Mitch Marsh will miss the first Test against Pakistan after breaking his hand, opening the door for fellow Western Australia all-rounder Marcus Stoinis to come into Test contention.
High expectations are one of the greatest misfortunes of sport. Nothing has caused more misery to fan and athlete alike than unreasonable hope. Think how easily the great disappointments in your life could have been avoided if you had expected nothing.
I still remember the heartbreak of the 1989 grand final. As a Balmain fan, the result of that epic decider crushed me, but the fact is that it only did so because I thought there might be a chance Balmain would win. Had I given up all hope pre-game, I’d have felt a lot more relaxed about the result.
The same logic applies to all situations. Cate Campbell was shattered after missing out on a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, but only because she thought she could win one. Brett Lee was devastated after falling just short of victory at Edgbaston in 2005, but only because victory seemed possible. Tennis fans were disappointed in Nick Kyrgios’s behaviour, but only because they had never seen or heard a tennis player act like him before.
In contrast, look at Wallabies fans, who greet results year after year with equanimity, because they long ago learned to accept that life is pain.
Which brings us to the current Australian cricket team. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to say that all Australian cricket fans should naturally expect the team to lose every Test – frankly I think we’re all already on board with that. No, I’m getting down to a more molecular level here, I’m talking selection.
A lot of people like to wring their hands over selection issues in cricket. They worry that the selectors are working haphazardly, making decisions based on personal feelings rather than rational assessments, and reacting with knee-jerk haste to developments rather than taking a long-term view.
So we can start with the lowering of expectations right there: the only reason we feel disappointment in our selectors is because we expected them to be good at their jobs. If we relax this sense of optimism, and just accept that the men appointed to select our national cricket team are witless buffoons, we’ll feel a lot better about their performance. Indeed, the selectors themselves are working as hard as they can to help us form this view.
As to the players themselves, we can profit by the same mindset. Take Mitch Marsh. Please. Haha! A little levity is also good for the nerves. It is wonderful that we can still laugh.
But seriously, let’s examine the Mitch Marsh situation. It’s very easy to look at his Test career thus far and say it’s been a letdown. It’s only natural to feel disappointed by his output and to note that his primary qualification to bat at number six is that he bowls like a top-order batsman, while his main recommendation as a strike bowler is his ability to bat like a useful number nine.
All in all, Mitch Marsh appears to be the epitome of the all-rounder who gains that label by being equally mediocre at both main disciplines. But maybe that’s only because our expectations are too high.
After all, who are we comparing him to? Is it not unrealistic to expect him to walk into the team and instantly become a world-beating all-rounder? Is it fair to demand that the young man lives up to the extraordinary feats of past great all-rounders like Keith Miller, Alan Davidson, or Tom Moody?
What if we relaxed those expectations? What if, instead of constantly seeking the next Peter Sleep to fill the all-rounder’s role, we accepted that that kind of talent is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and we need to set our sights lower? What if we focused on the positives of Mitch Marsh’s performances, like his unblemished record of punctuality, and admirably straight running between wickets?
The plain fact is, if we don’t stop getting our hopes up for young Mitch, we’re going to keep being disappointed and growing cranky and irritable. And that applies to the team across the board.
We’re never going to feel at peace with the batting line-up if we keep expecting them to score lots of runs. Let’s keep our expectations to a modest level. Let’s aim to lose twelve wickets or fewer per day and let’s consider it a moral victory when more than one batsman hits a four.
When it comes to our bowling attack, it’s even easier to lower our expectations. We’ve already reached the point where if no member of the bowling attack suffers a season-ending injury, it’s a memorable Test match.
The point is, sport isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about making people happy.
And as Australian cricket lovers, I think we’ll all feel a lot happier when we start appreciating our team for what they can do, rather than the many, many, many things that they can’t.
Lower your expectations; it may be the only way we get through this summer.