In August, the ICC mace was presented to Steve Smith in recognition of the Australian Cricket Team’s standing as test cricket’s number one team. A mere five tests later, with the team now ranked fifth and falling, we are seeing a level of frenzied off-field changes not seen for many a year; beginning with the much celebrated standing down of Chairman of Selectors Rod Marsh and followed by six changes to the test squad for the third test with South Africa.
Marsh’s reign, blighted by a dearth of talent to select from, will be remembered for a seeming lack of direction and knee-jerk reactions. The communication from the National Selection Panel a key reason for this belief. An example of this was the dropping of Mitch Marsh for the second test, despite selectors making public pronouncements of his selection being assured immediately following his poor first test.
After seven straight international defeats to the Proteas, Interim Chairman Trevor Hohns has seemingly taken the role with instruction to change the direction of the national team. His first squad has followed this direction to the letter, with six changes to the squad responsible for the Hobart debacle.
Three confirmed debutants – Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson and Matt Renshaw – are all aged 25 or under, Renshaw set to become the second youngest Australian batsman in the last twenty years. A fourth, Chad Sayers, is a possibility but likely to be overlooked in favour of Jackson Bird. The sight of the Tasmanian under a baggy green again will no doubt make The Sportress’ very own Dan a little happier (Ed note: Yes. Yes it does). Bushranger skipper Matthew Wade will also return to test match cricket after 3-years in the wilderness.
While all six excluded from the side would be disappointed, the axe would be felt a little more harshly by debutants Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie who both miss the opportunity to play a home Test. Although he was overlooked as a result of his concussion in this week’s Shield match, Adam Voges may well have played his last Test. The 37-year-old’s batting average plummeting from Bradmanesque to the 60s, no consolation, but will be something nice for him to point to the grandkids in the future. Mitch Marsh’s exclusion puts to an end the fixation (for now) with having an all-rounder in the side, possibly also a major reason for Neville’s exclusion. Considered the best man behind the stumps in the country, he is replaced by Wade because of the value the Victorian adds with the bat. Joe Burns, dropped for the second time in four Tests, took his demotion in good spirit, taking to social media to congratulate Renshaw, his Queensland opening partner, on his selection.
It is a bold and aggressive move by the Australian Cricket Team. Selecting on potential over statistics, in one fell swoop the team has gone from ‘Dad’s Army’ to ‘Generation Next’. After the carnage, there is only one man over 30 left in the squad. David Warner, the one-time problem child, now the wise old man of the Australian Cricket Team.
As hard as the selectors may have found wielding the axe, it is relatively easy in comparison to the fortitude they may need to show next. The selection of a group of 20-somethings requires a degree of patience when evaluating their performance. Having chosen them with an eye to the future, it’s this forward thinking that needs to be remembered if the debutants don’t immediately take to Test Cricket. A run of outs should not persuade Hohns and co from their belief that these players are the men upon which long-term success lies. The Interim Chairman stopped short of granting this kind of security to the greenhorns, but if it is not actually provided this ‘revolution’ will have been a waste of everyone’s time.
No more should a Baggy Green be bestowed on a man who would need to outperform a decade or more of exposed first class form. This has been the folly of recent years, clouded at times by weaker test nations. An approach ultimately leading the Australian Team nowhere, but falsely rewarded when players filled their boots against ramshackle teams.
Make no mistake, what the National Selection Panel decided is no quick fix. Potential isn’t always realised, but it offers greater rewards than that which is known. Missteps await and patience will no doubt be tested as tomorrow’s stars ‘learn on the job’. Dark days still lie ahead for Australian Cricket but it’s at the end of this path that the light awaits.