Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Value in the Dressing Room

It being the lazy post-Christmas season I'll just have to write you a post about Cricket.  American readers might like to wait for something else to pop up, or else try this helpful explanation of the game, or perhaps this more detailed one

Many commentators have been calling for the heads of veteran batsmen Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, but both have been picked for the Boxing Day Test.  Australia's new Chairman of Selectors John Inverarity explains that both players provide "great value in the dressing room".

This is is obviously a good thing as both have been spending a lot of time there lately.  They are clearly needed in the team, because while these two experienced players are devoting themselves to the dressing room, some other players are letting the side down.

Of course the bowlers can't be blamed.  They routinely spend long hours with their mates, followed by a brief stint batting and a swift return to the bosom of the team.  This means you can be fairly relaxed about which bowlers you select, since they all provide pretty much the same dressing room value.  This policy particularly applies to spinners - you can practically pick any spinner you like.  However, there are exceptions.  Nathan Hauritz, for instance, provided great dressing room value early in his Test career.  However, the longer he stayed in the team the more inclination he showed to stay away from his mates, and eventually the selectors' patience ran out.

No, it's the batsmen you need to worry most about.  Some of the recent additions to the Test team have shown a worrying lack of dressing room form.  David Warner is a case in point.  Selectors had high hopes for him, with his reputation for quickfire batting stints followed by long dressing room contributions.  So far in Test cricket his performances in this regard have been adequate, but there have been some alarming lapses.  The warning signs were there in the second innings of the Brisbane Test, with his failure to return to the dressing room until right at the end of the game, but the second innings in Hobart must really have the selectors worrying.  Warner went out to bat at the very start of the innings and failed to return for more than five hours, only reluctantly dragging himself back to the room when the last of his batting partners refused to stay with him any longer.  No doubt his captain will have something to say about this.

Which leaves me wondering about the recent dropping of Phil Hughes.  Early in his carreer, Hughes appeared almost incapable of spending time in the dressing room.  In his first two tests, on tour in South Africa, he was absent for over 12 hours.  Little wonder he was dropped early in the following tour of England.  Nonetheless, his form in the current Australian summer has been a huge improvement, with less than two hours absence in the recent series against New Zealand.  His axing for the India Test is baffling to say the least, especially when his replacement, Ed Cowan, seemed determined to do everything in his power to avoid the dressing room in the first innings against India on Boxing Day.

Of course the strains of captaincy are taking their toll on Michael Clarke, with long absences in South Africa and again in Brisbane an obvious sign that he is taking some time to settle into the role.  This is why Ponting and especially Hussey are so important to the team.  Ponting's contributions have been slipping a little of late but he has been a consistent contributor over the past two years, and his performance in his home Test in Hobart was outstanding, with all but an hour spent in the company of his team.  However, with Ponting's recent form a little patchy and Clarke struggling, Hussey has to bear more of the load than he really should.  His performance in the New Zealand series was world class, with only 66 minutes in absentia across the two Tests.  The man they call Mr Cricket is a durable, determined performer but surely he can't be expected to bear this kind of load every game.  Some of the young players will need to start stepping up soon.

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