Inverarity wrestles with Australia's batting woes
Australia's national selector, John Inverarity, has spoken frankly of his panel's struggles to find batsmen capable of thriving in a Test match following the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, admitting he is not sure whether they will emerge in strong numbers ever again.
In a searching interview with ESPNcricinfo, Inverarity said that Twenty20's influence on the Australian summer schedule loomed large among a variety of reasons for the tailing off of Australian batting in recent summers, to a point where the captain Michael Clarke is now the only member of the Test top six with an average of better than 40.
"I don't think anyone has got the exact answer as to why we haven't got players coming through who bat for long periods," Inverarity said. "But one thing I am sure about is young players need to work it out for themselves ... Society is different now, there's fast food and immediate gratification and those things, so whether we'll see it in the abundance that we've seen it over the years before I don't know.
"I think an intelligent young player with some talent, and looking to make his way in cricket, I would think high on his agenda would be developing an appetite and the wherewithal to bat for long periods and make big scores. A young player, if he wanted to play Test cricket, then applying himself in that regard is what we're on the lookout for."
While careful to credit the T20 Big Bash League with building a new audience for the game in Australia, Inverarity conceded the lack of Sheffield Shield cricket across summer's prime months in December and January had affected a player's ability to develop continuity, momentum and the habit of high scoring.
"The cricket scene now is more fragmented than it was, with T20. If you'd said 10 years ago that there wouldn't be any domestic first-class cricket in Australia in December and January you would've thought that was not possible," he said. "The Big Bash League has been a great attraction and in spreading the word of cricket it's been a great success. But in terms of players developing momentum it has made it rather difficult.
"A very good example is Alex Doolan, who has been a very promising player for some time and built up some real momentum in October/November, and then of course the next time he played a Shield match was in February. So that was difficult for him."
Inverarity mounted a staunch defence of the management and rotation of Australian players over the 2012-13 summer, and disputed claims that batsmen - in contrast to bowlers - were disadvantaged by being given the occasional rest instead of playing throughout the year.
"I think that's exaggerated. It does not stand up to scrutiny," he said. "Missing a game or two for an elite professional cricketer, who plays all three formats and for numerous teams, should not be an issue at all. Players regularly come back from a prolonged layoff for injury and bat brilliantly.
"Playing in all forms, players can tend to become jaded. I think Michael Clarke at the moment is benefiting greatly from having a break. Over a period of five years, my view is you'll get more out of a player if he has appropriate breaks. And of course that creates opportunity for others. Jackson Bird playing for Starc in the Boxing Day Test was a great benefit to Australian cricket."
There was also an explanation for why the New South Wales spin bowler Steve O'Keefe has not been selected for national duty, despite handsome domestic figures. Inverarity said he had been close several times, but the panel's collective view had remained consistent that other, better options existed.
"Steve O'Keefe is a very good cricketer. He's taken wickets, and he's a steady batsman," Inverarity said. "Whenever we've been at the selection table, we've marginally preferred other players to him. But he's still regarded as a good cricketer. We're very aware of his figures and we do look deeper than that. But there's a panel of five of us and there's a consistency of view when we select the spinners."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here