Format changes, complacency hurt Bailey's Ashes hopes
George Bailey has conceded that he struggled with constantly changing formats last summer, which contributed to his least productive Sheffield Shield campaign since his maiden season in 2004-05. The international retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey in the middle of 2012-13 left the selectors looking to Shield form to find batsmen for the Test tour of India and the Ashes, but Bailey managed only 256 runs at 18.28 in Tasmania's successful campaign.
A schedule packed with ODIs, Twenty20 internationals, Ryobi Cup matches, Big Bash League and Sheffield Shield cricket meant that from August last year until the Shield final in March, Bailey had to switch between formats 18 times. That is cricket's equivalent of constant jet-lag, and even for a mature player like Bailey, that proved too great a challenge. It was his four-day cricket that suffered: he scored only one half-century in his eight Shield matches.
"I struggled at different times with switching back through the formats," Bailey said of his 2012-13 season. "That's not an excuse, because I think every modern-day cricketer has to make those changes pretty regularly, but I just didn't adjust to it very well. I certainly felt like I was going into Shield games with a one-day or Twenty20 mentality. It was certainly not a conscious thing, but just not having the awareness and ability to work out how to build your innings."
It was a blow to the Test aspirations of Bailey, who is highly regarded by John Inverarity's selection panel and was on Wednesday named Michael Clarke's vice-captain in Australia's squad for the Champions Trophy. Bailey was appointed captain of Australia's Twenty20 outfit in January last year and over the past 12 months has been the highest run scorer in the ODI team, but his presence in both the shorter formats for Australia has not helped his Shield form.
However, he was far from the only experienced batsman who struggled in the Shield last summer, which has left the selectors scratching around for Test batting options. David Hussey, Adam Voges, Rob Quiney, Michael Klinger and Peter Forrest were among the others who failed to pass the 400-run mark in the Shield and, like Bailey, any of them could have forced their way into Ashes contention with a big summer.
As it was, Chris Rogers managed to do so with a solid tally - Ricky Ponting, Mark Cosgrove, Rogers and Alex Doolan were the top four Shield run scorers for the season. The presence of three Tasmanians in that group helped the Tigers to win the Sheffield Shield but Bailey said it also led to him cruising through the campaign without having to hit top gear. Not since his debut season, when he scored 185 at 23.12, had he endured such a lean first-class season.
"The way our top order was batting there was probably a little bit of complacency there," Bailey said. "Batting behind Mark Cosgrove, who had a fantastic season, Alex Doolan, who is in great form, and the season that Ricky Ponting had, I reckon I just took my foot off the pedal a little bit and thought it was going to happen.
"Quite often I was going to the crease in quite comfortable situations, where in the past I might have gone in under the pump a little bit and you've really got to be switched on. It was a really disappointing individual season, but having said that I probably wouldn't change it for the world because it was such a great team season."
Although the Ashes opportunity has passed him by for the time being, Bailey has at least given himself a chance of strengthening his case for a mid-series call-up if a batsman is injured. He is in England for a two-month county stint with Hampshire and started with an innings of 93 against Leicestershire - higher than any Shield score he made over the past summer.
"One of my fears was coming over here and feeling a bit lethargic or flat, coming straight from the end of one season and such a high to finish the year and straight back into it," he said. "But it's a different group of faces and a new challenge and the opportunity to rectify how my four-day cricket had been, with more consistent four-day games.
"There are quite a few of them in a two-month period; I think I'm playing six or seven over the eight-week period. As soon as I landed here I was really excited and, touch wood, it has started really well thus far. I'm just really enjoying the challenge of playing in different conditions and getting back to working out how to build your innings and bat for long periods."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here