tim Paine has been injured for so long. A fit and firing Paine would be pressing his claims hard right now. I think Paine is a terrific cricketer and possesses the clarity that Haddin lacks. Paine I think is a future Australian captain.

So, generally I’d be resisting the panicky calls for change if I were an Australian selector. It might be different if there were players demanding selection, but the sad reality with all the injuries we’ve had that there are none missing out. On that basis I’d be making minimal changes. Hughes out obviously, for Watson. That’s a big step forward. Very impressed with Warner, think he’ll be an Australian test player for 10 years. Khawaja and Ponting stay, as does Hussey, by the skin of his teeth. Haddin too, very fortunately. I’d then replace Starc with Harris, if fit. Inclined to fit a bowling all-rounder into the team given that Watson can’t bowl, but that would mean dropping a batsman. Christian is waiting in the wings, but I see him as more of a 20/20 and 50 over specialist, Faulkner would be my pick – young, and talented with both bat and ball. Maybe not this time though.

Looking ahead changes will have to be made. Come the end of the season either one or both of Ponting and Hussey will have to be moved on. The series against India will determine which. I’d be making a call on Haddin too, times up mate. I’m very happy that my nominations from last year have come good – James Pattinson is a star, Cummins too (though injured), and even Starc, who is raw still, looks the goods. Add in the likes of Hazlewood and Cutting and the bowling looks good. Just need to find some young batters.

In 12 months time my Australian test squad of 15 say might look something like this:

Warner

Cowan

Marsh

Khawaja

Clarke

Watson/Faulkner

Paine

Harris/Siddle

Pattinson

Cummins

Lyon

Hazlewood/Starc

It’s strong on bowling, in fact in a few years time will be the best bowling attack in the world. Batting needs some work. Some smokies: Mitch Marsh, Chris Lynn, Callum Ferguson, Nathan Coulter-Nile. And a couple to look out for in the future: Tom Triffitt (another Tassie wicketkeeper), Nic Maddinson, Kurtis Patterson (could be real big), and Peter Handscomb.