Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Selectors Name Ashes Squad, Debate Ensues.

This morning, Cricket Australia Chief Selector John Inverarity,
John Inverarity explained the "logic"
behind selections with a short term outlook.
on behalf of the the "National Selection Panel (NSP) announced the 16 man squad for the tour to England for this winter's Ashes series. 
Dan Brettig made the case a couple of days ago for picking elder statesmen from the Australian domestic scene who are tough, committed and reliable performers and who have gained experience playing in the UK, and it seems the NSP have listened. 
Many analysts and commentators have reluctantly supported the squad selection, while the British press are delighted with the selection, with odds for a 5-0 whitewash shortening since the announcement.  

Batsmen: Michael Clarke (c), Brad Haddin (vc),  Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Chris Rogers,Matt Wade, David Warner, and Shane Watson 
Chris Rogers: my ideal candidate to open with Cowan

The inclusion of in form Chris Rogers is a great sign, a "horses for courses" selection policy is always risky,  but in Rogers, the NSP have selected an experienced player who knows and is comfortable in his technique and range of shots, knows the conditions through his years of county cricket and is hungry to add to his 1 test cap without being a newly minted debutant. Although Haddin is no doubt an experienced campaigner, his batting temperament has always been under question, as he is prone to withering under the pressure of quality swing bowling and being dismissed cheaply/softly after getting his "eye in". Although Hughes gained some experience of the conditions prior to the previous away Ashes, he is still vulnerable to quality swing bowling, while Warner, Khawaja, Wade and to some extent Watson, have all struggled against top quality swing and seam bowling. 

How much ever we would like to, we cannot recall Ponting and Hussey for a single series and we must trust in the best available players to perform at their peak in the conditions. 

Bowlers: Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Ryan Harris,  Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson,  Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, 
The only surprise is the inclusion of James Faulkner and to a lesser extent Ryan Harris and the omissions of a second spinner, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson.

Wicketkeepers: Brad Haddin (vc), Matt Wade.
Slightly surprised to see Paine not called up in the initial squad, while the "leadership" reasons for Haddin's call up are understandable, and his recent Bupa Shield form is promising and is hopefully indicative of a change in batting temperament.  

Having overseen the disastrous tour of India where the side didn't win a session, let alone a game, and where once critical members of the squad were suspended for ill discipline and poor attitude.  Although Watson, Pattinson, Khawaja and Johnson were all identified as potential rotten apples in the cart, the NSP have thought it wise to include 3 of them in the squad for the arguably the most important and difficult tour of the year.  As a part of the press conference, Inverarity made some interesting remarks in regards to the process and thoughts behind certain selections and omissions. 
Haddin could be in the side as a specialist batsman.

"“You will immediately see that Brad Haddin has come in as vice-captain. The CA Board approved the NSP’s recommendation that Brad take up the vice-captaincy. As the case with the awarding of player contracts, Michael Clarke was not part of the decision to recommend Brad. Having said that, Michael absolutely supports the NSP and the Board’s decision to appoint Brad as the new vice-captain of the Test team.  It is a strange day in sport and leadership science when a non-regular team member can be elevated straight into a position of leadership. Yes, Haddin had been a regular for a long period before his years absence, but the dynamic of the team has no doubt changed in that period of time. I would also like to know just how enthusiastic Clarke is to have Haddin as his 2nd in command. "Absolutely supporting" a decision after it has been made is a political statement to keep the peace in the selection panel, and the veracity of that statement can only be verified by Clarke in the future. I remain skeptical of this "absolute support", as I think Clarke would rather have a younger member of the side take up the formal rank, while elder campaigners, who might not be in the side for the long term, support him from an informal advisory position, like Ponting and Hussey did for the last 18 months. 

“In regards to the vice-captaincy, we feel it’s important to have a senior, seasoned player support Michael at this time. When Shane Watson advised of his decision to stand down, the NSP viewed Brad as the exceptional candidate to step into this leadership void." 
The Shane Watson subplot to the fiasco in India posed many questions in regards to his cricketing worth, his personal characteristics & his leadership qualities. Seemingly rewarded for his ill-discipline in the early part of the Indian tour with the captaincy in the 4th Test, Watson's contributions on the field were woeful, scoring a series total 99 runs at 16.5 while not bowling, and this was after he had the temerity to put pressure on his fellow teammates my declaring himself to be the best opener in the squad but he would bat where required.
Upon returning to the tour, he led the side in a more aggressive performance from the side, with the players around him performing to a higher standard, though his own form did not improve. Having "taken the decision" to  step down from the vice-captaincy to focus on his form, a decision which I believe does more to highlight his own ego than show any humility or concern for team dynamics, (especially when he so emphatically insisted that it was purely his decision to stand down), I wonder if he does enough with as a pure batsman to warrant a place in the side.
Watson bowling is, at least for now, a thing of the past.
I have a theory that an all-rounder must be sufficiently skilled with both bat and ball to warrant a place in the side as an "individualist".  This means that an all-rounder should not get into the side if he is a top batsmen and but would fail to consistently take 10 wickets a series, or a top bowler but couldn't be relied upon to average 40 in most series.  The popular consensus is that a all-rounder does their job if they contribute with either bat or ball and its a bonus if they do so with both. However this is a false dichotomy, as I think sides that don't field an all-rounder but instead include another specialist have been successful throughout the history of cricket.

Given Watson's lack of reliable fitness to bowl prolonged or even short spell, I don't think the current Australian side can afford to carry him either as an all-rounder nor as a specialist batsman, when other options are available, both in terms of all-rounders ( Smith, Maxwell,Henriques, McDonald) or specialist batsmen (Doolan, Rogers,Bailey etc).

Wicket-keeping Situation:
 Upon re-reading the top quote from the previous section, no-where did Inverarity state that Haddin had the wicket-keeping sport secured, with the following line leaving things in a state of tension and uncertainty. “Matthew Wade is a very good cricketer and remains central to our plans for the future."  With Wade's inclusion in the squad, and with no real or clear insights given to the make up of the starting XI, it is not inconceivable that both Wade and Haddin could fit into the side, with one playing as a lower middle order batsman. 
As for the relatively small squad size, Inverarity gave hope to some of the Aussies playing in the British domestic circuit,"We’ll have approximately 30 players in England at the start of the northern summer and the NSP can add to the Ashes squad at any stage if the need arises."

Hopefully the NSP bring in some top performers from the county circuit to supplement the squad, and reward those in form instead of turning to old hands who are under performing. Otherwise, what is always a difficult tour will become another exercise in futility, and a tour to forget.