Australia v India 2011-12 January 23, 2012

Captain first, batsman second

George Bailey would not command a place in Australia's T20 side on form alone, but he still has plenty to offer

A few weeks ago, hundreds of Australian and Indian cricket fans headed to Melbourne's Southbank for a public appearance by the players ahead of the Boxing Day Test. Some wore their team shirts, others carried paraphernalia to be signed. Most were serious cricket followers. As a few groups crossed the Yarra River on the St Kilda Road footpath to go and meet their idols, they took no notice of George Bailey, who was out for a stroll on a day off from Big Bash League duties.

Nobody stopped him to ask for an autograph. No one prodded their mate and said "Hey, that's George Bailey!" It appeared that this correspondent was the only person within cooee who recognised him. That will change next week, when Bailey leads Australia in a Twenty20 against India and becomes the first man since Dave Gregory in Test match No.1 in 1877 to be named captain in his first match for Australia in any format.

It is an extraordinary rise, and one that has not come because of compelling form: Bailey has scored just one T20 half-century in his past three summers. But the new selection panel headed by John Inverarity rates Bailey highly as a captain, and it is for his leadership and tactical nous that he has been handed control of Australia's T20 outfit as they build towards September's ICC World Twenty20.

It was telling that in the press release outlining Bailey's appointment, Inverarity noted that the role of the captain was especially important in the shortest format, where meticulous preparation needed to be accompanied by calm split-second decision-making. "A captain can have a most significant impact on a game," Inverarity said, "even if he does not bowl or get to the crease".

The message was clear: captaincy skills are just as important as batting or bowling form for a T20 leader, if not more so. The juggling of bowlers, the setting of fields, the reading of play - these are factors that arguably become more important the shorter the format.

That being the case, it could be argued that the incumbent leader, Cameron White, might have been retained despite his dismal BBL form. White has been captain of Victoria for a decade and in that time the Bushrangers have won four Big Bash titles.

But his appointment as Australia's captain was a legacy of the Andrew Hilditch era. Inverarity's panel prefer Bailey. That's their prerogative. You don't move into a new house and keep the furniture where it was just because the previous owners had it there.

The panel's options were few. Shane Watson is the Test vice-captain but is not fit. In any case, managing himself as an allrounder in three formats is enough of a burden without asking him to direct the side on the field. David Warner, vice-captain to Bailey, is an option in the long term, but he is only just beginning to learn about leadership.

David Hussey has led Victoria on and off during White's absences, but he is more of a lead-by-example captain. Once while standing in as the state skipper in a one-day match he was asked at the toss who was in his side and he admitted he hadn't even checked the team sheet to find out.

Bailey has the captaincy record to do the job. He has steered Tasmania to a Sheffield Shield and a one-day title in the past two years. He is regarded by his peers as an astute leader and tactician. He is a good enough batsman to have made an Australia ODI squad in 2010, and is a more aggressive, muscular strokeplayer than Michael Clarke, who was a clever T20 captain but lacked the power to be a forceful batsman in the format.

He has much to offer, and giving him this opportunity was a brave, bold move by the selectors. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't, but something had to be done to revive Australia's T20 fortunes. They are ranked fifth in the world and have won only two matches since making the final of the World Twenty20 in 2010. They have four, maybe five games before the title is again up for grabs. It is just enough time for a new group to settle in.

While the new squad does just that, White will be left to wonder where his career is heading. He started as a legspinner who could bat, and has ended up as a batsman who hardly bowls. He has spent time in the Test, ODI and T20 international teams, and now finds himself in none of them. He has time, but perhaps not Inverarity's panel, on his side. For now, all he can do is pile up the runs with Victoria.

In Bangladesh in April, when White was dropped from Australia's ODI side, he and Hilditch were spotted out on the field, the last two men standing at a training session as the outgoing selector hit catches to the outgoing player. Their fates have turned out to be more closely aligned than anyone knew.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Khawaja on January 25, 2012, 2:30 GMT

    i think they have no reserve captains in the test team having recently appointed micheal clarke...there is not much captaincy in t20's apart from taking off a bowler who is being hit all round teh park and a few fielding decisions ...most t20 matches strategy is decided off teh field since there is no seems that teh australian team in tests is not that good at playing t20's...meaning they are slow to take off...a complete change in the bowling deptt is a surprise with faulkner, lee and mckay not the top bowlers in australia...they seem to have a lot of new batsmen who probably are bigger hitters than ponting and clarke..recalling brad hogg is odd even if he was good in the big bash...and okeefe is a better batsman than hogg and doherty and probably a better bowler...bailey should realize that unless he keeps winning he will probably not last too long...i would probably think that their t20 batting hinges on warner and dan christiansome of teh batsmen also look too old for t20

  • Dummy4 on January 24, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    This is very much different and opposite from the earlier Australian selection committee. Usually they used select best players who can represent the nation, then best among those will be selected as Captain to lead them.

  • Bernard on January 24, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    I think Australia should treat their T20 side as a 'B' team of sorts. Lets face it, nobody really cares about T20, its just a marketing vehicle and is not 'real' cricket. This (and the squad in general) seems to be headed in that direction. White's International T20 form (and captaincy credentials) have been superb, the real reason he was dropped was for not promoting the BBL. This squad is pretty much a reward/incentive to get more players involved in the BBL, and taking it more seriously. White dropped for 'poor BBL form' - Bailey made captain with equally bad T20 form. What a joke.

  • Mark on January 24, 2012, 13:17 GMT

    Really? Really? Have you checked Fergusons stats in the BBL Aidan FX? Wow, I'm staggered, he was dropped from the team for one of the last games. As for George Bailey, I see the logic the selectors are going for, but I prefer the Blake Houston method of picking teams.

  • David on January 24, 2012, 10:27 GMT

    @AidanFX Ferguson has been consistently poor in the big bash - even leading to him being dropped by his franchise for one match. SOK is the biggest disappoinment he is a better spin bowler than Doherty and Beer (besides being a much better batsman an fielder). He would also make a good captain. whose nose has he put out of joint?

  • Satish on January 24, 2012, 10:21 GMT

    @CricketMaan : Chopra would make a better captain than Kanitkar..

  • Shane on January 24, 2012, 4:37 GMT

    @aidenfx - ferguson has been consistent. Consistently bad during the BBL. Dont get me wrong I like him but he even got dropped by the Strikers at one stage. That's hardly commanding a spot. Anyway hopefully Bails can grab this opportunity. He is no hack, though he will have a hard time winning the public over given his sub standard BBL season...I'll back him in though

  • Dummy4 on January 24, 2012, 0:14 GMT

    I don't like this, you say Bailey doesn't have much T20 form. I think in any team you pick the best 11 players you can and then name a captain from that group

  • David on January 23, 2012, 22:25 GMT

    i am in agreeance with this article. captaincy is very important and i rate george bailey very highly. i think this is a good move. most of the cricketers who have played with him cant speakly highly enough of him so thats a good sign

  • Andy on January 23, 2012, 20:48 GMT

    Having seen David Hussey lead Nottinghamshire in T20s I can confirm he has excellent captaincy credentials.

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