Shaun Marsh batted brilliantly to take Australia to what could be a match-winning total in Adelaide, while Tim Paine’s positivity took the game away from England. Still, it doesn’t mean their selections were right.
On Sunday afternoon, social media and the commentary box was on fire as the old hands and ex-players came alive with their know-it-all sledges, telling Australia’s paying public that they were ‘oh, so wrong’ to have doubted the selectors.
Shaun Marsh was always a ‘class act’ they said, Tim Paine always had that ‘fight’ in him. Why did Australian fans doubt what the selectors had done? They knew it all along. Oh ye of little faith, hang your heads in shame, was the main message.
There’s no doubt Marsh and Paine batted well, with Australia’s new number six especially shining, guiding the tail while mixing attack and defence almost perfectly. But to argue that their performances somehow vindicated their selections at the start of The Ashes, I’m not buying that.
What if the selectors hadn’t picked Marsh and Paine? What if Glenn Maxwell had batted at six, as many predicted? Would he have put down a decent score by now in the series? Almost definitely. What if Peter Nevill had batted at seven and kept wicket? Would he have managed to bat us out of a hole today? It may not have been as freewheeling, but the answer is: most probably.
Could Matthew Wade even have done it? Maybe he would have attacked – survived his first dropped catch as England ran each other – and then rode his luck and smashed 80-odd? We’ll never know.
What I’m trying to say is: we have a lot of good cricketers in Australia, including a lot of keepers and upper and middle-order batsmen. No matter who we pick in this roles, we still should smash the living daylights out of England in a home Ashes series in Australia.
Sure, we may not be graced with as many as in ‘the good old days’ where every man and his dog apparently scored 1,000 Shield runs a season and yet still couldn’t get a game for Australia A. But, the first class players are still out there, plying their trade.
It wasn’t those exact selections that Australian fans didn’t understand. In my opinion it was something bigger: Australian fans have been craving – especially in this post-modern, super-saturated cricket era that now surrounds us – an over-arching plan of attack. Something that at least makes us look like we know where we are going with our team lists.
For me, that plan starts with a clear understanding that we have three formats, which need to be played in very different conditions but which all need to be prepared for equally.
Specifically, in Test cricket it seems to make sense to groom a large squad and then pick batsmen, bowlers and teams that make sense in the various conditions. Then, send one of your millions of CA support staff ahead of the team and get him (or her) to analyse the pitch and the conditions.
Then, the selections sort of take care of themselves, as long as you understand the limitations of your players. While Usman Khawaja doesn’t necessarily come with you to India as he struggles with spin, he could open for you in South Africa if you needed to fit in an extra bowler.
If you expect a spinning or slow wicket you pick Maxwell as your number six, as he moves his feet well and he can bowl you ten overs. If you have a seaming, quicker surface maybe Shaun Marsh gets the nod, as you want someone there who can really ‘drop anchor’ as things get tricky.
Most importantly, you let the players know where they stand and what they can expect from the coming season. You tell them where they should focus their practice and playing time. This, also would let Twenty20 half-specialists really focus their energies on that format. Who knows, we might even be able put together a solid national side in the short form that could win something, if we try it that way.
If you communicate some of those selection plans to the Aussie fans, that might spare us the endless theorising about first Test squads that has now become such a regular, predictable part of every summer. That would be another bonus.