Scrap rotation, play lesser
Mickey Arthur's recent comments on the rotation policy that Australian cricketers will have to learn to accept, provides excellent material for a discussion on the topic. Arthur talks about the need for "adult conversations" and maturity amongst the playing group so let's start right now then with this blog piece.
Going by comments left by ESPNcricinfo readers, this is clearly a multi-dimensional issue. It's the sort of topic that can be discussed at a mature, sensible level since it lacks the emotion and patriotic fervour surrounding discussions on a particular player or country. I'm looking forward to reading the varied comments that will hopefully follow.
From my perspective, I'm not a big fan of the rotation policy. I come from a generation where each game was sacrosanct and there was no such thing as a "free ride". You played in every game you were selected in, the best team was always selected and you never willingly gave up your spot for anybody else, unless it was due to injury or form. Perhaps that's a reflection of the fact that I played in an era where we were certainly not complaining of too much cricket, and weren't in the habit of surrendering a hard-won spot in the team.
In 1990, I was best man at my sister's wedding and I chose to get there just in time for the start of the reception because the church service clashed with an A-grade game in Brisbane. Despite much grumbling, my family accepted that cricket was my 'job' (to some extent) and that having spent a whole off-season trying to make the team, I wasn't going to risk losing my spot. I argued (unsuccessfully) that my sister should have got married on a weekday instead! Considering that I wasn't good enough to be an automatic selection the following week, I really could not afford to give somebody else a chance to sneak in ahead of me.
The game has moved on since then. They play a lot more cricket and apparently, despite the army of medical specialists, the fittest cricketers of all-time seem to be breaking down at a higher rate than I can ever recall. Maybe the medical support staff and the culture that goes with it just makes cricketers more likely to be aware of injuries these days whereas previously they would have just played through some niggles, perhaps exacerbating the problem. A recent U-19 squad coach I spoke to suggested that when teams don't have a physio travelling with them, they end up with a lot fewer injuries than when there is one.
If the current problem is that they're playing so much cricket and that's what is causing the fatigue-related injuries, here's a simple solution. Play less. How hard is that? The administrators and the cricketers want to play more cricket so they can line their pockets, yet they complain about bigger workloads and more injuries. It's not rocket science chaps - if you can't hack the pace, play lesser cricket, even if that means lesser money, and then we won't need to rotate players. Shock, horror... we might even have the best possible team selected for every game. Now that's a new way to bring the crowds back to Test matches!
I know that it's all about the money and the TV rights. Yes, yes, I get all that. But if we're now playing so much cricket that nobody is actually that interested in each game, is that a counter-productive strategy? I did not watch a single ball of the recent Australia v New Zealand Test match which was played in my home town. I am vaguely aware that India played West Indies in a series recently, but I don't know what happened. I remember reading about Ravi Rampaul scoring some runs, and one of the Tests ending as an exciting draw in Mumbai. Pakistan recently played Sri Lanka somewhere in the Middle East and it was on Pay-TV but I cannot recall a single note-worthy score. So my point is that in trying to make more money from playing more cricket, you risk saturating the market to the point where even cricket lovers like myself stop following games closely. Less cricket, less injuries / fatigue, less need for rotation. Possibly, less earning power for some cricketers and oards too.
Some cricketers will say they want to play as much cricket as possible and earn as much as they can. Fair enough but if that's the case, don't complain if you get injured or if you get rotated because of fatigue. And certainly don't complain about excessive workloads! Young players like Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc should have a good, long think about longevity and whether that is more important than the quick buck, attractive as that may seem. If they sign on for IPL contracts, they might get rich quicker but will it risk their long-term prospects of playing international cricket for another 12-15 years?
Despite Michael Hussey's reservations about the rotation system, I think it is more likely to apply to fast bowlers than to batsmen. I haven't come across too many batsmen who claim they are too fatigued to keep scoring runs. If you're in good form with the bat, unless you have an actual injury like a broken bone or a torn hamstring, I can't see a batsman agreeing to being rotated for a Test, just so he can have a rest. The day that happens will be the day Test cricket loses its intrinsic value as the ultimate form of the game. A fast bowler might actually be physically fatigued if he had back-to-back Tests in hot weather and with a heap of travel thrown into the equation, but batsmen will be loath to stand aside. Despite Arthur's calls for maturity around this issue, I can't see it happening. Just think back to Shaun Marsh's entry into Test cricket in Sri Lanka when he scored a century - why would anyone like Usman Khawaja be immature (naïve) enough to stand aside and let Marsh play a Test against a relatively weak bowling attack? It's different in the case of say Stuart Law or Martin Love who were essentially drafted in to temporarily replace established stars. Both parties knew that as soon as the incumbent returned from injury (or family duties), they would walk back into the set-up, a good show from the replacement notwithstanding.
Does the rotation policy apply to the captain too? Surely if fatigue is a factor, the captain must be more susceptible than most? If Michael Clarke was a bit weary, would it be acceptable for him to miss a Test as part of the rotation policy? In my eyes, that would utterly demean the institution that comes with being the captain of your country in Test cricket. I realise that it happens more readily in ODI or T20 formats but Test cricket? Surely not!
I can see why it is in Mickey Arthur's best interests to prepare his squad for the possibility that they may be rotated. If he can manage the angst that flows from these selections to an acceptable growl, his life will be a lot easier. But from a cricketer's perspective, I just can't stomach the thought of being "rested" for an international game when I'm not actually physically incapable of playing. Never having played at that level (and wishing I had), I cannot envisage a mindset that would allow me to stand aside willingly. If that is what ends up happening to Test cricket one day, it will signal the end of the romance and passion that has always been the format's claim to purity. Surely some things are more sacred than the tawdry glamour of the IPL, the glitzy bi-annual World T20s, and the endless list of ODI trophies presented by inane CEOs of electronic companies smiling and fawning on stage with Tony Greig whilst he gushes over another forgettable event?
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane