It must be a nightmare. He’s back. Mitchell Johnson. Not wanting to mix metaphors, but just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, just when you thought the new selectors were sensible, Johnson is recalled for Australia’s most important Test in quite some time.
I don’t want people to think I am indulging in unjustified Johnson hating so I will provide some reasons. Before that, I will say that I don’t hate Johnson and I love that he tries. And there was a time when I loved Johnson. For most of the 2008-2009 season. Briefly, during the Ashes Test in Perth, in December 2010. And then when he injured his foot late in 2011 right up until now.
I still hold hope that Johnson’s inclusion is just to play with the South Africans’ minds. Leaving Watson aside, MJ is just one of six pace bowlers in the squad and only four of them will play, at the most. Perhaps he will be one of the unlucky two or three.
Now for those reasons. When looking at introducing players into the Test team, the selectors must look at Sheffield Shield form. Is that a reasonable assumption? I had the privilege on the week end of teaching my 19 year old daughter about data analysis and considered evaluation. It started when she asked me who would replace Ponting for Perth and plucked out a few names. I told her that it was time to stop using Facebook as the source of all information and I gave her a lesson in drilling into the Sheffield Shield stats.
What followed was a lovely exercise in copy and paste, unmerging cells and sort in Excel. At the end of this, Maddie announced that based on the Shield stats for this season, Ponting’s replacement should be…. Ponting! Another lesson for Maddie: stats are only a guide. But I digress as we must be focussing on bowlers and besides, Ponting is safe for now. We did move onto the bowlers and at that point, Maddie and I were looking for just one to replace poor old Patto. What fun we would have had if we knew we could choose three! And if we could, two of the three chosen would not have been in our calculations.
Based on performance, as evidenced in the stats, the selectors should have been looking seriously at the Taswegian pair of Luke Butterworth and Jackson Bird. They have 25 and 27 wickets respectively this season at averages of 17.72 and 20.55. Those are great numbers and contrast to Johnson’s haul of 17 wickets at 29.00. Funnily enough, Butterworth and Bird were both playing in the same match as Johnson, in Hobart and Butterworth had figures of 6-25 and 5-50, either side of Johnson’s 4-103. But I guess they nodded off for those spells.
Johnson is well down the bowling list for 2012-13 whether you look at wickets or averages. He is also headed by Hastings (who at least has been called up), Faulkner, Sayers, Cutting, Putland and Feldman. Stacks of them. He is not headed by Hazlewood who has nine wickets this season at 46.33. Where did Hazlewood come from?
Perhaps the selectors have in mind that Johnson’s two greatest performances were in Perth including the 8-61 in December 2008. Perhaps if Johnson plays, he might succeed. With Johnson, it is always a lucky dip and that does not seem to be John Inverarity’s style. As Maddie discovered, there is more to picking a team than analysing statistics, otherwise we could save a lot of money and have a computer do it. But the most recent selections have me scratching my head and shaking in my boots.