Infotainment Factory: How rubbery selection iced three Test careers

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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

How rubbery selection iced three Test careers


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There’s a conventional wisdom in Australian cricket selection that any player who wants to be considered a Test candidate should be good enough to make runs in the top four of his Sheffield Shield team.

That he should face the best of the bowling. That he should not be batting behind players who aren’t international calibre.

That’s what prompted Trevor Hohns to explain that Matthew Wade, this season’s biggest Shield run-scorer, needed to bat higher than his regular No.6 spot to warrant consideration for a Test recall. Yet the thing is, Australian selectors had already gone outside that guideline this summer and have likely ruined a man’s Test career before it even got started.

That man is Aaron Finch. And then, there’s his Victorian teammate Glenn Maxwell.

Here are some things we learned from Test selection for the Sri Lanka series.

WADE DUDDED ON FINCH PRECEDENT

For the past three seasons, Finch has not been a Shield opener for Victoria. He does not handle the moving red ball particularly well. Apart from one game this season, in which he batted No.3 for scores of 50 and 1, he has batted no higher than No.4 for the Vics in recent years, regularly slotting in at No.5 and No.6.

Not only did Finch’s batting in the middle-order not preclude him from Test selection, it somehow got him promoted to open the batting. He averages 18 as a Shield opener; he actually improved to 27.80 in Test cricket. Yes, he’s played nearly 100 ODIs for Australia mostly as an opener, but Test cricket is a different beast.

Victoria coach Andrew McDonald - the former Test all-rounder - advised against Finch being played as a Test opening batsman, but his concerns fell on deaf ears. Now, he can only hope that Finch will one day get a shot in the middle order, which is far from a sure thing. At 32 and with a decade of first-class cricket under his belt, Finch averages just 35.49, with seven centuries from 83 games.

Wade is averaging 63.44 batting at No.6 for Tasmania this season, with one century and five 50s in his haul of 571 runs from six matches. He has done that batting on arguably Australia’s worst pitch down in Hobart.

While Wade averages sub-30 from 22 Tests, he did that as a wicketkeeper and is now committed to making it as a specialist batsman. He has put the runs on the board this season and his reward was a somewhat rubbery excuse from Hohns.

He is not impressed, as this interview revealed, having been told by Australian coach Justin Langer that he’s not really in the mix.

“I feel like my form is as good as anyone in the country. When Justin took over he said weight of runs would be the leverage to get selected and I feel like I’ve put the runs on the board over a long period of time now,” Wade told FOX Sports News.

“I’d like the opportunity if it comes, I understand it’s probably not going to come as a keeper, my Test career is probably done as a wicketkeeper, but I feel like my weight of runs as a batsman should be looked at.”

Over the past five years, Australia’s No.6 position – filled by 17 different batsmen - has produced 2,382 runs from 54 Tests at a sub-par 29.77, with five centuries and 10 half-centuries. Marsh has batted at No.6 for 29 matches (nearly five times as many as the next man, Steve Smith, with six) and has made just 997 runs at 26.94, with two centuries and two fifties.

Perhaps a batsman that genuinely suits the lower middle-order is what’s needed.

MAXWELL IN NO-MAN’S LAND, ALL-ROUNDER OBSESSION ON HOLD

Apart from a century in India, Maxwell has not set the world alight in his seven Tests for Australia: 339 runs at 26.07, with no other milestone scores. Having played just two Shield games this season, he has little red-ball form to speak of: scores of 0, 35, 57 and 34 not out.

But he averages 41.10 in first-class cricket, with seven centuries and a best of 278; he has met the old benchmark for a Test-calibre batsman and he remains a man of freakish match-winning skill.

Yet according to Hohns and Langer, he is only a limited-overs player for now as far as the Australian team is concerned.

“Glenn hasn’t played Test cricket for us for a while and I guess, right here and now, we are wanting him to focus on white ball cricket with the World Cup coming up,” Hohns said.

“Obviously, when a position becomes available in the batting line-up it depends where that position is and the type of player we require.

“We’ve had several conversations with Glenn about all this and right now he’s just content to focus on one-day cricket and white ball cricket. However, he makes it very clear he would like to play Test cricket for Australia — there’s no doubt about that.”

Maxwell has had a rocky ride in the Australian set-up, quickly falling out of favour with old coach Darren Lehmann and yet to win approval from Justin Langer. He even claimed that he was misled about getting selected for an Australia ‘A’ tour to India mid-last year, which might have helped him regain Test selection. He knocked back county offers from England in anticipation, yet wasn’t picked.

Former Victorian teammate Rob Quiney reckons Australian selectors have something personal against Maxwell.

“There’s something there they don’t like about Maxi because he’s ticked enough boxes runs-wise,” Quiney told SEN Radio.

“They talk about him needing more hundreds, but no one’s making hundreds. If that’s the case, everyone gets dropped from the four Tests against India.

“The message keeps changing with him.

“I just disagree with how they’re going, ‘We want him to focus on white-ball cricket for the World Cup.’ Why is he all of a sudden being plucked and told to focus on white-ball cricket only?

“It just seems weird and that’s why I reckon it’s got to be something personal.”

Hohns flatly denied such assertions, as did an upset Langer on Thursday afternoon, saying: "That is literally false ... Glenn knows exactly what he has to do to play Test cricket. It's crystal clear."

To his credit, Maxwell has downplayed the conspiracy theory, telling cricket.com.au: "I think when there was a lot of the 'good bloke' chat … being in the group that wasn't picked to go over to the UAE and I wasn't in the Australia A stuff I suppose people start to ask why that certain player is [overlooked].

"They [selectors] just had other ideas, they wanted to try new people and that's the way things went.

"I'm certainly not sulking about it. I'm pretty happy with where I'm at, at the moment.

"I'm still trying to do all I can to get back in that Test side but I've just got to make sure I'm making every post a winner from now on." 

Maxwell is still loosely in the all-rounder category and he joined Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis as overlooked candidates for the Sri Lanka matches.

Hohns admitted after naming the squad that Australia may have to dispense with playing an all-rounder by default, as no one was currently performing to Test level.

"If you have a match-winning all-rounder, they're like gold," Hohns said.

"If we can unearth one, that'd be fantastic. There's always talk about having an all-rounder in your side. If the all-rounder isn't performing and you don't have a good all-rounder, well maybe we shouldn't have one."

There’s a conventional wisdom in Australian cricket selection that any player who wants to be considered a Test candidate should be good enough to make runs in the top four of his Sheffield Shield team.

That he should face the best of the bowling. That he should not be batting behind players who aren’t international calibre.

That’s what prompted Trevor Hohns to explain that Matthew Wade, this season’s biggest Shield run-scorer, needed to bat higher than his regular No.6 spot to warrant consideration for a Test recall. Yet the thing is, Australian selectors had already gone outside that guideline this summer and have likely ruined a man’s Test career before it even got started.

That man is Aaron Finch. And then, there’s his Victorian teammate Glenn Maxwell.

Here are some things we learned from Test selection for the Sri Lanka series.

WADE DUDDED ON FINCH PRECEDENT

For the past three seasons, Finch has not been a Shield opener for Victoria. He does not handle the moving red ball particularly well. Apart from one game this season, in which he batted No.3 for scores of 50 and 1, he has batted no higher than No.4 for the Vics in recent years, regularly slotting in at No.5 and No.6.

Not only did Finch’s batting in the middle-order not preclude him from Test selection, it somehow got him promoted to open the batting. He averages 18 as a Shield opener; he actually improved to 27.80 in Test cricket. Yes, he’s played nearly 100 ODIs for Australia mostly as an opener, but Test cricket is a different beast.

Victoria coach Andrew McDonald - the former Test all-rounder - advised against Finch being played as a Test opening batsman, but his concerns fell on deaf ears. Now, he can only hope that Finch will one day get a shot in the middle order, which is far from a sure thing. At 32 and with a decade of first-class cricket under his belt, Finch averages just 35.49, with seven centuries from 83 games.

Wade is averaging 63.44 batting at No.6 for Tasmania this season, with one century and five 50s in his haul of 571 runs from six matches. He has done that batting on arguably Australia’s worst pitch down in Hobart.

While Wade averages sub-30 from 22 Tests, he did that as a wicketkeeper and is now committed to making it as a specialist batsman. He has put the runs on the board this season and his reward was a somewhat rubbery excuse from Hohns.

He is not impressed, as this interview revealed, having been told by Australian coach Justin Langer that he’s not really in the mix.

“I feel like my form is as good as anyone in the country. When Justin took over he said weight of runs would be the leverage to get selected and I feel like I’ve put the runs on the board over a long period of time now,” Wade told FOX Sports News.

“I’d like the opportunity if it comes, I understand it’s probably not going to come as a keeper, my Test career is probably done as a wicketkeeper, but I feel like my weight of runs as a batsman should be looked at.”

Over the past five years, Australia’s No.6 position – filled by 17 different batsmen - has produced 2,382 runs from 54 Tests at a sub-par 29.77, with five centuries and 10 half-centuries. Marsh has batted at No.6 for 29 matches (nearly five times as many as the next man, Steve Smith, with six) and has made just 997 runs at 26.94, with two centuries and two fifties.

Perhaps a batsman that genuinely suits the lower middle-order is what’s needed.

MAXWELL IN NO-MAN’S LAND, ALL-ROUNDER OBSESSION ON HOLD

Apart from a century in India, Maxwell has not set the world alight in his seven Tests for Australia: 339 runs at 26.07, with no other milestone scores. Having played just two Shield games this season, he has little red-ball form to speak of: scores of 0, 35, 57 and 34 not out.

But he averages 41.10 in first-class cricket, with seven centuries and a best of 278; he has met the old benchmark for a Test-calibre batsman and he remains a man of freakish match-winning skill.

Yet according to Hohns and Langer, he is only a limited-overs player for now as far as the Australian team is concerned.

“Glenn hasn’t played Test cricket for us for a while and I guess, right here and now, we are wanting him to focus on white ball cricket with the World Cup coming up,” Hohns said.

“Obviously, when a position becomes available in the batting line-up it depends where that position is and the type of player we require.

“We’ve had several conversations with Glenn about all this and right now he’s just content to focus on one-day cricket and white ball cricket. However, he makes it very clear he would like to play Test cricket for Australia — there’s no doubt about that.”

Maxwell has had a rocky ride in the Australian set-up, quickly falling out of favour with old coach Darren Lehmann and yet to win approval from Justin Langer. He even claimed that he was misled about getting selected for an Australia ‘A’ tour to India mid-last year, which might have helped him regain Test selection. He knocked back county offers from England in anticipation, yet wasn’t picked.

Former Victorian teammate Rob Quiney reckons Australian selectors have something personal against Maxwell.

“There’s something there they don’t like about Maxi because he’s ticked enough boxes runs-wise,” Quiney told SEN Radio.

“They talk about him needing more hundreds, but no one’s making hundreds. If that’s the case, everyone gets dropped from the four Tests against India.

“The message keeps changing with him.

“I just disagree with how they’re going, ‘We want him to focus on white-ball cricket for the World Cup.’ Why is he all of a sudden being plucked and told to focus on white-ball cricket only?

“It just seems weird and that’s why I reckon it’s got to be something personal.”

Hohns flatly denied such assertions, as did an upset Langer on Thursday afternoon, saying: "That is literally false ... Glenn knows exactly what he has to do to play Test cricket. It's crystal clear."

To his credit, Maxwell has downplayed the conspiracy theory, telling cricket.com.au: "I think when there was a lot of the 'good bloke' chat … being in the group that wasn't picked to go over to the UAE and I wasn't in the Australia A stuff I suppose people start to ask why that certain player is [overlooked].

"They [selectors] just had other ideas, they wanted to try new people and that's the way things went.

"I'm certainly not sulking about it. I'm pretty happy with where I'm at, at the moment.

"I'm still trying to do all I can to get back in that Test side but I've just got to make sure I'm making every post a winner from now on." 

Maxwell is still loosely in the all-rounder category and he joined Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis as overlooked candidates for the Sri Lanka matches.

Hohns admitted after naming the squad that Australia may have to dispense with playing an all-rounder by default, as no one was currently performing to Test level.

"If you have a match-winning all-rounder, they're like gold," Hohns said.

"If we can unearth one, that'd be fantastic. There's always talk about having an all-rounder in your side. If the all-rounder isn't performing and you don't have a good all-rounder, well maybe we shouldn't have one."

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