“I don’t listen to Brett – he wasn’t a very good player” – Darren Lehmann
With these words, the Australian coach Darren Lehmann was somehow able to provide the dumbest quote in a week full of dumb quotes. When you consider the chief of Cricket NSW had also voiced his belief that Sydney should host two Tests in six tests summers, you realise the size of Boof’s achievement.
Lehmann’s comment was made because former Australian ODI representative Brett Geeves had the temerity to question the lunacy of another recent Lehmann quote.
Geeves, like many of us at Sportress HQ, was perplexed by Lehmann’s reticence to confirm Matthew Renshaw’s position at the top of the order for the First Test in India next month. The Queenslander’s impressive introduction to test Cricket, including a score of 184 last start, seemingly not enough for Lehmann to countenance a test team without Shaun Marsh, if or when the fragile Western Australian veteran is ever available for selection. Lehman’s justification for this stance, at least in part, is the belief that Marsh’s extensive experience garnered from his zero test matches in India is far superior to Renshaw’s.
Whichever way you look at Lehmann’s outburst it remains arrogant, petty, pompous, and ridiculous. Rather than answer a reasonable query he has instead played the man, it is the response of a bully that knows he’s been bettered. Entirely unsurprising really, as Lehmann has placed a much higher stock on being pithy than he has on being consistent or coherent when dealing with the media, and by extension the players, and the cricketing public.
Where Australia was once consistent and confident they now jump at shadows and are only consistent in their inconsistency. That said it is probably hard for the NSP to follow long-term plans, when they don’t have any. Proof of this is evident in the case of enigmatic all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. When told of Maxwell’s test ambitions early in the summer Lehmann laughingly dismissed them. Positively indifferent form since this time hasn’t deterred the NSP from changing their mind and awarding Maxwell his boarding pass for the Indian tour. The need for Maxwell to score a Sheffield Shield century, once all important, apparently no longer of any significance. A politician would be embarrassed to argue the contrasting positions the NSP takes.
The NSP do deserve some credit for the improved performances of the national team in the second half of the summer. After the calamitous efforts in Hobart there was a real sense of doom surrounding the future of the once mighty team. Showing the strength and foresight shown in the dark days of the 1980s, the panel seemed to draw a line in the sand. No longer would they select players with average records to show for the years and years of toil at first class level. They would look to young players who were in form and had their best cricket ahead of them. It was an approach that netted two players, in Renshaw and Peter Hanscomb, who look capable of being cornerstones of the team for some time.
Like a gambler who doesn’t know how to quit when they’re ahead, the NSP have seemed unwilling to commit to their overperforming top five. Of higher concern than maintaining a winning combination is ensuring that they leave open the possibility for the inclusion of both an all-rounder and Shaun Marsh.
Many have argued that Marsh’s most recent omission from the test team was due to injury and not poor form. By extension a fit Marsh reclaims his spot and Renshaw is left out because he was merely keeping the seat warm. This was the unlucky scenario that befell Marsh himself during the 2015/16 summer, when a fit Usman Khawaja came back into the side at his expense, despite having scored 182 in Khawaja’s absence. Are we really going to drop one of the most exciting young players to hit the test side in a long time because of precedent? Further, this argument conveniently forgets that Adam Voges’ absence from the Adelaide Test was explained at the time as due to injury. If you argue that Renshaw is minding Marsh’s seat, you argue too that Handscomb is minding Voges’.
The best and, unsurprisingly, the most practical option would be to bring Marsh back into the side in the number six position that no player has been able to nail down in his absence. Practicality and the NSP however go together a little less appreciably than oil and water. From the moment Freddy Flintoff tore the Ashes from Australia’s grasp in 2005, the NSP have desperately sought an all-rounder. Not since Keith Miller was stealing the heart of Princess Margaret have the talents of an Australian all-rounder been in such high demand. Unfortunately, the demand far exceeds availability.
The fixation on an all-rounder stems from the cotton wool approach the sports scientists are taking with the bowling attack. We are told ad nauseam that the workload is too great on the men charged with taking 20 wickets each test. In recent times, a large part of that extra workload has come from the inability of the Australian batsman to bat long enough for the bowlers to take a seat before bowling again. The NSP’s response is to choose an all-rounder to pick up some of the bowling slack but at the same time this decreases the strength of the batting line up further. Some don’t bowl much either, in the recently completed Sydney test, Hilton Cartwright bowled a total of four overs. Safe to say for that kind of bowling return Australia would be better served by an extra batsman.
It would be an extraordinary step backwards for Australian cricket if, after the renaissance of the Pakistan series, Matthew Renshaw did not play in the first test in India. When you discover a 20-year-old opening batsman who takes to test cricket like Warnie to Tinder, you need to support him. Rather than raising questions over whether he plays the next test you should be publicly backing him to play the entire series. If Lehmann and co were to then follow this with a series of clear, logical and long-term decisions, they would find a smaller gallery questioning them. All that said, what would I know, on my best day I am still a much worse cricketer than Brett Geeves.