Cricket: Where has the notion of “select the experienced” gone?

Matthew Hayden in One Day Colours (photo: The Age)
Matthew Hayden in One Day Colours (photo: The Age)

Well, one answer could be nowhere.  The experience still exists, but is forgotten amidst the desire to select the brightest prospects as mere “pups”.

Ten years ago, Australia’s test side was comprised of experience, runs and depth.  Names like Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh were all there, and the Australians continued to conquer.

Now, though, the game has changed.   Youngsters – of recent note, James Muirhead and Jordan Silk stand out – are making their way into the top flight after just a smattering of games, much less 15,000 runs.  Instead of being nurtured through the Academy – where 20 years ago some of the biggest names were born, raised and cultivated into 100+ test legends – they are in, out and sometimes nowhere to be seen.

Consistency matters in the game of cricket, never mind which format is at stake.  Success is built and earned in cricket – it does not simply spring from a sprinkler hole on the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Brad Hodge is one of the unlucky ones.  A marvellous 203 not out in Perth in December of 2005 hallmarked the Victorian, then aged 31, as a potential top order batsman in a side that was extremely hard to get a look into.  Luck, as it goes, went the way of the outbound train – Hodge played just three more tests after the innings at the WACA.

Selectors have forever been a target of the cricket fans, more so in the last few years.  When one generation (McGrath, Warne, Martyn, Langer) headed out, another had to come in – but this one was ill prepared for the huge demands of international cricket.

One primary reason that could be hinted to is the lack of organisation from Cricket Australia in readiness to transition into the next cycle of players.  Michael Clarke is the only remaining player from the 5-0 2006/2007 Ashes whitewash, a true indication of just how many players have come through the system.

Below is a list of players who have excelled at domestic level (Brad Hodge not included):

  • Phil Hughes
  • Michael Klinger
  • Tim Paine
  • Simon Katich
  • Michael Hussey

However, one hasn’t played for Australia – that’s Klinger – while the other four have (Hussey, of course, had a career spanning seven years).

Dilution is coming from too many too fast.  Players are being brought into the national squad, given a cap, and thrown straight into the deep end. Example of an in and out: Ed Cowan.  He has 7219 first class runs with 17 centuries at an average of just above 40.

After 18 games, he has 1001 test runs at an average of 31.28, with one century.  Problem; many pegged him as being too slow at the top of the order, but the role of an opening batsman (especially in a test match) is to establish both a partnership and a base where the other has a bit more room to play shots.

Chris Rogers celebrates a century on the MCG (photo: Davis Harrigan)
Chris Rogers celebrates a century on the MCG (photo: Davis Harrigan)

Latest situation: the runs.  Chris Rogers – he has accumulated 21,000+ runs at first class level.  Only now has he finally been given the chance he deserves, all because of the runs.

Just imagine: circumstances past cannot be altered, but the influencing effects are showing now.  The large void left after the 2006-2007 Ashes series was a rush job to fill in the spots where experience had once stood.  Phil Jacques was tried, so was Cameron White and Marcus North.  Flaws in their natural game were exposed, though the selectors persisted with North (21 matches).

Australian coach Darren Lehmann said this in October, in Peter Lalor’s article:

“In England when you’re not making enough runs you have got to find the right formula and we didn’t bat well enough, so we had to chop and change a little bit.”

Mentality in a cricket team can change in three months, and so it did with Australia.  Lehmann’s words rang true the entire Ashes series:

“No, I think we would be pretty consistent with who we want, where they’re going to bat and the position they’re going to bat.”

This is the type of criteria the selection panel needs to work with.  Disappointment reigns when the newest budding superstar is plucked out of the woodwork, then sent back to domestic level after just a smattering of games.  Which raises a good point; there is too little worthwhile red-ball cricket being played.

Just the start of where the NSP could play a waiting game, and CA could “tweak” the domestic summer to better accommodate players in the national squad.

Runs are also there to be made at domestic level – but then suddenly the big stage is upon the newest 18 year old, nervous and with little first class cricket under his belt.  Consider that.

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