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Learning from our selections of past

Roar Guru
16th June, 2011
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Roar Guru
16th June, 2011
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1130 Reads

With all the brouhaha surrounding the omission of in-form but aging Test opener Simon Katich from the list of 25 contracted players, I thought I would share with fellow Roarers an interesting selection intrigue that occurred many years ago indirectly involving current fulltime selector, Greg Chappell.

It basically demonstrates how clever and insightful selections can greatly benefit the national team.

In 1969/70 the Australian Cricket Board decided to undertake an ambitious three countries tour of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India and South Africa. To today’s sports fans that might not sound overly ambitious, but for 1969/70 it certainly was.

You could still get seriously ill back then if you didn’t closely monitor your dietary habits on the sub-continent.

Just a simple act of drinking a glass of water could land you with an upset tummy. A very upset tummy.

The tour was fraught with all sorts of dangers, not only to do with diet and hygiene. There was the political powder keg of South Africa’s white-dominated apartheid system.

India was also a nation at unrest, with border skirmishes against Pakistan leading eventually to a brief, violent war in 1971.

Apart from the massive cultural changes to be found travelling from India to South Africa, there were the vastly different playing conditions.

The Australians would have to adjust from the humid, dry, slow, turning, dust bowl wickets of the Indian sub-continent, to the seaming, moving, fast wickets of South Africa. Somewhat surprisingly, the selectors chose just 15 players for this Odyssey across 3 vastly different countries.

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They would play three matches in Ceylon, including a 3-day unofficial test. In India they would play 10 matches – 5 x tests and 5 x 3-day zone matches.

In South Africa, they would play 12 matches – four tests and 8 x 3-day provincial matches. This was long before the concept of playing one day internationals as part of the tour schedule.

The 15 tourists would miss the entire 1969/70 domestic season while on tour. A precursor to today’s 365 day traveling cricket teams!

In 1969, Sir Donald Bradman, as chairman of selectors, still ran Australian cricket with a firm hand. At the selection table, he was assisted by fellow ex-players andamp; ex-captains Jack Ryder and Neil Harvey.

Part of their deliberations concerned Greg Chappell, who the end of the 1968/69 season at age 20, was a rising star of the future. The question for the selectors was this – should they blood him on the 1969/70 tour, or hold him back another season?

In the back of their mind was a B team tour of New Zealand at the end of the 1969/70 season. Might it be better to select him for that tour instead?

12 of the players to tour were a ‘given’. They were the 12 from the Fifth test against West Indies in Sydney.

The team was – Bill Lawry(c), Keith Stackpole, Ian Chappell(vc), Doug Walters, Ian Redpath, Paul Sheahan, Brian Taber, Eric Freeman, Graham McKenzie, Johnny Gleeson, Alan Connolly and Ashley Mallett (12th man).

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The Aussies had crushed West Indies 3-1 in a 5 test series. The portents of what was basically still a young team were good. To this team would be added another thrre players – a batsman, a fast bowler and a reserve keeper.

The following is how the revered Richie Benaud opened with his thoughts on the team selected, writing in the March 1969 edition of a new cricket magazine in its first season – Australian Cricket.

“The Australian cricket selectors, bless them, always seem to produce surprises in their choosing of touring teams; this year was no exception in their announcing of the team to tour India and South Africa. Sir Donald Bradman and Messrs. Harvey and Ryder all possess a good sense of humour, and they must be chuckling a little at the fact they were the only people in Australia to choose the final fifteen players announced after the South Australia-N.S.W. match at the S.C.G.

“There was no problem encountered in the choosing of 12 of the players, for those who represented Australia in the fifth test against the West Indies were automatic selections. The final three places – reserves if you like – were the ones that mattered, and anyone else who chose Irvine, Mayne and Jordan, should give away cricket-team selecting and make straight for the racecourse ….. there’s a fortune to be made there!”

Benaud goes on to describe how the final three players earnt their selection, and the thinking behind each selection is quite intriguing, and clever.

Jock Irvine was a 25 year old middle order batsman for WA. Irvine had been one of the leading non-test batsmen during the 1968/69 Australian season, averaging 56.5.

He won the final batting spot over Chappell because the selectors felt Chappell would not gain much by playing effectively every second week on tour. Irvine wasn’t considered a serious test selection, but was there to provide backup in midweek games.

Fast bowler Laurie Mayne, at 27, was not much more than a workmanlike Sheffield Shield player for WA. He had toured the West Indies in 1965, and played 3 tests for reasonable but not spectacular returns.

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He had won selection over another ex-test bowler Dave Renneberg from NSW, who was the same age but faster. The selectors felt Renneberg would be wasted in midweek matches, and wanted him to spearhead the pace attack for the B team in New Zealand in early 1970.

For the backup keeper’s role, the selectors sprung another surprise by selecting veteran Victorian keeper Ray Jordan, who at 34 would be in his second last season of first-class cricket.

Again, the selectors’ thinking was that there would be little to gain by selecting the Queensland young gun John Maclean, who they felt would also be wasted in midweek matches. And of course, there was that B team tour in 1970.

As it was, Chappell, Renneberg and Maclean all won selection for the B team tour of New Zealand. The team was led by veteran Queensland opener Sam Trimble, who had toured West Indies in 1965 but never played in a test.

Apart from Trimble and Chappell, the other batsmen were Chadwick, Turner, Steele, Inverarity, Watson and Davies. Inverarity and Watson had played tests while Turner was a future test batsman.

Davies was 12th man once against the West Indies. Maclean was the keeper, ousting Rod Marsh from WA. Jenner and O’Keeffe were the spinners, while 3 pacemen were chose – Renneberg, Alan ‘Froggy’ Thomson from Victoria, and a young tyro from WA named Dennis Lillee, who had brilliantly made his 1st class debut in the 1969/70 season.

In 1970/71, Chappell and Lillee spectacularly made their test debuts against England, having toured with the B team. Others from the B team to win selection in 1970/71 were fast bowler Thomson and leg-spinners Jenner and O’Keeffe.

Unhappy with Maclean, the selectors leap-frogged Marsh into the test team, with Taber ill after the arduous tour of india and South Africa. It’s interesting to note that many of the team that toured India and South Africa were never quite the same again, especially the bowlers. That twin tour took a great deal out of them physically and mentally.

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With some clever selections and indeed, non-selections, the selectors had set up some great players for the future. The rest, as they say, is history.

Touring team to India and South Africa, ages at end of 1969: Bill Lawry(VIC-c) – 32, Ian Chappell(SA-vc) – 26, Keith Stackpole(VIC) – 29, Doug Walters(NSW) – 24, Ian Redpath(VIC) – 28, Paul Sheahan(VIC) – 23, Jock Irvine(WA) – 25, Brian Taber(NSW-k) – 29, Ray Jordan(VIC-2k) – 34, Graham McKenzie(WA) -28, Eric Freeman(SA) – 25, Alan Connolly(VIC) – 30, Laurie Mayne(WA) – 27, Johnny Gleeson(NSW) – 31, Ashley Mallett(SA) – 24.

Touring B team to New Zealand in 1970 (ages at end of 1969): Sam Trimble(Queensland-c) – 35, Tony Steele(NSW-vc) – 27, Derek Chadwick(WA) – 28, Alan Turner(NSW) – 19, Greg Chappell(SA) – 21, Geoff Davies(NSW) – 23, John Inverarity(WA) – 25, Graeme Watson(VIC) – 24, John Maclean(Queensland-k) – 23, Dave Renneberg(NSW) – 27, Alan Thomson(VIC) – 24, Dennis Lillee(WA) – 20, Terry Jenner(SA)- 25, Kerry O’Keeffe(NSW) – 20.