If it is too much cricket for captain Steve Smith, then it is too much cricket for Australia
Just what is the Australian one-day cricket team anyway? An instrument of cricket diplomacy? An international aid organisation? A travelling circus? Whatever it is, we now know what it is not: a representation of Australia’s best cricketing talent in the 50-over format.
The spat over Cameron White’s omission and the corresponding selection of Sam Heazlett in New Zealand (where, in late-breaking news, it seems Australia are playing), is a smokescreen.
Living two lives
Tiana Ernst delivers babies by day and plays footy by night. Hailing from far north Queensland and moving south for the game she loves, Tiana is set to play a season of footy alongside her current life as a doctor.
White, the best-performed batsman in the most recent domestic 50-over series – nominally a trial for the Test team – was not chosen for Australia. Heazlett, who has not played a one-day match for his state of Queensland, was.
White complained that the Australian one-day team had been downgraded to an experimental, “developmental” status. Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns replied that White had benefited from precisely this selection approach and yet, despite being given 88 caps over 11 years, had not really developed.
White’s Australian career, Hohns said, was not “earth-shattering”. White played (it seems safe to put this in the past tense) four Test matches, 88 one-day internationals and 47 Twenty20 internationals. Hohns’ Australian career wasn’t earth-shattering either, for interest’s sake. He played seven Test matches, no one-day internationals. At that super-elite level, the earth is not easily shattered.
White and Hohns are both right. White deserves, on form, to be playing for Australia now. But he did have plenty of chances and made a career that was respectable without demanding heavy future investment at the age of 33. Should the selectors have been faithful to the traditional process, and picked the most in-form player from the Matador Cup? Yes, if keeping faith with the unspoken contract with the players is paramount.
Instead, they decided to experiment. Hohns and his fellow panellists have been appointed to make such decisions and take such risks, and will be accountable for their outcomes. Marcus Stoinis scored a mere 124 runs at 24.80 in the Matador Cup, and yet, based on his work in New Zealand so far, he is worth the punt.
While it generated some welcome heat in a frigid week for cricket, the spat is a diversion from the real issue, which is the devaluing of the Australian one-day team. Cricket Australia did its “product” a disservice in 2016 by breaking a basic economic rule, flooding the market with supply just as demand, in the form of interest in the format, was falling. It made the mess, of which the Hohns-White clash is a spritzy byproduct.
Meanwhile, a weakened Australia, led by Aaron Finch (who was not judged good enough to be in the team a fortnight ago), is in New Zealand going through the motions. Captain and vice-captain are getting a rest. The two opening bowlers, who probably need the rest more than most, are in New Zealand, for respectability’s sake. Heazlett? Why not? What is there to lose when so much has already been given away?
How did it come to this? What everyone did not want to happen has happened. For several years now, the voices in Australian cricket – from the players and staff to administrators, board members and players’ representatives, not to mention supporters – were united in a wish to restore the prestige of the one-day team. Instead, the Australian team has played 36 one-day internationals since January 2016. It has travelled more widely than Julie Bishop, playing series in all corners of the globe and wedging them in at home whenever it had a free week. By comparison, no other country played more than Sri Lanka’s 19 one-dayers in 2016. England and New Zealand played 18, South Africa 17, and India, that supposed sell-out to one-day Mammon, played just 13.
As a result, 30 players have represented Australia in the period. Iron man (not iron gloves) Matthew Wade played in every game until his recent injury, while George Bailey played all but two games in 2016 before he was scrapped. Otherwise, there has been a movable feast of experimentation and development. Daniel Worrall, Joe Mennie, Chris Tremain, Joel Paris, now Heazlett: it is fair to say that if selectors want to take a close look at a player, they pick him in the Australian one-day team.
The resting of Steve Smith and David Warner has been criticised because they represent the Australian leadership. Smith has missed six games in that period, Warner nine. By comparison, Jason Holder played in all of the West Indies’ one-day internationals. Kane Williamson played in all of New Zealand’s. England’s Eoin Morgan, India’s MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews and South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers played as captain in all of their matches when available. The gloss, and the value, remained in these outfits while the canary yellow faded.
Cricket Australia allowed its one-day team to become the bargaining counter for international cricket. When money needed to be made, when another international agreement had fallen through, when an unforeseen gap opened up in a schedule, it was Australia who stepped into the breach. Let’s hope CA has made itself rich in brownie points. It is going to need plenty to make up for those it has lost among the ODI-fatigued public and ODI-confused playing ranks within Australia.
Neither Smith nor Warner is in New Zealand, and they were among the missing from one-day series late last year. They faced unfair criticism for their absence. Instead, Australia’s availability to participate in a one-day series should be judged by one criterion: if the captain can play, Australia can play. If it is too much cricket for the captain, then it is too much cricket for Australia. No more need be said.
The coming year promises a more sane schedule, with the Champions Trophy in England in June striving to grab the public’s attention. This trophy was headed for the insinkerator a couple of years ago, before India’s enthusiasm gave it a stay of execution. Less one-day international cricket in general may restore the Champions Trophy’s value, but gaps will open up and one-day series will be slotted in. For the Australian team’s sake, it’s time to turn the tap off; only less can lead to more.