Australia news January 21, 2014

George Bailey's cautionary tale

The schedule giveth, and the schedule taketh away. George Bailey has admitted that the same run of limited-overs matches that catapulted him into Australia's Test XI, also fostered bad habits that he could not shake during the Ashes, leading to a poor return with the bat and his omission from the squad to tour South Africa.

To win Australia's ODI player of the year award hours after the national selector John Inverarity announced that he was not among the 15 for South Africa rather summed up Bailey's mixed emotions. He reflected on how his run-scoring feats in India did not leave him best-placed to combat the challenges posed by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

This led to a lack of first innings scores that allowed Alex Doolan and Shaun Marsh to be chosen ahead of him for the next Test match assignment. Having spoken at length with the coach Darren Lehmann while missing Sunday's SCG match with a hip complaint, Bailey said he now looked to the examples of the Test captain Michael Clarke and the young middle-order batsman Steve Smith for clues on how to adapt better should he be chosen again.

"I had a really good chat with Boof during the one-day game and I think I've got some things to work on against good quality fast bowling," Bailey said. "I've probably got into some bad habits playing a lot of short form cricket so I've got to go away and work out how to get rid of those, and then work out how to adapt really quickly, which I think you see Pup and Steve Smith do really well, and that's what I've got to get to.

"To be honest I was more hoping than expecting to be on the tour. I think I was a benefit of the fact we were winning those Tests, so as a batsman I think you're judged on setting games up and scoring big runs in the first innings, so I would've liked to contribute more in those runs, and if you'd done that then I think it would've been an expectation to be on that flight as opposed to a hope. I can't really fault it [his omission]."

Bailey had given himself an ultimatum of sorts at the start of the summer, reasoning that at 31 this would be his one and only chance. But a program offering the opportunity to play against Pakistan in the UAE and also India at home next summer, leaves a half-open window, given his aptitude for attacking spin bowlers and the reliance of the subcontinental countries on Saeed Ajmal and R Ashwin.

"I think I said at the start of the series that at 31 you probably only get one crack at it, but I'm hoping now to prove myself wrong," Bailey said. "I don't think it matters what age you debut, you're always going to get to that level and find so much out about yourself and find out so much about that level. I learned a hell of a lot about my game, and you discover there's so much more to learn. So it's reinvigorated me in a lot of ways.

"I tell you what, those five Tests, if that's not the most addictive thing to be a part of and want to get back and feel that once again, I don't think I've ever had a greater motivation."

For now, though, Bailey will start thinking about leading the Twenty20 team against England and then formulating a plan to win the World T20 in Bangladesh, having reached the semi-finals on his first attempt in Sri Lanka in 2012. "We're probably not going to get that squad together until South Africa," he said, "so it's going to be the normal T20 conundrum of how you try to build a World Cup-winning side in a short space of time."

If it does turn out that Bailey's only five Tests were the matches against England that are swiftly passing into Australian cricket legend, he will smile about his small contribution to a memorable summer. It certainly did not go unnoticed by his captain Clarke, who offered generous words to a valued team-mate.

"Bails is a great example of someone who didn't perform as well as he'd have liked personally throughout the Ashes, but I can't tell you enough the benefit of having him around the group, his leadership on and off the field, his attitude," he said. "And that takes more courage and character than when you're making hundreds or taking five-fors.

"To give so much back to the team when you're not performing personally I think that's the most underrated thing in sport and he's been a great example. I also think that's why the whole team feels for him that he's not coming to South Africa with us."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here