It’s official: We can blame the selectors

The feed back from my last issue was that I was too hard on Matt the Bat and that the bowlers should take most of the blame for the losses in NZ. Also, in fact, the selectors should take most of the blame for the current state of Australian One Day cricket. I stand by what I said about Hayden. You can’t score at 80 runs per hundred balls for 40 overs. The most obvious reason is that if you get out when you try to accelerate, there is no redemption. It also seems I have been remiss. I forgot to congratulate the Kiwis on a fantastic series. Well done New Zealand, you beat us even with a second string bowling attack. Well done. It’s no disgrace for the World Champions to be beaten by such a formidable outfit, playing with the advantage of home soil.

Getting back to our pathetic bowlers, I’ve run some numbers on the bowlers for the last five matches (yes, the losing streak). Before I go on, consider this: This is the first time Australia has lost five one day internationals running since 1645 or 1997 or something. When was the last time a side was on a 12 match Test winning streak and simultaneously on a 5 match ODI losing streak? No, not 1997. That was the Tubby Taylor dead rubber loss era. The answer is: I don’t know but I’m guessing never. Back to the bowlers. The numbers are:

Watson: 40 overs (5 matches) conceded 271 runs at 6.77 rpo (hint, this is our biggest problem)

Bracken: 45 overs (5 matches) conceded 216 runs at 4.80 rpo (still needs to lose that girly hairdo and that ridiculous girly headband)

McGrath: 35.4 overs (4 matches) conceded 167 runs at 4.68 rpo (so, actually, not that bad).

Hogg: 36 overs (5 matches) conceded 213 runs at 5.92 rpo (another big problem, and a bit of a surprise to me).

My gun is out and it’s pointing at you, Watto. Our biggest problem is finding a batsman who can bowl some useful overs. Symonds is a huge loss in this department – we all know that. Michael Clarke seems to be overlooked in this area – for the whole CBA series he provided tidy spin with the odd wicket. His return will add to the team. Watson doesn’t deserve to be going to the World Cup. He hasn’t played all summer and he has not earned the right to demand selection simply because he is fit again. That right is reserved for the very select few. Shane Warne, I mean.

And let’s not forget this: The selectors were saved from themselves when Watson was injured on the eve of the Ashes. I announced the event of Watson’s injury with “There is a God” but those silly pudknockers were determined to put him in as soon as possible. Now Watson is off to the World Cup to be hit all over, and out of the Caribbean, without I suspect, returning the compliment. All Australians will be hoping that Symonds can make a speedy and complete comeback. I’ve already talked enough about tinkering with the team and how unhelpful that was. Ian Chappell (and his shadow writer) said it very well in Cricinfo a few days ago, so I won’t keep banging on about that.

I think the selectors have really outdone themselves now by ordering that the World Cup squad members who should be playing in the Ford Cup final (that’s the Australia domestic One Day final) be wrapped in cotton wool. Stronger language is probably warranted but for crying out loud. This isn’t soccer. The players being rested are Hodge, Watson and Johnson. Watson!! That man is in more need of match time than any cricketer that ever breathed. I know. Here’s an idea for the selectors: Perhaps Watson could be rested for the ENTIRE BLOODY WORLD CUP. Surely after taking such a hiding it would benefit the players to drop back to something a little less demanding so that confidence can be regained. What’s more, with the players representing both sides (Qld and Vic), somebody is bound to end their losing streak.

You will all know by now that Stuart Clark will be taking Brett Lee’s place. Lee is a great loss as he is the best batsman of the bowlers, not to mention our best strike bowler. I don’t know if he is the answer, but Clark will add something – at least the players know who will be playing rather than having to wait. Stability has been a very underrated word these past few weeks. Clark will also bring that winning feeling to the team. I would imagine he might be wanting to give the selectors a big “up yours” as well.

Come back Trevor. We miss you. Come back AB, we don’t mind what brand of beer you drink.

Free fall – Australia’s stocks plummet

The Australian World Cup preparations are in turmoil. The New Zealand tour has been a disaster. Australia has lost five matches in a row (and won only one in the last seven). In the past three days, Australia has allowed the 2nd and 3rd highest successful run chases ever. The Australians have slid from the top of the one ladder, being replaced South Africa. Yee Gods! And the World Cup may be all the better for it.

Some Australian optimists are saying that it’s all part of the tactics. There is some sound reasoning there: 1. Allowing South Africa to start as favourites is the surest way to see them choke. 2. Four weeks ago the odds for an Australian win were pathetic. The lads have now ensured some return before they duck down to Sportsbet.

Then of course, we have the captain, after the CBA finals loss saying, “This is the kick in the pants we needed.” That’s about as convincing as the national leader saying, “This is the recession that we had to have.”. Booo.

On the other side of the coin, some of the players have dropped their bundles. They are obviously concerned. On Monday, Brett Lee spoke on 2GB radio station and lamented the rotation policy and was quite clear that it had caused a loss of momentum. Gillie, candid as always (and probably about to be in big trouble) said on Inside Cricket (and reported in the Tele) that (paraphrased) the New Zealand tour is a waste of time and the players would have been much better off having a rest. He has a point. The World Cup squad is 15 players. The NZ squad is 13 players and 3 of those selected are not in the World Cup squad. With some simple maths, I can work out that only 10 of this touring party are going to the World Cup. Go figure.

Today, in what was a real slap in the face for Australia, New Zealand rested their star bowlers, Bond and Vettori for this dead rubber. They paid the price as Australia plundered 5/346, with Hayden making 181 not out. But it didn’t matter. The Kiwis still won. In the past twelve months, Australia has conceded the top four highest run chases in one day history. There is something to this. The first is that they are not making enough runs, batting first on perfect pitches. The four scores posted were 7/331 (12 months ago in Christchurch), 4/434 (that match in South Africa), and 4/336 and 5/346 (in the past three days). The theme is not many wickets down. The second is that they are not astute when it comes to defending targets.

Today, at the half way point in the Australia innings, I predicted that Australia would score more than 300 and that NZ would run it down. That was for two reasons:

1. Hayden was scoring too slowly and
2. We don’t have an “at the death” bowler. We don’t have someone like Steve Waugh who had balls of steel and ice in his veins.

You may think it harsh that I have identified Hayden after he scored a colossal 181 not out. He is why: Hayden crawled to his century (100 from 129 balls). Not exactly Geoff Marsh but by today’s standard, and according to the local conditions, it was crawling. At one stage when Watson was scoring at 100 rphb, Hayden took 20 balls of 30 (Cricinfo shows the split for the past five overs). At another point, with Haddin scoring at 122.22 rphb, Hayden took 22 of 31 balls. Provided the team has not lost excessive wickets, if a batsmen isn’t scoring at more than 100 rphb, he’s not in the race. Get out the shepherds crook. You can’t make up for slow scoring by a late burst.

And why could this team not defend these high scores? I remember in AB’s day, if Australia posted 200, that was it. Shut up the shop. I realise that 200 runs is not what it used to be but surely huge totals should be defended. Why on earth did Hogg, who conceded “just” 5.7 runs per over, bowl just seven overs? His other three went to Voges who conceded 33 runs.

Or is this what one day cricket has become? Bob Simpson today was lamenting that we were being bored by batsman dominated games. Perhaps he has a point. Get used to it. The conditions like we had for the last two matches will prevail at the World Cup. Small grounds and perfect pitches. It’s a great leveller as it removes the need for skill from batting. Half decent shots that are caught in the outfield on Australian grounds, go for six. Express pace bowlers like Lee and Tait can be a liability. Top edges fly for six. Edges through the vacant slips arrive at the third man rope in the twinkling of an eye.

On the other hand, in today’s game, two bowlers managed to keep their economy to below five runs per over. Good bowlers can be effective.

No, the optimists are wrong. The wheels have fallen off. The selectors can’t be blamed for everything. There has been a sudden spate of injuries. Symonds is the most serious in terms of injury and impact to the team. Ponting, apparently, is injured. And then Clarke and Lee bit the dust. It is still 3 weeks until the start of the World Cup and 5 weeks until the start of the business end (the Super Eights) but the selectors are taking some big risks sticking to Symonds, Lee and Gillie (who will miss at least the warm ups through injury). I think they need to select 15 fully available and fit players and put everything behind those. It’s a huge risk otherwise.

Me, I’m not panicking. While there is Ponting, there is hope.

Wishing Shahid Afridi God’s Speed for the World Cup

Pakistan master blaster and leg spinning all rounder, Shahid Afridi, will be cooling his heels for four ODI matches, including the first two matches of the World Cup. That will include Pakistan’s vital clash with Ireland. The term “Master Blaster” should not be used lightly as the tag officially belongs to the most righteous batsman ever – Sir Vivian Richards. But Afridi deserves it. He has scored the fastest one day century (37 balls) and also has a 45 ball effort to his name. He has made it to 50 runs in 21 balls or less four times. He’s dynamite.

Perhaps Afridi’s ban is fair. He brandished his bat at a spectator as he returned up the players’ race after being dismissed – a time of extreme emotional duress for any batsman, it should be remembered. Even so, that’s not acceptable behaviour and deserves punishment. He could have received as much as an eight ODI match ban. What is not fair is the inconsistency. I recall Andrew Symonds getting into hot water over a similar incident, but escaping punishment, a couple of years ago. More recently, Justin Langer did EXACTLY the same thing during the Ashes Test series. And what happened to him? Absolutely nothing. I thought to myself, “This isn’t good – more inconsistency. More (valid) grounds for Pakistan and the sub-continent to cry racism and third world victimisation”. But how do you ensure consistency when different matches are controlled by different officials?

When I looked into this case, I had an unexpected surprise. The charges against Afridi were not laid by any of the officials at the match. No sir. They were laid by none other than that crusader against all forces of evil and injustice. You guessed it: Malcolm Bloody Speed. It is unbelievable. To explain, I quote the ABC web site:

“Mr Speed laid the charge after studying video footage of the incident while in the Caribbean, where he is attending a series of meetings ahead of next month’s ICC Cricket World Cup.

Under the Code, he is one of four individuals or groups entitled to lay a charge, the others being the umpires, either side’s team manager and either side’s chief executive officer.”

From his cushy station in the Caribbean indeed! What was he doing when Justin Langer remonstrated so aggressively, waving his bat in the face of a spectator (who must have called him something really bad like “bng”)? Malcolm. Mal. If you are going to intervene, from the outside looking in, you must be consistent and there is no reason why you should not be able to be. If the sub-continental playing nations already have the knives out for Darrell Hair, it’s little wonder that Speed travels with a body guard!

Sorry boys – your holiday has been cancelled

If I was an Australia selector, I’d be saying, “Sorry Ricky. Of course, we’d love to give you a holiday but you have a job to do and as things aren’t quite on track, the wife and kids will have to wait.” Same goes for Gillie. But before I discuss the Australia selectors, let’s have the “credit where credit is due” paragraph. Congratulations England – who would have thought it!

By no fluke or particular luck, and match fixing allegations aside, England has beaten Australia three times in a row (and has won four games straight) to take home some consolation silverware. Perhaps they are emerging as dark horses for the World Cup. They have some very good players with Collingwood at the top of the list and KP returning. And more importantly, they have endured a long and character building summer and have ended strongly. I don’t think this team will make a good Test team but they are a bunch of unfancied, little known, but very useful cricketers who are well suited to the one day game. They remind me of the 1987 Australians and I think they may ruffle some feathers in the Caribbean.

On the other hand, Australia is starting to remind me of an aging, long standing champion headed for a major event, for just one last defence of the title. I’m thinking of cases like Kieren Perkins (2000 Olympics), Susie O’Neil (2000 Olympics), Bjorn Borg (Wimbledon 1981), The Brisbane Lions (2004 AFL Grand Final) and USA Men’s basketball team (1972 Olympics). These are all undisputed champions who had won many times but couldn’t quite repeat the dose one last time. Australia’s campaign has the wobbles. There must be concern that momentum is moving any direction but forward.

I’m wondering about the choices of the selectors. We should remember that the selectors have had some changes, some new blood and a different balance in recent times. I also notice that at least a couple of them a spending no small amount of time raking in the sponsorship dollars. I think the team selections have been mismanaged this summer and that has contributed to the loss in direction. I’m not a big fan of the rotation policy, although I can see its merits, if used within in reason. I cannot believe that two key players are being allowed to “skip school” in the last warm up before the main event. It is un-bloody-believable. And in Gillie’s case, it is even more puzzling because he is hardly setting the world on fire!! What happens if Haddin plays two or three scintillating innings (and there is a big chance he will)? Notwithstanding some stunning innings this summer, Gillie has been inconsistent. And his recent form is the worst – he hasn’t been past 30 for eight innings now (101 runs at 12.6)!! I find it hard to believe that Haddin would not do a better job than Gillie right now. Adam Gilchrist at his best is unbeatable but how often do we see the best of Gillie?

Symonds injury is critical and could not be foreseen, of course, but the situation is worsened by some bad choices made by the selectors during the One Day summer. In resting Ponting and Lee in a “match that did not matter”, they lost the match easily and ignited a form reversal for England (and Australia). Ponting is a key player and not having him in the team is a psychological boost to the opposition (and the opposite to his own team). In the scheme of rotation, I think two bowlers have been under used. How is that Hogg played just one match out of eight? He’s the only specialist spinner, he played one match, bowled very well (2/16 from 6.3 overs) and that was the last we saw of him until the finals. I can only imagine that the selectors had identified White as a key player and were giving him every opportunity. But Hogg could have been rotated with the quicks. Instead, he was put into the finals, having played just one international cricket match this year.

The the other area of indecisive leadership, in my opinion was with the pace bowlers. Perhaps the selectors were spoilt for choice and tried to provide themselves with too much of a sample, before making the final decision. Do you ever feel like you have too much choice when you make a decision? I see some people, before they make a decision, gather all the information they can lay their hands on. The result is being swamped with data which results in confusion, when all that was needed was to make a choice (perhaps there were several that seem about equal on merit), and to put your full backing behind it. I think the selectors needed to make an earlier choice on the quicks. I still don’t understand where Tait came from. At the beginning of the summer, the quicks in contention seemed to be McGrath, Lee, Bracken, Clark, Johnson and Hilfenhaus. That’s six and that is quite enough. More than enough. Hilfenhaus played the Twenty20 and the first one day match and was impressive in both. Why was he not given another chance? The selection of Tait seemed to me to be more about saying “Look at us, we have options coming out of our ears, so watch out or we might unleash the new Thommo on you”.

I would like to see Hilfenhaus in the team. What I mean is that I would have liked to have seen him a couple more times so that I could decide. As it turned out, Tait played two matches, bowled extremely well in the second and was given the flick. Selectors, how was that helpful to the overall cause? I think we need an injection of youth – strength and hunger – McGrath is looking very tired at times. His batting is of zero use. Absolutely nothing. He is moving like a 37 year old in the field and the catch he dropped on Friday was a real clanger. Of course, his experience and skill should be valuable at the World Cup but it’s a fine line. McGrath is in decline. By announcing his retirement, he’s already acknowledged that. It’s unlikely that he will be dumped for the World Cup and it will be sad if he can’t perform to something like his best for one final performance.

To keep you up to date around the traps. After blasting almost 350 in game two, Pakistan managed just 107 against South Africa and took a whole 45 overs to do it. Yawn. Sri Lanka fended India off by just five runs in game two of their series, following a wash out in game one. Australia is off to New Zealand on Wednesday for the the three match Hadlee-Chappell Trophy series. Mr Cricket is the captain.