Transition Phase Blues

Like It Or Lump It

Which ever way you look at it, the current summer of discontent for Australian Cricket is a function of the changing of the guard that’s been under way since the Ashes defeat in 2005. One of the things that’s amazed me during this time is not the departures of McGrath and Warne at the same time or the shock retirement of Damien Martyn or Stuart McGill, but the persistent selection of Mathew Hayden.

I have a running joke with an old school friend of mine wherein I say, ‘everybody knows Hayden’s washed up. I’ve been saying it since 1991 but he keeps proving me wrong.”lately he’s looked more like the guy who probably should go. Even some older, wiser heads are thinking the same thing.

In persevering with Hayden for the Sydney Test, Benaud said the selectors had missed a chance to introduce 20-year-old opening prodigy Phil Hughes in a dead rubber in preparation for tours of South Africa and England.

“I’m not sure how the selection for this next Test fits into the rebuilding program unless they have made a decision that Matthew Hayden is going to be there in the long term and that Nathan Hauritz is the answer to their spin-bowling problems,” he said.

“[Simon] Katich has assumed the senior opening role and I think they have missed an opportunity to use a dead Test to trial an opening batsman. It seems they are being nice to Hayden because he’s been a great player. Well, that is putting the individual ahead of the good of Australian cricket. It shows the players or the sentimentality are being put ahead of the hard-nosed approach that’s needed.

“When you have a heroic team, it is like the West Indies, people get edgy about leaving heroes out even if those heroes might be in decline. There is a sense of that about this selection panel.”

Anyway, it’s an added pisser for me because my newer Phil Hughes doesn’t get to make his Test Debut in Sydney. Certainly not this year. There’s even this bit:

Benaud was on the panel that picked Warne for an underwhelming debut in 1992 and said the current panel of Hilditch, David Boon, Hughes and Cox had been too conservative.

“Shane Warne, God bless him, came along and he took 1-150 in his first Test but we still took him to Sri Lanka,” he said. “Now Jason Krejza has been discarded for what I would call a more conservative option. You have to back yourself as a selection panel.

“How could they have been taken by surprise by MacGill’s retirement? He was as old as Warne. I think they have been tardy there. They’ve had an opportunity to be a bit more aggressive about trialling a young spinner and I don’t think anyone sees Nathan Hauritz as someone who is going to be a match-winner. Jason Krejza is head and shoulders above as a spinner and a cricketer.

“They’re in spin chaos to me.”

Greg Chappell, head coach of Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence and a former selector, was also involved with the panel that gambled on youngsters such as Boon, Geoff Marsh and Steve Waugh in the mid-’80s. He said the current selectors faced a choice. “The big difference between now and then is that in the ’80s, the next level of experienced players went to South Africa for the rebel tours so it forced their hand to go with youth and go to the next generation. I suppose that is the challenge now: Do they try and hold it together or go to the future?” Chappell said.

There’s no point holding it together for now if they can’t beat South Africa at home on the WACA and the MCG. At this point in the cycle of this team, they have no choice but to invest in the future players – and they’re certainly there. It’s often said that it’s hard to get into the Australian Test side so it should be hard to get out. To me, that’s a total non-sequiteur. The latter in no way follows on from the former.

The fact is, it’s hard to get in because the competition is fierce – an that is good. By the same token the competition should be fierce enough that an aging player should be axed as soon as they start declining. The problem is, this team’s veterans are greatly in decline and the young guys haven’t found their feet just yet. In this context, the team selectors have to wield a tougher knife.

We’re not talking about Mark Taylor hanging on for one series too long or not. We’re talking about a general mindset that isn’t engaged with what the Australian Test side is going to look like, one year, 3 years, and 5 years from now. In that sense, holding over Hayden for the 3rd test against South Africa is a terrible, terrible decision.

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