Get it White! Cameron should replace Ricky

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    As the WACA Test starts today, Ricky Ponting’s captaincy career is at its crossroads. Should England withhold the Ashes from him in Perth, he will become the only Australian captain to fail at this ancient contest for a third time. Should he engineer an unlikely comeback, his status could reach the legendary.

    At present though, the latter option looks unlikely.

    His team’s fortune has been steadily in decline, matched by his own batting. Were the Ashes being lost despite Ponting heroics, we would make allowance for the quality of his squad. That his twin failures at Adelaide were the key dismissals in that defeat is far more cause for concern.

    Ponting has stated a desire to play on for another two years, to embark on another trip to England and make amends. It will require a Tendulkar-like late-innings revival for that to remain a possibility. He will last out this series, and perhaps even the World Cup. But if form and results don’t pick up, even this stodgy selection panel will have to signal the end of the road.

    The question is, what would happen from there? Part of the reason there has been little pressure on Ponting – compared, for instance, to the unholy flame-grilling of Steve Waugh during the corresponding tour of 2002-03 – is that there is no successor beating down the door.

    Michael Clarke has been the anointed one since soon after his debut, with no apparent qualification aside from being the youngster in a team of veterans. Yet Clarke leaves many people unconvinced.

    Not that he’s not visible. Waiting for a bus on Eddy Street outside Sydney’s Central Station a few weeks ago, Michael Clarke was all around me. Apparently he’s taken over the side of every bus shelter in the metropolitan area.

    There he was, on the cover of Sport & Style, calling back the 80s in a sports coat and t-shirt. There he was, in a whole series of Bonds ads, with a stick insect model draped over him, or showing off his tatts and his guns.

    In a lot of ways it seemed to expose the root of public ambivalence towards Clarke. It may be old-fashioned and unenlightened, but to a lot of Australians a bloke appearing in fashion shoots could be seen to have tickets on himself. The Aston Martins and Lara Bingles of this world don’t help either.

    Whether it’s fair or not, there is a perception that this aspect of Clarke’s life affects his life on the field. Cricket is the ultimate team game, and suggestions of self-interest are not received warmly. It is also a game of grit and tenacity, and the question is whether he has enough of either.

    Clarke has been 13 innings without a hundred now, the longest stretch of his career aside from the lead-up to his being dropped in 2005. He has made some useful scores in that time, but not quite stamped his authority on games. To be a leader, a batsman must play like one.

    Adelaide was the perfect microcosm of the Clarke career.

    Here was an opportunity for him to tough out a game, bat a long innings, show leadership, save his team from defeat. Instead he played an eye-catching cameo before falling to a soft dismissal in the final over of the day. His team crumbled quickly.

    Clarke is a good enough player to turn all this around, but whether he will is another question. Should his form continue to suffer along with Ponting’s, Australia will find itself in a tenuous position regarding leadership.

    Mike Hussey is resurgent, but too advanced in years to be anything but a stop-gap. Simon Katich’s career sadly came to an end with that brave one-legged effort in Adelaide. Shane Watson is hardly the brains of the operation.

    The bowlers rotate like rotisserie chooks. Steve Smith and Phil Hughes are as green as the WACA pitch.

    S o why not get Cameron White into the team? Blooding him now would provide a reassuring option if and when Ponting finally gives the game away.

    In terms of leadership, White is unequalled.

    Why he’s not already the national Twenty20 and one-day captain beggars belief. He assumed the captaincy of Victoria at just 20 years of age, and has performed with distinction for seven years, widely praised as an imaginative, cheerful, determined skipper who leads from the front.

    In that seven years his sides have reached five Shield finals, winning three; the last four consecutive domestic one-day finals; and all five domestic Twenty20 finals, winning four. It’s an astonishing record.

    Yet every time his name comes up, someone declares that White’s batting isn’t up to Test standard. It’s like a John Howard election strategy: repeat the same thing over and over and people start to believe it.

    That other mob will make interest rates go up. White doesn’t have the technique. Everyone accepts that it’s true. Then a global financial crisis hits and suddenly your online savings account is paying two percent.

    White’s batting is about as destructive as the GFC when he turns it on, which is apparently what makes him unsuitable. Critics point to his average of 41.9 as being below par. It’s actually highly impressive for a guy who started his career purely as a leg spinner at the age of 17, batting at No. 9, and averaging less than 20 in his first three seasons.

    As White moved up the order after his 2000 debut, so did his stats. In the 2006/07 Sheffield Shield, he averaged a tick under 40. The next season, just under 50. The next, nearly 58. And last season, 47. In between were prolific 50-plus seasons in country cricket.

    Then there was his recent gritty century against the touring English side in the Australia A game in Hobart, when the more fancied challengers failed. There is more to his ability than as a limited-overs power hitter. 16 first-class hundreds don’t speak of a lower-order cudgelman having a lucky flail.

    Criticising his Test batting record is also a popular tack, though senseless, given he’s never had the chance to fail.

    In White’s four Tests in India in 2008, he was played as a spinner and forced to bat at No. 8. Genuine batsmen generally struggle that low down, distracted by the change in their role and unable to build an innings as they normally might.

    Still, White’s seven innings ended up with two not outs, a 44, and a 46, mostly while batting without top-order support. There’s nothing to suggest that the backing of a top-order spot wouldn’t give a far greater yield.

    In fact White’s case is reminiscent of Steve Waugh’s.

    Waugh started out as a bits and pieces player: handy bowler, handy bat. He took four years to get his first Test hundred, and averaged 36 after 46 Test matches. Yet by hard work and sheer determination, Waugh rose to become the pre-eminent batsman of his day, and despite the handicap of his early career, ended with a Test average of over 51. For several years there, if there was a guy batting for your life, you wanted S.R. Waugh at the crease.

    Then there was Andrew Symonds, a one-day smasher with greater potential. Again, the selectors gave him time and top-six backing. Though it tested the patience of some, the investment paid off. Symonds showed the world and himself that he had what it took, as a valuable Test batsman, a useful bowler, and an outstanding fieldsman.

    White could be very much in the same mould. His attacking play makes him a potential game-breaker, of the sort Australia has lacked in recent years. His much-maligned bowling could still prove a handy option: 172 first-class wickets at 40 isn’t terrible, and the man dismissed Tendulkar twice in Tests.

    And for what it’s worth, he’s also an outstanding slip fieldsman, something missing since Shane Warne and Mark Waugh rode off into the sunset. Ponting is very good, but his athleticism and ability to throw down stumps are wasted in that position.

    In every facet of the game, White would bring something to the team, but leadership is the most important. Australia’s future would be looking far more stable if he had already notched a dozen Tests.

    At present, Ponting’s legacy looks likely to be that of a great player and an average leader. Depending how the next five days go by, it may be time to see whether a great leader is what Australia needs.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (40)

    • December 16th 2010 @ 5:56am
      Fisher Price said | December 16th 2010 @ 5:56am | ! Report

      I do agree White’s worth a look at in the No.6 role, and he clearly has leadership credentials. We won’t know if he’s capable of consistent runs (unlike North) at Test level until/unless he’s given the chance.

      Don’t agree on Symonds, but White’s a far better batsman as evidenced by his Shield record.

    • December 16th 2010 @ 6:15am
      Lolly said | December 16th 2010 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      That Adelaide innings felt like a Clarke special, doing not quite enough as you say, it was such a huge opportunity for him to nail the leadership role that he appears to crave. It didn’t surprise me. I’ve never thought him as someone who can put in a really fine rescue job. You always feel like he could probably nearly do it but not quite.

      Of course he did in Edgbaston, but that is the only time I’ve ever thought of him as really toughing it out. I’m probably being harsh on him though.

      • Columnist

        December 16th 2010 @ 10:04am
        Geoff Lemon said | December 16th 2010 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Sometimes I wonder if we all are. Then sometimes I think he makes it easy to be harsh on him. It’s a tricky question – mob mentality or an accurate instinctive reaction? – that I still haven’t quite figured out.

    • December 16th 2010 @ 8:01am
      formeropenside said | December 16th 2010 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      I don’t think White is a test-class batsman, your arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. Given that, I can’t see how he can captain Australia. I know Victorians are dying to have a Test captain again, but you have the PM, and that has to count for something.

      • Columnist

        December 16th 2010 @ 8:20am
        Geoff Lemon said | December 16th 2010 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        This is exactly the attitude I’m talking about though – a bland statement that he’s not good enough, without anything to actually back that up. As though merely stating something makes it true. The numbers don’t back up that assertion, nor does the history. The only way you can say he’s not Test-class is if he plays a decent number and fails. And while I don’t imagine he’d be the sort of player to slot right in, he’d be a project player in the mould of Waugh and Symonds who could blossom if given enough time to settle. What he would then offer would be an outstanding all-round package.

        Also the headline to this piece is misleading. I’m not saying he should unequivocally captain. I’m just saying he should be got into the team, because at present the options are few and far between.

        As for Victorian pride, we all know the role of PM comes a distant second to Test skipper.

        • January 25th 2011 @ 6:15pm
          sam said | January 25th 2011 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

          i agree totally , there is nothing wrong with white technique , any person with an idea about cricket can tell you that , steve smith and phil hughes on the other hand its amazing they were able to make it in first class cricket both have a series of glarringly obvious flaws. however the most telling sign to me of whites ability is his performance in the one day team in the last england series when promoted to three , from memory he averaged over 50 , there is no doubt in my mind he will captain test cricket in australia , he is a real leader and it will only take a couple of one day scores and the public opinion toward toward him as captain will change

      • December 17th 2010 @ 9:25am
        Tone said | December 17th 2010 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        Gillard is an Adelaide girl..she only has an electoral seat down here in Victoria and dons a Western Bulldogs scalf at election time..
        Please, dont claim her as one of our own..

    • December 16th 2010 @ 8:24am
      whiteline said | December 16th 2010 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      Whilst not being a massive White fan, he cannot be discounted because of his technique. The two newest members of the batting lineup – ie/ Hughes and Smith are hardly classical batsmen and on technique alone would not get a look in.

      • December 17th 2010 @ 12:47am
        Lolly said | December 17th 2010 @ 12:47am | ! Report

        And don’t they show it? I like Smith and think he is worth persisting with but neither of them are anywhere near orthodox enough to be long-term successes without some serious help in the technique department if we are talking about them batting in the top 6.

    • Roar Guru

      December 16th 2010 @ 9:11am
      Vinay Verma said | December 16th 2010 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      Geoff,the modern way into the test team is increasingly through the ODI’s. Raina from india and Morgan from England come instantly to mind as does Duminy.

      Cam White is an integral part of the ODI side and could be one of the stars of the World cup. Ponting will relinquish the ODI captaincy after the world Cup and thewre is every opportunity for White to further his credentials.

      • Columnist

        December 16th 2010 @ 10:20am
        Geoff Lemon said | December 16th 2010 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        Yes, and Symonds was another. But it seems worryingly likely that the ODI captaincy will be handed to Clarke as a fait accompli, despite his captaincy CV being blank compared to White’s outstanding credentials.

    • Columnist

      December 16th 2010 @ 9:26am
      Brett McKay said | December 16th 2010 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Geoff, prior to the Ashes starting I had White alongside Ferguson and Khawaja as the guys most likely to pressure Marcus North, and while Smith has trumped them all, I can still see White in the Test side before too long. That he captained Aust A suggests his leadership ability is well known, and on the radar.

      Wonder what is the lowest number of Tests someone has played before taking the captaincy??

      • December 16th 2010 @ 9:57am
        DingoBob said | December 16th 2010 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        I hate to be “Mr State the Bleeding Obvious” Brett but I believe that the answer would be zero because the first Captain of an Australian test team would not have played any Tests prior to Captaining for the first time.

        • Columnist

          December 16th 2010 @ 10:12am
          Geoff Lemon said | December 16th 2010 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          Snap. If I may dip into this crazy lingo the kids are using, I think you just got pwned, Brett.

        • Columnist

          December 16th 2010 @ 11:57am
          Brett McKay said | December 16th 2010 @ 11:57am | ! Report

          yeah, I’ve just administered the forehead slap guys….


          Apart for the first ever Australian captain (and I’m embarrassed not to know who it was), I wonder what is the lowest number of Tests someone has played before taking the captaincy?? (you know in recent-ish/not ancient times)

          • Columnist

            December 16th 2010 @ 2:40pm
            Geoff Lemon said | December 16th 2010 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

            Sigh. Guess I’m spending another hour in Statsguru then.

            David Gregory was the first-ever Test captain, though the status of Test match was only designated some years later.

            • December 16th 2010 @ 6:46pm
              Rhys said | December 16th 2010 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

              I know it’s not an example of an Australian ascending to Test captaincy without much experience, but Graeme Smith is a prime example of recent memory. He was just 22 and had 8 Tests under his belt when he took charge of South Africa.

              • Columnist

                December 16th 2010 @ 6:51pm
                Brett McKay said | December 16th 2010 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

                good one Rhys, I knew there was a recent one to fit my question….

      • December 16th 2010 @ 4:13pm
        JohnB said | December 16th 2010 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

        Ian Craig would be my guess for Australia, if we discount the 19th century.

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