Time for cricket to embrace the ‘Billy Birmingham’

sheek Roar Guru

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Sports commentator and comedian extraordinaire Billy Birmingham referred to his alter ego as “the 12th man”.

Australian cricket has been ridiculed of late by commentators, former players and fans alike for its rotation policy.

Those prominent ex-players who have criticised the rotation policy cover a wide generation gap, from the likes of Ian Chappell and Dennis Lillee to the more recent Shane Warne and Brett Lee.

Convener of selectors John Inverarity attempted to put yet another spin on the rotation policy by referring to it as “informed player management.”

You know an organisation is in trouble when they begin changing the original name of their policy. As if a different name will somehow make a difference. If it’s a dud concept, no amount of name changes will save it.

I should say here Inverarity and his fellow national selectors Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel are not dills. But whoever is driving this policy has ensured their compliance for whatever reason.

I can understand the need for the rotation policy up to a point. Players have been rested from matches since the game first began. I recall Lillee missing Shield matches in order to ensure he was right for the next Test.

Resting players from minor games makes sense. Resting Test players from Tests when not injured doesn’t make sense. Nor does resting players from any games when they haven’t been extended in recent matches.

Both these situations have occurred recently only exacerbating the derision of cricket fans.

Although today’s cricketers aren’t necessarily playing more matches than 40 or 80 years ago, what is evident is that they are playing more high intensity matches. This is one reason given for the rotation policy.

Another is the fact that cricket is still made up of only 11 players for the whole duration of a match.

Players can be subbed during a match, but the substitute can only field, he can’t bat or bowl. So consequently, any on-field injury impacts negatively on a team (as we saw recently with Sri Lanka).

For all practical purposes, there are two primary causes for the rotation policy being in place.

The first is poor scheduling/structuring of the season. Potential Test players have no opportunity to build form and rhythm, or regain form since the Sheffield Shield is suspended mid-season.

Secondly, cricket is still only played by 11 players with no opportunity for subs or replacements. Consequently, the NSP and advisors are ‘spooked’ into resting players on fear of breakdown, rather than proof they will actually break down.

The first problem is the fault of CA and can easily be fixed by CA before the next season starts. The BBL should either start or end the season, my preference being the end.

The key December to mid-January window should be exclusively held over for Tests and Sheffield Shield, which must be played in tandem with each other for obvious reasons.

As for increasing the number of cricket players in a match from 11 to 12, this requires the input of the ICC and approval by a majority of member countries.

Australian football is no longer an 18-man game. It is now a 22-man game.

Rugby union is no longer a 15-man game. Each team has a 22-man squad, which is soon to be 23.

Rugby league is no longer a 13 man game. Each team has a 17-man squad which will probably end up at 18.

Soccer is no longer an 11-man game. Each team has 14-15 spots in the squad.

Cricket should no longer be an 11 man game. It should be a 12 man squad. Select six batsmen, a keeper-batsman and five bowlers.

When batting the ‘bunny’ can sit out. If you have two ‘bunnies’ then they can each sit out an innings, assuming all 11 batsmen are required.

When bowling one of the batsman can put his feet up, or the fielders can rotate with time off in the sheds. The 13th man now becomes the new 12th man and is injected into the game when two players are incapacitated for any reason.

It’s so ridiculously simple, it will work a treat. And it would remove this insidious practice of the rotation policy.

I used to think I was a pretty good rugby lock, but now realise I was deluded. My nickname is a truncation of my surname, so I'm not Arabic! However, sometimes I imagine myself as a Beau Geste in the French Foreign Legion, fighting evil, righting wrongs, promoting good and rescuing damsels in distress.

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