Yesterday, Moises Henriques – he of three recent Tests against India – was ignored by Cricket Australia in their list of twenty centrally-contracted players. He was ostensibly passed over for young Tasmania all-rounder James Faulkner, who earned his first Australia contract at age 22.
Although this isn't to detract from Faulkner's joy (he probably deserves the position), Henriques can justifiably feel rather miffed. Although he struggled for much of the Border-Gavaskar series, he performed admirably during his debut Test, scoring 149 across two innings and taking 1/48 from seventeen mid-standard overs with the ball. Although he only managed a further seven runs on tour, but he deserves some credence as these fifties were two of only twelve half-century-plus scores by Australians for the tour. (Five of which were by players on tour for their ability with the ball – two each by Siddle and Henriques, and Mitch Starc’s 99).
Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the remarkable fact that CA breaks up their centrally contracted group of 20 players relatively evenly across three formats rather than focusing on the game’s highest form, Test cricket. Let’s instead examine the message that this contract list sends.
It is yet another example of institutional flip-flopping by the Cricket Australia selection panel. While Blind Freddy and his dog clamoured for the removal of Andrew Hilditch, the current National Selection Panel has been just as – if not more – inconsistent: players are called up only to be discarded one or two Tests later. All that remains is to then be completely forgotten.
With Australia’s Test cricket history stretching to 136 years, it’s damning that over 8 percent of all players ever to pull on a Baggy Green have debuted since 2007.
This is in polar contrast to the last three occasions in which Australia has had to build a team after debilitating setbacks. On those three occasions (post-1984, in 1977-78 and in 1964), the hierarchy set about identifying players of talent enough to build a team around. The players identified in that most recent down period – Dean Jones, Steve Waugh, Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid – ushered in those wonderful nineties.
This time, Australia has identified no-one around which they can build but Michael Clarke and a promising crop of fast bowlers. Perhaps this is due to a lack of talent, but it’s more likely this is a consequence of an itchy trigger finger.
If the ultimate leadership of James Sutherland and the National Selection Panel are this inconsistent, the role of Michael Clarke, Mickey Arthur and Pat Howard is suddenly thrust from team-building to constant team integration – and hence, discipline like that famously which was infamously dispensed in Mohali. Given his role in team selection – and the rather Draconian methods they favour – Clarke and Arthur are hardly blameless, but with such a shifting player base any concept of a unified team identity is just that – a concept.
That the selectors can't - or won't - narrow their player pool down to a promising, deserving touring part is damning and leaves more questions for themselves, and for Cricket Australia.