Australia in South Africa 2011-12

Sunset for Hilditch, sunrise for Australia

For all the dramas and disasters of Hilditch's five-year tenure as the part-time chairman of selectors, culminating in the loss of the Ashes, the wheel may be starting to turn

Daniel Brettig

October 17, 2011

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Hilditch, chairman of Australia's national selection panel, addresses the media, Sydney, May 20, 2009
'The big thing is the young players we're picking are actually impacting and look like they're ready to play' © Getty Images
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Having presided over a ship that sank during the Ashes, Andrew Hilditch resembles a helmsman somehow still around to see the vessel raised to the surface.

To play the Test series against South Africa, Hilditch was able to name a team that included a teenaged fast bowler with rare gifts, Pat Cummins, retained the same spin bowlers taken on Australia's last tour, and omitted in Dave Warner a young opening batsman scoring mountains of runs because those ahead of him are doing equally well.

All these signs of rude health were pointed out by Hilditch on what was probably the final occasion he announces an Australia Test squad, for the appointment of the new National Selector, a full-time position remodelled according to the recommendation of the Argus review, is soon to follow. For all the dramas and disasters of Hilditch's five-year tenure as the part-time chairman of selectors, culminating in the loss of the Ashes at home last summer, the wheel may be starting to turn.

"Short-term success for the side is probably likely to come down to how our experienced players play," Hilditch said. "But the young talent we've introduced progressively I think but also with Sri Lanka and this squad, there's some really exciting young talent.

"So I think we're certainly going down the right path, Sri Lanka was a step in the process, South Africa's going to be even harder, but again a big, important part of getting back to No.1 in Test cricket. The big thing is the young players we're picking are actually impacting and look like they're ready to play, so it's a great thing."

Hilditch has retained his pacific exterior throughout a year of vast changes in Australian cricket, many of them geared towards improving the ways and decisions of the selection panel. Bizarrely considering how long he has held on to the job as a part-time concern, Hilditch says has always favoured the role being made full-time.

"I was frustrated in the sense we lost the Ashes, that was pretty devastating, but from a selection point of view I've always done it because I love cricket," Hilditch said. "I've been really lucky to have my job for as long as I have. It's my passion, it's not what I do for a living, I do it because I love it.

"I've continued to love it and we've done the best things we could possibly do in our own minds to try to help Australian cricket. I think [the selection position] had to become fulltime, as simple as that, which has always been my view. And it'll be a tough job for whoever takes it over but I'm sure they'll love it."

Many decisions made by Hilditch's panel have been heavily criticised, and a definitive list of mistakes or miss-steps would take time in recounting. Many revolve around the selection of spin bowlers, and it was a source of some relief to Hilditch that Nathan Lyon was able to grasp his chance so strongly in Sri Lanka.

"He did really well in Sri Lanka, obviously a big learning curve and South Africa will be no different, that's a really hard assignment for the whole team but also for Nathan," Hilditch said. "But we think he's up to it, at the moment we're investing more time [for him] in Test cricket than the other forms of the game and trying to get him as much experience as we can.

"The reality is we needed to find the best spinners to play for Australia and there's been some changes to the spinning stocks. Nathan's five-for on debut is a great start and we think Michael Beer can bowl as well. But they're both short on experience, there's no doubt about that and they'll be learning as they go along."

In the case of Warner, his absence from the Test squad gave Hilditch cause to discuss one problem of his time as chairman - few players produced the sorts of startling performances that demanded inclusion in the Australian team, an unsatisfactory state of affairs that has been changing in recent months.

"He went to Sri Lanka so he's close," Hilditch said of Warner. "But Usman [Khawaja] we thought definitely needed to be still in the squad and obviously Shaun Marsh took his opportunities in Sri Lanka really well. So there's actually quite a few batters at the moment, who are putting their hand up and deserve selection.

"So It's hard on those players but it is a good thing, we haven't been there for a while where people are actually demanding and pushing hard for selection and that's a positive thing."

There was one decision about which Hilditch was utterly unequivocal as chairman. That was his insistence that Michael Clarke replace Ricky Ponting as captain whenever the older man chose to finish, a view that was not always shared by the Cricket Australia directors to which Hilditch has reported.

"He's been fantastic," Hilditch said of Clarke, who led Australia with tremendous poise on his first Test tour as captain in Sri Lanka. "The one thing that has happened after the Ashes is there's been a lot of changes taken place. The review [means] there will be further changes, but the reality is we've had a change in leadership, a few changes in coaching positions as far as fielding coach and fast bowling coaches and a slightly different playing group.

"But what they have done is really worked hard and they've made a lot of progress so it's been very encouraging."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (October 19, 2011, 6:17 GMT)

@RJHB - I agree. I think Haddin does need to be phased out, but due to his great Ashes campaign with the bat, & improved keeping over the last couple of months, he may have till the India series. The thing about keepers is that its not all about their batting, it does include the "chirp" in the field, maintaining the fielding standard. Which was good in SL, needs to be beter in Sth Africa. I wouldn't of selected him for the ODIs in Sth Africa. I would of selected him for the Tests & then made a call on the NZ & India series.

Posted by RJHB on (October 19, 2011, 1:18 GMT)

Warner has yet to prove himself in first class cricket, atleast over a summer or two. Besides, with Hughes, there's already one terrible technique in the side! I do understand where Hilditch is coming from now, hasn't always been the case. I get why the likes of Hussey and Ponting are still in the side, to try and keep the team competitive hopefully. But surely Haddin is one more we can roll over on, his batting seems shot, his keeping not what it once was and his age is reaching Golden Girls level! Plenty of promising keeper/batsmen around so surely this summer its time.

Posted by gogoldengreens on (October 18, 2011, 9:46 GMT)

Looking forward to the end of the Happy Hookers infuence on the team.... How can Mcdermott put his stamp on the bowlers while Cooley is looking over his shoulder??? Warner is a great hit and giggle bat when you need to have 80 off 30 balls - cannot see the technique for opening the batting on a seaming pitch when you need to get to lunch at 0 for 50 and consider it a good job as Dave would smash one to gully or something silly trying to score a run a ball

Posted by AdoSR on (October 18, 2011, 6:15 GMT)

Many of the greats of modern cricket were introduced to tests at a young age or after very few first class matches. Tendulkar (16), Ponting (20), Lara (20), Warne (23 but only a year of first class). These were selected on talent alone, not proven performances, and learnt their craft at the highest level so as not to get too used to easier forms of cricket. Its rediculous to say that selecting young test cricketers will lead to disaster. Can't we let talent spotters spot talent and give them a go? I, for one, find it exciting to see a young talented cricketer on debut.

Posted by Meety on (October 18, 2011, 5:22 GMT)

@popcorn - you forgot Gilly (as test captain) LOL! @Jo McGahan - I'm a fan of Lynn (shame he is injured), however I don't think Lynn is in direct competition with Warner. I know where you are coming from, but I think Warner is an opener/#3 batsmen, Lynn is more #4 to #6. Just my opinion. @Wozza-CY - slightly younger, but I'd throw in Cosgrove (44). As for Jaques, I thought he was awesome, but unfortunately he has never been the same since his back injury. The selectors have been right not to re-select him.

Posted by popcorn on (October 18, 2011, 3:32 GMT)

I can see that the Chip Chop practice of last summer is over.Cricketers need to be given an extended run.As the saying goes, Form is temporary, Class is permanent. Mike Hussey is a classic example. There were calls for his head last summer. Now he is a well deserving permanent fixture.The only blemish is the removal of Simon Katich. Phil Hughes has paid off.Australia's unique, endearing philosophy of the past has been - YOU HAVE TO EARN YOUR BAGGY GREEN. It is and should be, very difficult to get into the Australian side. Also, cricketers are sent back to play domestic cricket, score runs, perform with the ball and come back into the side. Performance oriented.Damien Martyn, Simon Katich, Michael Clarke,Shane Watson are models to follow. Also, Australia is the ONLY country that has had ONLY FIVE TEST CAPTAINS in 25 years - Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke. Again, a reflection of solidity, and giving confidence. Australia will be No.1 by next summer.

Posted by   on (October 18, 2011, 2:37 GMT)

@bobagrorof/getaclue, im not saying that lynn should be picked right now just that i think he shouls be condidered ahead of warner who has played less than a season of sheild cricket and is not an automatic choice for his state, while lynn has shown he can bat when his team is in trouble to save a match, something australia has been lacking of late

Posted by Wozza-CY on (October 18, 2011, 1:38 GMT)

There was a time when Oz teams were selected on many years of hard work as a youngster and come 28-31 you were considered to know your game well enough to slot seamlessly into Test cricket. Lehman, Symonds, Hayden, Martyn, Langer & M.Hussey to name a few. It seems we've 'skipped' a generation of players that are there or there abouts now but because they haven't had many opportunities may never get a decent go. Consider a this top 6 (FC avg beside) Rogers (51), Jacques (49) Bailey (39) Dussey (54) Voges (42) McDonald (39). It could prove for a solid test line up. Ironically these individuals may not even get another test.

Posted by TEST_CRICKET_ONLY on (October 18, 2011, 1:30 GMT)

Warner's runs in T20 don't mean anything. T20 is the international equivalent of beach cricket, and it is a long way from test cricket. More to the point, why is Hilditch still here ? Hasn't he done enough damage ?

Posted by MinusZero on (October 18, 2011, 0:23 GMT)

When will they start realising that playing well in shorter games does not mean you will be a good test player. Warner shouldnt even be considered, not unlucky to miss out. Even players such as Watson show this to be true. Plays well in the short form of the game but cant get the big scores the test team requires.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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