The gift of youth

Thank you all for your feedback on selection – as usual, dongles readers are intelligent and thought provoking and I’ve been given more food for thought. I want to say this whether Australia wins, loses or draws tomorrow, so here I go. I’m going to bang on about the selectors a bit more.

Adrian of Toongabbie, 36, writes that he is younger [Ed: only just] than Hayden and his reflexes are shot [Ed:paraphrased]. Adrian, fine sportsman that he was (is?) was never up to Test standard. However, while it is true that elite sportsman can keep their reflexes sharp for longer simply by using them constantly, guys like Hayden are not exempt from natural physical attrition. There is no law, written or unwritten that says “legends of the game can play until 38 years of age, no questions asked.” Border and Waugh were the exceptions in being able to perform at the top level at that age. And to be honest, those two were in a different class of legend to Matt the Bat. If Hayden is selected to tour South Africa, it is the selectors who should be dropped.

I think that age is something that needs to be looked at. I’m not talking about mandatory retirement age or such rubbish. I’m not even sure what the solution is. Players are staying in Test cricket for longer because not only can they afford to, it is extremely lucrative, not to mention the perks and goodies. Players are even staying in Shield cricket for longer – the likes of Lehmann, Langer, Border and Waugh etc played Shield cricket for years after they retired for international cricket. Guys like Stuart Law and Jamie Siddons played until they were old men, even though any chance of representing their country was exhausted. The reason for that is the money available and there is no easy answer to that, bar removing the money.

However, I believe that the selectors need to look at their mentality towards youth. Make no mistake – youth is a gift. The Department of Youth is a good port of call. There is something special about a prodigy. They don’t think that can lose or fail. That can work against a player but a prodigy with a good head can be a world beater.

Think of how passionate and untainted Michael Clarke was when he debuted. Once in every lifetime, comes a love like this… Oh my darling can’t you see, we’re the young ones. And there are others. Michael Slater. Steve Waugh. Even Bing Lee when he first burst onto the scene had something raw and untamed. And that is just Australians. Young Australian debutants in recent years have been a curiosity. Further afield it is normal. Tendulkar was 16 when he first played for India. Ishant Sharma was 18. Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid were 22, 22 and 23 respectively. God bless the Indians for rewarding and encouraging their youth.

Australia has defaulted into a mentality that a player must be at least 28 and have scored 10,000 runs before being “ready” for Test cricket. Mark Waugh debuted 5 years after his twin brother. No wonder he was known as Afghanistan (the forgotten Waugh). Gillie was 9 days short of his 28th birthday. Just a couple of examples. Those guys both fitted straight into the Test team and started performing from their first game. But who is to say they could not have succeeded, if given the chance, one, two, three or five years earlier. I for one, could have have stood five more years of Gilly – at the right end of his career.

The “maturity policy” was born out of having a strong and stable team for a long time. Very good players – like MacGill, Hussey, Gilchrist and M Waugh had to wait because the team was winning and it is harder to lose your place in a winning team. This is clearly not the climate now. There have been mass exits, the team is struggling and unstable and I think it is time to look for youth (but only where someone stands out, of course).

The first and most obvious place is Phillip Hughes. I profiled him recently. He has played 16 Shield matches and scored 1,337 runs at 53.48, in impressive style. Incidentally, he is just over 20. But who cares? Why do people say “There is Phillip Hughes but he won’t be ready for a season or two.” Under what criteria? He’s ready. Why wait until he is tired, jaded, frustrated and wondering why he is not being picked? For crying out loud, they just put a guy in the Test team, in a specialist batting position, who has an average of 38. Preferring Hughes to Chris Rogers may be harsh. Test selections can be harsh. It’s a tough world. Just ask Martin Love, Stuart Law, Beau Casson or Brad Hodge.

It probably goes without saying that sometimes selectors need to be patient with younger players. Steve Waugh was given plenty of time and opportunity. This is where the selectors need to earn their money and show some skill in recognising talent and backing their judgement.

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