Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Heading towards the short forms

If you've been reading this blog and looking forward to lengthy in-depth analysis of the short form international season I'm afraid you're likely to be disappointed.

It's not that two T20s and a three-way ODI series are totally meaningless, more a case of limited relevance and lack of recent exposure to domestic and international competition in both spheres. Looking at both of the short forms it's hard to see them as anything other than exercises in getting bums on seats while raking in the dollars from the TV rights.

Given the fact that the Ryobi Cup and Big Bash competitions have been broadcast on pay TV, which we don't pay for these days it's not as if I've been able to watch a lot (read any) of it.

Sure, in the big picture there's some relevance in both forms, but that relevance largely stems from the ODI World Cup and the World T20, with the latter on the horizon later in the year.

There are also two T20s in the West Indies, though we've already been told there'll be a combined short forms squad heading towards the Caribbean, probably with Wade rather than Haddin looking after the keeping duties, with both Wade and Haddin in the squad for the Tests. Makes sense, given the difficulty of flying in replacements before the next Test if someone comes down with an injury.

The 'keeper's role has attracted some media attention with Haddin's recent admission that omission equates to being dropped, which, if you want to look at it that way, it does.

And at the same time it doesn't. Returning to a recurring theme, and running on from the references to the limited overs World titles, they're obviously the pinnacle as fat as ODIs and T20s are concerned, and you're going to want to be sending your best side to those competitions.

In much the same way the Test series rankings mean that while every series matters, some matter more than others and the ones that matter involve England, South Africa and India along with anyone who looks like tipping us out of the Top Four in the rankings.

You want to have your best possible side for those campaigns, and, as a result if you're going to be rotating players the aim is to rest your key players through the other matches and then select your best combination from a wider pool.

If Haddin wants to view Matthew Wade's role in the T20s and the first batch of ODIs as a threat to his position, he's got every right to think that way, just as the selectors, who've inherited a situation where Haddin's the incumbent and his anointed successor, Tim Paine, is on an extended break through injury have every right to assess the options in case something happens to Haddin.

Those injury concerns raise their ugly heads again with the news that Nathan Lyon will be out of action for a while because he's been carrying an injury through the Test series against India.

And why did he play through the series? Quite possibly because, having run through a string of spinners over the past couple of years under the old regime the new selection panel hadn't established an obvious alternative.

We need, in my very humble opinion, a first choice spinner in each of the sub-disciplines of the art, and at least one shadow for each of those, so let's do a bit of looking in the cricketing larder and see what's sitting on the shelves.

For a start, in the T20 and first bit of the ODI series squad we've got Doherty (left arm orthodox) and Brad Hogg (left arm wrist spin) as specialist bowlers, with part time leggies from Warner and offies from David Hussey.

Lyon was down to play for the Prime Minister's XI on Friday, and his replacement is Queensland leggie Cameron Boyce. That seems to deliver a first choice in each sphere, but there's still a way to go.

Which brings us to an interesting consideration.

Assume, changing focus slightly, that in the Test arena we've got a (fit) pace bowling battery of Pattinson, Cummins, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Harris, Starc, Copeland, Cutting and Johnson. That's eight contenders for a maximum of four spots in the twelve.

Then take a squiz at the all-rounder options, which would be a fit Watson as first choice with Mitchell Marsh and Christian as contenders as well.

There'll be a degree of rotation in all of this, but how do you work your way up the pecking order?

Simple. You do it by taking wickets in the Shield and Ryobi Cup games to push your name forward. Nothing new there, just say the selection panel has been talking to these dudes, as well as the guys who are looking to force themselves into contention (Clint McKay in the T20 squad, for example).

Say, in addition, you've got a clear directive of what the selection panel is looking for from each of them, and input from bowling coach McDermott as well.

Suddenly you've got a group of quicks going out to give the batsmen in the domestic comps a thorough going over, because that's what they need to do if they're going to get themselves moving up the pecking order. That brings every batsman in those competitions under close scrutiny, which isn't going to do the search for the next generation of bats any harm, is it?

There's no reason why the same thing can't happen in the spin department. At the moment we've got some combination of Lyon, Hauritz, Kreja in line for the offies' spot, Doherty and Beer as the left arm tweakers, and Boyce as the leggie.

There are others around the state squads, but they're going to need guidance and directives. Deliver those and suddenly we've got a wave of spinners looking to deliver the slow bowling equivalent of a thorough going over which isn't going to be doing the quest for bats who can handle conditions in the subcontinent any harm.

Behind all this there's a slight snag, which brings us back to Mr Haddin.

If competition for spots in an Australian team is going to be encouraged opportunities have to be provided at the top level, which means incumbents need to be rested so that the competition is there.

At the same time, treating the ODI series as a format where contenders for a spot in the squad for the West Indies can stake their claim means that the one-dayers suddenly become a bit more important than they might have been if we selected a squad drawn entirely from the established players, with the odd newcomer included when one of the regulars drops out through fatigue or injury.

Imagine, if you will, a situation where Messrs Ponting and Hussey have been rested from the West Indian tour, and their replacements (let's call them Forrest and Khawaja but the names aren't that important) have fired in the Caribbean.

Add to that the pace bowling lineup listed above looking to secure one of four spots for the First Test, which will presumably be at the Gabba, so there's every possibility they'll be looking for an all-rounder as well.

Ponting and Hussey with points to prove taking on the Shield bowlers. Forrest and Khawaja the same, with Ferguson miffed at not being considered good enough to go to the Caribbean. That's a serious contender for a spot in the middle order from five different states, with Watson, Christian and Mitch Marsh looking to stake a claim in there as well, remembering that it is the Gabba and a fourth quick would be a handy option.

Now, wouldn't that make for an interesting start to the Shield Season?

And speaking of Shield seasons, Hughesy's New Year's resolution involves keeping a much closer eye on the Shield comp, so readers can look forward to some sort of summary at the end of each Shield game with a headline of ShieldWatch: Whoever v Whoever…

All part of the service, folks.

Also as part of the service and for my own reference, here are the squads for the next bit of the international season.

Australia T20 squad
George Bailey*, David Warner, Travis Birt, Daniel Christian, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Hogg, David Hussey, Brett Lee, Clint McKay, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Matthew Wade†

Australia ODI squad
Michael Clarke*, David Warner, Ricky Ponting, Peter Forrest, Daniel Christian, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Matthew Wade†, Brett Lee, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Xavier Doherty, Clint McKay, Mitchell Marsh

Prime Minister's XI squad (as announced)
Brad Haddin *†, Peter Forrest, Wes Robinson, Mitchell Marsh, Adam Voges, Kurtis Patterson, Dean Solway, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Ben Cutting, Michael Nesser, Nathan Lyon, Aaron Ayre (12th man)

India squad
MS Dhoni*†, R Ashwin, G Gambhir, RA Jadeja, Z Khan, V Kohli, P Kumar, PA Patel†, IK Pathan, SK Raina, V Sehwag, R Sharma, RG Sharma, SR Tendulkar, MK Tiwary, R Vinay Kumar, U Yadav

Sri Lanka ODI squad
Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Angelo Mathews (vice-capt), Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Farveez Maharoof, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekera, Chanaka Welegedara, Dhammika Prasad
Stand by: Thilan Samaraweera

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