Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sydney 2012: A Postscript

On yesterday's evidence, my conclusion at the end of yesterday's effort, namely:

Chasing 120, I think we can. Have the lead blow out to 150 and it starts to get dodgy. Make it 175 and I've got my doubts and 200 is where I'm starting to concede a considerable degree of difficulty

Looks to be reasonably close to the money, and much closer than some of my other predictions over the past couple of months.

In any case it's obvious we wouldn't have wanted to be chasing more than 200 batting last, and, despite a fairly impressive effort with the ball a side with a bit more steel and a dash less rash in the batting department would have been setting us a target closer to 250, and would probably have had a little more oomph in the bowling to make the target harder to reach.

Issues with the line feed in the whippersnipper meant I hadn't started on the parts of the yard I really wanted to get to when The Supervisor stuck her head around the door to advise it was nine-twenty-five, and had she managed to do that a little earlier (as requested) I'd probably have put the whippersnipping in the it'll still be there tomorrow basket and caught the action live.

As it was, by the time I'd completed the tasks I'd set myself (and spent close to three-quarters of an hour fiddling with glorified fishing line) it was nine-for, and by the time I'd had a shower and started on brunch the tenth wicket partnership was still in progress and the target climbing steadily. Herath and Lakmal had gone in the way tailenders are supposed to, but Pradeep stuck around for close to an hour as Chandimal farmed the strike. As far as the bowling went, of course, it was a case of not seeing, cannot tell, but in the end the new ball did what it's supposed to do and the target was set at 141.

You can argue all you like about what might have happened had Warner got going, but the point here is that he didn't, and the new ball did what it's always likely to do and he went for a duck. Cowan looked very iffy, probably due to uncertainty as to his spot in the pecking order and Hughes dominated the scoring.

Both went lbw to Herath, which didn't come as much of a surprise and with Clarke holing out for 29 when Cowan went at 4-108 it was up to Hussey and Wade to get us home safely. Wade didn't quite last the distance, bowled by Herath nine short of the target, and all round Mitch got off the mark with the winning run, depriving Mr Cricket of the scripted end to a glorious career.

Looking back it's obvious we've still got significant question marks about every place in the batting order, including Clarke's (though in his case it's a question of Four or Five).

The bowling looks a little better, and you'd suggest that Siddle, Bird and Starc/Johnson would do pretty well until Pattinson is fit, and there are a few other options out there that could do with a bit of assessing.

So there are any number of questions that need close and careful scrutiny, and a limited number of avenues through which that scrutiny can be achieved. In days gone by you'd have set off on a tour to England with a squad of seventeen or eighteen and three or four first class games to find your feet before the first Test. Not any more.

These days you're lucky to get a one-dayer and a three dayer against England A.

So, while there are those in the media who are decrying rotations and spelling, Hughesy's response is to ask when we're going to get a chance to look at some options. Pat Howard is on the record as saying that we're probably only going to field our strongest side against South Africa and England, a suggestion that produced all sorts of objections, so let's pause and take a closer squiz at things.

We're sitting at Three in the Test rankings (on 117, behind England on 118 and South Africa on 123) with Pakistan (109), India (105) Sri Lanka (92) and West Indies (91) between us and the also-rans.

New Zealanders would bristle at that last remark, and start pointing to Bellerive 2011 but, seriously, with their rating on 79 and daylight between seventh and eighth it's hard to think of a more accurate label. Bangladesh rates a 0, and Zimbabwe hasn't played enough matches.

So the first question I'd put to the decriers is who they'd include in a touring party to New Zealand, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe?

Given the question marks about the batting at the moment, and the prospect of tours to India and England on the horizon you'd probably go with close to your side for England if you were heading to New Zealand first, and close to the side you'd be taking to the subcontinent if you were heading to Bangladesh.

In a more ideal universe, you wouldn't be heading to England and New Zealand, or to Bangladesh and India, in the same year, so your touring party to both of those would include a core of established players fleshed out with players who you'd expect to go well in English or Indian conditions, the same way you'd pick blokes who'd be likely to do OK in South Africa on a tour to Zimbabwe.

Playing Pakistan isn't going to happen on their home turf any time soon, so when you play them away you're looking at England or the Gulf, and in the latter case you'd be tailoring your selections to fit climatic conditions you don't find anywhere else in the cricketing world.

Given the crowded schedule players will need to be spelled from time to time, so when are you going to do it?

And what happens when an established player is forced to withdraw for personal/family reasons? No one spelled out the detail when Haddin headed back from the West Indies, but recent reports involving the coincidence of the words kid and cancer suggest a refusal to allow him leave would attract descriptors like unreasonable and cold-hearted.

So, what have we got with this ODI squad, remembering we're playing Sri Lanka in a five game series that doesn't mean a thing apart from bums on seats?

Well, for a start, missing from the Test XI are Clarke, Wade and Hussey. Unreasonable? Possibly, if you're looking to give Mr Cricket a last hurrah, but Clarke has to be rested some time, and giving Wade a break offers a touch of reassurance to Haddin and a reminder to Paine that he needs to deliver with the bat.

But with Hussey not being part of the calculations for the next World Cup what'd be the point of running him around for another ten meaningless games?

So who else is missing from the Test Twelve? Warner, who won't be missing for long, and Cowan, who was probably never going to enter ODI calculations anyway. Out of the bowlers, they're definite Siddle is Tests only, which is fair enough, and Lyon probably isn't going to enter into ODI calculations either.

The only bloke from the Test eleven who might be entitled to feel hard done by (and you can underline that might half a dozen times and insert a couple of question marks after it) is Bird.

Now, I'm possibly on rather risky ground here, but I suspect the selection panel started with the Test Eleven and put lines through the names that need a spell and don't come into calculations for the short forms. That's the way I'd be looking at it if I was the National Selector, anyway.

So, who's left?

Hughes, Johnson and Starc. Check the exclusions. Warner (rested), Cowan (not in the picture), Clarke (rested), Hussey (retired), Wade (rested), Siddle and Lyon (not in the picture).

So, who to draft in? You're going to need a captain, since none of the three names you've got will be filling that role and a keeper. Anybody who doesn't think Bailey and Haddin would get the nod there has serious issues with reality.

At that point you put the names on a list in batting order, which gives you Hughes, Bailey, Haddin, Johnson, Starc.

Haddin and Hughes can both open if necessary, but presumably you won't use Haddin in that role when we're batting second, so you need another opener, and Finch looks to be an obvious candidate, so:
Finch, Hughes, Bailey, Haddin, Johnson, Starc.

Which is where we turn to the middle order options and slot in Khawaja as the next cab off the rank. There's a spot there for another bloke in the middle, possibly two, depending on whether Haddin goes in at Six or Seven, and at the moment we've only got two front line bowlers. I don't think there's any surprise in Clint McKay or Xavier Doherty, So, for a squad of thirteen:

Finch, Hughes, Khawaja, Bailey, (Five), (another bat), Haddin, (all-rounder at Seven?), Johnson, Starc, McKay, (another quick), Doherty.

Since Glenn Maxwell was in the twelve for the Test he's the logical choice for the all-rounder at Seven.

And you'd have got to that point pretty quickly. Most of he discussion around the table would have concerned those last three spots, and that's where it really becomes line ball.  Whether another panel would come up with Steve Smith and David Hussey for the batting slots (and noting both can bowl) is the sort of thing you could spend half an hour debating, but Cutting for the last bowler's spot looks like a logical move.

The interesting bit will come when Clarke comes back, and Warner, Wade and Bird are back in calculations. There'll still be eight ODIs to play at that stage, so there'll be a bit of chopping and changing, but if we were heading to the ODI World Cup rather than the Twenty20 in June how's about this as a side:

Warner, Finch, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Hussey/Maxwell, Haddin, Johnson, Starc, McKay/Bird, Doherty.

Slot Bailey in for Clarke, and that's possibly close to the Twenty20 World Cup side…

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