February 15, 2013

Australian cricket

Australia must be patient with rotation

Tapan Doshi
David Warner scored a fifty but got out soon after, Australia v Sri Lanka, 4th ODI, Sydney, January 20, 2013
'Informed player management' is a necessary evil for Australia  © Getty Images
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There's been a lot of talk lately, mostly criticism, of John Inverarity's stern defence of the 'informed player management' policy implemented by Cricket Australia, with critics ranging from credible to self-aggrandising.

I will try to make reasoned arguments about why Inverarity is right. Since 1999, Australian one-day and Test teams have enjoyed a sustained period of supremacy and excellence. Precisely when their reign ended in the different formats will only be clear 20 years hence; but for the sake of this discussion, let's consider periods beginning from the 1999 World Cup till December 2010 for the ODI team, and 1999 till the 2010-11 Ashes for the Test teams.

During this period, an obscene number of high-quality players came together to play at the same time. These legends managed to keep Michael Hussey, Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich, Greg Blewett, Michael Slater, Andy Bichel, Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin, Damien Fleming, Michael Kasprowicz, Stuart MacGill, Nathan Bracken, Brad Hogg and countless more out of the team, some for the better part of their careers. The bench strength was so strong that an injured player could easily be replaced by someone of equal or greater quality and the result of the match would be unaffected.

In this phase, Australian teams used only 73 players to play 345 ODIs, and 59 players to play 141 Test matches and had exceptional results. Warne's dictum - let your best team in each format play together for as long as possible, and the results will improve - might have been true, pre-2007. But two things happened very soon after Warne retired.

Many legends in the team retired in the 2007-2008 period. The Australian cricket team has been the most successful team in both Tests and ODIs in terms of its W/L ratio. Success and dominance are mandatory for its cricket teams as a culture. However, since Warne and his mates retired, Australian cricket lost the luxury of plug-and-play legends sitting on the bench waiting for a fellow legend to get injured so that they could waltz into the team and perform at a level that would make a viewer wonder whether the player was wearing the wrong jersey. The domestic structure, which produced fantastic reserves, simply does not any more. Now the squad is full of fixtures (Clarke, Wade, Starc, Warner), unpredictables (Johnson, Tait), fizzle-outers (Ferguson, North, Forrest, White, Bollinger), honest-triers (Doherty, Hilfenhaus, Bailey, Khawaja, Smith, Cowan, Lyon), awesome-but-frequently-crocked (Siddle, Watson, Harris), and exciting-but-unproven (Hughes, Maxwell, Pattinson, Cummins).

In 2007, India won the T20 World Cup, which directly led to IPL and a cluster of T20 leagues around the world. The direct consequence of IPL is that players simply started playing a lot more cricket in a lot more places around the world, and because the Australian domestic circuit was so strong, the Australian players simply became value purchases for most of the new franchises. Australian players started playing more, and Cricket Australia could do nothing about it.

The stark reality of today's international cricket scheduling is that players play one extra format at domestic and national levels that adds further strain. More matches, along with more travel, mean more injuries. The number of injuries faced by the Australian squad, especially the recent fast bowling crop, has been well documented.

Secondly, the difference in the requisite skillset and mindset from the slowest to the fastest format is wider than it has ever been before. This is why no single team seems to dominate all three formats of the game simultaneously. England, India and South Africa came close, and occupied the No. 1 spot in Test and ODI rankings. However, none of the teams came close to the Australian dominance in all three formats simultaneously.

India were brought crashing back to earth in England and Australia months after their ODI World Cup triumph, and South Africa didn't perform well during the 2011 World Cup or the 2012 World T20 soon after gaining the No.1 spot. Individual players such as Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Dale Steyn, Kevin Pietersen and David Warner have been able to apply their skills to all three formats with more success than others, but a whole team peaking together consistently while playing one format after the next has not happened since the 2007 World T20.

Legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Inzamam ul-Haq, Glenn McGrath and others either retired before the international T20 became a staple of the international cricket calendar, or simply didn't play enough matches. Clarke hasn't played a T20I since 2009 despite being a top ODI player. Some like Hashim Amla, Virat Kohli and Saeed Ajmal have had plenty of time to get used to one format of the game before playing the others. Amla has moved from Tests to T20, while the other two have progressed from T20s to Tests.

Kallis, by his own admission, has had to work really hard to succeed at T20, simply because he's had to widen his skills greatly. The point is, even greats of the game struggle to perform at consistently excellent levels when they have to play multiple formats in short time.

Inverarity, Bichel, Clarke and Arthur recognise that they have a relatively young core of players, who are not in the league of Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Ponting, Hussey, McGrath and Brett Lee just yet. But they realise that, given enough time and patience, this group has the talent and temperament to do very well for Australia.

They also realise they have to form a strong group of reserve players ready to step in because this new group of players will be injured more frequently than the others. Since the Australian domestic circuit is no longer as strong as it once was, the only way to produce a high-quality bench is to make a large group of players play a lot of international games.

This could serve a couple of purposes. Firstly, it can help identify exceptional talent and differentiate between all-format cricketers and format specialists. Second, slowly but surely, the journeymen will elevate the quality of the reserves and be ready to step in whenever called upon. The only way to do that is to give the new pool of players opportunity and time.

Early on in his career, Warne was part of a huge paradigm shift in World Cricket: separate squads and captains for Tests and ODIs. Informed player management is the 2013 version.

Keywords: Burnout, Player management, Rotation

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Si on (February 20, 2013, 3:35 GMT)

Mate, you must be aware that organisations don't tell the public the real reason for anything these days. While CA might've said rotating bowlers was to manage injuries, it was an ill conceived cover for the joke that occurred in the last 2 weeks of Australias International summer. CA knew they'd have to send the team to India prior to the series over there and with the packed schedule these days, they weren't going to be able to be in 2 places at once. So they send out a 3rd string team against the WI (completely disrespectful) and say it is in keeping with their seasons rotation policy. Absolute spin. As for it developing ready made star replacements for missing 1st choices, what a load of crap. It's all about back room box tickers implementing some 'computer modelled best practice'. CA is shooting itself in the foot, by not backing first choice players in all available games, in all conditions, in all countries, because they aren't giving players a chance to develop form.

Posted by Tapan Doshi on (February 17, 2013, 7:40 GMT)

I am the author of this article. Just responding to a few comments: Ravi, Stew, Anupam, Ross - Thanks for encouraging comments & mentioning points I missed out on. Tony Dell - Agree partially about technique aspect, but I emphasised the skillset more than workload. 20 overs of length ball on off-stump would get you 20 maidens in Test, not in T20. Same with flatbatting 20 overs as a batsman. So historical workload is less significant than historical skillset - e.g. Kallis in IPL1 vs Kallis in IPL4. Little Joe- CA have announced Wade as No.1 in all formats - above Haddin, Paine. Doesn't get much more fixture than that. Same with Starc. If you pay money to watch a match headlined by Hilfy, Dougherty, Smith over Pidge, Warne, Symmo, good luck to you. They're average, journeymen, do the job but not match-winners or go-to men, at least not yet, and that's the point. They wont be unless given an extended run. I'm not a journalist. The blog is for entries by readers of Cricinfo. I'm a reader.

Posted by Fabian on (February 17, 2013, 3:20 GMT)

Excellent article - did not want it to end - thank you!

Posted by Ravi Keelveedhi on (February 16, 2013, 8:13 GMT)

This is an excellent article on "Informed Player Management" adopted in Australia. I don't know whether other countries will follow suit. But it is the need of the hour, as we see lot of players break down during the series of tests, ODIs. But one peculiar point here to note is the so called injured players are able to play in the cash rich IPL and other premier leagues of T20. It's really a conundrum. In most of the countries they have different players s for different forms of cricket and except a few players who play all forms of Cricket, like KP, Dhoni etc. Hope the Cricket administrators sit and sort out the issue to avoid crowded itinerary of FTP for the welfare of the players as well as the game. And as the author rightly pointed out that no team is able to dominate all forms of cricket, it is pertinent for the Administrators to think out of box ideas to stem the rot.

Posted by Thomas Edison on (February 16, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

this is really funny things

Posted by Stew on (February 16, 2013, 0:17 GMT)

I agree pretty wholeheartedly with this analysis. I am tired of picking up the papers here in Australia and the selectors being smashed for "not picking player x or y". Especially when the only time this summer they didnt follow their own advice, Pattinson broke down and potentially cost Australia a win against South Africa. That one injury changed the whole outlook of the series because the other two bowlers bowled themselves into the ground.

Also, in terms of what you're saying about building bench strength, just look what this system has unearthed in terms of a bowling squad. Try to pick 3 pace bowlers out of the squad of 5 there, its hard to turn down 2 out of Bird (who was canned by the papers on debut for "devaluing the baggy green"), Pattinson, Siddle, Starc or Johnson.

Posted by Anupam on (February 15, 2013, 19:01 GMT)

Very nicely put across and agree with you. Also, except for a couple of cases, the rotation or player management is done in shot formats only specially 20-20. The 20-20 format, for whatever its worth is, will never attain the status of test cricket, so it perfectly acceptable that some new players get a chance to show their wares in this format and then some of them graduate to longer formats. This in a way is an internship model where the players will get an exposure and taste of international cricket and can use that to upskill and graduate to the longer formats. It also gives an opportunity for the fans and management to have a look at players exceptional at domestic level, but not really getting a chance to step up due to limited spaces. How else would we be able to see the skills of players like NCN, Cutting, Hazlewood and the likes? I am absolutely fine if a Starc or Warner does not play a meaningless 20-20 or ODI but play all tests. I thus get a chance to see a Voges and NCN!!

Posted by TONY DELL on (February 15, 2013, 15:04 GMT)

All you have done is trawl through history and stated the obvious. You give no opinion as to why the modern player is mediocre compared to those of the nineties and even those before. The workloads of the modern player pale to insignificance when compared with those of the seventies and eighties. Records show that in eighteen weeks some bowlers would bowl as many balls as the modern bowler bowls in a full year. 20/20 cricket would be like a centre wicket practise in those days. If you play side on like the game was meant to be, with correct batting technique, you can succeed at any form of the game. If you bowl side on with a strong and high front arm you can have complete control of line and length and you can succeed in any form of the game. Malinga has proved that 24 yorkers in a 20/20 match is both an attacking and defensive spell. For over 100 years cricket was a very simple game where technique was all important. Now it is complicated by mediocre players with no technique.

Posted by Ross on (February 15, 2013, 12:50 GMT)

If i'm honest i think We need the rotation policy at the moment! Personally I don't like it with a real passion, however with only some mickey mouse games againt the windies, and then a tough trip to India before back to back ashes, (with the icc world championship thrown into the middle for good measure) Australia really needs to find a stable team our they will get rolled harder than a first day pitch, for the next 12 months! Saying that I do think Khawaja was unlucky not to be playing in Adelaide and Siddle though not a 100% fit should have played the Perth test. Pick this 12 and give them long term chances and we will have a winning team - Watson, Warner, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Henriques, Wade, Siddle, Pattionson, Starc, Lyon, Agar

Posted by Little Joe on (February 15, 2013, 12:18 GMT)

I have never read more management rhetoric spread out like journalism in my life.

Wade and Starc are fixtures??? Ha, Ha, Ha!!! To put Lyon and Hilfenhaus with Doherty and Smith as 'honest triers'. Ha, Ha, Ha!!! I don't know what game you are watching but it isn't Australian Cricket.

Rotation is about resting bowlers, so I don't understand the comments pertaining to batsmen or examples comparing batsmen. That is not what was witnessed during the Aust vs SL ODI's. These were trial games and CA has admitted it. That's what the public get upset about.

The public know what is happening and do not need poor journalism to obfuscate the issue.

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