Inverarity's all-round view
Three years ago, Andrew McDonald was dropped from a winning Australia team because the selectors of the day felt his all-round abilities would be surplus to a great one. Today McDonald is captain of an Australia A side stocked with as many as six such cricketers, and in line for a national recall. There will seldom be a starker contrast between Australia's current selection panel and its predecessor.
In four Tests against South Africa in 2009, McDonald contributed to three victories, gathering confidence as a batsman while also bowling critical overs that built pressure while nipping out the odd wicket. His value as an allrounder and an exemplar of a winning team culture - via the domestic success of Victoria - appeared considerable, but was not enough to keep him in the team for the 2009 Ashes tour that followed. McDonald toured England, but did not play a Test.
It was felt at the time that the allrounder of choice for Australia should be Shane Watson, and that McDonald was plugging a gap. In the words of the former coach Tim Nielsen: "It wasn't about chopping Andrew McDonald off but asking, 'Is this the sort of formula that will get us back to being the best team?' The balance of three quicks plus a medium-pacer plus a part-time spinner we didn't feel was the right thing forever. It won us a series in conditions that suited, but I don't know if it would've had lasting impact."
It is almost a year to the day since John Inverarity became the national selector, presiding over a panel that also features Rod Marsh, Andy Bichel, the national coach Mickey Arthur and the captain Michael Clarke. Their measures of how to construct a winning Australia team appear rather different to those of the previous regime, and the pushing of all-round contributors to the XI has taken on far greater significance than merely the matter of whether an individual can bat, bowl or keep wicket to a high standard.
Where three years ago McDonald's worth was questioned even after he had helped the team win, now a player's contribution to a team success is considered far more carefully. Inverarity and Marsh were raised in a Western Australia team culture where every member of the squad - Marsh included - bowled in the nets. This sort of all-in mentality is what they have tried to develop in Australia's Test team in particular, and the search for allrounders is another part of that.
"He's been a very good player for a long time and is in very good form, and we like the fact he's an allrounder," Inverarity said at the MCG on Friday. "Cricket teams need allrounders, people worthy of a place for one of their skills and very strong in the other, and he bowled very well the other day here, as he always does.
"He's a very good, experienced cricketer and Victoria are doing well, they're in good shape at the moment and he plays very good cricket. Last year he was a bit hindered by some injuries, but he's moving very freely this year."
Apart from McDonald, Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, John Hastings, Steven Smith and Nathan Coulter-Nile are other members of the Australia A side with multiple skills. While Inverarity said a desire to keep certain fast bowlers away from prying South African eyes was one reason for the surfeit of utility types, it was no coincidence to see a team named that can bat more or less down to No. 11.
"We're really hoping those players develop," Inverarity said. "I think if you've got a couple of allrounders in your side it is extremely useful, and of course it creates less wear and tear on your out-and-out pace bowlers. We're unashamedly very keen to develop allrounders."
The term allrounder may be used in another sense when viewing Australia's likely team composition for the first Test at the Gabba. Inverarity's panel have looked very closely at the way each team member contributes to the harmony, happiness and performance of the whole, whether it be through their fielding, their running between the wickets or their attitude around the dressing room.
It is perhaps for these reasons that the opener Ed Cowan remains a nailed-on starter for the South Africa Tests, despite a halting beginning to his Test career. Australia developed a very tight and functional unit during Tests against India and West Indies last summer, and the panel does not want to let that go easily.
"Ed's a very well-performed player, a great team man, and we're backing him," Inverarity said. "There are a lot of players who in their first five or six games haven't set the world on fire, and have then come through and flourished. We picked Ed, he deserved to be picked, he played well on two or three occasions, and we're backing him to do well again this time."
So Cowan is still a part of a team because he was present to help it develop a taste and an aptitude for winning. McDonald was dropped in similar circumstances in 2009, but after today's promotion to lead the A team he may yet be seen again in a baggy green cap.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here