Fear of an Ashes loss gets Australia’s selectors spooked

The squad for the first two Tests has prompted criticism but the problem isn’t decisions made. It’s the spurious justifications given.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fear of an Ashes loss gets Australia’s selectors spooked” was written by Geoff Lemon, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th November 2017 21.00 UTC

One of sport’s great passions is raging at selectors. It’s not a job that wins praise. But something is more deeply awry on the Australian panel than disagreement, a malaise that has persisted through changes of personnel.

The problem isn’t decisions made. It’s the spurious justifications given. It’s the complete lack of any coherent policy, core belief or overarching rationale. The reasons given for one selection vanish for another. Principles committed to in one case are abandoned. Panel members pick whoever they feel like, then invent a reason, building arguments so flimsy that a Big Bad Wolf would only need to give a meaningful look.

This Ashes side mostly could have picked itself. Only the wicketkeeper was an obvious flaw. Of the other two changes, you can make an argument for dropping Matt Renshaw due to Cameron Bancroft’s eye-catching run. You can counter-argue that Renshaw’s last Test innings in Australia was 184, he played important knocks on tough Asian tours, and that quiet domestic games to start the home season are largely irrelevant.

That is fair discussion. The hypocrisy starts once the call is made. “We would like him to go back to first-class cricket and push his name forward with the selection panel through big runs,” said Hohns, though his panel has spent years ignoring others who’ve done the same.

At the same time as saying domestic results matter, the panel picked Tim Paine. Australia needed an in-form wicketkeeper who could remedy a shortage of runs from Matthew Wade. Paine has kept wicket in exactly three games for Tasmania the past two seasons, and has made one first-class century in a 12-year career.

He has been desperately unlucky with injury, and it will be a great story if he can take this chance. That doesn’t mean there was logic in the pick. The selectors used the fig leaf of two recent half-centuries – one in a net for England’s bowlers as they took apart a youth team, another as Tasmania piled on declaration runs against Victoria. Ironically, Tasmania only delayed the declaration in the hope of getting Wade a final hit, but Paine never got out.

The greatest morass of nonsense, as ever, came with picking Shaun Marsh to replace Glenn Maxwell at No6. Call him the Selectors’ Cat – Marsh is already up to life number eight.

To be fair, Marsh played a couple of top innings in India, then was left out for Bangladesh. There have been times when he hasn’t deserved to be dropped, but there hasn’t been a time when he has deserved to be picked. Said selectors, he’s “playing very well at the moment, having scored consistently in the JLT One-Day Cup and first three rounds of the JLT Sheffield Shield competition”.

Marsh made a hundred and three fifties in the one-day stuff. So did George Bailey. Marsh made three fifties in the Shield, Bailey made 106 and 59 in his last outing. Callum Ferguson followed an unbeaten 182 with 88 in whites, having piled up 50-over runs. Half a dozen others were in similar nick.

Ed Cowan didn’t get the chance to try. The top Shield run-scorer in the country over the past three seasons was ordered out of the New South Wales side by Australian captain Steve Smith. Younger players were a chance for a Test gig, was Smith’s acknowledgement, but never Cowan. Likewise, Victoria ditched Cameron White, while an unwanted Michael Klinger left Perth to play in the Bangladesh Premier League.

Cowan and Bailey are 35, White 34, Klinger 37, Ferguson 32. None were ever in the frame, seen as has-beens whose chance has gone. Yet the new Test No6 is 34, and his chances never end. For Marsh, selectors will ignore his age and point to his state form. For any other, they’ll point to his age and ignore his runs.

Poor old Maxwell. The incumbent, with a fighting maiden century in India earlier this year. To Marsh’s three Shield fifties, Maxwell made two and a 45 not out, grinding a draw from 115 balls to show the versatility requested. Aged 29, one of the most talented ball-strikers of a generation has never played a home Test.

This is a criminal waste, on the pitches that produce his best cricket. It was a waste last summer, when the spot was handed to a struggling Nic Maddinson, then on to gut-feeling choice Hilton Cartwright. This summer, it’s another waste by handing it to a player about whom nothing more can be learned.

It looks like the fear of an Ashes loss got Australia’s selectors spooked. If my career relied on Shaun Marsh’s batting, I’d be worried, but he’s seen as a safe pick while Maxwell is a risk. But whatever the reasoning, it’s never adequately explained.

People don’t like being misled. What we keep getting is a lack of transparency, a lack of accountability and a mentality of jobs for the old boys. It doesn’t just annoy fans, it messes with the lives of players. Careers stutter and sputter out, as old boys look after the new. But the very existence of boys’ clubs is under threat. The world is changing: gradually in the main, then with occasional rushes of subsidence. You can’t beat erosion. You can only move ahead of the fall.

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