The national selection panel, consisting of Trevor Hohns, Greg Chappell, Mark Waugh and Coach Darren Lehmann, in light of recent test match results, in particular the Test series loss against South Africa, have decided a new scheme under which players will be selected for International cricket, with a particular focus on the ‘young guns’ of Australian cricket.
While this strategy implemented for the last test against South Africa, resulting in the axing of veteran Adam Vodges, 32 year old Callum Ferguson, and 27 year old Joe Burns for the much younger Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson proved to be a success for that match as well as the series against Pakistan, where in particular, both Renshaw and Handscomb were able to flourish, the question still remains whether this idea of ‘youth selection’ is the right way to go.
There is no doubt the younger players in the current test squad (Hanscomb, Renshaw, ) have proved their ability to score runs at test match level and provide the future for Australian Test cricket, but the problem still remains whether they can maintain consistency that the more experienced players, like Voges for example, possessed at the highpoint in his career. Yes, Renshaw and Hanscomb both consistently scored throughout the Pakistan series, Handscomb averaging 98 and Renshaw at 63, but one might argue that it was against an inferior opposition in which almost all the Australian batsmen had success against. The key for these two batsmen and the other young players in the squad, specifically for the upcoming series against India, will be showing they have both flexibility and durability- they are able to play in varying conditions and consistently, and if they can prove this to selectors, Australian cricket will soon be set for the near future.
The only thing, however, I believe is what I find to be quite confusing is not necessarily the selection of younger players, but the selection of younger players who haven’t had enough playing time domestically or who’s record is completely outmatched by more experienced players. For example, Mitch Swepson, who was recently called up to the Australian side for the India series, has only played 14 first class matches and is averaging 32 with the ball. This decision is almost a ‘hit and hope’, with the selectors choosing a young spinner who had a breakout season in the BBL and was selected as another spin option who could prove to be a sensation or a waste of a selection based on the fact he is young and could maybe the future of Australian spinners. Time will only tell, and if Swepson succeeds then he succeeds and the selectors have got lucky, but if he fails, many people will look towards the selectors for not picking a more experienced and deserving player, like Chadd Sayers for example, who has played over 50 first class matches and averages 23 with the ball.
This same idea is also happening in the ODI team as well, and was recently speculated by both Mitchell Johnson and Cameron White who placed emphasis on the fact younger players with little experience and little runs are being picked over the older players with far greater experience and have proved themselves at the intentional level. This was evident with the selection of both Billy Stanlake and Sam Heazlett in the ODI team, and while both showed potential in the BBL, the pair have played a combined 15 first class matches, with Stanlake only having played two. This was a particularly confusing pair of selections from the selectors, particularly because players such as Cameron White, who although may be 33, he was the leading run scorer in the most recent Matador Cup.
The next step for Australian cricket to once and for all maintain a solid selection process that contains promise and talent is to keep it simple- select players based on their form domestically, and if younger players are showing ability at the domestic level, like Renshaw and Hanscomb , give one or two youngsters an opportunity to prove themselves internationally. If these players take their chances, then obviously they continue to play, however, if they do not succeed, the selectors need to make the right decision and then select the player who best fits the role required- young or old. A perfect example of this was the series against South Africa and then Pakistan. Joe Burns, Voges and Callum Ferguson were dropped for younger players who had proven their talent, those being Renshaw, Hanscomb and Maddinson. While both Renshaw and Hanscomb had success, Maddinson was dropped in the third test and is yet to be properly replaced for the India series. This upcoming decision for the selectors in deciding who is an appropriate replacement is a big one. Do they play an all rounder, like Glenn Maxwell or Mitchell Marsh, another spinner, like Swepson or Agar, or another batsmen, like Shaun Marsh? For me, not necessarily beyond India, but either Maxwell or Agar should fill in the no.6 role currently left unoccupied. While the Marsh brothers offer more experience at the international level, spin will be key for the Aussies, and both Agar and Maxwell have the ability to offer this, as well as having the ability to contribute with runs. However, this again has its problems- do you pick Agar, the better bowler but worse batsmen, or Maxwell, the better batsmen but less threatening bowler? This again comes down to selectors who will be deciding if they want more runs on the board to maximise the chance of batting India out of the game, or increasing their chance of bowling them out.
Looking past India, there are a couple of players who need to be seriously considered for the Test format in the coming months. While the youth selection worked against Pakistan, the last thing Australian selectors want to do now is only select younger players showing signs of promise, and facing problems based on lack of experience. This does not mean under any circumstances younger players shouldn’t be considered, but the selectors need to be making the smart choice with the younger players- not decisions based on potential, but actual form. These players may include players like Swepson in the future, but at this current stage, he is too inexperienced to be playing test level, particularly in the subcontinent. Based on domestic form, there are a few who should be given the opportunity very soon. Chadd Sayers for example, is the leading wicket taker in the Sheffield Shield with 38 wickets and has shown he can consistently perform, with a career average of 23 over 50 matches. Certainly Peter Nevill deserves another chance after he was harshly dropped and is out to prove selectors wrong about his batting with his 358 runs so far this season, averaging 51. Going on ODI form, players like Travis Head and Marcus Stoinis have displayed their ability to perform in the shorter form internationally as well as in the Sheffield shield and could be given a look into Test level by selectors, although, should be given more time to develop in the longer format. Finally, looking towards long term players for the future, both Cameron Bancroft and Mitchell Swepson could be considered as a future keeper and leg spinner respectively and while both are young, Bancroft 24 and Swepson 23, if they continue to improve and perform, the pair could ultimately become long term choices for the Test side.
All in all, the Aussie selectors have a huge job to do in selecting players for the International sides, and currently, are employing the youth selection policy to overcome this challenge. Whether this tactic will be successful, only time will tell, but a number of things still need to be done before selectors achieve a consistent and effective selection process, which with or without younger players, can hopefully have a positive impact on Australian cricket.