Cutting on standby an unnecessary logistical nightmare

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Australia's Ben Cutting. AP Photo/James Elsby

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Earlier in the week when I posted the just-named 12-man squad for Australia’s next two One Day Internationals (in Brisbane today, and Sydney on Sunday), I mentioned Queensland quick Ben Cutting was not in the 12, but on standby.

I had to correct myself though, having misheard the national selection panel (NSP) chairman, John Inverarity, during the live coverage of the press conference. The squad had been cut from 13 in Adelaide back to 12, and Cutting wasn’t in it, with the two left-arm Mitchells (Starc and Johnson) fit to play again.

On Wednesday afternoon, the day after steering the Brisbane Heat into the Big Bash League final, Cutting was suddenly back in the Australian squad, and was indeed on standby for Starc and Johnson, who had previously been declared fit.

While his Heat teammates remained in Melbourne for an extra day, in case they needed to fly to Perth for the BBL Final (which they now do), Cutting was back in Brisbane with the national side “as a precaution due to Johnson and Starc coming back from injury”.

“If both pace bowlers prove their fitness to play as expected, Ben will re-join the Brisbane Heat on Friday afternoon for the Big Bash League final,” Inverarity said.

So let’s just recap the timeline here.

On Monday when the ODI squad was first named – without Cutting – the explanation from Inverarity surrounding Starc and Johnson was, “The medical staff said that it is very likely they’ll be fit. We’ll make a full assessment on Wednesday and, if there’s any doubt, we’ll bring other players into the squad.”

On Tuesday, free of national duties, Cutting took 3/24 to rip the heart out of the Melbourne Renegades’ order as they chased the Heat’s healthy Luke Pomersbach-inspired total.

By Wednesday, Cutting was back in Brisbane “as a precaution” and will remain there until either Starc and/or Johnson are passed fit, or he’s required to wear his Australian cap today at the ‘Gabba.

If he’s not needed today, he’ll be on one of only a few direct Qantas flights this afternoon or this evening flying five-plus hours across the country to re-join his Heat teammates for tomorrow night’s BBL final.

It makes you wonder why a 13-man squad wasn’t just named in the first place. I have a sneaking suspicion the answer lies in a bit of a conspiracy orchestrated by the BBL marketers and the NSP, which is bound to get Shane Warne’s goat.

I suspect Cutting was always going to be in the squad for the next two games, but might not have been expected to play today, with Starc and Johnson fit again.

Therefore, they ‘dropped’ Cutting, freeing him up to play as one of the Heat’s key bowlers in the semi, as he has been for most of the tournament.

Come Wednesday, the ‘assessment’ determines that maybe Starc and Johnson aren’t as fit as first thought, and that it’s probably worth getting some cover in.

What are the odds Starc and Johnson are passed fit to play today, Cutting flies to Perth and plays in the BBL final, but then is suddenly rushed back to Sydney on the red-eye when one or both of the lefties tweak something again?

Now, those who’ve followed me enough on these pages and forums would know I don’t usually peddle conspiracy theories like this, but this scenario just seems too perfect to me.

And what must Warnie think? He blew up deluxe before the Melbourne Stars’ BBL semi loss in Perth that, among other things, his Stars couldn’t recall James Pattinson – who had just returned in Melbourne club cricket – to help fill some of the holes left by his team’s four Australian reps.

None of the Stars’ Australian players were allowed to play on Wednesday night yet, on the surface, it appears the Heat might have got a bit lucky with Cutting.

Of course, the bigger underlying issue here, aside for the frequent flyer points Cutting has racked up this week, is that this is all a logistical nightmare for which Cricket Australia can only blame itself.

It went into the first ODIs of the current series with a squad of 13, added two more for the second game, and then for the next block of games recalled three blokes who’d been putting their feet up while chopping the squad back to 12.

If all the new faces get a run today at the ‘Gabba, Australia will have used 18 players in three games.

Even without such fun as rotation and ‘informed player management’, this is surely taking experimentation and revolving door strategies too far.

It’s hard to disagree with Allan Border’s opinion as aired on Inside Cricket earlier this week. Building squad depth and even wanting to rest and/or rotate players is fine, but surely it’s a better plan for all involved just to name a squad of say 15 for a series and pick from within that squad.

Having one squad for two games, then a different squad for the next two games, even if they’re not intending to, does give the impression Australian one-day shirts are being handed out.

If Cutting was needed as a precautionary cover for Starc or Johnson, then their worth in a 12-man squad in the first place is arguable. If their fitness is a game-by-game proposition, then why not leave them out completely to get the required treatment (or rest), and let the likes of Cutting show their wares across the series?

Picking cricket teams isn’t supposed to be a logistically difficult task, but Cricket Australia at the moment seem hell-bent on making selection and these sort of things as complicated as possible. It’s no wonder the head-scratching abounds.

UPDATE: Just as I was submitting this yesterday, news filtered through about the injury sustained by Moises Henriques during the Aussie team’s preparations. Cutting will now almost certainly be required in some shape or form today, which in turns puts the spotlight on the fitness of the two Mitchells.

Michael Clarke spoke late yesterday about not being able to carry players who were less than 100% fit, but here he’ll go into this game with clouds over his two left-armers. So again I’ll ask, why name them in the first place?

Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport