I don’t understand it. I really don’t.
Media commentators are all saying it. “Gee, Australia’s batting is bad – but who are you going to bring in? No-one’s knocking down the door with a 50-plus average.”
“Too much T20.”
“Wait til Steve Smith and Dave Warner come back.”
You’ve heard it all by now.
True, no-one is out there scoring 50-plus, but plenty – and I mean plenty – of batsmen are averaging more than the current Test team. Let’s go through the first-class averages of our Test squad as of 1 January 2019.
First-class averages – Australia XI
Test average in brackets
That’s not great.
Mitch Marsh has no business being in the top six but the averages of Harris, Finch and Head aren’t terribly flattering either.
I know averages aren’t everything, though – and at least Harris, Finch and Head have generally (if slowly) gone up. Harris has shot up since he got away from the coaching influence of Justin Langer in Western Australia (irony).
What about the other options? Who’s out there who is doing better?
Test average in brackets
That’s 13 players, two of them wicketkeepers, with better first-class averages than two-thirds of our current top six.
That is embarrassing.
It’s also embarrassing that cricket commentators don’t know this and do things like suggest D’Arcy Short should open for the Test team when he averages 23.57 in first-class cricket with a top score of 66 or recommend Pat Cummins play at No.6 to bring in another bowler when he averages 24 at first-class level. Or just dismiss it all as systemic.
It’s embarrassing our coach doesn’t seem to know it. Justin Langer said, “We’ve got to be careful not to reward poor performances but … it’s not as if the guys are absolutely banging the door down.
“Most of our batters knocking on the door are averaging in the 30s (in the Sheffield Shield).”
Some batters are averaging in the 40s. And there is a big difference between early 30s and late 30s.
Of course averages don’t tell the whole story. Numbers can be distorted by not outs, scoring massive totals when the runs aren’t really needed, being an opener as opposed to batting down the order, playing only a few games et cetera. Remember that Hilton Cartwright once averaged over 50 and now is around 35. And just because you average 40-odd doesn’t mean you’ll replicate that at Test level – just ask Shaun Marsh.
But averages tell a lot of the story. A lot of these players have been very consistent over a lot of years – a lot more than some batsmen in our Test team – and they’ve been ignored by a selection panel for unspecified crimes against cricket.
The ethics review spoke a lot about the arrogant nature of Cricket Australia. This seems to linger on in our selection panel, who insist someone like Mitch Marsh, who has averaged 30 consistently throughout his first-class career, is secretly a Test batsman who should average 40, and they insist this is true despite 31 Tests to the contrary.
It insists that Aaron Finch, who has had some success at No.5 in first-class cricket but none as an opener, is secretly a Test quality opener.
At a time when Australia needs its batting to be the best it can be, the selection panel is picking favourites as opposed to the best performers.
You can make a case for Matt Renshaw’s exclusion at the moment – he’s been in rotten form – but I think he’s just one of those batsmen who ‘audition’ badly, like Matt Hayden, and he’s worth taking a punt on regardless.
But he was in red-hot form prior to the UAE and had a decent Test record, and to dump him for Labuschagne, who was gifted two baggy greens after one decent season, was a joke. Langer blamed a “lack of match practice”.
You can maybe make a case for Cameron White’s exclusion – maybe. He is a little old (not that much older than Shaun Marsh), a bit inconsistent (not that much less consistent than Shaun Marsh) and a bit combative. Is that the problem? Is he too good as a captain? Are they worried he might undermine whoever is in charge?
Patterson seems allergic to high scores. He averages 40 mainly because when he bats he tends to get, well, 40, then be dismissed. I get why they’re not keen on him.
Bailey did have a chance. He should have played more Tests, but he has been in erratic form. I can see why he’s not in the frame now. You can say the same for Ferguson. Short and Pucovski are very green. Lehmann should be in the frame more. People don’t like him, but he is consistent. So is Hughes.
And I’m sorry, but Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell should be in this team. What exactly has Joe Burns done to be so ignored this past year? Been too consistent? Does his fielding need to improve? Did he say something at the wrong party? Because it makes no sense.
That goes twice for Glenn Maxwell. The best fielder in the country, a bowling option if needed and a great batting talent. Okay, sure, maybe if he trained like Steve Smith, he would average 50 with the bat, but 40 is still pretty good. What’s more is that it’s better than two-thirds of our top six.
In a parallel universe, Australia pick Maxwell as Shane Watson’s replacement in the UAE in 2014 instead of Mitch Marsh and he goes on to have a decent career instead of us wasting 31 Tests on the vice-captain.
The public outcasting of Glenn Maxwell has been one of the most depressing things to watch as a cricket fan these past few years.
What has he done? Had a big head? Drive over someone’s cat? Maybe he wouldn’t have cut it at Test level, but he’s been a proven international performer, even in Tests. He deserved an extended chance, especially during a batting drought.
Absolutely Australia lack batsmen who average over 45 with the bat, but that doesn’t mean you pick a bunch of players who average 35 when you’ve got ones available who average 40. It makes no sense.
Consider who you could have in your second XI batting line-up: Renshaw, Hughes, Burns, White, Lehmann and Maxwell.
That is so much better than our Test team. It even includes some people who can do your precious few overs with a ball.
Expecting Smith and Warner to come back and fix everything again is a risky strategy. They mightn’t regain their old form, especially if they have to spend all this time reflecting on their behaviour.
We need to look to other batsmen. But we should do this by picking the best available batsmen.
And the media should hold our clannish, cliquey, ageist selection panel to account.