SPIRO: Rotation policy has method in its madness

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    Jackson Bird deserves to be selected for the Ashes. (AFP/William West)

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    I was watching the opening over the Boxing Test at the home of my son Zac and after a couple of balls by Jackosn Bird, I called out to him that Australia has discovered its new Glenn McGrath.

    Bird was immediately on the a great line and length. He moved the ball both ways, sometimes with out-swing and then cutting the ball in.

    He bowled at a good pace delivering what connoisseurs of fast/medium-pace bowling like to call ‘a heavy ball’. Generally he bowled at a McGrath-like 135km/h and occasionally up to 139km/h

    Medium/pace bowling is not really about pace as such but on what a bowler can do with the ball, little movements both ways, and a sort of rush off the pitch (an illusion) that hurries batsmen into their shots and makes the ball hit their bats hard.

    The failed hook shot by Dimuth Samaraweera immediately after the lunch interval is a case in point. The batsman was just too late on his hook shot and, as a consequence, merely bunted it to Dave Warner at mid-wicket for an easy catch.

    What I noticed immediately about Bird was his springy, athletic run in to bowl, rather like the run up (but much shorter) Michael Holding (a resemblance noted, as well, by Malcolm Knox in the SMH).

    The other very notable aspect of Bird’s bowling was his intense accuracy, always on or just outside the off stump and just back of a length, except for the fuller out-swing deliveries tempting the drive from frustrated batsmen.

    This accuracy enabled Bird in his 13 overs to bowl five maiden overs. The other four bowlers (Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon) bowled their 30 overs with a total of only 5 maidens.

    The point about bowling maiden overs (as Wayne Smith also noted in one of his reports in The Australian) is it puts the batsmen under pressure and opens up the possibility of wickets from less parsimonious bowlers at the other end. As Smith pointed out, Bird’s first 21 deliveries after lunch did not concede a run and that ‘the Sri Lankans happily – and fatally – chanced their arm against everyone else.’

    So it is time for a fearless prediction, or probably more accurately, a fearless insistence. When the selectors want to put their best fast bowling unit in a Test, Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird have to be in the mix.

    Siddle is better at being the enforcer coming in at first change and banging the ball into batsmen.

    Bird is an opening bowler, with his swing and cut, who will bowl into the wind, if there is any. On this reckoning, Ben Hilfenhaus is now relegated to being a back-up for when, or if, Bird is not available.

    This leaves open the other opening bowling spot. James Pattison (when fit), Patrick Cummins (when fit), Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson are also contenders. As Shane Warne, the two Mitchells can’t be played together because ‘they both leak runs.’I actually prefer Starc to Johnson as an opening bowler.

    Johnson, to my mind, is just too erratic now to be considered as the cutting edge of an Australian attack (unless everyone else is out). He doesn’t just leak runs, they flood off his bowling. By way of comparison, Johnson bowled 14 overs yesterday for 63 runs (something like 4.3 runs an over, using the cricket ratio of the .3 representing three runs) and Bird bowled his 13 overs for 32 runs (about 2.3 runs an over).

    We come now to the controversial rotation policy. Is there some method in what is perceived by experts like Geoff Lawson as a cricketing madness?

    To begin with, the rotation method has given us Jackson Bird, who I regard now as a permanent starter in the bowling attack, along with Peter Siddle.

    I am convinced also by a sophisticated analysis written by Malcolm Know in the SMH. He sees the rotation policy as part of the ‘managerialism’ ideology that has come to dominate the Western corporate world. The essence of managerialism, according to Knox, is that a ‘shared methodology can achieve better results than relying on the brilliance of individuals.’

    What this means for the baggy green caps is  this: ‘The cricket managerialist dream is that while individual bowlers can come and go, what cannot be rotated out are the fundamental principles of line and lenth tailored to specific conditions. It doesn’t matter who the bowlers are, as long as they are schooled in the method.’

    I find this analysis stimulating, to say the least. When I read Knox’s excellent column I immediately thought of Graham Henry and the All Blacks and their quest for the Holy Grail of a Rugby World Cup triumph.

    Henry introduced a similar sort of rugby managerialism into the All Blacks when he took over a coach in 2003. It is history now that the All Blacks collapsed in their quarter final against France in RWC 2007. But it also history that the policy worked in RWC 2011.

    The lessons from Henry’s experience is that sooner or later, going into a crucial must-win tournament like the RWC the selectors have to define their starting team and then play it all the time in the crucial matches. At RWC 2007, for instance, Henry did NOT play the same starting XV once throughout the tournament.

    In the 2011 Rugby World Cup a starting/best XV was played in the important matches. Rotating stopped essentially once the tournament started. This is what has to happen when the Australian selectors pick their teams in the Ashes series later next year.

    The up-side of the rotation policy, though, came for Henry when first Daniel Carter, then Colin Slade, and then Aaron Cruden (actually in the final) all succumbed to injury. Stephen Donald, brought back from his holidays, became the fourth fly half used by the All Blacks in the tournament. He played for 50 minutes in the final and kicked the winning penalty.

    Donald had been dropped from the All Blacks squad for RWC 2011. But in the previous few years he’d played 28 Tests for the All Blacks and, therefore, was ready enough to become the super-sub.

    Back to the Australian cricket team, what all this means in my view is rotating may be acceptable up to the Ashes series. Then the best unit must be used in every Test on the theory that battles are won with all guns blazing.

    Players like Johnson and possibly Starc, though, are there, like Donald, with the background, experience and will to perform if they are forced to come into the starting side with better bowlers out injured.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • Roar Guru

      December 28th 2012 @ 8:28am
      sheek said | December 28th 2012 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Good morning Spiro & season’s greetings,

      While I’m a great believer in the team concept & the sum of the whole being greater than its parts, I don’t believe this rotation system is genuinely addressing the issue of injury & fatigue, but perhaps more likely “protecting” the CA officials from any duty of care litigation.

      While the concept may be “pure” in theory, I’m highly suspicious of the motives behind it.

      We’ve seen this season both Siddle & Starc benched after excellent test performances. There was a suggestion Siddle had a niggle, which he refuted, but Starc was rearing to go.

      It was okay for Clarke to play the boxing day test while still not 100% fit, but it wasn’t okay for Starc to play despite being 100% fit & desperate to play in a boxing day test.

      It doesn’t matter how many different ways you cut it, this smacks of double standards, of hypocrisy, of one rule for some, another rule for others.

      Apparently the Sydney Swans have a player physical welfare monitoring program that they’ve patented & sell on license to other clubs & sports. It’s cutting edge stuff led by that magnificent sports doctor Nathan Gibbs.

      As I understand it, the Swans don’t rest players unnecessarily from club round matches, but if a player is showing stress in some part of his body, they’ll alter his training through the week, putting him in the water instead of the track for example, or simply monitoring him over long, slow walks.

      By match day, he’s still ready to take his place in the side. Instead of resting players from tests, CA perhaps should look at resting them from training, & keeping them fit for the big games.

      It might be in CA’s interest to look at the Swans program & see how it can be adapted to the test cricket team.

      Finally Spiro,

      If a legend like Dennis Lillee, our greatest fast bowler & a guy who took his body beyond hell on so many occasions for his country, thinks the rotation system is rubbish, then that’s good enough for me!

      • December 28th 2012 @ 8:36am
        Vas Venkatramani said | December 28th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        Sheek, I shudder with horror at the notion of cricketers being applied to training and fitness programs from heavier physical sports such as AFL. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cricketers are not athletes, they are cricketers.

        There is a clear double standard in place, and the concern I have about that is the impression it leaves on tomorrow’s players, who along with wishing to play T20s over Tests, they will now push the idea that being a batsman is far more profitable than being a bowler. What this does to our future bowling depth is a question no one seems to care about. The narrow short term thinking at play here is just ridiculous.

        The only method the rotation policy had was for ODIs when Steve Waugh first introduced it during the 2000/01 summer. But Test matches are not something to be trifled with. That’s what CA is doing to its oldest and most valuable artefact, the baggy green cap.

        • Roar Guru

          December 28th 2012 @ 8:58am
          TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 8:58am | ! Report

          What do you mean they’re not athletes? Look at Mitchell Johnson, he is clearly an elite athlete in every way. Pat Cummins is a hunk of lean muscle, the guy is an athlete. They all train just as hard as any other professional sportsman and are all definitely athletes.

          What has often seperated Australian cricket from the rest of the world is it’s willingness to innovate. Be it world series cricket, baseballers teaching fielding and now bowling squad developnment and rotation. In 10 years time you’ll look back at this moment and say”what was I thinking”.

          Your approach is stuck in 1995, your old age philosophy worked okay when guys played 10 tests and 15 ODIs a year, but now they’re playing 15 tests, 35 ODIs and 30+ T20s a year. That’s a hell of a lot of cricket and you can’t just say “bowl more, toughen up, sack the medical staff”, it doesn’t work like that.

          • December 28th 2012 @ 10:20am
            Bayman said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:20am | ! Report


            One man’s innovation is another man’s been there before. On the issue of basballers teaching fielding I can only say that back when baseball was a winter sport half the Australian Test team – and half of the state teams – was comprised of guys who played baseball. Nobody had to teach them how to field – or throw. Same monkeys, different trees.

          • December 28th 2012 @ 10:43am
            kid said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:43am | ! Report

            this “athlete” terminology is misleading. Body shapes are very sport specific and there is no doubt that cricket does not require super trim bulky frames for optimum performance. timing and hand eye co-ordination is much more important.

            • Roar Guru

              December 28th 2012 @ 12:23pm
              TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

              Have you seen George Rose play for Manly, he’s far from lean and bulky, but you can’t tell me rugby league doesn’t require the physique of an athlete.

      • Roar Guru

        December 28th 2012 @ 8:53am
        TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        Dennis Lillee, the guy who broke his back, knows nothing about human physiology, injury prevention and sport science. Therefore his opinion isn’t good enough for me.

        • Roar Guru

          December 28th 2012 @ 9:07am
          sheek said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:07am | ! Report


          At first I thought your comment about Lillee was tongue in cheek, but then I realised you’re serious.

          If we ever have to go to war, I must remind myself not to be anywhere near you. You’ll do a runner for sure! 😉

          • December 28th 2012 @ 12:49pm
            Shahid said | December 28th 2012 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            Rotation policy helps us to choose best
            player. You should think having cool
            minded. Why Warner, Cowan, Clarke and
            Hussey have not rotated so far by NSP
            because they are playing very well. Now I
            think NSP should not rotate Mitchell
            Johnson and Jackson Bird.

        • December 28th 2012 @ 10:26am
          Bayman said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:26am | ! Report


          Actually, I think you’ll find DK Lillee does know a fair bit about this topic. Through necessity, maybe, but it’s not how it’s how many. Nobody ever worked harder than Lillee to overcome a debilitating injury and nobody ever worked harder to understand why it had ccurred and how to prevent it. Glib statements like “the guy who broke his back” do nothing for your argument and make your opinion look uninformed.

          • Roar Guru

            December 28th 2012 @ 12:31pm
            TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

            Okay fair enough, my frustration with being the minority on this one got the better of me. I just can’t understand why people won’t give rotation a chance.

        • December 28th 2012 @ 10:37am
          Bazza said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          TGT……..Lillee may or may not know anything about human physiology from a ‘professional’ point but he sure as hell knew about the physiology of his own body. The trained professionals of today who are putting our current players through their paces would appear to know less than Lillee with the number of breakdowns/injuries the players are suffering on a “recurring” basis.

      • December 28th 2012 @ 9:08am
        Allanthus said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Morning gents, and best wishes too for a prosperous 2013.

        Sheek I think you’re onto something re rotation having some roots in the “Bracken Factor”, plus I also agree with the Age column from yesterday suggesting that this is about prepping the attack for next years Ashes series by developing a bigger stable of bowlers with recent test experience. Which would support Spiro’s example of the AB’s winning the Rugby World Cup even though they were down to 4th choice flyhalf for most of the final.

        The other attempted explanations are an embarrassment and Inverarity, Howard and Arthur would be far better off doing whatever it is they want to do if they must BUT keeping their mouths shut while they do it.

        I don’t have the same issue re double standard for Clarke. At first glance it seems wrong and unfair, but… he is the captain, who has been performing outstandingly, you’d want to do everything possible to have him play.

        Spiro, sure Bird bowled well but that’s a VERY early call… I hope that’s not up there with the bloke who wrote that Steve Smith was the next Warne.

      • Roar Guru

        December 28th 2012 @ 2:47pm
        Andy_Roo said | December 28th 2012 @ 2:47pm | ! Report


        ‘One ruke for some, anothe rule for others’. Mike Gatting would be proud of you.

        I think the difference for AFL players is that they are always recovering from bruises as well as muscle fatigue. Cricketers shouldn’t have too many bruises and therefore the Swans program might not transfer to cricket quite so well.

    • Roar Guru

      December 28th 2012 @ 8:34am
      TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      We’ve barely seen the implementation of rotation yet. A lot of guys have just got injured and needed replacement anyway. It’s now that the tactic is beginning to run its course. I find it funny how so many people have already drawn their conclusions on rotation without having any knowledge of it’s outcome. I’m more than willing to let it take time and see where it leads us. In the long run we could develop a squad of eight or so quicks who can step into test cricket on any given day and perform as well as anyone else. Rotation doesn’t just help prevent injuries, it gives exposure and experience to younger guys coming through the ranks.

      Now I know a lot of people have cited Hilfenhaus’ injury as proof that rotation doesn’t work, but on the flip side you should consider how Peter Siddle was rejuvenated and tore through the Sri Lankans, it did wonders to his effectiveness. Last summer the sports scientists, physios and medical staff said that during the New Years test, James Pattinson will break down. Low and behold he did. They know what they’re doing, cut them some slack and let them do their job.

      What does worry me is that our best bowlers are being rested from test matches but not ODIs and T20Is. The prioritisation of player workloads must be examined because first and foremost, we need our best bowlers fit and firing in test cricket.

      The modern era demands a good squad of players to get you through. T20 cricket has increased player workloads and television means bowlers must be performing at 100 per cent intensity all the time. Injuries will happen. It’s just a fact of sporting life. You need to work with the medical people on this one and not against them.

      • December 28th 2012 @ 9:46am
        jameswm said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        The ARU doctors said last year when Palu was returning for the Tahs “he’ll re-do his hammy again this Sat, it isn’t strong enough yet”. Guess what happened.

        The AFL teams are at the cutting edge, and they rest players with specific muscle fatigue or wear.

        • December 28th 2012 @ 10:14am
          Bayman said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

          To be fair though, jameswm, nominating a player who is coming off a hammy injury to do it again if he has not had the proper rehab is a different, and easier, thing than predicting an injury from someone who, otherwise, seems fit and well e.g. Pattinson.

          The logic, however, might lead us to question why they didn’t rest Watson for this Test giving their science is so advanced. So they either missed it – or ignored it. Surely you can see why some people question the percieved wisdom. Do they really know what they are doing or just making educated guesses?

          • Roar Guru

            December 28th 2012 @ 12:25pm
            sheek said | December 28th 2012 @ 12:25pm | ! Report


            Meteorologists with all their latest gizzmo technology still can’t get the weather right. I think there might too great a reliance on science at the expense of intuitive feel. Practical common sense is too often replaced by impractical knowledge dogma.

            There’s still a lot to be said for gut feeling & accumulated experience. As they say, knowledge comes from experience, & experience comes from mistakes. And you often learn your best lessons from mistakes.

            Indeed, at work we were discussing the Sydney to Hobart yacht race & marveled at the difference between today’s sailors & say James Cook, who had to do a lot of sailing on gut feeling.

            Today’s sailors have every conceivable piece of technology available to them – satellite GPS, weather radar, depth sounders, you name it, they’ve got it. But they still need experienced sailors who can read the clouds & the waves.

            Technology’s fine, but it still requires humans to drive it. And as we see in so many other spheres of sport, having the technology & knowledge & being able to interpret it & use it wisely ain’t always the same thing.

            A good example is the Sydney Swans. Not only have they come up with an excellent workable system, but they interpret their system wisely. Thus it works for the players & the club. Everyone’s happy.

            CA is being too cute with their rotation system. Those of you around my age would shudder at the the thought of Lillee or Thomson being exposed to a rotation system. There would have been a rebellion.

            • December 28th 2012 @ 5:28pm
              Jack said | December 28th 2012 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

              What a load of rubbish about meteorologists. “They still can’t get the weather right.” They get it right most of the time, just like the selectors do. But knee jerk critics like yourself know more than the experts. And I mean real experts, not the self elected “experts” on this site. If this current system brings back the ashes, will you and other critics give credit where it’s due. Thankfully the general public don’t pick our national teams.

              • December 28th 2012 @ 6:18pm
                Jason said | December 28th 2012 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

                I’d back Bayman’s and sheek’s knowledge of cricket over Pat Howards any day of the week.

    • December 28th 2012 @ 9:22am
      Whiteline said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Spiro, Bird bowled well but how about you start with the new Stuart Clark before you jump to Mcgrath. 🙂

      • December 28th 2012 @ 9:38am
        Vas Venkatramani said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        Seconded, plus you’re doing Jackson Bird absolutely NO favours by comparing him to one of the greats. All Jackson Bird needs to be is Jackson Bird.

        • Roar Guru

          December 28th 2012 @ 11:51am
          Atawhai Drive said | December 28th 2012 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          Glenn McGrath was allowed to make a quiet entry into Test cricket and exceeded most people’s expectations in becoming one of the true greats of the game.

          Norman O’Neill, for those who remember, was hailed as the new Bradman at the age of 21. Talk about a crushing burden of expectation. He had a few good years, but aged only 30 he faded away quietly on a B tour of New Zealand.

          Jackson Bird has only just begun. It’s too early to draw any conclusions about where his career might lead.

    • December 28th 2012 @ 9:47am
      jameswm said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      I think they were just being kind calling it the rotation policy with Starc.

      Fact is he mainly bowled crud in Hobart and deserved to be dropped on merit.

      Also Spiro, Johnson bowled less crud than Starc. Starc has an incredible upside, he just needs to harness hiw bowling about 5% better, to be really outstanding. Swings it both ways, great yorker, steep lift, good pace etc.

    • December 28th 2012 @ 9:55am
      Russ said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Spiro, Holding’s runup was ridiculous, but I wouldn’t have called Bird’s “much shorter”. He was coming in from about 35m, a lot longer than anyone else on Boxing Day (and incidentally probably one of the causes of the appalling over-rate). For what it’s worth, the bowler his action most reminded me of is Shaun Pollock, similar pace, the same elbows out run, high arm action and flow through the crease. If he has a career half as good Australia will do well.

      • December 28th 2012 @ 1:18pm
        Atawhai Drive said | December 28th 2012 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        Bird’s run-up reminds me of somebody but I can’t remember who.

        Definitely not Michael Holding.

      • December 28th 2012 @ 2:48pm
        Cliff (Bishkek) said | December 28th 2012 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        Michael Holding’s runup was ridiculous.

        It was not ridiculous to Michael Holding!!!

        And actually it was “fluid in motion” – and the length – Michael Holding’s decision – not yours and not anyone else’s. It worked for him!!

        • December 28th 2012 @ 9:00pm
          Russ said | December 28th 2012 @ 9:00pm | ! Report

          By modern standards it was ridiculous There was a reason the West Indies only got through 12 overs an hour. That extra 15m adds 15 seconds a ball, 90 seconds an over. With the current over-rate rules Holding would either need to shorten it or play with a spinner, not four quicks (or both). Anyway, the point was that Bird’s run-up is actually quite long. No doubt it works for him too, but a few more slow days like day 1 and Clarke will get suspended.

      • December 28th 2012 @ 6:52pm
        Keagan Ryan said | December 28th 2012 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

        Technically, I had Bird compared to England’s ex-swing machine Matthew Hoggard. Pollock again is similar.

        What he brings to the table is more Stuart Clark-esque, does just enough nibbling each way. Probably doesn’t get the bounce Clark did but still looks a promising new ball bowler.

    • December 28th 2012 @ 10:02am
      eagleJack said | December 28th 2012 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      The simple fact is apart from Siddle we don’t have absolute standouts in the fast bowling ranks who demand selection. Each player coming in is doing a solid job. And they are getting invaluable experience at Test level. Experience that will hold them in good stead for the Ashes. I wouldn’t mind seeing Cutting in Sydney for the likely dead rubber. See what he can do. Is it disrespectful to Sri Lanka? Perhaps. But their performance warrants us tweaking our line-up with an eye for the future.

      As for Thommo and Lillee being harsh critics of the policy. Well both are absolute legends of the game but were part of an era where training consisted of 2 sprint drills and 3 laps of the oval. Followed by half a dozen schooners at the local. Times change and if you aren’t experimenting in the field of sports science then you will be left for dead in the long run.

      • Roar Guru

        December 28th 2012 @ 7:21pm
        TheGenuineTailender said | December 28th 2012 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

        I’d argue that James Pattinson is the best bowler in Australia at the moment.

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