Don’t worry. I’m not proposing yet another fantasy team but asking a more concrete question: which 11 players constituted the best ever Test team taking the field on a single day, judged on previous form?
So George Bailey has become an Australian selector, thus ending his career as a player.
It’s been a fine career. Better than fine. Almost 10,000 first class runs at an average of just under 40. Over 90 ODIs with an average of 40. Five Test matches – all of them Australian victories. Several domestic title wins.
And you rarely hear a bad word against him. He seems be not just popular, but loved and respected. Amiable, positive, a good leader.
You did hear some bad words. The one group who seemed to particularly dislike him were the cabal at Channel Nine in the 2010s – the leaders of the boofhead brigade of Australian cricket. They had a lot problems with Bailey. His technique was too weird. He smiled too much. He looked too clean cut, too much a school captain, which is presumably why John Inverarity liked him. Too interested in his garden. Too close to Ed Cowan.
There was Brad McNamara’s infamous crack about Bailey “flipping burgers”, which probably ranks among the all time silly comments, even at Channel Nine.
This dislike helped turn Bailey into a cult figure. He became king of the snags, with a lot of defenders out there, including Cowan, Jarrod Kimber and Geoff Lemon. Kimber’s profile on Bailey in particular is one of the best ever written.
I remember being so anxious for Bailey in that wonderful 2013-14 Ashes series. I was a fan by then – his ODI consistency won me over – and I wanted him to do well and I was worried he wouldn’t. His first-class average never really clambered over 40.
In the end Bailey was the only Australian player who didn’t make hay that summer, although he had his moments that contributed to the folklore of that series, notably when he took 28 runs off one Jimmy Anderson over, and when Michael Clarke threatened Anderson with a broken arm after Anderson teased Bailey.
But 183 runs at 26.14 wasn’t awesome.
And yet one sensed, even at the time, that maybe Bailey should have been persevered with. At least for a tour or two.
But he was dispatched in indecent haste for the 2014 tour of South Africa. Maybe Bailey didn’t lock down his spot but the selectors punted him for Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan, neither of whom really demanded selection either.
Was it the right call?
In the short term, yes. Marsh and Doolan played crucial innings to help Australia win in South Africa.
But in the long term, Doolan went to the UAE, then fell out of international consideration. Marsh went his frustratingly erratic way, which still continues. Bailey didn’t go on that 2014 UAE tour when Australia realised they had not in fact become awesome under Darren Lehmann. We were awesome at home and bad overseas. And so we’ve remained.
Would Bailey have helped stop that? Unlikely.
But in Tests, he could’ve been used on another tour or two. Australia seemed to lack leaders in the mid 2010s. You had Clarke trying to stamp his authority, not always getting along with Lehmann. Brad Haddin’s form slipped away. Steve Smith was pushed into leadership well before he was ready. David Warner was constantly adjusting his aggro levels. Surely Bailey’s presence could only have helped?
Bailey also could and should have been flown out to South Africa in the wake of the sandpaper scandal. The ones they did send – Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw and Glenn Maxwell – are all fine players, but there was a leadership vacuum in the team at the time. And Bailey’s presence would have helped sooth things.
He was definitely dispensed with far too early in ODI cricket. Bailey had helped keep the Australian team together during the many absences of Michael Clarke, but on Clarke’s retirement, they were keen to get rid of Bailey and usher in the reign of Steve Smith. The dreadful form of the Australian ODI team from 2016-19 coincides with the turfing of Bailey.
But now he’s going to be one of the most powerful men in Australian cricket.
His skills as a player and captain don’t necessarily mean he’ll be a good selector – they are different things.
But he’ll leave a massive gap when he retires.
And I wish him all the best.