'Generating youth the lifeblood' of cricket - Inverarity
John Inverarity, Australia's new national selector, has not ruled a line through Simon Katich's name but he has signalled the need for Australia to look to the future when choosing squads. On a day when Katich scored a match-saving Sheffield Shield century at the SCG and then said his 2009 dressing-room scuffle with Michael Clarke was a key reason for his axing, Cricket Australia unveiled Inverarity as its full-time selector.
A former Perth headmaster who saw Katich play during his school days, Inverarity was handed a three-year deal and will pick Australian sides almost until the 2015 World Cup. That period will feature two Ashes series, with back-to-back contests scheduled in England in 2013 and in Australia later that year to avoid a clash with the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand the following summer.
Inverarity's five-man panel will face the challenge of managing a succession plan for several older players. By the 2013 Ashes, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey will both be 38, while Brad Haddin will be 35, and the timing of the retirements of any or all of those men will be critical to Australia's preparation for their battle to regain the urn.
Katich, 36, was moved on by the previous selectors this year as they aimed to start the transition process, a decision that sparked an angry reaction from several quarters, including from Katich himself. While Inverarity was reluctant to speak about individual players, he said he would keep an open mind, while also balancing the short-term needs of the side with long-term goals.
"The selectors' role is always a very demanding role," Inverarity said. "If you're going to bring in youth and invest opportunity in young players, well you've only got a certain number in the squad, so people have got to come in and people have got to go out. As far as I'm concerned, the book is closed on nobody.
"When you sit down to select the side you select for that next week, for later in the season, later in the year, the next year and probably two or three years hence. You need to keep all of those in balance as you make selection. Generating youth is the lifeblood of all sports. You need to keep an ideal balance in terms of age profile and how much longer people have got in their careers.
"You need to exercise very good judgment in managing that and making appropriate decisions, investing opportunity wisely. All games in all forms the Australian team play, they are all of great importance. But there are some especially important times. Those times would be World Cups and Ashes series and playing against very strong sides like India. You try to manage it so that you've got plenty of talent who are experienced and available when you need them most."
Inverarity's panel, which will include Clarke as captain, as well as the coach and two yet-to-be-named part-time selectors, will need to manage some of the youngest players Australia's team has fielded in recent years. Pat Cummins, 18, could make his Test debut during next month's series in South Africa, and Inverarity said it was important to balance the concerns of age with the benefits that could be gained by such a young man being exposed to the highest level.
"I don't think you can say how young is too young," he said. "It depends on them and their general maturity. It depends on what it is, whether it's a fast-bowling load or a batting load or a wicketkeeping load. Selection is based on merit. You select on the expectation of how well that person is expected to perform and contribute to the team, but at the same time you've got to invest opportunity wisely.
"For example, I recall Steve Waugh ... didn't do particularly well for a number of Test matches but opportunity was invested in him and as it turned out it was invested very, very wisely, because there was an obvious identification there of talent, and not only talent but the right character and attitude that was going to come through. Of course it bore wonderful fruit."
Waugh came into the national side at a time when the Australians were struggling, and there are similarities to current era. Inverarity said that while in an ideal world players would be ready for international cricket when chosen, sometimes patience had to be shown to young men finding their way.
"A lot depends on what's available," he said. "It's all very easy to select when there's a wealth of talent available. Sometimes that's not the case... There's always a case for being patient for talent to develop. You hope that develops at a lower level and it's ready when that person is selected to play for Australia."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo