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February 19, 2014

When the selectors knew something we didn't

Michael Jeh
Shaun Marsh could be in for a long tenure in the top order if his fitness can match his talent  © Associated Press
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It's hard to eat your own words when you're already choking on humble pie. Having been force-fed a steady diet of both over these last few days, I'm now ready to dispense with any more predictions related to cricket. Credit where credit's due - the Australian cricket selectors deserve to bask in the glory whilst sideline commentators like yours truly wear the ignominy of shame with nowhere to hide.

I refer, of course, to my recent comments regarding the selection of Shaun Marsh. Hands up - I'll admit that I was one of those critics (fools even) who openly bagged the selectors for even considering him for the South African tour. My rationale was based on his poor first-class form this season, a poor injury history, and a long disciplinary history. His pedigree and class are undoubted but I was adamant that his selection was evidence of a system in disarray.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. His faultless century in Centurion must have been sweet ambrosia to John Inverarity and colleagues, who weathered much (unfair) criticism for picking a bloke because he was "in a good space". To those of us not as knowledgeable as Invers, that decision appeared ridiculous. It appeared to make a mockery of the recommendations of the Argus Review, which called for players to be picked on domestic form. It appeared to be an insult to the Sheffield Shield batsmen who scored runs and were then ignored because Marsh was suddenly in a good space.

Despite all of that logic, the selectors knew something that we didn't. They saw something in Marsh that convinced them to back their hunches. The skipper himself was prepared to cop a bit of flak and drop back to No. 5 to accommodate Marsh at No. 4 on what looked to be a tough deck to be asked to bat first on. The armchair critics, myself included, were quick to jump on the bandwagon but we were soon to be silenced. Fair play to all involved - being proven wrong is never much fun but there's only one thing to do - offer apologies and be slower next time to jump to conclusions when selectors make bold choices that those outside the inner circle do not understand.

Alex Doolan's selection was mildly contentious but even that turned to gold. His first-innings partnership with Marsh arrested an early collapse, his second-innings knock was mature and classy, and his fielding at short leg was nothing short of brilliant. Again, they went with a bloke whose first-class stats were decent enough without demanding automatic selection and it came up roses. They obviously saw something in the lad that suggested to them that he had the stomach for a fight, and he vindicated their choice in grand fashion. Good on the lad.

At the risk of being proven wrong (so what's new?), it's hard to imagine how the South Africans can bounce back from that demoralising loss in just a few days. AB de Villiers apart, and occasional glimpses of Hashim Amla, the gulf in class just looked as wide as the ocean that separates Port Elizabeth and Perth. Graeme Smith is making all the right noises about regrouping and putting that bad loss behind them but his words sound hollow.

Perhaps I will be composing yet another "shame piece" next week if they bounce back. It is not inconceivable - we owe the No. 1-ranked team more dignity than to write them off after one abysmal performance, as one-sided as it was. In all departments, they looked nothing like the best team in the world. The upside is that they probably can't play as bad as that again. Can Australia play any better?

The selectors have now earned themselves the prerogative of immunity from criticism from those of us in the press gallery for some time now. We owe them that courtesy. Yes, they will occasionally get a few 50-50 calls wrong but that's only to be expected when you're going on informed gut instinct. The next time that happens, I will be slow to jump on the front foot and swing into them. I will remember this moment and give myself a swift upper cut.

It might present a slight problem to the players in Shield cricket who may now be unsure of whether first-class averages or gut feelings influence selectors. Perhaps good selectors have a healthy mix of both, balancing pragmatism with flair and a sense of the daring. The selection of Shane Warne owes much to this sort of thinking, so it's not to be scoffed at.

The way Marsh batted in Centurion, he looks like he might be in for a long tenure in the top order if his fitness can match his talent. He's done enough to prove that he has the class to deal with the second-best pace attack in the world. (Now there's a hole I've dug for me to fall into!)

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Selection

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Posted by cris89 on (February 20, 2014, 7:25 GMT)

One swallow does not a summer make. I can understand picking a 20 or 21 year old who's averaging in the 30s in Shield Cricket based on future promise. But if a batsman is averaging 37 after 80 FC games, there's a major flaw in his game(technical or mental) which will be found out eventually. I suspect we have another Marcus North on our hands here- someone who'll make good centuries(North made 100s in England,SA,India and NZ) but will fail a lot as well.

I'm skeptical for the same reason about Doolan as well but he should be given a chance. Doolan did well in the first half of the season but his form dovetailed after the Big Bash. We don't know how good he can be if he keeps playing continuously but he definitely seems a better fit at N.o 3 than Watson.

Posted by class9ryan on (February 20, 2014, 6:33 GMT)

When you have a great team, people as good as Law, Hodge, Love miss out. When the team is not as good you will have all the Cowans, Hughes, Doolans playing. But Mash and Doolan look very composed. Doolan needs to start converting 30s to 100s quickly to stay at the international arena.

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (February 20, 2014, 2:26 GMT)

Surely when taking a negative stance, yet wanting positive outcomes it's great to be proven wrong! South Africa are no1 for a reason and you'd expect a sting in the tail, especially at home. That of course would not only be great for the series as a contest, but excellent for the continued development of the Aussies rebuilding program. Many have said that the ages of many of the Aussies means they aren't rebuilding, but they are rebuilding the team winning ethos.

I remember in the late '80's, early '90's there was thoughts of rewarding Shield form with higher honours, but not at the exclusion of identifying generational players. Ian Healy, Glenn McGrath & Shane Warne were fast tracked after very little quality 1st class performances. Let's hope that thinking is being revisited. There's no reason Marsh at 30 can't have some of the impact of Hussey at 30, especially as players are now capable of playing 'til their late 30's, just as they were 80-90 years ago.

Posted by CantFindMyScreenName on (February 20, 2014, 0:14 GMT)

Not sure a faultless century includes being dropped on 12, looping one over Petersons head on 50-odd (he can't have picked it up, because he should have easily caught it), and quite a few hit within a couple of feet of the gully fields.

Let's see how Marsh goes for the rest of the series. His ability has never been in doubt. It's his mind that seems to be the issue. Seems to bat completely in control, then just gets out, seemingly out of nowhere.

He made a century on debut as well, and fell away.

Posted by Sir_Francis on (February 19, 2014, 21:21 GMT)

Wait a sec. The selectors are not off the hook for the test selection of Xavier Doherty. I realise he was initially picked by the previous NSP but Inverarity picked him too! Doherty, after 10 years had less than 100 FC wickets and an average of 48. That's not a test bowler, that's not a SHiled bowler, that's a net bowler. But they picked him. he's got 3 Tests. Probably the worst selection in the last 50 years. And an insult to all those who deserve a baggy green. As for Marsh, let's wait and see shall we? One ton a Bradman does not make. He's only scored 9 centuries in his life. I want to see some consistency. He obviously has talent but you need much more than that. Smith has scored 4 tons in the last 12 test innings. Let's see Marsh do that.

Posted by Beertjie on (February 19, 2014, 15:21 GMT)

Feeling so bad about my own bagging of the NSP, I buttonholed Invers to offer my left-over humble pie. He accepted graciously upon being informed that I used this website to offer sincere apologies and to publicly chastise myself. However, being the frustrated selector I am I couldn't resist one final ill-advised unsolicited parting shot. My choice? A second spinner for the UAE tour: Steve O'Keefe. Fortunately I didn't dig a bigger hole for myself by asking why he was being overlooked. As I say. it was merely a parting shot.

Posted by Jeeves_ on (February 19, 2014, 10:44 GMT)

All credit to John Inverarity, an intelligent man. The best players are being selected, and that's the most important thing. The previous crop didn't know who to pick, and left out some of the very best like Hodge and Katich. Australia's recent results speak for themselves.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 19, 2014, 6:40 GMT)

I think the main difference between Hughes, Doolan and Marsh that you may have missed is that they play the majority of their first class games on entirely different wickets. Hughes scored a boatload of runs, but his home ground for those runs was Adelaide, the batters paradise. Doolan's home ground is Bellerieve Oval, the perpetual greentop. Marsh's home strip is the WACA, the fastest track on earth.

Posted by sifter132 on (February 19, 2014, 6:24 GMT)

Yep I've been eating humble pie this week. Didn't mind Marsh's selection based on recent form, but Doolan's I didn't like. A hot and cold player who hadn't been hot for at least 2 months. I wanted Hughes over Doolan.

Anyway...I loved the comment on the cricinfo commentary just before the 1st Test started, someone had innocently written in asking the last time a player with a first class average of 37 was debuting (referring to Alex Doolan). Was also applicable to Shaun Marsh - he averages 37. The answer of course is George Bailey, a mere 5 Tests ago. Helps illustrate that selectors and their gut feelings aren't always right. Must be said though, the Aussie selectors have done OK this year with gut feels, starting with Steve Smith in India, all the way through to James Muirhead this summer. There has been a few glitches on the way eg. Hughes and Watson batting all over the order, Ed Cowan, Doherty/Agar etc. but largely the selectors have done pretty well - credit to them!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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