So Rod Marsh’s tenure as Chairman of Selectors is coming to an end. The question is why did he ever accept the position, and who saw fit to offer to him in the first place? Actually, the real question is why did he ever shave off his moustache and never grow it back again? Same as with Allan Border, even after all these years we still can’t look at their faces without seeing the ghost of a mo on their upper-lip. But anyway, we shall leave such imponderables to another time. The real task at hand is to determine whether or not Marsh’s occupancy of the top job can be considered a success (hint: no), and what, if anything, went wrong over this period.
For those of us fortunate to witness it, Rod Marsh’s first press conference as Chairman of Selectors (Cricket Australia streamed it live, nobody would ever trust us with a press pass, no matter how much we’ve begged the Big Bash for one) in mid-2014 was a thing of absurd beauty. He, patently, did not want to be there. He, patently, did not even want the gig, but instead gave every impression that he was only taking on the job as a favor for his mate Boof Lehmann. So, from the first, Marsh gave the impression that he was Lehmann’s pick, put in place as a consequence of Boof’s new found influence after the success of the 2013/14 Ashes and subsequent tour of South Africa, and to avoid any of the nasty unpleasantness that occurred when John Inverarity held the post. Marsh was there, as it seemed at the time and so subsequently proved, to oversee Boof’s vision of a new, more competitive Australian setup.
If we were to dissect the Australian setup on selections alone we wouldn’t really get the whole picture. During Marsh’s tenure there have been a number of Test debutants, Mitchell Marsh prime amongst them, but also caps handed to the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Adam Voges and Joe Burns: a mixed bag really. On the ODI front things have been similarly mixed, and it’s only with the recent tour of South Africa, with the selections of the likes of Worrall and Tremain (we’re still holding out that Mennie is actually hot stuff and youse will all be proved wrong soon) could you say the selection process has really taken a turn for the surreal. Otherwise there are names like Joel Paris, Adam Zampa, and, er, Marcus Stoinis. So another mixed bag really. T20 cricket is so batshit mental we are not even going to bother looking at that.
So selections wise it’s hard to criticize Marsh too much. Fans tend to bitch endlessly about bad selections (in their eyes), but rarely if ever give credit where it’s due. Besides, fans can also be wrong. As can the media. Oh, especially so can the media. So since selecting peeps and stuff is mostly what Marsh did, and they mostly seemed to have been okay picks, where is the beef? Well, it’s more the problem of why players were picked, rather than who. Mitchell Marsh is a good example (as always). He seemed to fulfill the need for a much needed all-rounder across all three squads and was subsequently picked for every bloody game he was available for. Has it been a success? Nope. Not really. But has that changed the selector’s minds? Nope. Not really. Marsh fits the ideal, even if he hasn’t worked as a player. And therein lies the problem.
Under Marsh’s tenure, the Australian setup, across all three formats, has become an image of Lehmann’s creation. Lehmann wants an aggressive setup, with an attacking batting lineup that takes the game to the opposition, and three quick bowlers bowling in rotation, with an all-rounder there to take up some of the slack, and, er, Nathan Lyon to sing the team song and stuff. The team Lehmann inherited already ticked most of those boxes, but he wanted to push the envelope even further after the successes of 2013/14, and hence Marsh has kept the ball rolling in the same direction. Aggressive players, with the exception of Adam Voges, picked to fit a pre-determined mould.
The result? An Australian setup that has subsequently lost the ability to become difficult to beat. Either all the pieces fall into place and they steamroll the opposition or they misfire horribly and get steamrolled in turn. The tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa have displayed this trait conspicuously, but they are hardly exceptions. Rather they have become the norm. Marsh has overseen, at Lehmann’s behest, the selection of a team of archetypes. The aggressive openers, the spinning all-rounder, the aggressive strike bowler, the line and length economical bowler and so on, with little attention seemingly given as to whether or not the players chosen can actually performs these roles. The rare successes in this setup have come from experienced players who have shown the ability to adapt, like John Hastings. Whereas the young players thrown into the mix, like Mitchell Marsh, Joe Burns, Jon Holland, Scott Boland, Travis Head etc. etc., have floundered, caught between the expectation of fulfilling a pre-determined role, and establishing themselves in International cricket.
Marsh’s tenure, then, has been a dismal failure. The results alone bear that out, but even more worrying is that there have been few bright sparks, young players thrown into the mix who have given a glimmer of hope that they might just be able to rise to the occasion, rather than be burnt out by it. Adam Zampa is one. Joel Paris is possibly another. Precious few batsmen have been able to make the adjustment though, hence the continuing reliance on Voges. And now Shaun Marsh. And we’re sure that’ll work out well for all involved…
Marsh’s comment after the first Sri Lankan Test that he couldn’t understand how they had lost so badly, or how they could have possibly prepared better, suggests he actually doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He’s just giving Lehmann the pieces he asks for, without any actual understanding of how they are supposed to function together as a team. The result is an Australian setup that lacks any clear identity. Or, rather, it has an identity that Lehmann has foisted upon it, but is clearly not working. We’re buggered if we know who will replace Marsh, or even who should (please not Mark Waugh. Please). But our suggestion to the powers that be (avid readers of this blog to be sure), would be to strip Lehmann of some influence and appoint a chairman of selectors who will actually challenge his authority, rather than just rubber stamp it.