31 March 2013

Opinion: The Baggy Green Blog 2013 Ashes touring squad

The Baggy Green Blog 2013 Ashes touring squad (17 players):

1) Batsman - Michael Clarke (captain)
2) Batsman - David Warner
3) Batsman - Ed Cowan
4) Batsman - Chris Rogers
5) Batsman - Phillip Hughes
6) Batsman - Usman Khawaja
7) Batsman - Callum Ferguson
8) Wicket keeper - Brad Haddin
9) Wicket keeper - Matthew Wade
10) All-rounder - Shane Watson (selection as an all-rounder only)
11) All-rounder - James Faulkner
12) Fast bowler - Ryan Harris
13) Fast bowler - Ben Hilfenhaus
14) Fast bowler - James Pattinson
15) Fast bowler - Mitchell Starc
16) Fast bowler - Peter Siddle
17) Spin bowler - Nathan Lyon

*17 players toured for the 2005 Ashes series, 16 in 2009.

This is my 2013 Ashes squad to tour England. All I can say is good luck to the selectors! We have had so many debutants over the last few seasons that it's actually added to the madness. Some guys have shown potential, some have had bursts of promise, while others have been hanging around with sufficient input to warrant their selection, while not exactly being extraordinary. It's mostly like this on the batting front as it seems no-one is jumping around screaming for selection or a mammoth desire to play in the Ashes.

I see this tour as one to call upon balance, experience and medium term stability in terms of selection, as opposed to one of building a side for the long term. That will come naturally and should not be forced.

I have chosen my 17 man touring squad. Usually 16 men have been taken, but with Australia A playing over their shortly before our tour games begin, it will be another showcase to maybe keep additional players. This is of course a guess, but what I have done is looked back to the 2009 series where we had some slip ups and taken it into account with my selection.

One issue in 2009 was not having a reserve opening batsman. When Phillip Hughes was dropped, Shane Watson had to step up to open the batting. He did a good job, knuckling down and partnering Simon Katich in some good stands, but it wasn't a logical remedy. We missed a Chris Rogers or Brad Hodge. Phil Jaques was the most obvious candidate at the time but was out injured.

Therefore I have looked carefully at three factors for the reserve batsman. One, experience in the county circuit. Two, maturity within ones game, and three, someone who has shown solid form with some kind of international exposure.

The most logical player to me is Chris Rogers. It's not a long term solution but he's a credible batsman to help us add some experience, combat the English bowlers and regain the urn. He also has a Baggy Green cap.

Chris Rogers Sheffield Shield (2012/13): 17 innings, 742 runs, HS 131, Ave 49.46, x3 100s, x1 50
Chris Rogers county stats/ division 1 (2012): 29 innings, 1,086 runs, HS 173, Ave 40.22, x3 100s, x6 50s.

I am also over our selectors desperate pleas for exciting all-rounders. Mitch Marsh is, in my opinion, our best young all-rounder going around but has lacked first-class cricket since returning from injury. His return was ordinary and he is more suitable for limited overs cricket at this point in time.

In terms of all-round performance across Australia's state landscape, James Faulkner is the most promising player and I am certain he could perform really well in the English conditions. If Shane Watson cannot bowl, then James would be my all-rounder of choice, while sadly not taking Watto for the Ashes if he can only serve as a specialist batsman. I don't think he is suitable for this role and recent performances don't suggest otherwise. He also likely needs the two to go hand-in-hand for his own self-belief.

Two all-rounders max and Watson and Faulkner are my players of choice. Due to experience, Watson gets preference based on bowling and batting duties - not one or the other.

The rest of the batting line-up is tough. David Warner and Ed Cowan have made Test centuries and they've had some good opening stands. Both have made plenty of starts but have a handicap to carry on and convert. Both have had sufficient time in the middle but have certainly not looked to be a spectacular long term prospect.

Having said that, they are the opening duo of choice if we want to talk about unity and development without rocking the boat too much. For this reason, Chris Rogers is a valuable reserve opening batsman should either Warner or Cowan struggle in the warm-up games.

Phillip Hughes has been given some stick for his performances in India. It's vital to remember India is the toughest place to tour, especially with a side lacking experience as a unit. Hughes had an excellent start to his season with South Australia (12 innings, 673 runs, HS 158, Ave 59.19, x2 100s, x3 50s) and besides an incredible stint with Middlesex prior to the 2009 Ashes, he returned last year for Worcestershire and his stats return was worth taking some notice of; 17 innings, 560 runs, Ave 35.00, HS 135*, x2 100s, x2 50s.

He ripped things apart on the limited overs circuit in England, leading to his ODI debut this summer.

He has grown up with no shortage of challenges in his game and deserves to go to England and work away those nightmares of 2009. He was dropped harshly and the off-field technical bashing - short ball issues - and endless advice messed with his progression as one of our most exciting young batsmen.

Michael Clarke's spot is a given. His form continues to be sublime and is the skipper of the side.
Backing Clarke, he needs middle order batting partners. I have two players of choice in this regard. One may seem a biased selection as I often rate his value offered to our limited overs side, but he has shown consistency in his performances.

While not spectacular, I do believe Callum Ferguson will add value to our middle order. He was very much the Hussey-replacement in my eyes. He can hold down the fort, he can rotate the strike with ease and also has the ability to show aggression where required with a sound technique.

He had a run with Netherfield CC, North West of England, in 2008, which put his game into a better place. Unfortunately, he has had struggles to convert starts into bigger scores, but this season he did have a big century to his name. I won't be forgetting his calmness for Australia in ODI cricket and my own belief he has a lot to offer our struggling middle order.

Usman Khawaja is tipped as one of our better players against swing bowling. A move to Queensland helped him set up base at the Gabba to further improve his technical approach to facing swing bowling. He's been on the sidelines for a while and I do believe he showed a lot of character against South Africa in the 2011 Wanderers Test. I saw a lot of promise in that innings and I'd definitely have Khawaja and Ferguson as my middle order candidates.

Wicket-keeping is tough. However, as we did in 2009, I'd be taking two keepers. Brad Haddin and Graham Manou were the men of choice then. This time it would be Brad Haddin and Matthew Wade for me, realistically speaking.

Tim Paine will most certainly tour with Australia A in June. He missed out on a century for Tasmania in the Shield final but he's had a long road to return to first-class cricket after a serious thumb injury. I also think Matthew Wade will be trusted to make the the trip alongside Brad Haddin.

Truth be told, I have a gut feeling Haddin may be first choice gloves man. Once again, the Indian tour shouldn't dictate too much as that tour is a unique experience but Wade certainly has back tracked. Haddin's selection will possibly be a step back in itself with looking to the long term, but as I mentioned earlier, this tour is one to call upon balance, experience and medium term stability in terms of selection. Therefore, it may be a case of Haddin as first choice keeper with Wade as the back-up.

Ideally for the sake of progression, it should be Matthew Wade and Tim Paine as the wicketkeepers, but Haddin has a lot to offer with the bat in hand (if he just calms his mind in the middle) and has the edge ahead of the other two with experience.

As for the bowling, well according to Steve "Tugga" Waugh we should have no problem seeking out the right bowling mix to get 20 wickets. I am inclined to completely agree with Tugga. This is the "easier" part.

No doubt, most of you will have a different view come our batting selection, but on the bowling front I think there's no concerns with whatever 5 or 6 bowlers get picked.

In my 17 man squad, I have 5 fast bowlers and 1 spinner, with 2 all-rounders. Therefore, this is technically speaking 8 potential bowling candidates. Let me start on my spinner of choice.

Nathan Lyon is my spinner of choice. This could be a risky move but I see no need to take a second spinner. Sure, if I could pick a 20 man squad with a touring budget being no problem, I could have a spare spinner, keeper, batsman and fast bowler. Let me stick with a limit of 17 players to make it tougher, keeping in mind it's essential down to the starting XI from this list.

Nathan found his stride in India towards the end, when it was too late but this was a small victory for us that he took 9 wickets for the game. He dropped his length a bit and trusted his skills, whilst working with the track and he found success in the LBW zone. England will be another learning curve but some warm-up games will help the self-belief and game plan.

In 2009, Nathan Hauritz was our primary spin bowler. We had Marcus North, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke to call upon for part-time spin. Little faith was shown in Hauritz.
This time, if my side were to be a reality, Clarke and Warner would be your only options so there is greater responsibility placed on our bowlers, whose job is to get wickets. Not being Indian conditions I don't see this as an issue. In fact, in 2009 our most costly mistake came when the selectors left Hauritz out of the side for the final Test. One spinner could have made the difference. One spinner is all we need.

So, in order to learn from the past, have one spinner and get him in their for every game of the series! That is Nathan Lyon. If Shane Warne says he's our best, I trust that professional opinion too.

Fast bowling. I have gone with Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle.

Ryan Harris is, once again in my opinion, our best bowler. His return for the Queensland Bulls was awesome and watching him bowl in the Sheffield Shield final there was little to fault him on. It's simple. If his body holds up okay, get him over to the Ashes series as our number one bowler to rip apart England's batting stocks.

Ben Hilfenhaus, an interesting selection? Yes, but believe it or not, this isn't a selection due to favouritism. Hilfenhaus was our top wicket taker of the 2009 Ashes series and returning from injury - like Harris - he has made steady progress for Tasmania. While not at his utmost best, I see Hilfenhaus and Harris as an awesome swing bowling duo and you only need to think back to the 2011/12 Border-Gavaskar series. Based on his past English performances and his steady return, I'd get Hilfenhaus over there.

James Pattinson has the pace aspect with youth on his side, while Mitchell Starc has a few more variations to offer and the ability to really swing the ball. The left arm swing bowler is a good dynamic to have. If he gets his line right (often an issue) he could be a handful.  Both bowlers deserve a place in the side. They're our most promising young fast bowlers, with some experience in the bag already, so get them over there to contribute and develop as future front liners. Starc should be recovered in time to make the Ashes tour.

Peter Siddle is my last fast bowler. Jackson Bird was my man to push aside Hilfenhaus or Siddle, but Bird is a risk due to bone stress in his back. This is a delicate process of rehabilitation and he could be a risk for the Ashes. His return is also not clear. I'd rather see him play for Australia A and then have his progress assessed to handle the intensity. We already have risk in Hilfenhaus, Harris and Starc. He's my next option to replace any of my first options.

Siddle struggled in India and knew it all too well. I like Siddle's honesty and desire to improve. He plays with so much passion and his eagerness to get to England shouldn't be cast aside. I am a big supporter and while he's there for added experience and an injection of enthusiasm, the other bowlers may have the edge on him.

That would be my Ashes squad to tour England. What the National Selection Panel decides is a whole different waiting game, but this is my vision. Everyone has a selection opinion that varies which makes this exciting but it ultimately comes down to the NSP.

I'd really enjoy reading your squad views.

The last topic of my article is regarding the players who just missed out in my squad.

Patrick Cummins: The youngest fast bowler we have who has been the most exciting to watch. However, injury has resulted in limited cricket this season and it would be too big a risk to play him in the Ashes, given a core of the potential group already risk injury.

Chadd Sayers: Chadd was leading wicket taker this season in the Sheffield Shield (48 wickets, Ave 18.52) and roped in the awards for South Australian. Despite this, I would like to see how he goes for another season with the Redbacks before international duty. There is also the high probability he will play for Australia A.

Tim Paine: As mentioned, not enough cricket upon his return. Played well in the Shield final but not enough cricket. The Australia A tour may give him a chance to showcase his game, having also played Test cricket in England. I reckon he will be captain for that tour.

Steve Smith: Despite his obvious signs of maturity as a batsman in India, with the pressure of leg spin duties aside, I still think Stevo has a bit of time on his side to keep improving his batting. He isn't a push over anymore but I don't believe he is top of the list as a specialist middle order batsman. His part-time spin isn't probably as sought after given the additional focus on his batting, which has probably hindered his bowling development.

Steve O'Keefe and Ashton Agar: O'Keefe only peaked in later part of the Sheffield Shield after voicing his frustrations having been overlooked for the Indian tour, losing out to Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell. It was a fair argument, but I don't see two spinners as a necessity this Ashes. Agar needs another season under his belt. I would hate to see another young spinner thrown in the deep end with the risk of drowning to become another spin bowling casualty.

Brad Hodge: I was vocal about my anger with the way Hodge wasn't given the opportunities he deserved at the elite level. Many still call for him to return but it's simple folks, Hodgey has retired from first-class cricket. He will not return, case closed.

Shaun Marsh: Was in my side but given his lack of first-class cricket I can't see him being considered. Such a classy batsman, it's a pity he won't be in the side.

Alex Doolan & Joe Burns: Both handle swing very well, especially Joe Burns which would help in England. However, given Callum Ferguson's exposure at ODI level, current form showing he is in okay touch and having some kind of experience in English conditions, I'd tip him ahead of these two emerging batsmen. Tough decision but these guys will be ready for the home Ashes series.

David Dussey: Can only judge once played but Dussey seems to fall into the inconsistency zone for Australian cricket. Has loads of county experience and is a notable back-up player. However, Chris Rogers is still my first reserve player of choice with both age experience and county experience.

Sheffield Shield bowling statistics.

Sheffield Shield batting statistics.

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Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
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21 March 2013

Steve "Tugga" Waugh still has the shots

"To me, being Australian is about looking after your mates, taking care of the less fortunate, supporting the underdog and enhancing the spirit that makes all Australians unique." Steve Waugh.

A big part of what the Baggy Green Blog stands for is to carry the passion and pride supporters were blessed with as Steve Waugh took Australian Cricket to new heights. He nestled a new found integrity into the team and enhanced the connectivity between the supporters and the players, with management never dictating or affecting that strong connection. 

Waugh takes guard and unleashes a few shots we saw in his career.
Photo: Ian Reid
Fast forward to present day, that ethos has been tampered with, but amidst the drama that has unfolded with the current Border-Gavaskar series, I went down to the St Clair Oval, Woodville, to watch the return of Waugh In The West II. The event saw Steve "Tugga" Waugh lead a South Australian All-Stars team against Grange Cricket Club in a Twenty20 match. The last event was apparently well received.

The event raised funds for The Steve Waugh Foundation, which has a major objective in helping support Australian children and families affected by rare diseases.

Being the first sport driven community event I have attended since being in Australia, I was uplifted seeing the amount of people that attended to show their support. Everyone put their feet up and just enjoy the friendly Twenty20 match.

Tim Nielsen chats with Triple M. Photo: Ian Reid
Triple M Radio (Adelaide) was covering the event and gave plenty of awareness leading up to the game. Reporting live from the ground it was excellent to see the dj's speak with Tugga himself, as well as former-South Australian Keeper/ Australian coach, Tim Nielsen, who was one of the featured South Australian celebrities.

Obviously the topic of the recent events was spoken of and their opinions were well received, well thought out.

What amazed me was the hype that Tugga still has. Children who wouldn't have even witnessed his career were manic in their efforts to meet the Baggy Green legend and grab an autograph, along with other grown men (like myself) who were eager to shake hands with the man and just enjoy a brief moment alongside someone who has inspired so many people on and off the cricket field.

The appreciation shown towards Tugga from all who attended the event showed what an impact he made and what a legacy he has left, so much so that even a new generation have an interest in this legacy. The fact he continues to inspire people and play such a big role within the community reflects his integrity.

Clouds covering the St Clair Oval. Photo: Ian Reid
Sitting on a chair as the game came to an end, with rain clouds swooping in above the small floodlights around the St Clair Oval, Tugga sat there, leaning forward, absolutely fried after his innings - which I must add resulted in an entertaining half-century.

Despite being visibly exhausted from the afternoons proceedings, he sat there doing his duty in chatting to everyone and signing autographs for many happy Waugh-loyalists. Even in retirement he still has the demand!

All in all it was an easy going, casual evening out and I am glad to report that Tugga still has the neat arrangement of shots. Some classy slog sweeps, straight drives, back-foot drives, leg glances and animated heaves to mid-wicket came out during his innings.

My brief meet 'n greet with Tugga. A great inspiration!
He was the star of the event and he delivered with the bat, as he did so many times during his epic career. At the end of the night what mattered most was a successful night for The Steve Waugh Foundation, the community and of course good fun for all who attended. Certainly was for me.

I was fortunate to have a brief meet 'n greet with him and although brief it was special nevertheless. Always good to meet those who inspire us at some stage in our lives.

The final Test between Australia and India is underway, Shane Watson is leading the side as Michael Clarke was not cleared as fit to play, regarding his back injury.

Tasmania and Queensland
have begun their clash to see who will hold up the Sheffield Shield. Queensland hold the title, but Tasmania will be eager to claw it back after handing it over last season.

It's a 5 day match, so Tasmania have started their innings with caution and no sense of urgency. First wicket partnership is nearing a 100 run stand.
Congrats to Ricky Ponting as well on winning the Sheffield Shield Player of the Year award!

As per the Baggy Green Blog Facebook page:

"Punter still has the Sheffield Shield final, which will give him a chance to build upon the 875 runs he has scored.

Here's the other award State winners:

Limited overs Player of the Year:
Aaron Finch (VIC)

Women's National Cricket League Player of the Year:
Nicole Bolton (WA)

WT20 Player of the Year:
Jenny Wallace (WA)

Toyota Futures League Player of the Year:
Nick Winter (ACT)

Lord's Taverners Indigenous Cricketer of the Year:
Nathan Price (NSW)

Cricket Australia Umpire Award:
Bruce Oxenford

Benaud Men's Spirit of Cricket Award:
Tasmanian Tigers

Benaud Women's Spirit of Cricket Award:
NSW Breakers."

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


15 March 2013

The Adelaide Oval: Progression or a sad loss of beauty?

Venues that have hosted Australian Cricket have undergone many changes in a relatively short space of time. These changes have been done so with the intention of progression; a necessity to modernise the facilities and conveniently hold greater capacities. One ground in particular has seen its fair share of change in its time, but the recent facelift is one that has taken away many of its unique identities and may strip away its title from being a picturesque cricket ground to just another characterless sports stadium in Australia.

Is the redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval a vital step towards necessary progression, or a commercial drive that has resulted in a sad loss of the grounds natural beauty and appeal as a traditional looking cricket ground with serious economic consequences?

I took my first footstep on the dark green grass of the Adelaide Oval’s hill in March this year during a Sheffield Shield game between South Australia and Western Australia. It was a great moment and one I will remember forever, having waited 19 years to get to the ground. My introduction to cricket was the 1992 World Cup played in Australia. As a result the grounds throughout the country hold a special place in my memory, the scene where I fell in love with the game. The Adelaide Oval was always one of the venues I had a soft spot for.

Having grown up watching cricket at Newland’s Cricket Ground in Cape Town, South Africa, one can surely understand my connection to traditional, scenic cricket grounds around the globe. This results in a feeling that some grounds should be kept in a condition owing to the strong characteristics they give off. The Adelaide Oval is one ground that’s slightly numbing to see undergo a serious revamp, which will see a vast number of notable beauties become a thing of the past.

Renowned sports writer, Gideon Haigh, recently spoke at the Adelaide Writer’s Weekly and made mention that he feels the Adelaide Oval will lose its charm. Simply put by Haigh, in what I detect to be an almost defeatist tone, "it's going to be a football ground”. Haigh tapped into a good point that one may in time feel (when watching cricket at the Adelaide Oval) as if they are simply at any ground around the world. You will likely lose that feel you are in Adelaide; you are at the Adelaide Oval.

The Adelaide Oval stood out amongst the other places where cricket is played in Australia. The Bellerive Oval – or Blundstone Arena – still has some charm but the Adelaide Oval definitely had a special style to it, a unique style one would have to look very hard at now so see. Regrettably, I will never experience what many fortunate viewers were able to soak up.
Different views towards to current construction areas.
Photos taken by Ian Reid (Baggy Green Blog).

As my sense of euphoria subsided during my first day at the Adelaide Oval, I quietly watched the South-East stands undergo development. I slowly understood the reasons behind the development with an aerial view image of the original ground open on my mobile phone. The 2015 Cricket World Cup is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Adelaide needed to boost the stadium’s capacity to meet potential demand for this event and both AFL teams; The Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide, who will find a dual home in the city.

With an estimated increase to a 53,000 capacity stadium, will it be sustainable in the long run? There is already talk of budget issues, that projected revenue and attendance numbers will not be met, and negative outcries over the visioned new look have been a big topic for debate amongst local Adelaideans. I’d imagine a fair deal of frustration as well amongst the tax payers who don't have sport top of their agenda – the State Government invested $450 AU million dollars into the project.

Good sport teams with strong performances have leverage to build big fan bases and attract supporters to the home grounds. However, AFL has been hit by drug scandals, Australian Cricket is in a dark period of rejuvenation, and the South Australian Redbacks continue to remain merely steady in their relevant State formats. The Big Bash has helped build the team profile somewhat. These teams have a role to play to ensure demand is built so the stadiums estimated supply can be met. Better performances are bound to help capacity demands.

The supporters and SACA members whose views I’ve heard or come across in the media seem to have acknowledged the need for progression, but there was a strong distaste for the need to give the ground such a bland, homogenous look. This reflects Gideon Haigh’s outlook. The new ground will lack character and if it weren’t for the saving of the historic scoreboard, The Northern Mound and the Morton bay Fig Trees, it would be a disaster for the passionate Adelaide Oval Cricket spectators. These landmarks are protected under the Heritage act, which ensures some preservation of history and tradition.

In order for the current redevelopment to commence, a 75% majority vote was required in order for the go-ahead. This vote was handled in April/ May 2011.

It was found that 60% of the SACA members, who voted via online means in April, were in favour of redevelopment. This meant the required majority vote had not been met, but the remaining votes, cast at The Adelaide Showgrounds in May, saw this rise dramatically to 80.37%.

According to a report from ABC News in 2011, 12,539 of SACA's 19,203 eligible members voted. These numbers also showed that a heavy debate that went on longer than 18 months whether or not to do the redevelopment, turned out to be a positive result to favour the change. This is something I find surprising two years on.

Seeing these results, and that there is obviously no going back as redevelopment is well underway, I am left with the impression it is simply a case of nostalgia and sentimentality that has upset many SACA members and Adelaide Oval attendees with the change. Also, looking at the methods of casting a vote online in the privacy of one’s home could keep these feelings alive and be hard to abandon, whereas a vote in a public facility creates a buzz and gets people talking; perhaps about the necessity of progression, which pushed the votes beyond the required majority.

Away from the construction is still a glimpse of tradition.
Photo taken by Ian Reid (Baggy Green Blog).
This redevelopment is indeed a necessity to accommodate the future of Australian Sport in the city and this investment alone is vital to ensure the Adelaide Oval can be a pinnacle for hosting multiple sporting and non-sporting events in Australia.

Adelaide has never been viewed as a leading sports city in Australia. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are leaps and bounds ahead, but this change is a chance for Adelaide to become a more attractive venue for greater scale events in terms of what it can support in an economic sense. Therefore, as a newcomer to the city, I see this as a chance not only for progression of the Adelaide Oval, but Adelaide as a city. The unfortunate side is that it’s at the expense of visual familiarity.

In conclusion, I am sad to see the ground lose its traditional look that I became so familiar with through watching Cricket on the television, as well as hearing the disappointment in the voices of a number of loyal attendees of the Adelaide Oval with regards to the irreversible change.

Far too often our older generation in particular is afraid of change and the concern of losing value; sentimental value, at the expense of commercial or economic forces. It merely adds to the burden of change. It can often be a fear that stagnates progression and leaves a city behind as a country moves forward.

However, I am part of the younger generation. It’s important to look beyond nostalgia and focus on the importance of the future progression for this festival city to compete with Australia’s top cities, especially in the sporting arena. This encourages me to see the vision for a new Adelaide Oval as a necessity. Fortunately not all is lost and a few of the traditional Adelaide Oval landmarks will still be in place, so memories can live on through the historical presence as the new chapter for the venue is written.

The bigger catch at present will be how the corporate side of the development keeps within budget and ensures the deadlines be met, as promised. That is beyond our desires for change or resistance thereof.





Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


12 March 2013

Too harsh in the public eye given the evidence

Over the last 24 hours Australian Cricket has gone from a wobbly Indian tour on the field to a horrible atmosphere off the field. The axing of Shane Watson (vice-captain), Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja has shocked not only Australian Cricket supporters, but cricket fanatics in general.

Public outcry has been to sack Mickey Arthur based on this decision. This is definitely jumping the gun. I think this whole ordeal needs to be looked at with some perspective, much like our performances during the first two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar series. We need the best team on the park and the timing for such a drastic decision is worrying.

The Australian sports landscape isn't in great shape with all the drug inquests which brought about some worrying results, notably regarding AFL (Australian Football League) and NRL (National Rugby League). The timing of this news adds to the burden of current negativity in a country with such a strong and proud sporting culture.

Let me begin my look into this matter.

The first problem was the way the statement was delivered to the media from Arthur. We were left with the impression that these players had simply been dropped for not completing a "homework" assignment to assess how they can improve as players with the series going forward. They had four days to finish the assigned task, which was to be handed into the coach by whatever means were easiest for the players.

In modern day professionalism with high salary packages and rewards beyond your trade on the cricket field, this was not a big ask and should have been done. The team is currently needing a morale boost and this was clearly something Arthur and Clarke felt was a necessity as the team eyes an improvement for the 3rd Test. Maybe players have too much being spoon-fed to them nowadays, but it's still not a big ask.

Some have said that these blokes aren't admin boys. Their job is play cricket and improve via practice. Yes, I agree, but if a task is asked of you to require some application off the field to assess your own game, that falls under the job description in my opinion. The four players should have done it. I am interested to know what were their reasons for not submitting it in time. Forgetfulness or more pressing matters?

The reasons for the players not following through with orders should give better perspective on the standings on relationships with top management.

Yes, at first this is all we were informed about. Four players were dropped for not handing in a self-assessment form for improvement heading into the 3rd Test.
Therefore, to drop four quality cricketers on this basis in indeed bloody harsh if you ask me!

This is what we were told by Mickey Arthur and the bomb was dropped amongst the public. The media then took off with former players expressing their disgust and shock with the decision. Understandably we were seeing mixed opinions but the majority of us were obviously concerned that such drastic measures were taken.

The story went a step further, leaps further when Shane Watson announced he was leaving India to head back home. Immediately those who don't follow the players lives away from the game too closely were left to believe it was the decision that resulted in Watson calling it quits and that something bigger was going on.

However, Watson and his wife are awaiting the birth of their first child. His wife, Lee Furlong Watson, is in the final stages of pregnancy and it would seem some perspective was clear that the time was best spent with her rather than watching cricket from the sidelines. It's a special time is ones life and priority kicked in.

The fact Watson will be reassessing his future as a cricketer is a big cause for concern as to what this decision from management has done.

Pat Howard, Team Performance Manager, has stated Watson's commitment was questionable. Another indication that there is more to the story, but as a two time Allan Border Medalist, Watson has a vital position in the side, even though his Test performances remain inconsistent and tougher for him on a personal note given he can't bowl anymore. Howard also indicated that there's a lot of patching to do between Watson and Clarke with their relationship. 

"There's an individual aspect. That's a hard one to measure. I know Shane reasonably well. I think he acts in the best interests of the team sometimes. That's probably a better one for the players and the team to judge," Howard said.
"You don't get to pick and choose. The standard of the team is set, not playing under your own conditions. The first criteria to playing for Australia is wanting to play for Australia."
So, this picture immediately makes you either believe it was a fair move to drop the players due to slack discipline and disrespect to the Coach and Captain, or you will have felt the punishment was way too harsh for the information presented to us, which is how I felt. I am all for respect and good sportsmanship but was  still over the top.

Michael Clarke then came out to clarify it was a series of incidents that resulted in such drastic measures being taken. The players showed a lack of respect according to Clarke and in a time when the team needs to exercise strong discipline and off-field ethics, as well as on the field, this was unacceptable and a line was crossed.

I was convinced there had to be more to the story to drop your vice-captain, second in command to Clarke, and drop three other players who were surely all under consideration for the 3rd Test. Based on this, I eased up in my opinion but not being internally involved in the time, from the outside it still seemed harsh.

The important statement of Clarke's to read into is below (*Source: ESPN Cricinfo)

"I want the public and the media to understand, don't get me wrong, it's not just about one incident. Firstly on this tour our performances have been unacceptable and there has been some stuff off the field [that has been unacceptable] for the standards an Australian cricket team needs to present itself to achieve what we are trying to achieve ... I know it is a tough day, a really tough day and it's a tough decision, but at the end of the day if people are not hitting those standards there are going to be consequences.

"Our head coach gave us two days off after the second Test, it was about freshening yourself up, get your rehab [done], your recovery, do what you have to do, get everything right for the next two Test matches, because the next two Test matches are as big as you might have in your career and you have an opportunity to turn this series around.
"We were asked to do one thing from the head coach. It was giving information back to the head coach about not only improving your game - what you've learnt from the first two Test matches - but also how can you help this team turn things around and have success.
"It was a very simple task. Yes, it took a lot of thinking because you had to look at your game and where you thought you could improve, what you had learnt and what you could do to help this team level this series. In my opinion, for the four players to not do it, not only does it let the team down, it also shows a lack of respect for the head coach and in the Australian cricket team that is unacceptable."

Unfortunately, the additional reasons and poor standards leading to the dramatic decision to drop them was not made clear to the public. This lack of transparency is going to hurt Australian Cricket and the public will still be confused and angry with the decision, given you had to read into Clarke's statement to realise there is indeed more to the story.

The reason alone given by Arthur to drop the players is harsh and I am sure many feel there were other ways to hand down punishment for the incident. With a series on the line and Australian Cricket not in the best shape I am not sure this was not a decision wisely taken to ensure the morale and unity within the side be maintained or uplifted. Instead we have the public now up in arms and shaken even more ahead of the next match.

The Coach may have taken a bold step, but it will be a long road for Arthur to win back the public support. Honestly, I think this move has cast a dark cloud over his future as Australian Coach. The public relations handling of this matter is questionable and while there is probably a policy that somethings don't leave the change room, this is a move that has resulted in cricketers being dropped for reasons unheard of. We are now in a state of deep concern and worry over the state of our team.

Andrew Symonds comes to mind in all of this.

Roy was a personal favourite of mine and his whole character was just so classic. He seemed like a good guy to have around the team. The sad side of Roy's story is he had problems that affected his commitment to the team and resulted in his career with Cricket Australia coming to an end. It got to the point where his love for the game was lost as well.

He drove himself to it though as he had warnings issued for his behavioural problems and even when punishment was handed down, it was within good reason and guidelines were followed. In the general public we knew of Roy's personal battles and it was a bit easier to accept the punishment handed down. His offences were relatively serious in the sporting world. 

In this case with the four players it seems as though things weren't that bad on their character checks. It also seems we didn't have any obvious indication that these guys were stepping out of line. So to all of a sudden hear they were dropped was indeed a massive shock and it's fair enough that we feel gutted at the decision.

There's still more to come out of the story but as far as I am concerned the decision was too much. It may have seemed the right thing to do in Arthur and Clarke's mind to cement what their vision is for the team and the value and discipline required to be in the Australian team. The catch though is I feel this will have implications for the team and disharmony will be ever-present in Arthur's reign unless the team can pull out some ridiculously impressive performances.

Arthur and Clarke are judged on their performances and results. As a result, good performances from here will ease the tension. This recent move is a sign that they mean business and are under a heck of a lot of stress and pressure. My concern is they, more so Arthur, have a steep hill to climb now and the fall from the other side may be a long one. The public will not be easily convinced.

As a cricketer, Michael Clarke has high standards as he spent a fair amount of time around the great team of the past and succeeded as a youngster, having also dealt with being dropped. Therefore, I would have to have some belief that this decision is to ensure a tougher nature is present in the team and that he will succeed.

One of the culprits, fast bowler James Pattinson, took accountability for his misdemeanor and said that he feels this will be good for Australia in the long run. Can only hope his optimism will be validated and that his attitude was in a bad place to accept this.

"The easy thing for me was to make excuses and say it's a harsh punishment.
"But the reality is it's not - it's part of playing cricket for Australia. You've got to do everything right. It wasn't hard for the other 12 blokes to get it in on time and they took the time out to really reflect and do what's best for the team whereas we four didn't. Right now I'm still hurting about it but in the long run I think it's going to make us a better team."

Accountability is so important as these are professional cricketers. Hard decisions must be made and justified punishment must be handed out. If Arthur and Clarke feel it is justified with more behind the scenes incidents, so be it. If accountability could be taken to learn from their (the four players) mistakes but not at the expense of being dropped, then I'd have been able to easier accept that. This is not protection for these players, but rather Australian Cricket's landscape. By the same token it may send a warning sign out to "up your standards".

Ian Chappell said this will damage team morale. Having looked over things on paper, heard and read enough opinions, I am inclined to agree with Chappelli. It's not so much about this short-term decision, the frustration we have four players axed who could have contributed to a vital match, but rather the negative impact this will have on the culture of Australian Cricket going forward. This includes; players, supporters, shareholders, former players and the management/coaching staff.

Only sublime performances will rectify this in the short-term. Such a major pity as things were supposed to get better, not worse, not as messy as this. It's a very disappointing situation and numbing. I hope it really does go a lot further than an assignment not being submitted.

In conclusion having looked at everything, it is clear there is more to the story. Seeing as I, as a supporter, have to go on my get feeling, where my loyalties lie and what information I have been fed, I back the players. I think this punishment was harsh and Australian Cricket did not need this right now.

The biggest question though in terms of cricket itself. Will we have the best XI on the park? That should remain decision number one over and above everything.

*Sources for quotes have been credited and links have been presented where applicable for The Baggy Green Blog's content and external content.

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05 March 2013

Where has it gone wrong for The Baggy Greens?

It's hard to not feel gutted as a supporter having witnessed the innings defeat against India, in Hyderabad.
The loss puts them 2-0 up in the series and it's been concerning as to how things played out in what will be regarded as a walk over for the opposition.

I have never felt the need to bad mouth the team or resort to overly critical analysis. If anything I find it far more important to support the boys as much as possible during these tougher situations.
However, it is only right to look at a few points of concern that lead into this game and what was witnessed in a game where our batsmen put up little fight.

Where has it gone wrong for The Baggy Greens in the Border-Gavaskar series thus far?

It would seem the selectors got it wrong, notably on two points.
Firstly, dropping Nathan Lyon was a step backwards and secondly, debuting Glenn Maxwell to play alongside Moises Henriques was a costly mistake. The rest was not about the selectors but rather our batsmen.

It was a big mistake to drop Nathan Lyon and bring in Xavier Doherty. In fact, it may have been okay to bring Doherty in but not at the expense of Lyon. It is simply another step back and we may very while find another spinners confidence has been damaged.

Jason Krejza grabbed an 8 wicket haul against India in 2008 on his debut. Despite going for plenty of runs he managed to get us wickets, something Shane Warne states he'd rather see than simply having spinners be economical and not claim wickets, vital wickets at that.

The thing is that after a poor Test against the Proteas at the WACA, he was axed and it was the end of the road for Jason as a medium-to-long term spin bowler. Krejza is now regarded as a State spinner at best.
We have also had a showcase of spinners given the debut at quick expense or given a mixed run; Bryce McGain, Beau Casson, Dan Cullen, Michael Beer (injured) and Nathan Hauritz, who did a good enough job.
Then there's been the part-time spin trial of Marcus North, Steven Smith and Cameron White.

We don't want to add Nathan Lyon to that list.

He's had one Test in India and can't be to blame. Yes, during the summer his lack of effectiveness was costly against the Proteas but it's still early days and I didn't see the need to drop him after the 1st Test.
If anything it would have been far more logical to play him and Doherty together. Another Test in the subcontinent could have only been good for his development. It was a step back as India moved forward.

The effort to improve our spin bowling doesn't rest so much with the technical dynamics of things but rather the management of the bowlers in Australia and the purpose as to why we select a spinner post-Warne. It's a topic best left to the professionals to debate and find a solution for.

Debuting Maxwell as a part-time spinner was another blunder. Not so much based on Glenn himself, but the fact we had two all-rounders and one spin bowler, having seen India's effectiveness with three spin bowlers.

Remember the Cameron White experiment? It was an absolute failure and as hard as Cameron White tried as the part-time spinner, but given the massive task of serious leg spin bowling contributions, it was all odds against him. Not his fault, but rather a selection blunder.

Maxwell managed 4 wickets for the match, one more than Doherty but it wasn't the point. Maxwell didn't give a significant contribution with the bat and as it was for Cameron White, the selectors simply asked way too much of him. It wasn't fair on his part, but I guess it will go down as experience in his books for development. It was also too difficult to debut him at the expense of Moises Henriques, even if Doherty and Lyon played as the two spinners in the starting XI.

Based on Henriques' performance in the 1st Test it would be hard to have dropped him to play Maxwell unless it was purely to have a third spin option, but what's done is done. The selectors should not try that move again as the previous incident in 2008 with Cameron White should have been a warning sign.

Having not learnt anything after the 1st Test in terms of using the spinners, the fast bowlers had too much work to do and the intensity proved to be way too much. Their pace could not be maintained and there wasn't regularly a serious pose of threat. India's batting was also brilliant in terms of how they paced things to get set. Excellent to say the least.

This is also not to put weight of blame on the shoulders of the spinners. It wasn't the case. The biggest problem is that the batsmen simply didn't get enough runs and our bowlers were exposed, especially the weaknesses of the bowling unit.

Experience is lacking in this side. I must say that although it is too hard to even predict if it would have made a difference had Mitchell Johnson been in the side, but it is that extra player with experience in the subcontinent that Michael Clarke could use. The issue still lay with the poor batting in the 1st innings which gave India a licence to attack once the lead was in place. Our bowlers were exposed.

The batsmen will know all too well about the problems but how they address over the next few days - which Michael Clarke has declared as "no rest" - will not be an easy task.

Clarke can't keep being the go-to-guy and the time has come for him to move up the order.
It's been needed for a long time and it's well known that your best batsman should not be batting at number 5. It seems the time is now to give Clarkey the push. Sure, his prolific run has been splendid at number 5 but the team needs the move and Clarke is that kind of a guy to do what is best for the side.

This still won't solve the issues of panic and thoughtless application to tackle the spin and build an innings. We've seen starts from the batsmen but they don't go on, with the exception of Clarke who continues to be amazing to watch. Even when he's made a good score, Clarke has been short on batting partners and has criticised himself when getting out. He's seen some bigger scores go sailing on by, seen how India have cashed in, and his lack of support from his batting mates directly influences this. David Warner, Ed Cowan, Shane Watson and Matt Wade can all handle these conditions, I hope they have the self-belief as well because Clarke needs it. We need it.

The weakest link, Phillip Hughes, should be given another go - dropping not always the answer - but his lack of handling spin is a massive, massive worry, which may result in him being dropped for the next Test. Usman Khawaja not an instant remedy and no evidence is there that he will miraculously be able to keep the Indian bowlers at bay. There is a chance though he will be trialled and tested.

Simply dropping guys is not a solution to the problems we face. Team unity is needed and if after a period of assessment, the majority of our batsmen have been able to improve while a few others get left behind, then it is time to resort to dropping. Hughes is an excellent batsman but the mental strength just seems to go when he puts on the white gear.

Reality is that the last two Tests have to be won in order to keep the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in our possession.

Based on this, and my continued belief that our batsmen are good enough to collectively put better runs on the board, I will continue to support the boys as we look ahead to the 3rd Test.
They need the support as much as ever and while I am upset and can understand many supporters are livid at the performances thus far, the series is not lost and any chances of improvement now with the build up to the Ashes must be taken.

On a final note to instil some kind of positivity, keep in mind we thumped India 4-0 in Australia during the summer of 2011/12.

This is Test cricket in India and they will always be tough to beat and the nature of the contest is harsh in their conditions. The same as it was for them against us during the home series. 
We have a team lacking experience in the sub-continent and the experience of Michael Clarke has proven to be invaluable. It shows the importance of it and this is a huge but mean learning curve.

Sadly, patience for application against a tricky spin setup - not extraordinary - has lacked.
It will indeed take serious focus and determination to turn things around for the guys. Michael Clarke is a man who shows serious responsibility. If he says they will not rest, they won't.
However, it's going to be hard work so best wishes to the boys as they prepare for another big clash with the series at stake.

Spare a thought for my mates who have traveled to India for this series. A bit bleak a result. India is good for traveling though I believe, so no shortage of ways to uplift oneself, especially with Waving The Flag.

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
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