Steve Smith v George Bailey: who should deputise for Clarke in WC2015?

Let’s face reality: as confident as Michael Clarke is that he will be fit for the World Cup in March 2015 there is a more than even money chance it would seem that he will not be available for selection in all fixtures (if any). This, of course, raises the question of who ought deputise for him. The incumbent in this role is George Bailey however the sharp rise of Steve Smith to the captainancy in test match cricket means there is a conversation to be had about who should take the roll in 3 months time.

Bailey has done little wrong in the role of captain. Unfortunately his batting in 2014 in one day fixtures has not been up to standard; viz, in 17 matches played he has averaged 25 whilst scoring 405 runs with 3 fifties and no hundreds.

I am a firm believer in picking the best eleven players available for selection in the team and then selecting the captain. Steve Smith is firmly entrenched in the best eleven cricketers available for selection but I am not sure that George Bailey is similarly entrenched given his form and:

  • Warner, Finch, Clarke (if fit), Smith, Maxwell and Watson (if bowling) pick themselves and are in the best available eleven in this form of the game.
  • White, Ferguson, Burns and Dunk, to name just 4 batters, all performed very well in Matador BBQs Cup which should be a form of selection trial for the World Cup.

Had Steve Smith not performed so well as captain in the test matches (I know it is a small sample but early signs are good) I have no doubt that there would be less of a question about Bailey’s captaincy: he would have been carried despite his bad form. This approach would have been detrimental to Australia’s chances of winning in my view. Smith’s elevation to test captaincy makes this issue significantly easier to deal with and now the NSP can select the best eleven players available without worrying about the captaincy.

Interestingly, I know wonder if Steve Smith will unite the captaincies of Australian cricket teams across all three forms of the game? He is a solid T20 player who has not had much of a run in the side of late. Maybe Aaron Finch’s time as captain in that form of the game is also in danger of running out given the rise of Steve Smith. Only time will tell.

Mowen departs: Where to now for the ARU?

Ben Mowen is heading to France to ply his trade in 2015. He will be playing out his 2014 contract with the ACT Brumbies / Wallabies.  The announcement of the contract for 2015 has been made, ostensibly, to allow both teams time to plan for the departure of Mowen from the scene.

 

The fact is that Mowen is the incumbent captain of both the Brumbies and the Wallabies, having been elevated to the captaincy in favour of James Horwill on the summer tour to Europe.  He is the incumbent Number 8 in both teams. Mowen’s defection, he has been reported as saying, on family grounds (note that it was reported broadly in October 2013 that there were monetary factors also in play) raises a number of issues for the ARU which, with the Super 15 season so close, must be answered swiftly.

 

The principal issue for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies must be whether Mowen continues to be selected, both as captain and in those respective teams in general.  For the Brumbies the answer is simple: it is a professional rugby franchise rather than a representative one and thus his ongoing selection in both role raises no issues at all.  The position for the Wallabies and the ARU is far more vexed. In my opinion it can not be in the interests of the Wallabies to select a player for whom the allure of being the captain of his country or playing at a World Cup is not strong enough to keep him playing for said country.  I applaud Mowen’s devotion to his family (if one is to believe the reason given) but taking this position leaves a serious question of his commitment to his country.

 

The World Cup is being held in 2015 and the test matches played by Australia in 2014 will be an important guide to the make up of the Wallabies team that takes the field in that tournament.  That being the case, Mowen simply can not be selected for Australia this year can he?

 

The other major issue that the defection of Mowen raises is who will be the next captain of Australia? James Horwill seems to be on the outer as captain and the return of David Pocock to the line up hinges on his return from a lengthy rehabilitation from a serious knee injury.  In Europe, Quade Cooper was elevated to the vice captaincy in the aftermath of Horwill’s demotion.  It should also not be forgotten that Will Genia has manfully taken on the position in Queensland during Horwill’s all to regular injury lay offs.  I am not certain who the ARU will pick for this position as they all have competing claims.  It will be vital though that the ARU pick a captain this year that they, injury and form permitting, intend to be the captain at the 2015 World Cup.  The last thing the Wallabies need after all is more instability.

 

The departure of Ben Mowen again opens the door to a discussion around the recompense of professional rugby players in this country (let’s be honest here: money is an underlying factor no matter the reasons posited by the man himself) albeit I remain steadfastly of the view that the money presently being paid ought be more than enough for the privilege of wearing a gold jersey.

Cricket: The Ryobi Cup Travesty

The domestic cricket schedule in Australia was announced yesterday by Cricket Australia. I have written previously that I hoped for a focus on first class cricket via the Sheffield Shield competition to be the centre point of the 2013/14 schedule as I believe that Cricket Australia should be focused only on preparing our players for the coming Ashes series. Now with the schedule announced it goes without saying that I think the three first class games Cricket Australia has scheduled before the Ashes to be a massive missed opportunity. That said, I cannot let this moment pass without also commenting on the new format for the Ryobi Cup competition.

The new format runs something like this:

· This tournament will be used as a season-launching competition;

· It will run from September 29 to October 27.

· Teams will play six matches each before the final.

· Every game will be held in Sydney, with Bankstown Oval, North Sydney Oval, Hurstville, Drummoyne and Blacktown to be the venues rather than the SCG.

To be clear, I have no cavil at all with:

· The domestic schedule being clearly differentiated so that players can, in the words of CEO Sutherland, “give players the best chance to maximise their performance in each form of the game without the chopping and changing of previous years”; and

· The Ryobi Cup competition being played in tournament style and I again agree with the statement of CEO Sutherland that “replicating a tournament style competition for one-day cricket is the best way of preparing our one-day cricketers for one-day internationals and the World Cup in early 2015”.

What I am unable to countenance is the move by Cricket Australia to play the Ryobi Cup at a cluster of venues in the Sydney suburbs. I am troubled by this because:

· It completely ignores the fans of the game in the other states. If we do not have access to the GEM Channel (on which a “majority” of the games will be telecast) fans in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia will not get to see their respective team play in this competition.

· Bankstown Oval and North Sydney Oval have, on rare occasions, been used for the purposes of first class cricket and domestic 50 over cricket but they are, along with the other grounds, hardly more than club cricket grounds.

This move is hardly the conduct one would expect of the governing body of the next Cricket World Cup is it? Surely said governing body should be seeking to, on the one hand, promote the game to all of the its constituent fans and, on the other hand, prepare each of the host grounds for the tournament to come. The only way to do that would be, of course, to play the tournament in each of the states (whilst still in a block format). It is that simple isn’t it?

Therein though lies two problems for Cricket Australia as I see it:

1. They have make a mistake in leading off the summer with the Ryobi Cup because:

a. The spot that they have slotted in the Ryobi Cup competition is in the heart of the football finals season in Australia with at least the Melbourne and Sydney grounds likely to be out of action for the whole month; and

b. The Adelaide Oval redevelopment is still ongoing and they are relaying the turf at the Gabba.

2. They are so bound to Channel 9 as host broadcaster that sending the Ryobi Cup around the country is, seemingly, not an available option. I make this assumption because the only reason that I can see for the games being so Sydneycentric (aside from the foregoing) is to reduce the costs borne by Channel 9 in broadcasting the games on their secondary channel.

The former problem would be easily resolved by slotting in the Ryobi Cup competition immediately after the Big Bash League finishes. That way the Sheffield Shield competition could have been front ended with five available fixtures before the Ashes and the Ryobi Cup could have picked up a flow on of the crowds brought in by the BBL both on the TV and in the stands. The later problem is one less easily fixed given the power that Channel 9 obviously exerts in the game having been the host broadcaster for so long. To that problem there is no easy solution.

These problems though get us back to something that I have been harping on about for some time about Cricket Australia and its stewardship of the game: Cricket Australia seems to be caught in an ongoing battle between filling its coffers and acting in the best interests of the game. The announced schedule again shows, as has much of Cricket Australia’s conduct in its stewardship of the game, that that battle is being won by the filling of the coffers rather than what is best for the game. For a start, if I was sitting in the halls of power in the ICC, I would be looking at this announcement by Cricket Australia and wondering how committed Cricket Australia really is to the 50 over a side form of the game and, by extension, the World Cup and that cannot be a good thing!