Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Knock, Knock

In this post Argus-Review world we now live in, potential and reputation mean nothing. Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes are testament to that. But the squads for the upcoming English tour, where Australia are scheduled to play some ODI’s, while the ‘A’ side plays some county teams- things may be not as black and white as they seem.

The squads, were released last week at a press conference by Chairman of Selectors, John Inverarity. As it stands, the ODI squad for six One-Dayers ( 5 against England, 1 against Ireland) is:

Clarke (C), Watson (VC), Bailey, Cummins, Doherty, Hilfenhaus, D.Hussey, M.Hussey, Johnson, Lee, McKay, Pattinson, Smith, Wade (wk)

There are a couple of glaring problems with that squad, but first, i’ll give you the names of the players who are in the Australia ‘A’ side, over in the Mother’s Country at the same time, for some 4-day cricket:

Ed Cowan (c), Peter Forrest (vc), George Bailey, Jackson Bird, Joe Burns, Tom Cooper, Patrick Cummins, Ben Cutting, Liam Davis, Jon Holland, Mitchell Johnson, Michael Klinger, Nathan Lyon, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc

Firstly, onto the ODI squad. Two big inclusions are the erratic, yet match winning left armer Mitchell Johnson, and young New South Welshman Steve Smith, who is fast becoming a new Cameron White- a dynamic right handed batsman, with Blonde hair in tow, as everyone has relised that their leg spin doesn’t quite cut it. For Smith, I hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case, because he has heaps of upside. If the Argus report is anything to go by, it’s criteria would eliminate Johnson out of selection wouldn’t it? A couple of great bowling spells here, a few good knocks with the bat there- but he tends to bowl wider rubbish than a club cricketer on a bad day.

Johnson’s reputation is high, his performances, low. So why pick him? Past performances have got him in, and judging by the last time he bowled in England, where he went at 6 and a half an over at the Lords test of 2009- he doesn’t get on with the Duke ball.

So, the Argus Review after the Ashes debacle of 2010/11 told us that past performances mean nothing, reputations are ignored, and strong domestic form will be rewarded. Domestic form? What form? Not one batsman is really knocking down the door, for the under pressure Ed Cowan, or the twilighted career of Ricky Ponting. If there was a batsman as such, Ponting wouldn’t have lasted the previous South African tour. There wouldn’t have been any Indian summer revitalization. People may say, ‘what about Khawaja? Hughes? Ferguson? Marsh?’ Quite ironically, it’s a fair question. What quite has happened? As it is, those four young talented batsmen have almost disappeared off the radar, from being right at the forefront of it, a short 6 months ago, they sit basically 13th onwards on Australia’s batting pecking order. Clarke, Cowan, Mike Hussey, Ponting, Warner and Watson make up our Test batsman, Bailey, Burns, Cooper, Davis, Forrest and Klinger are the Australia A batsman. The Khawaja and Hughes’ of the world are now way back.

As Victorian opener and County cricket journeymen, Chris Rogers said in a recent Cricinfo article, all of those young batsmen are in some way, technically flawed. He said of Khawaja, that he gets too front on, and thus gets squared up to balls he has to defend. He bonafide, ‘nicker’. Of Hughes- Chris Martin and Martin Guptill’s best mate, Rogers said he too, always gets squared up.

He said of Marsh, “Marsh often moves across very late, presenting his pad as a target and causing his swing to not come down in a straight line. When in form it all works like clockwork and he is imperious. When lacking form, it looks robotic and static.”

And of South Australian Ferguson, Rogers said that his bat doesn’t move in textbook straight lines, thus presenting a flaw to defensive strokes like Khawaja. It is no wonder then, that Australia have had numerous batting collapses over the past two years, when the next generation can’t survive a good working over.

I can see the selectors thinking, but I don’t think they’ve quite hit the mark. The Argus review said selectors should adhere to rewarding good domestic performances. The ‘A’ side is a combination of that (Bailey, Bird, Burns, Cooper, Cutting, Davis, Klinger), and a selection of players the selectors want to test out, before the next Ashes in 2013. (Cowan, Forrest, Cummins, Johnson, Lyon, Paine Pattinson, Smith, Starc)

So if rewarding domestic performances is the go- where is Victorian opener Rob Quiney? The left hander was the second highest run scorer in the Sheffield Shield last summer, and the Domestic player of the season, and is a more than handy One-Day player too. The selections of Cowan and Klinger in the A side was odd as well.

 Both are solid domestic performances, and in Cowan’s case, already a top Australia’s batting tree. Why pick the obdurate Tasmanian, when he’s already in the Aussie side? Yes, the selectors may want to acclimatize him to English conditions, like they did with the likes of Cummins, Pattinson, Smith, Bailey etc, who are all a chance to play in the next Ashes; but those guys aren’t currently in the Aussie side, either through injury or reputation.

Whereas Klinger, 31, has blossomed since he moved from Victoria to SA in 2008. The former Australian under-19 captain took seven years to score his maiden first-class hundred - Paul Reiffel once famously declared when he was on 99 - but he has since displayed his capacity for long innings.

But, he is currently playing for Worcestershire for the County season, so why pick him for the tour, when you’ve got Western Australian opener Liam Davis, who scored 4 centuries last Shield summer, and Cowan, plus Queensland Bull, Joe Burns? There were some odd selections, no doubt.

What I have a real problem with, is Khawaja and Hughes especially. I know they have been ‘figured out’ to a degree, Hughes especially- but in my opinion, they are better batsman than most of the guys in the ‘A’ side, bar Cowan and Bailey. The likes of Davis, Burns and Klinger haven’t got first class averages of 50, nor have the gift of youth the two New South Welshman do. More to the point, they haven’t played test cricket. None of them, even Khawaja- haven’t scored 3 test centuries.

Yes, Khawaja and Hughes had awful summers, no doubt, no two ways about it. And yes, the Argus review did say only pick players on performance, and performance alone. But if Inverarity and his merry men pick Johnson, Smith and Hilfenhaus on past performances, why wouldn’t the pick two batsman who are future, who are the ones with the talent?

A selector’s job isn’t easy; they can never seem to get two things in a row right. Inverarity’s crew has chosen some good players, some smart choices. But there are some big opportunities knocking, and they may have just missed it.

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