Sunday, February 9, 2014

Go directly to Xavier Doherty. Do not pass "Go".

Xavier Doherty, meet the ECB. ECB, Xavier Doherty.

Although it has recently emerged that personal factors unsurprisingly played a large role in the termination of Kevin Pietersen’s England career, the decision was spun initially as the beginning of a lineup rejuvenation and the implementation of a succession plan to counteract a possible bottoming out occurring upon the retirement of the team’s best players.

We shall say nothing on the fact that those best players still patently include Kevin Pietersen.

However, the idea of gradual squad refreshment is not a new one. One only has to look at the recent Ashes victors to see their forlorn attempts at prolonging their glory era. While it didn’t include forcible retirements (though Damien Martyn may feel otherwise) it was planned meticulously: the new generation - Phil Hughes, Callum Ferguson, Moises Henriques, Ben Hilfenhaus and Dan Cullen – could be ushered in by more established “bridging” players like Clarke, Watson, Siddle and Mike Hussey.

But it didn’t work – none of it. Including the Argus Report. In fact, of that next crop of Australian world-beaters only Phil Hughes has achieved anything of substance at Test level. That was during his first two Tests, now five years and three “technique spells” ago and has resulted in him becoming the most overanalyzed Australian cricketer since Matthew Elliott. The consistency and trust beget by success disintegrated as players failed to perform or started looking not at the ball but over their shoulder.
With the sacking of Pietersen, still the Englishman with the most Test credibility, formerly-well-performed English stalwarts may likewise begin to question their job security.

(Creative commons)
The reason the antipodean succession plan failed was simple. The lone duty of a selector should be to choose the set of players best equipped to represent their country at any particular time. For Australia from 2007-08 through 2013, that was never Beau Casson, nor was it ever Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell, Michael Beer, Ashton Agar, John Hastings or (damn it) Cameron White. The Australian selectors – guided by a board expecting adventure, excitement and really wild things dynamism, marketability and breathing space – simply awarded Test caps without a blueprint detailing how piece X was to insert into piece Y.

The selection committee, along with former coach Mickey Arthur obeyed every male stereotype and refused to look at the accompanying photocopied instruction manual, resulting in ill-advised adventures with poorly-equipped players and constant hoping for a saviour – rather than expecting player growth and, subsequently, improved performance.

Paul Downton and the ECB have a plan, broadly speaking – to rebuild a “unified” squad behind Alastair Cook. How they’re going to enact that plan without evident quality or even perhaps – with Eoin Morgan the favourite to succeed Pietersen – players able to play a role this utopia (c.f. Rogers, Chris and Lyon, Nathan).

Revolutions start in one of two ways. The first utilizes adrenaline-fuelled changes that address a change that is (sometimes) needed. The reverse is the enaction of a well-formulated plan that also includes details as to new administration methods. Neither is necessarily wrong, but as our American brethren might attest, the second method produces superior results. Given the speed with which Kevin Pietersen was summarily pink-slipped, serious doubts linger as to the nature of the ECB’s decision making process.

English fans should hope Downton is as cogent a decision-maker as his reputation trumpets. Otherwise, this way Xavier Doherty lies.

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