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Australian cricket

August 16, 2013

Too many debuts, too much uncertainty

Jack Mendel


Rob Quiney walks off after being dismissed for 85, Queensland v New South Wales, Sheffield Shield, Brisbane, 1st day, November 2, 2012
Australia need to avoid 'Rob Quiney' selections © Getty Images
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Between 1989 and 2005, Ashes series were won exclusively by Australia. It was barely a contest. As England embark on a similar quest of Ashes glory, their belief in consistency shows strong similarities with that great Australian side of world beaters.

More importantly, Australia's consistent failures show similarities with England of the 1990s, which is like basing a model of a brand new car on a broken three wheeler with engine problems.

Contrasting eras can often lose perspective, and statistics often skew reality, but hopefully this can shed some light nevertheless. In order to build a team successfully, the team has to be a settled unit. If it is constantly changing, then it will always be turbulent.

Between the 1989 and 2005 Ashes, the relative number of caps given by England and Australia is stark, and highlights that one built a team with minimal change, whereas the other was frenetic and never settled. Guess which was more successful? You guessed it.

In that period, England gave 90 players a new cap, beginning with Angus Fraser (#537) in 1989 and ending with Kevin Pietersen (#626) in 2005, according to ESPNcricinfo.

Comparatively, Australia gave just 46 new caps out, beginning with Greg Campbell (#347) in 1989 and ending with the only debutant in the 2005 series Shaun Tait (#392). That is half the number England experimented with.

Of course, the correlation does not always mean that fewer caps mean more success, but it is certainly arguable that making fewer changes to a team allows for a side to plan and execute more successfully. After all, if a side is unchanged, it means that it is a working formula, so why alter it?

Clearly, change is used to try and remedy a failing formula, and too much change can exacerbate an existing problem. Certainly in this current Australian side, only Michael Clarke's selection is guaranteed, whereas in years gone past, the team would pick itself (see Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn.)

In the first home Test of 2009 versus West Indies, England handed out cap # 643 to Tim Bresnan. Since that moment, and up until the present day, England have got to # 655, which is just 12 more. Quite reasonable for a four-year period.

Australia, from the same date, have had a much more torrid time. In the 2009 Ashes, cap #411 was handed to Graham Manou, Australia have now reached cap #434. That is 24 new caps in four years. Compared with England, that is like adding an extra team of players.

To reinforce the point, not only have England been playing less number of new players, but the number of caps per new player is also important. England's 13 newest debutants and the number of Tests they have played since 2009 have notched up 150 caps, with a third of that almost going to Jonathan Trott with 47.

They are: Tim Bresnan (21), Graham Onions (9), Jonathan Trott (47), Michael Carberry (1), Steven Finn (23), James Tredwell (1), Eoin Morgan (16), Ajmal Shahzad (1), Samit Patel (5), Jonny Bairstow (12), James Taylor (2), Nick Compton (9) and the latest, Joe Root (10).

When it comes to Australia, it is clear there are many more they are prepared to discard.

Graham Manou (1), Clint McKay (1), Ryan Harris (15), Tim Paine (4), Steven Smith (11), Peter George (1), Xavier Doherty (4), Michael Beer (2), Usman Khawaja (9), Trent Copeland (3), Nathan Lyon (24), Shaun Marsh (7), Pat Cummins (1), James Pattinson (12), Mitchell Starc (11), David Warner (21), Ed Cowan (18), Matthew Wade (12), Rob Quiney (2), John Hastings (1), Jackson Bird (3), Moises Henriques (3), Glenn Maxwell (2), and last but not least, Ashton Agar (2).

There are a lot of single figure scores here, much like an Australian batting card, and many of them were 'victims' of rotation policies and indeed untimely injuries.

Yet it is inescapable that there are five players that have played a single Test, four that have played in two, three that have played in three, two in four, and only eight out of 24 that have gone past 10 caps.

Australia have used 11 more players than England in the last four years, yet only two more when it comes to players with over 10 caps. Something is drastically wrong and this is not sustainable. Chopping and changing is simply no way to build a team. Tweaking is fine. England tweak. Australia are not giving their players a genuine chance to cement their place.

Of course, there is no more Ponting or Warne, but Australia know that. They have to make do and give it their best shot, and the only way they can conceivably do this, is by setting out a plan, sticking with certain players and investing faith in them on a long-term basis. It is getting to the stage, whereby the Australians don't even know their best order within the team, let alone who that team should comprise.

England have not scored over 400 this series. They win games because they have a formula, and their line-up, although not firing, is less incompetent than Australia's. They find a way through. Everyone knows their role, and everyone knows that whatever happens, it is highly unlikely they will get dropped.

Settled teams are winning teams. Australia must try to be decisive and consistent. Pick a team, their best team, and stick with it for as long as possible.

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Jack Mendel writes about cricket on the Sideline Agenda and runs his own blog, Stumpycricket. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (August 19, 2013, 11:08 GMT)

@skilebow : The change in the batting line-up from the first test was due to disagreements with the selectors. Lehmann does not rate Cowan, but Inverarity does - he insisted Cowan was the man to bat number 3 instead of Khawaja (who Lehmann has coached at Queensland) Of course, Cowan failed epically - but apparently he was violently ill through the entire test (why he was cleared fit for the match is a question I haven't seen asked, oddly enough) but it was enough for Lehmann to get his way and drop Ed to bring in Usman. It's difficult to gauge the impact this has had on the batting...

Posted by   on (August 19, 2013, 10:49 GMT)

It's a chicken-and-egg situation. Does high turnover of players cause losses or do losses cause high turnover? The author says the former, but I think it is more self-perpetuating. It is a natural, knee-jerk reaction for selectors to seek new faces when their team has just lost. With the instability, players never feel sure of their place, are always under pressure, fighting for their spot, and so can't play their natural games, resulting in more losses, and more turnover.

It would take a brave set of selectors to stick with a losing team, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and say 'This is the best team we have, regardless of the results".

Posted by Karnor on (August 19, 2013, 9:48 GMT)

Lack of team changes doesn't lead to success. However success leads to a lack of team changes. I think the author has forgotten this and is confusing cause with effect.

Posted by   on (August 19, 2013, 9:07 GMT)

The author vastly doesn't really get to the basis of why continuity of selection leads to a successful team - players who make runs and take wickets demand continued selection, while players who fail cause selectors to for someone else. Simply put - - if you gave me a spot in a test team and guaranteed me selection for five years I'd still be useless, because no amount of certainty of selection will ever overcome my complete lack of talent.

Never forget that all those great batsmen - Waugh, Ponting, Langer, Hayden, Martyn, even Michael Clarke were all dropped, some of them multiple times. But they went back and made domestic runs, and on their return took their chance and never caused the selectors to look elsewhere - by making runs.

The answer is not to tell players they can keep playing despite failure. The answer is to demand quality performance.

Posted by landl47 on (August 19, 2013, 4:58 GMT)

This is a chicken-and-egg question and there's no easy answer. You can do it either way- pick a player young and stick with him through the lean years, or wait till a player matures and pick him then. Eng have done both: Bell, Cook, Anderson and Broad were all picked young and had some poor years before they came good. Trott and Swann were both in their late 20s before they were picked at all. Eng should and I hope will persevere with Root and Bairstow; both young, still learning, but will be very fine players in future.

Aus's problem at the moment is that there isn't much young talent in batting to persevere with. They keep trying journeymen hoping they'll turn from frogs to princes, but it rarely works. Filling in with older players like Rogers, Haddin and Harris only solves the problem if they're winning, and they aren't. Going back to Katich would be desperation.

Aus needs to work on finding young talent and then sticking with it. Take the pain for long-term gain.

Posted by partha19 on (August 19, 2013, 4:48 GMT)

My pick for upcoming home ashes in Australia ... Chris, robson,maddinson,Clarke(skipper) voges,Neville (wk),Faulkner ,Harris, siddle,Lyon,hazelwood, coulter-nile

Posted by TheBigBoodha on (August 19, 2013, 4:26 GMT)

If rain hadn't washed out the third test and AUS had had just a little luck in the 1st and 4th test we wouldn't even be having this conversation. England have scraped through time and a time again of late with the barest of margins, with weather and fortuitous toss wins and umpiring calls abounding. You never saw any of the great Aus teams resorting to time wasting or relying on rain, manufacturing dry turners for Warne/to nullify opposition pace attacks, nor last wicket partnerships to save a test series vs NZ when they never looked like winning anything. England fans have to accept that they have had a huge number of lucky breaks of late, while the reverse is true for Australia. It isn't hard to see what will happen once England lose a few of these close games they have been winning/saving at the death.

Posted by skilebow on (August 19, 2013, 4:15 GMT)

As a Yorkshireman I'm a massive fan of Lehmann but I think some of the Aussie selections in this series have been mindboggling and have in part caused the 3-0 scoreline. I was stunned when he changed the batting lineup after the first test. Why did he pick it if he was going to discard it so readily? Plus Hughes and Stark have been unlucky to lose their places at times. He seems to want to pull a rabbit out the the hat with selections such a Agar and this is not going to work in the long run. Boof, chose the players you want, support them and stick with them for a sustained period of time

Posted by bobagorof on (August 19, 2013, 3:44 GMT)

"statistics often skew reality" - this is very true. England has used 13 new players and given out 157 caps; Australia has used 24 and given out 168 caps. Taking out 1,2,3 and 4 cap wonders (who we can assume were used for a single series or as an injury replacement), England has given 152 caps to 9 players while Australia has given 140 caps to 10 players. The main difference is Australia's search for a spin bowler - 6 of the 24 debutants were picked because they bowl spin (2 could be classed as allrounders), which is a disproportionate number for the 1 spot in the team. The obsession with having a spinner who turns the ball away from right-handers has given debuts to Beer (2), Doherty (4) and Agar (2), all who failed so far. The other difference is the chopping and changing of young batsmen Hughes, Smith and Khawaja, who all debuted before Warner but have played 41 matches combined since 2009 to Warner's 21 - and 11, 6 and 5 respectively since Warner's debut.

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