Nothing grants an organisation credibility like an authoritative sounding name. Think of the BCCI: the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Sounds impressive yeah? Like they are on top of things. Really running the show. You wouldn’t guess that it’s actually just a bunch of yes men, too scared of upsetting Sachin and Dhoni to actually control anything. So when, as part of the Argus Review, Cricket Australia did away with its previous selector (some bloke in Adelaide who watched the occasional game and knew how to work the stats section on Cricinfo) and introduced a National Selection Panel, we were pretty impressed. Until we saw them in action that is.
Back at the start of the year we did a series of articles looking at Australia’s attempt to rebuild their Test team, and tried to second guess what the National Selection Panel (which we’ll abbreviate to NSP, for reasons that should be fairly obvious) would do. Fair to say names such as Rob Quiney and John Hastings didn’t loom large. Still, we at least assumed the NSP had, you know, some sort of plan. A goal they were working towards. It seems we were as taken in by the official sounding name as everyone else, because it now appears that isn’t the case. Not at all.
It was hoped that the opening few months of the Australian domestic season would give some guide to how Australia would rebuild ahead of the upcoming back to back Ashes series. Instead all they have done is to show that the NSP will see fit to pick pretty much anyone they like the look of, disregarding such factors as form. Or even ability. But more on Phil Hughes in a bit. The Steve Smith Reports are supposed to act as a review of Australian domestic cricket, because we know that otherwise absolutely nobody is bloody watching it. But since it appears that even the NSP couldn’t be arsed to watch it, that purpose becomes a little redundant. So instead, with Shield cricket in hibernation owing to the Big Bash (God love it), we’ll use this opportunity to review the Aussie Summer thus far, and try to make sense of what the hell the NSP is trying to actually achieve.
You might have heard that someone called Ricky Ponting recently retired. Well it was news to us anyway, as we thought he’d retired years ago. But Punter’s decision to move upstairs to the imbecilic surroundings of the Channel Nine commentary box leaves a rather large hole in the Australian middle order. Nicely complementing the hole at the top of the order really. The NSP have seen fit to recall Hughes to fill that position. Now, we are not necessarily going to jump at the chance to write Hughes off prematurely. After all, most Aussie batsmen are dropped from the Test team at least once in their careers. Even Bradman. So for Hughes to be dropped twice and return means he must be twice as good as Bradman. Or something.
In fairness Hughes has done pretty well so far this season, scoring 518 runs in 10 innings. It’s just that one year on after being utterly embarrassed at the same venue, the NSP has decided he is fit to return to Test duty against Sri Lanka in Hobart based, seemingly, on Hughes’ own conviction that he is over his technical ‘difficulties’. He may do well on his return – it is only Sri Lanka after all – but surely it’s too soon, and another year or two of domestic cricket would have served him better. To say nothing of the necessity of shoe-horning him into the line-up at first drop.
The NSP passed over both Alex Doolan and Usman Khawaja, more natural middle order batsmen, to rush Hughes back. Admittedly neither have made quite as many runs as Hughes this summer, but you’d think the 161* Doolan made against South Africa while playing for Australia A ought to count for something. Although admittedly Quiney also made runs in that game, so perhaps it’s not the best example. On the subject of Quiney, every Victorian in the land is demanding his reselection, based on the fact that he is a ‘top bloke’ or something. Honestly, he should never have been picked in the first place. If the NSP think Hughes has ‘reformed’ to the extent he can return to Test duty, he should have played against South Africa, not Quiney.
And what about our man Steve Smith? Not a chance sadly, despite a solid start to the summer. Our prediction that Steve will need to embark on a Moses-esque pilgrimage before he can return to the promised land appears sadly accurate. At least he’s doing his best to rid himself of the ‘next Shane Warne’ tag. He was even seen bowling off-spinners the other day. Other names in the mix are Moises Henriques, and Callum Ferguson. Thankfully, at least, nobody is talking about Peter Forrest or George Bailey any more.
Here things are a little more straight forward at least. Just pick the ones that aren’t injured. Unfortunately that rules pretty much most of them out. Still, why Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings were given call ups is a complete mystery, especially since Jackson Bird was overlooked. Bird, who took about 700 hundred wickets last season, has followed that up with 27 already this summer to once again lead the wicket taker charts. Yet he’s bizarrely continuously looked over by the NSP. Honestly, if Bird was playing Test cricket he’d be up there with Tim Southee. He is that good.
At least the NSP seemed to have twigged to the fact that Ben Hilfenhaus is only decent about one year in three, and he looks to be dumped back to Shield ranks sharpish. That Mitch Johnson will probably replace him is a mixed blessing, but at least Mitch seems to be a decent bowler one Test out of three, far better than the Hilf’s record. Mitchell Starc looks like he’s not sure what to do when the ball is a different colour to the white he is used to, but will probably get another run in the Test squad this summer.
Ideally, the Australian pace attack would feature Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris, with Shane Watson contributing here and there. Since, owing to injuries, that combination will probably never happen, names such as Johnson, Starc, Pat Cummins (if he’s still alive) and Bird ought to come into the mix. Another is Queensland’s Ben Cutting, who is also continuously overlooked.
As for the spinners: Nathan Lyon. Pretty easy really, when you only have the one decent spinner in the country.
Who cares? They’re just going to pick Matt Wade anyway, no matter how many chances he shells.
By this point it was hoped that we would have some idea of what team Australia would take to England in a mere six months. Fat chance. The squad is still a disaster. The top of the order is a shambles, with Ed Cowan and David Warner only making totals once a series (if that), Shane Watson looks set to float down the order as nobody has a clue what to do with him, and generally the team is one Michael Clarke back injury away from being worse than New Zealand.
There will be some fun times ahead it seems.