Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pondering the workhorse and spinner factors

Further ponderings that Blogger wouldn't let me post in the one entry

My approach to these things is based on looking at what we've got at the moment, and then pencil in people to fill the gaps. It's the way we've gone about selecting most of the schools rep teams I've been involved with, and it underlines the fallacy of the we pick the best eleven players comment because the best eleven players in the country might not, for example, include a wicketkeeper.

One of the best eleven players in the country could well be a Jamie Siddons, Stuart Law or Brad Hodge, who's not going to push his way into a batting order that's fairly long on talent already.

And one of the reasons those blokes may have missed the bus lay in the need to find enough people to bowl the requisite number of overs in the game. There's no limit on the number of overs you're going to be asked to bowl in a Test match, so you need to be taking wickets as well, which complicated things a tad further. A limited overs game with an attack lacking penetration can be all about minimising scoring opportunities, but to win a Test you need to take twenty wickets.

You may, as the recently-departed selection panel did, find great difficulty in finding a spin bowler, should you decide you want one in the side. Apart from concepts like a balanced attack, there are also over rates and other considerations that work against an all-pace attack, and the bloke who's going to be asked to fill that role may be well outside the notional best twelve, twenty, or even, heaven forbid, the best forty or fifty.

There's a perfect example of the lengths selectors may go to when they're determined to play a spinner back in a Queensland Primary Schools Carnival back in 1985.

You may question what this has to do with the matter under consideration at the moment, but it's an excuse to bring out one of my all-time favourite strange the way things work out yarns in front of a new audience, so here it goes.

The trials to select that year's NQ Primary Schools team, were held in Mackay and  two of the four days were rained out.

It was a three team trial, which sounds odd until I point out each team brought a squad of fifteen with the four "leftovers" going into a composite side. Of the three teams, one was drawn from Townsville, Charters Towers and Ingham, one from the Burdekin, Bowen and Proserpine and the third from Mackay and the Pioneer Valley.

You'd expect the Townsville and Mackay-based teams to dominate both the composite team and the Whitsundays, but on the first day Whitsunday tied with Townsville, and Mackay had a reasonably comfortable win against the Composites.

The big upset came on the second day, when Whitsunday did a demolition job on Pioneer, and the other game went more or less the way you'd have expected it to go without too many standout performances.

With the other two days washed out we were left scratching our heads about the selection, and the best we could come up with was to have each of the three coaches write down their best twelve, slot in anyone we all agreed on and see where we went from there.

As it turned out, we agreed on four or five names, and from there the rest was plain sailing until it got down to the last spot. We were after  a middle order bat and had two kids in contention with almost identical scores in the two games they'd played.

There were already an unprecedented five Whitsunday boys in the side, so while one of the two was a Bowen kid I wasn't going to be pushing as desperately as I might otherwise have done. I could, for instance, have pointed out that my bloke had scored his runs against the top sides, while one of the other feller's fairly unimpressive scores had been against the also rans in the Composites.

The other kid came from Townsville, and wasn't being pushed too much either, except for a single comment added as an afterthought. Oh, yes, Ruff added, we don't have a spinner in the side at the moment, but he does bowl a bit of off spin. Hasn't done it down here, but I was going to give him a trundle yesterday.

Or words to that effect. The occasional offie got the guernsey.

So the side headed off in the last week of school, and I was heading off to join them as soon as the holidays started. We were well into the end of year festivities when the parents of the Bowen kid who'd ended up captaining the side found me in a local watering hole.

A couple of kids had picked up a stomach bug, and their son was so crook he wanted to come home. This was scary, since he'd been away earlier in the year as the half back in the NQ Rugby League side, and half backs, as a rule, tend not to be sooks. Fortunately, things settled down overnight, and by Sunday (no chance to get onto turf wickets on the Saturday) he was pretty right to play.

Unfortunately, the big bloke from Mackay we'd chosen to open the bowling wasn't. In fact, if I recall correctly, he mightn't have managed another game through the rest of a lengthy carnival.

With a bowler down and no way of getting a substitute from home, we rejigged the attack. It was back in the days before over limits for bowlers, and you could do that sort of rejigging by giving the rest of the attack extra work.

Unfortunately, extra work produces its own problems. A pair of boots that didn't quite fit started producing blisters on a left armer who'd looked pretty good in the early stages of the carnival. The other left armer pulled a muscle in his back throwing a ball in from the boundary. The kid who was spearheading the attack bowled his guts out every day, but we were starting to run out of options when we remembered the kid who bowls a bit of off spin.

He got a five or six over spell, and after the game we had the State coach over, asking us to bowl him some more. We did, and when they named the State team, there was one of our opening bats, who'd managed a ton along the way and Mr Bowls a Bit of Off Spin. The quickie who bowled his guts out missed out…

Given a different scenario a month or so earlier the kid wouldn't have been there at all, but the blokes who were picking the side wanted a spinner, even if he wasn't in the top twenty or thirty players at the carnival.

It's an extreme example, but it underlines the point that the eleven who take the field for Australia aren't necessarily the best eleven players in the country.

Given the perceived need for a spinner in the attack (and it's more than a perceived need when you're playing in India) you can see why they've tried so many over the past couple of years, though you'd have hoped that one of them might have been given a slightly longer run before seemingly being dismissed as not quite what we had in mind.

Lyon seems to be getting that extended run at the moment, so for all intents and purposes, barring injury or a total loss of form he should stay in the frame for the games against New Zealand, and, barring major disasters, hold his place into the series against India.

So at the bowling end of the spectrum we've got Lyon pencilled in as the spinner, a question mark over Watson with the ball, and a bracket of three to fill the work horse role (Harris, Hilfenhaus, Siddle) and come up with a notional way of looking at 'em to determine who might fill that role over the next few years.With Harris a game by game proposition, it's a chance to consider two logical alternatives.

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