World Test Championship, Ashes retention and World Cup all in a matter of months – it means, all is well with Australian cricket, right?
Andrew McDonald and the selection panel should be commended for many of their calls over the past few years, however, one pick continues to grate, and it may have repercussions for Australia’s long-term future; let alone its immediate WTC defence, which is already vulnerable thanks to over rate breaches.
The persistent selection of David Warner defies all logic, especially now that his recent home form resembles his patchy away record.
Whether you want to believe in a conspiracy theory relating to his 12-month suspension or there is something less sinister at play, it is becoming harder to fathom that the selectors are still backing him in as a game-changer when he has made just one first-class century in almost four years.
What do these cricketing luminaries have in common: Jack Ryder, Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson, Greg Chappell, Bob Simpson, Allan Border, David Boon, Rod Marsh, Mark Waugh, Justin Langer?
At any given time after World War II until the appointment of McDonald as coach, at least one of them was a selector or coach of the national side.
Compare the current group of McDonald, George Bailey and Tony Dodemaide, and you will find a total of 19 Test matches between them. Daniel Vettori is around the squad as an assistant, but he is not the one deciding people’s fates.
As a collective, do they have the courage to tell a veteran of more than five times their combined experience that his time is up? Bailey certainly did not when it came to ending close friend Tim Paine’s career, excusing himself from the decision after the former captain was involved in a scandal.
The refusal to leave Warner out has already created issues for more than just the team. In India earlier this year, Travis Head was omitted due to queries on his ability against quality spin, a decision that was contradictory at the time and aged like warm milk.
By the time Warner had limped out of the series, Matt Renshaw was chewed up and spat out in a non-preferred middle-order posting, and now sees his battered figures used against him when potential replacements are being discussed.
Of the other contenders, Marcus Harris lost out on significant playing time at all levels idling in the reserve chair, while Cameron Bancroft’s run-soaked 18 months in the Sheffield Shield have so far counted for naught.
It is now almost certain that Warner’s successor will get just two opportunities versus West Indies before a more challenging assignment in New Zealand.
This summer’s opponents are shaping up to be among the weakest to tour our shores; what better time to ease a player into the national setup?
Bailey remarked this week that the best XI would be selected to secure WTC points and not devalue the product. By choosing this approach in matches that will almost certainly be won anyway, the can is being kicked down the road in the name of a farewell series that could and should have taken place last season.
There are strong precedents for giving new players time in less competitive matches, as well as denying a last goodbye.
In early 2000, Matthew Hayden replaced Greg Blewett in a dead rubber in New Zealand and was then afforded a full five-match series against a lowly West Indies, returning a paltry 275 runs at 27.50 with just two half-centuries.
Australia won all six matches, and Hayden retained his place for the subsequent India tour, where he transformed into one of the greats of the game.
Four months before Hayden’s recall, Ian Healy rightly was not granted a single farewell game in front of his home crowd, despite keeping well in the previous summer and making 134 in the corresponding fixture one year prior.
Had his wish been granted, the cricket world would have been denied Adam Gilchrist’s barnstorming entry to the Test arena.
I expect Warner to go out on a high against an opponent in Pakistan who he has domineered at home (845 runs at 140.83), but he is hardly alone in that respect; Labuschagne (173.5), Handscomb (114.66), Smith (80.16), Renshaw (67.75), Khawaja (66.75) and Burns (50.5) have all beaten up on the tourists across their last two trips.
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To succeed would be to simply meet expectations, while failure would put one final stain on a brilliant, albeit controversial career.
Either way, the future is jeopardised. To what end, apart from his own?