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'Incumbency over performance': Australian selectors get Test side wrong

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10th December, 2023
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Roar Pro
10th December, 2023
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Sometimes, selections for the Australian cricket team leave me wondering why the Sheffield Shield competition exists. Any one of the 66 players in the last round of the Shield could have been selected, but only five of them were. The remaining nine players are incumbents in the side.

Whilst those nine players have been stalwarts of the side for the past several years, there are only really a few players who are guaranteed their spots in the side based on form and performance metrics. Few would argue against the likes of Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja, Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon maintaining their positions in the side for as long as they want it.

However, there are significant questions surrounding some of the players in the side, and the selectors did not really answer those questions with this squad’s selection. David Warner has publicly stated that he wants to retire after the Pakistan series, but with his red-ball form diminishing, has he earned the right to retire on his own terms when so many others, even all-time greats, did not earn that right?

Granted, Warner may come out and score 300 against Pakistan, as he did the last time they toured, but recent red-ball form and indications from his white-ball form show that big scores like that are becoming increasingly unlikely, notwithstanding his 200 against South Africa.

In the past four years, Warner has an average of 28. He averages 55 at home (including that 335 not out against Pakistan and the 200 against South Africa) and just 20 away from home. Hardly pressing his case for retention in the side.

Then, there is the curious case of Cameron Bancroft who, for years, has figuratively beaten down the door to the Test team with his weight of runs, yet he seemingly cannot get a start! He has made 512 runs before Christmas in the Shield at an average of 56 this season. The season prior, he made 945 runs at an average of 59. Juxtaposed against Warner’s figures, Bancroft’s look Bradman-esque!

Meanwhile, the elite bowler in the past two Shield seasons has been Michael Neser, who seemingly cannot purchase his way into a squad. Pipped into this squad by Lance Morris, an exciting young quick with extreme pace, he must be wondering what he must have to do to get a game?

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ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Michael Neser of Australia bowls the ball during the Second Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Adelaide Oval on December 20, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Peter Mundy/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Michael Neser. (Photo by Peter Mundy/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He has always been talked up as someone to come in when the frontline bowlers were tired, but he has always relied on an injury or a COVID suspension to play. In each of the past two Shield seasons, he has taken 40 wickets and either topped the list of wickets or finished second.

With Cameron Green clearly needing a rest and out of form, Neser had to be the first man up in the Ashes. Yet, once again, the selectors cast him aside without as much as a second look for a man who had played just one first class match in the past two seasons.

Morris is an exciting talent, but coming off a long layoff and having just suffered an injury, surely the selectors would want to see him taking bags of wickets for cheap and getting through a mountain of work before selecting him in case his body breaks down again? Eleven wickets at 25 on the season is a good return, but he has not set the Shield on fire yet this season.

The biggest issue with this 14-man squad is that it rewards incumbency over performance. If you’re good enough to be in the side, form seems not to matter nor does weariness. Granted, this is the side for just the first Test, but if past history is any guide, these 14 players will simply be copied and pasted for the remainder of at least the Pakistan series.

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Hopefully, the selectors communicate better behind the scenes with the likes of Bancroft and Neser than they do publicly. However, with many pushing their cases, the selectors must be careful to blood new players at the right time and not blindly value incumbency over form.

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