Never Change a Winning Team?

The new Australian selection panel must be feeling rather happy.  It is true that since they started taking over for the South Africa tour, that it has been a rocky ride.  There have been some ups and downs to be sure.  Thrills and spills.  Both two Test series were drawn one-all.  But thanks to the current series, there have been more wins than losses.  And this series is the first time that they have dropped players in preference to others (rather than being subjected to the forces of natural attrition).

They axed Starc, some said harshly, for Hilfenhaus.  But that was proven an inspired move.  Hilfie immediately took two five wicket hauls.  They stayed with Hussey and Ponting and aside from Clarke, they have outscored all others.  Warner and Pattinson were selections that paid immediate dividends.  But even though the team is winning handsomely, the selectors have some hard decisions to make.

Warner’s effort in Hobart aside, the top three have been anything but solid.   There is a wicket keeper who is light on runs, is spilling catches and fumbling often.  Another problem is that until six weeks ago, Ryan Harris was Australia’s number one bowler.  When he was injured in South Africa it was assumed that we would come straight back into the team when fit.  And now he is fit, he is in fact, being kept out by his successors.  I guess that could be seen as an A1 problem to have.  (It seems forces of attrition are at work again as Pattinson has a turn being injured so the A1 problem lasted about 5 minutes.)

For this article, I will focus on Haddin and Marsh.

First let me say that I was intrigued by Haddin’s antics in India’s first innings.  Upon pouching his first two catches – regulation efforts – he ran towards the press box, arms outstretched, ball in palm as if to say, “What’s the big deal.  Too easy.”  What a tosser.  Pride cometh before the fall, Brad.  Come the end of day three, having spilt a chance that was only slightly difficult, at a time when Australia was struggling to break through, I can imagine that there was not a shovel big enough.

There is a lot of talk about Haddin.  The general consensus is that if Tim Paine were fit, he would be in.  Matthew Wade is a name that comes up.  They say he is a class batsman but his keeping is not actually that flash.  So stick with Haddin as he does add something to the team and there is nobody else.

How this is so, I don’t know.  A wicket keeper who regularly drops catches and a batsman who gives his wicket away cheaply would seem to be a liability to me.  So I found myself saying, “Is that it?  There are six states in Australia.  Doesn’t each one have a wicket keeper?”  So I checked it out.

Maybe the commentators have a point.  To start with, I had to look through the Sheffield Shield scorecards from this year to find out who they were.  I admit, I had not a clue.  I guess that is not a good sign.  This is what I found:

Chris Hartley (Qld), 77 matches, ave 31.11.  He’s played some cricket but I can’t say his name rings a bell.
Michael Johnson (WA), 10 matches, ave 12.5.  He can do the 200m and 400m in world record time but he’s not pressing for Test cricket selection.
Tom Triffit (Tas), 9 matches, ave 28.16.  Paine’s under study and no claims to fame.
Peter Nevill (NSW), 18 matches, ave 49.3.  Haddin’s understudy.  From the right state and not bad numbers but probably not in calculations.
Matthew Wade (Vic), 50 matches, ave 40.16 (ave 63 this season).

There you have it.  Luckily for Haddin, the cupboard is bare.  Wade is the only other contender.  So barring a shock, Haddin would seem safe for now, which I think is a shame because he deserves to be dropped.

The other player I will focus on is Shaun Marsh.  This is for two reasons. One is that I think he is hard to read.  The other is that he is occupying the most import spot in the batting order and given the brittle nature of the Australian batting in general of late, and the top order in particular, the selectors have to produce a winner for number three.

Shaun Marsh has played just five Tests and even in that short space of time has managed to scale the heights and plumb the depths.  This would appear to be an ability possessed by most of the Australian batsmen from the captain down and may account for the team’s batting roller coaster ride of late.  It is something the selectors need to consider.

Marsh scored a century on debut and followed that with an eighty in the next match.  Both of those matches were in Sri Lanka.  He made 44 in the first innings against South Africa and was the only batsman to lend support to the captain on that occasion.  Since then, Marsh has hardly scored a run.  In five more innings he has scored just nine runs and made three ducks.

Marsh does not have much Test cricket to analyse so I have checked his first class results.  He averages just over 38 in first class cricket and that concerns me.  I would think that a batsman should be averaging over 50 at Shield level if he is a genuine contender for Test cricket.

People say he looks fantastic in IPL and he has a big reputation there.  I have seen him bat there and it is all true.  But we have seen many times that a batsman can prosper against the white ball but fail when it is painted red.  And where is IPL played?  The sub continent.  And what are the pitches like?  Flat.  I don’t think it is any coincidence that Marsh’s Test successes were also on the sub-continent.

Marsh clearly struggles in conditions where there is movement in the air and off the pitch.  All Australian batsmen do, as in fact, do most batsmen in world cricket.  Since the Sri Lankan tour, until day three at the SCG, Australia has been playing on spicy pitches.  The batsmen have suffered and the bowlers have triumphed.  It is harsh to single out Shaun Marsh, and I won’t.  I think he will be given more time but I’m not yet convinced that he is the best man for Australia’s first drop.

Onwards and upwards to Perth.  It is a fascinating ride with the Australian cricket team.

6 thoughts on “Never Change a Winning Team?

  1. Thanks andrewg and well said, cswomi7. andrewg, the tennis has started. I know it’s not the open but those Russians and other Europeans look just as good wherever they play. Check it out on 7.2

  2. hi dongles and thanks for the link to the haddin article. sounds like the usual crap interviews one usually hears on those types of shows and haddin’s comment was pretty throwaway. it was the usual ‘keep the pressure on’ comments the aussies have been using since tubby taylor read some pysch text i suspect.

    i did enjoy cswomi7’s comment on that article re our friend in the gloves:

    “He should learn a thing or two from Clarke who did all the work and didn’t gloat about it. Brad Haddin’s a mere shadow of Gilchrist. If trashtalking and intimidating an ageing Indian team will boost your self-esteem by all means run your mouth. Aint gonna make a difference to your dismal wicket keeping and poor batting skills.”

    sadly, the indians do appear too old and lacking in bowling attack to compete this season. ho hum, when does the tennis start?

  3. thank you andrewg, for you considered and amusing comments. I very much agree. Traditionally, we have often known who is ‘keeper in waiting. Although when Marsh retired, there was an unsettled period that included Dyer, Rixon, Zoeher, Phillips and probably others until Healy was plucked from relative obscurity. Perhaps this is one of those times when the selectors need to do some work and find someone. It makes no sense to let Haddin under achieve for as long as likes.

    I agree with you that these days the aim is to get a great batsman and make a passable ‘keeper. That is all Gilly was even though he says in his book that he regarded himself as a keeper first and foremost. If you look at Marsh and Healy you will find their averages are in the low 30s even though they had some talent with the bat. Super stars like Grant Flower, Sangakkara and Gilchrist are products of the modern era.

    You raise interesting points about junior cricket. I also wonder how much T20 is affecting some skills including wicket keeping and spin bowling.

    Butterfingers, I guess they have those stats but not on Cricinfo.

    Perth is an interesting question. If it is bouncy, Australia should win and they reckon it will be bouncy. Interesting to note that Australia has lost recently to India and South Africa but that was when Perth had been flattened. In most recent years, the WACA strip has returned to its glory days and Australia won its only match of the last Ashes series in Perth. It was so helpful to seamers that Johnson had his only good match in two years.

    On Haddin, he has been big mouthing to the press about how weak India is. You would think that he is one person who should be shutting his mouth.

  4. is the wicketkeeper really just a batting all-rounder or has Gilly forever changed the position? Are there stats kept for catches dropped and byes conceded in Shield matches?

    What’s the pitch like at Perth these days for Shield games – best indication as to what to expect for the upcoming Test?

  5. i’ve long been critical of australia’s policy of leaving the keeper in the side. i think there is a cultural bias of “we’ve found our keeper, we can forget that position for a decade or so, let’s discuss the spinner” borne of years of marsh, healy, and gilchrist. however, and while i agree some extra leeway needs to be given to keepers as there is merit in some stability in that role, i think it is time haddin went. it seems in the modern game that many a keeper can keep (the sri lankans and others have often manufactured a keeper from a batsman) but that the keeper has to be a virtual extra batsman with a batsman’s ability and results. i think for too long haddin has not only not delivered but has not delivered in a foolhardy and seemingly arrogant, they won’t drop me, kind of way.

    i too know nothing of the states’ keepers. a reflection of the modern ‘keep a keeper for keeps’ philosophy i guess. going back a ways we would find out who was next in line when they were selected as back-up keeper (i don’t mean a long-stop of under 12’s flavour) for extended tours. we now only see an extended tour every four years so we’re left largely in the dark unless we follow the shield assidiuously. it would seem that the selectors only want to blood a new keeper when it’s patently obvious that the incumbent’s days are numbered. i could mount an argument, to wit, that time has come. haddin needs to at least be given the wake-up call of old, a good old dropping.

    however, perhaps the issue is more to do with the lack of quality batsmen in the shield at present. ponting and hussey both owe their longevity to this same fact. if there was a glut of good’uns around then we could whack some gloves on a bunch of them and make a keeper. perhaps this should be marsh’s strategy to avoid what appears an inevitable execution of sorts, keep the pads on and offer to keep at practice sessions, just like under 12’s.

    or maybe this is the answer to our fast bowling selection dilemmas. whack the pads on a fast bowler until he bowls then whack the pads on someone else. it worked for us on saturday mornings long ago….

    it seems we could learn more than a few lessons from the kiddies and what they’re taught. anyway, enough rambling. onto perth where the indians will get slaughtered on the greentop being currently prepared to order….

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