Sorry Shane Warne: 5 reasons why not picking Pat Cummins was the right move

In case you missed it last night:

  1. Peter Siddle was selected to play in the final Ashes test at the Oval ahead of Pat Cummins; and
  2. Shane Warne went on full rant in commentary about the selectors’ decision.

I am sorry to all Shane Warne fans out there but, frankly, he is just straight out wrong and here are five reasons why:

  1. Pat Cummins has not played a full first class (Sheffield Shield) season in his career and, indeed, has only played in eight first class games.
  2. The last two first class games Cummins has played have been games on this tour that have been against, really, glorified first class teams over two and three days respectively.
  3. In both of those two first class games Cummins only bowled in one innings and was not required to back up on a day’s rest (or less) to start bowling again.  It is very likely that he would have needed to do so in this test match and yet he has not done so at first class level in at least two years.  This is a recipe for another injury for Cummins whose road to the Ashes squad has been littered with injuries.
  4. Pat Cummins is 22 years old.  His time will come soon enough whilst this is likely the last time Peter Siddle will have an opportunity to play wearing the baggy green cap.  Siddle has been a strong servant of the game and his country over a number years and he deserves the opportunity to finish up with Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers in this game.
  5. Australia has struggled in recent test matches to contain the run scoring of the English.  Starc and Johnson are not bowlers who restrict run rates and pushing Pat Cummins into a containment roll makes no sense.  Siddle, as more of a stock bowler, has played this role consistently so the balance of the team is improved by Siddle’s inclusion.

The selectors, who have been correctly much maligned for their missteps this tour, have gotten this selection, for the reasons above, absolutely correct.  Sorry Shane Warne: you have gotten it spectacularly wrong!

Come in spinner: why is finding one for the Australian team so hard?

It has long been the lament of fans, pundits and journalists alike that in the “post Warne” age we (Australian cricket) have not had a consistently selectable or, indeed, match winning spin bowler. This problem has become so “acute” in the prelude to the coming battle for the Ashes against England that the parliament of Australia has seen fit to change the laws of immigration in this country to allow for the fast tracked citizenship of a 31 year old leg spinner from Merguz in Pakistan who has played only 13 first class games just so he may be available.

Before the “Era of Ahmed” a compendium of spin bowlers used by Australia since 5 January 2007 (when the “Era of Warne” ended) reads like this (this list necessarily removes batsmen who bowl a bit): 

SCG MacGill (4 matches)

GB Hogg (3 matches)

B Casson (1 match)

CL White (4 matches)

JJ Krejza (2 matches)

NM Hauritz (16 matches)

MA Beer (2 matches)

BE McGain (1 matches)

XJ Doherty (4 matches)

NM Lyon (22 matches)

GJ Maxwell (2 matches)

Australia has played 67 test matches in that span and have won 33, lost 21 and drawn 13 of same.  The present incumbent, Nathan Lyon, comes into the Ashes with a record that shows that he has taken 76 wickets in his 22 test matches at an average of 33.18 runs per wicket and with an economy rate of 3.12 runs per over. 
Am I alone in considering those numbers to actually be good numbers and, indeed, unworthy of the pressure being placed on Lyon’s place in the team by seemingly all and sundry including Cricket Australia?  Let’s consider for a moment the records of the other spinners presently playing test match cricket and see how the record of Lyon compares (the qualification make for this exercise is 20 wickets taken):

Player  Games Wickets Average Economy 

Swann  52        261       28.69      2.91 

Singh   44         175       35.79      2.86 

Herath  35         165      28.48      2.71 

Ajmal    26         133      27.6        2.66 

Ohja     22         102      31.78      2.68 

Ashwin 16          92       28.53      2.89 

Patel     18         49        49.02     3.22 

Vettori   39        131       34.66     2.45 

Panesar 35       122       33.8       2.71 

Mendis   17        64       34.2        3.08

Looking at this numbers now and comparing those of Nathan Lyon to them is all of the angst about his place in the Australian team and, indeed, the pressure being exerted by Ahmed’s selection really warranted?  His performances and statistics are all the more admirable give that he plays the bulk of his matches in Australian on less than friendly pitches, he rarely has the support of a second spinner and he has been, it must be conceded, poorly captained by captains who are themselves seemingly remembering the days of Warne.
Despite those impediments he is still tracking to have similar numbers at similar times as players of the stature of Singh, Vettori, Herath or Panesar.  I am more than a bit certain that Cricket Australia and cricket supporters of the Australian team would happily accept any of those players in the current lineup.  So, at the risk of becoming repetitious but still restating the question, what is the problem with relying on N Lyon? 
The answer to this question gets on back to an examination of the question posed in the title to this post:

Why is finding a good spinner for the Australian team so hard?

It must be clear from what has gone above that that question is unfair stated or, in fact, redundant because Australia already has a good spinner in Nathan Lyon.  The problem is that the Australian public, pundits and, possibly, players are NOT looking for a good spinner.  Rather they are looking for an answer to this question: 

Why is it so hard to find the next Shane Warne?  

That is a question that can simply must be answered this way: we will never find a spinner like Shane Warne again.  Therein lies the rub: we, the Australian cricket public, pundits and players, are searching for something we can not and will not ever have again.   Until we as a cricketing nation can get our heads around that immutable truth we are going to continue to “burn” our clearly good spinners with the pressure that comes with expectation.  Surely now it is time to get behind Nathan Lyon and back him to get the job done because, simply put, we already have a good spinner in him. 

The Warne Manifesto: the end of an inglorious summer for Shane or a new beginning?

The publication by Shane Warne of his widely circulated “manifesto” has led to much social media comment and both support and derision from current and former players, commentators and fans alike.  Shane Warne is a legend of the game and is entitled to his opinion about the state of Australian cricket.  He is entitled, as a public citizen, to give his opinion about everything from poker to potato chips if he so wishes.  I make no comment (save for what follows), affirmative or otherwise, about the strategies Warne suggests: plenty of others have already done so.

The question that I have been turning over in my mind though since the publication of the “manifesto” is whether its publication represents a new beginning for Shane Warne as a statesman of the game or it is simply a footnote of an inglorious summer for a fading champion.  Before answering that conundrum, it is important to consider the summer it has been for Warne.

Shane Warne’s summer of cricket started  with an attempt to lift the profile of the Big Bash League via making himself available for the Ashes and then immediately withdrawing his availability again after ticket sales went through the roof for the first Melbourne Stars fixture of the summer.  Such a transparent attempt at self promotion was followed by two overs of long hops and full tosses that lead to 40 runs being taking off his bowling in a game he so disingenuously sought to promote.

This extravaganza of self interest was followed by a mid-season break to return “home” to England to celebrate the festive season with Ms Hurley which left man pundits and fans alike scratching their heads and questioning his committment to the game.  This was particularly so given that the “other” great spinner in the competition, a bloke from Sri Lanka who holds the record for most wickets in history, didn’t see the need to return home to his family and stayed in Melbourne to play for his franchise during the same period.

Then of course we move to the “battle of Melbourne” between Warne and Marlon Samuels. Regardless of who was the instigator of this most unseemly of incidents, for Warne, in his capacity as an “elder” of the game, it could not have been a worse moment to abuse a fellow player and to act in a fashion unbecoming of a sportsman at any level.  It ought not be forgotten that in the aftermath of the “battle” Warne also displayed a lack of contrition that was as overt as it was unsurprising.  It should also be remembered that his paramour Ms Hurley saw fit to weigh in on the debate via twitter.

The penultimate act of the summer from Shane Warne came in the semi-final of the BBL: setting aside Mr Warne’s failure to read the rules of the competition this was a game in which the greatest leg spinner bowler of all time took the field and did not bowl.  A man with greater than 700 wickets in test match cricket chose not to bowl himself in a sudden death match when his team needed him the most. 

All of these factors combined leads one to the conclusion that it has been a season to forget for Shane Warne.  It should also not be forgotten that before the “Warne manifesto” was published followers of @warne888 were submitted to reading the various complaints of Warne about the state of the Australian cricket team (amongst the spruiking of his poker tournament and declaring his love for Ms Hurley) ending with the declaration that the powers that be in the game are “muppets”. 

With that statement made, the manifesto was born and that leads us back to the current day and the publication of the “Warne manifesto”.  It goes without saying that he makes some valid points.  It also goes without saying that some of his suggests are so impossible in reality as to border on lunacy.  That said, regardless of where you stand on the validity or otherwise of the statements made by Warne, the unmistakable truth is that until Shane Warne decides to stop his international globetrotting with his partner, Ms Hurley, his poker playing and appearances at celebrity golf tournaments and return to Australia and make himself available to be a selector or a coach his manifesto will be considered nothing more than the hot air it actually is.  This is because, no matter who you look at it,the “Warne Manifesto” has the look of the work of someone content to sit on the sidelines and throw stones rather than roll up his sleeves and offer real assistance.

If the “Warne manifesto” was an attempt by its author to push himself forward as a statesman of the game, the failure of the author to actually take action rather than snipe condemns it to be nothing more than a footnote of an inglorious summer for an obviously fading star of the game.  It is that inglorious summer that has the potential to tarnish Warne’s reputation for a long time to come.

I have the same fears for cricket in Australia as Shane Warne does but unlike him I am not in a position to do anything about it. The time for talk is over and the time for action is now.  Shane Warne should be given kudos for trying but he is not the emissary of change cricket in this country needs.  I hope such an emissary appears from the slipstream of Shane Warne’s attempt but I have to concede I am not hopeful.