Cricket: The heavy price of Australia’s inconsistent selection

By Antoinette Muller 21 August 2013

Australia has once again brought the changes for the fifth and final Ashes Test at The Oval. James Faulkner will make his debut and replace Usman Khawaja while Mitchell Starc returns to replace Jackson Bird. Shane Watson shifts to number three in the order while Brad Haddin moves to six. How on earth is a team supposed to find its identity when the selectors show no faith in their own choices? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

One can’t help but wonder whether players like Shane Warne or Glen McGrath would ever have cemented their “legend” status if the current Australian team selection policy applied when they started playing.

Warne took just 14 wickets in his first eight Tests, at an average of 49.92. McGrath managed 19 in his first eight Tests at an average of 43.68. These days, players who do far more have the axe wielded, often for “injury prevention management” which is otherwise known as a “rotation policy”.   Mitchell Starc has taken 38 wickets in 11 Tests at an average of just over 32. Nathan Lyon has taken 42 wickets in 11 games in the last year at an average of 36.97.

Australia’s adoption of the peculiar policy has resulted in some fairly curious selections and, most of all, the ghastly mistreatment of players who have done nothing but try their best under trying circumstances. The constant chopping and changing of the team has allowed for little time to build a squad, and it must have left many players feeling bereft of confidence.

That a side should always select its best XI, there is no doubt. But success is fostered through consistency, which breeds an identity and defined roles help players understand what they need to do for the team. The Australian selectors have not only taken that chance away from a number of players, they have completely ruined any sort of structural plan to allow for succession planning.

The examples are endless. Mitchell Starc is one of the players who has suffered the most. Despite taking six wickets against Sri Lanka at Hobart last year, he was dropped for the Boxing Day Test. The reason was “injury prevention”. The same thing happened with Starc this year. After taking five wickets in Nottingham he was dropped for the next Test. He took three wickets and scored an unbeaten 66 in Manchester, but got the chop once again after that. Starc has spoken out about the treatment and raised the logical point everybody aside from the Australian selectors seems to fathom. How does one build consistency if you’re not offered a platform for it?

“I guess it would be nice to get a few games back to back and get that rhythm,” Starc said. “But to have a chance at that consistency that everyone talks about – ‘you’ve got to be more consistent’ – well, it’s a bit hard when you play one game and you’re dropped.”

“I think the first two (Tests) I played in a row (in 2011) and I played the last game of the South African series and the first game of the Sri Lankan series… other than that never back to back,” he said.

But Starc is not the only one. Nathan Lyon was similarly cast aside at the start of the Ashes following a good performance in India. Despite his career best figures in the final Test, he was cast aside in favour of yet another rookie spinner for the first two Tests in the Ashes.

Australia’s desperation for instant success and perhaps not knowing how to deal with being average for a while has cost the team dearly. The batting line-up has similarly suffered, with players constantly moved up and down the order without allowing anyone time to settle. Shane Watson, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja and now James Faulkner have all been shuffled around to dizzying effect.

Australia is in disarray, that much is clear. Its record, or lack thereof, speaks for itself. The team has not won a single Test in eight games; seven out of the eight have been defeats. Its coaching staff has also gone through a merry-go-round of changes with three coaches in three years.

It is an unrecognisable team compared to the once feared side nobody wanted to play against because defeat was almost a certainty. Even though the powers that be tried to rectify the situation, nothing much has changed. Since the release of The Argus Review, a review into Australia’s team performance, with short and long-term goals set out, nothing much has changed.

Although using a significant number of players over a set period of time does not necessarily  show any correlation to success, it is perhaps the disregard for those who have showed potential that has harmed the players.

Australia has used 30 players in 28 Tests they’ve plaed in the last two years with a 0.70% change on average per Test. South Africa has averaged a 0.44% change while England has a 0.43% change.  However, it was not until last year that Australia had tried its “player management” policy. That’s where things started going very wrong.

One of the pillars off success in Test cricket is fostering an environment with a solid foundation. That foundation consists of experienced players who have been there, done that over the years. When new faces enter the fray, there is far less pressure on them to succeed. Australia has been unfortunate in the sense that its team has lost a lot of their “greats” in a short space of time. However, it’s the lack of belief in those who hold potential and the mistreatment of those players which has hurt them deeply.

Players all suffer periods of bad form. Others have technical issues and should be sent back first-class cricket to fix those. However, a revolving door which doesn’t reward any kind of good performance sets the wrong tone and discourages players from bothering to up their game for every Test.

After all, if a career-best performance dropped an axe on your head, would you bother to put in the effort? DM

Photo: Australia’s Ryan Harris (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England’s Matt Prior during their fourth Ashes test cricket match at the Riverside cricket ground, Chester-Le-Street, northern England August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis


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