It’s a fine balancing act being a selector, particularly when you are the coach, where the buck invariably stops if results go awry.
Australia coach Andrew McDonald is adamant the Test team is not in the habit of handing out caps to players who are not among the best 11 in the nation and that won’t change anytime soon.
There has been a sizeable push for emerging fast bowler Lance Morris to get a run in the first Test against Pakistan, starting on Thursday, with former left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson leading the charge.
But after being in the extended squad all last summer without getting a game, the 25-year-old will be forced to wait yet again for his debut with Mitchell Starc cleared to take his place.
McDonald said on Sunday that the Australian team would not be elevating Morris or anyone else for that matter into the side until they deserved the spot ahead of the incumbent players.
The flip side of that philosophy is that Australia could be headed for stormy waters ahead if the likes of Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja quickly follow opener David Warner into retirement.
McDonald confirmed Warner would be taking his place at the top of the order at Optus Stadium and that alternative options had barely been considered in the lead-up to the three-match series with Pakistan.
“We’re there to pick the best XI that we can at any given time, and I think the World Test Championship’s put a premium on every Test match,” he told reporters.
“It’s hard to make, we saw that we missed out on the first cycle of it, deducted by over rate of all things, so it’s always tight to get into that final.
“Every Test match counts so we’ve got that philosophy and we’ll keep that simple across the time that myself, George (Bailey) and Tony Dodemaide are making those decisions.”
Morris was sending down thunderbolts at his usual lightning pace during Sunday’s training session, which didn’t go unnoticed by McDonald, but Starc has overcome his recent niggles to be in no doubt to play.
“We saw Lance put a few on notice there, in particular Marnus (Labuschagne). It was a good contest, a good hit-out,” he said.
“How do I put this – it (the final XI) will look the same as it has before.
“(Starc) had some well-documented issues coming out of the Ashes and his ability to get himself through the World Cup and then to present in really good order here has probably calmed our nerves around what the summer looks like,” McDonald said.
“There might have been some concerns (after the Ashes) about how much he could take on during the summer, but he presented in really good order and (we’re) really confident he’ll progress through the summer as he normally does.”
The coach was not concerned about Johnson’s controversial views about whether Warner deserved “a hero’s send-off” into retirement after the third Test at the SCG.
“There’s always going to be speculation about who opens when Davey goes. We have time to make that decision,” McDonald said.
“For us, it’s gathering information and making the decision when we need to make the decision, so that’s as simple as it gets. We have no firm views on it at the moment.”
McDonald is confident there is nothing to worry about just yet as far as getting replacements ready for the nucleus of the Test team even though Labuschagne and Travis Head, both 29, will be the only players under 30 in the line-up facing Pakistan.
But it seems the selectors are delaying the inevitable when he says they’re not even contemplating replacements for Warner and whoever else may be retiring in the near future.
In the modern era where succession planning is part of pretty much every professional sport, it seems odd that the Australian cricket team is seemingly taking a laissez-faire approach to what is going to be a transitional phase.
There have been a couple of notable periods where Australian cricket has struggled when a bunch of legends have exited within quick succession, most notably in 1984 when Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh retired (coincidentally after an SCG Test vs Pakistan) and 15 years ago when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer bowed out with Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden following soon afterwards.
It’s a tough call to tap a legend on the shoulder when they could still keep performing for a year or two.
But being a selector is not easy and a spot in the Test team cannot be kept open to a team stalwart if they’re not pulling their weight.
And the situation can become even worse if a large percentage of the team retires together in a narrow timeframe, leaving a bunch of newbies to sink or swim on their own rather than part of a planned progression of new blood.