Clarke sheds light on Haddin exit
Australia's Ashes selectors Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann indicated to Michael Clarke that Peter Nevill was set to retain his place for the third Test at Edgbaston before they told Brad Haddin they had not yet made a decision, the former captain has revealed.
In his Ashes Diary 2015 released this week, Clarke writes critically of several elements of Australia's selection policies during the failed Ashes campaign. But it is his recollection of conversations around the Derby tour match between the second and third Tests that will raise the most pointed questions about the role played by Marsh and Lehmann in the team's topsy-turvy results.
It has previously been reported that Haddin had to front Marsh and Lehmann at training in Derby to get a straight answer from them about the decision to retain Nevill, after the older man had missed the Lord's Test to spend time with his ill daughter, Mia. Clarke has gone further by stating he was aware which way the selectors were likely to go before they were prepared to tell Haddin themselves.
"I spoke to Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann before the match started and told them it would be helpful to know which one they're intending to pick for the next Test," Clarke wrote, "because, whoever it was, I'd get them behind the stumps in the first innings and bat them up the order. These games are all about preparing for the Tests, and our Test keeper needed match practice. Rod and Boof hadn't decided for sure, but were leaning pretty strongly towards Nev. They didn't want to change a winning side from Lord's.
"At training, I was batting in the nets when Hadds walked up to Rod and asked him which keeper was going to play the Test. I was close by, but I walked away, hoping Rod might tell Hadds what he'd told me, that they preferred Nev for Edgbaston. But he didn't. He told Hadds no decision had been made, that he'd get back to him.
"Hadds wasn't happy with that, so he walked straight up to Boof, who said the same thing - that the selectors hadn't decided. So Hadds asked Boof straight out, as a selector, who he was going for. And Boof looked him straight in the eye and said he wanted Nev to play."
The decision to retain Nevill over Haddin was a source of considerable disquiet during the series, with several players questioning the consistency of the call after Lehmann's strong insistence that family was a major priority for the team under his watch. A meeting was later called for senior players to discuss the issue with Lehmann, the first time they and the coach had been at odds since he took over from Mickey Arthur two years before.
Clarke has also suggested that the selectors erred by not considering the balance of Australia's bowling unit during the Ashes, and that persisting with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson together meant that neither left-armer could bowl at his best against England. One of Clarke's recurring statements as captain was that a winning team needed to pick the best attack as opposed to the best four bowlers, and he does not think this was the case during the Ashes.
"When you choose a cricket team, you have to remember that bowling is not an individual task: the best bowling is done in pairs, and as a group," Clarke wrote. "For most of the tour we picked the three best-available fast bowlers in Australia, and after Ryan Harris retired, those were Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood. That doesn't necessarily add up to the best bowling attack - for the conditions, for the opposition you're playing against, or for the sake of balance.
"I think both Johnson and Starc are aggressive, attacking strike weapons who can leak runs but will take wickets. You need at least one of them in your team. The question is, for balance, do you want both, especially as they're both lefties? Probably not, in seaming English conditions. In an ideal world, in the future maybe, you could play them both. In fairness to them, it might've helped if we had more runs on the board.
"I know as a captain I can use that one left-hander better if I have more consistency around him. I think I showed that in the home Ashes when I had Harris, Siddle and Shane Watson as my consistent, control bowlers and I was able to use Johnson in short, fiery bursts. He was unstoppable."
It is now clear that the selectors were wrong-footed by the injury-enforced retirement of Ryan Harris before the series. However Clarke said that the Australian team and its selectors had to learn from events of 2015 if they were to prosper next time around - chiefly by choosing a more balanced XI. The retirement of Mitchell Johnson this week means that the choice between the two attacking left-armers no longer needs to be made.
"I just hope that Australian cricket learns from this experience, because in four years' time they'll need to do things differently if they're going to win here," Clarke wrote. "It's not just bowling as a group and having a balanced attack - it goes for the whole team.
"You can't keep thinking, 'Well, these are the best 11 cricket players in the country and they will play all around the world all the time.' Certain batters and certain bowlers are better in certain conditions. You pick players for their role in the national team, because their role is different when they play for Australia. I think the selection messages around that have become a bit confused in the past 12 months or so."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig