If the situation weren’t this grave, the 2013 Ashes series could be called a ‘comedy of errors’ from the Australian perspective. Each of the four tests has brought out a different facet about the team. They started with a slump at Trent Bridge bracing themselves on Agar and Haddin, slid even further at Lord’s, invoking the ire of one and all; made a comeback at Old Trafford, only to be thwarted by rain and then completely surrendered themselves, at Chester le Street, before the might of Stuart Broad. But while the Australians continue to rue their performance, there’s one very important question that they need to introspect on? As to whether it was their ad-hoc team selection policy that prevented them from doing better in the series.
The team’s policy of rotating players – mainly bowlers – to ensure their longevity and avoid injury-threats has brought forth severe flak on several occasions. Though the team management may defend the tactic as being quite precautionary especially where more vulnerable players are concerned, when the same players are questioned about their consistency and face losing their spot in the team; the tactic becomes a major loophole and an exceedingly problematic one.
Case in point: Mitchell Starc. The Australian’s matter-of-fact statements about his consistency and the way he’s been in and out of the Australian team has once again brought the issue into an unpalatable prominence. Including the test series that Australia played against India earlier this year, Starc’s inclusion into the team has followed an alternating pattern. But while, according to the team’s official policy, the measure may have accounted for the player not being unduly pressurised, while accounting for his consistency, the alternating pattern doesn’t really bode too well for him. And not due to any fault of his.
In all those tests where he has made an appearance – albeit alternating – Starc’s always made his presence felt. The mandated selection policy that then accounts for him being sidestepped over some other player then stands to take a really cruel turn on the team management; if the alternated player doesn’t really do enough to fill in on Starc’s shoes. Moreover, what’s the using of having a competent player – read Starc – in the sidelines fearing injury concerns when the team’s being ruthlessly tossed aside by the opposition? Wouldn’t it be better for the player – and thus the team – to take a more active role in the proceedings rather than wait out because of well-intended yet misguided concerns?
And in a way, that’s what’s been happening with the Australian squad with Starc’s name merely the tip of the ice-berg. In that, the blame for the Australians’ miserable run rests firmly on their shoulders. Even discounting the fact that the nature of the present Australian team is immensely transitional, with newer players trying to settle in and take on the mantle that the legends once wore; the ambiguity surrounding a player’s place in the team poses a greater risk for Australia, in terms of ensuring the team’s consistency.
Though their policy is by no means wayward, its implementation is proving to be quite unsystematic and chaotic. The team management thus needs to come up with a more decisive and better alternative to implement it so as to ensure that along with each player getting adequate opportunities to substantiate his contributions to the team; the team too gets to maintain a certain steadiness in terms of its player rotations.
Whilst considering along these lines, the Australian management also needs to evaluate its team composition about those players who continue to be a part of the squad in spite of their nondescript run. The credence behind including them in the team would also then need to be considered while prioritising player rotations so as to not allow mediocrity to permeate under the ambit of management policies.