Is Cricket Australia’s ‘Whack-a-Mole’ Policy any better than ‘Rotation’?

Just a quick note to document my distress at the gaping wound that is the Australian Cricket Selection Panel.

We knew the day Mike Hussey (or God, if you prefer) retired that the no.6 batting position was unlikely to settle into a period of stability for some time, and I wrote about it many moons ago. It would have been a long-odds result at the best of times, but this time it was complicated because there were no natural successors for the role.

Through an irresistible patch of form in ODIs and T20s, George bailey emerged as the latest choice for the no.6 role for the home Ashes series. Clearly the selection panel were expecting him to actually bat with the same rare, free-flowing panache, yet sublime brutality, of God … er, Hussey. And they were also expecting the same results from Bailey in Test format as his limited over record suggested.

Unfortunately, he failed to impress under the pressure of being a newly-minted ‘baggy green’, and the no.6 position has once again been thrown to the wolves. This is unfortunate because Bailey is clearly a guy with experience and talent, and a man other players enjoy having in their team. It can be no coincidence that, despite a few lower scores than he would’ve liked, teams with which he has been involved have been successful, in all forms of first-class and International cricket.

Maybe his technique isn’t quite up to the demands of Test cricket, and the hard heads will say he had his chance. But how will we really know, having watched a player who was clearly playing with the pressure of inning-by-innings results? The tour of South Africa could have been the making of him. Heck, the Ashes could’ve his coming of age had he known with clarity that he would be touring South Africa and was permitted the ‘space’ to relax into his role.

This is not saying George Bailey is the answer to the no.6 role, just that he might have been given his ‘late-bloomer’ status, and now we probably will never know. I sincerely hope he receives another chance, and so does a certain Mike Hussey, who understands a thing or two about the value of individuals in teams.

Instead, in an astonishing lack of support, and an appalling exercise of judgement, CA have jettisoned Bailey for Shaun Marsh, whose talent is often talked about, but not in the same breath as results. As far as I can see, his claim to a baggy green cap rests more securely on his family ties than off his own bat, as they say.

Let’s not forget that he failed spectacularly against a modest Indian seam attack in 2011, when even the ageing Ricky Ponting was carting them around the park with his Zimmer frame and bifocals, and averaging over 80.

Does CA, the same organisation that decided ‘shielding’ Phil Hughes from the South Africans was a good idea, only to pump and dump another promising player in Rob Quiney, really expect that Marsh will rise like a Phoenix against the best fast-bowling team going around (outside of our own)?

Is it enough these days to lay 34th on this summer’s Runs tally with a 44th-placed Batting Average of 27.56* and be deemed suitable to join the test team?

Perhaps he is just having a bad season, though his 66th placing in Runs and Average in the 2012/13 season (ie. last season, and the season following him being dropped from the Test team as documented above) don’t appear to suggest this.

So, actually getting yourself selected for Australia doesn’t seem to have much to do with amassing a wealth of first-class runs, as Phil Hughes was apparently directed to do in order to be picked again (after yet another Test dropping). If Sheffield Shield had anything to do with CA’s thought process, you would imagine his 549 runs at 61 this year, on top of 673 at 56 last year, would have him on a plane. These numbers seem to indicate some sort of inherent quality and consistency. Oh, and not only do they show him passing 50 runs in more than 40% of all innings played (vs Marsh’s impossibly low 11%), but he averages over 53 in South Africa … the kid has a case.

Similarly, another (tried and dropped) player, Marcus North  sits atop the first-class statistics this season with 593 runs at an average of 74*. He may also feel hardly done by in some respects.

Perhaps the selectors are trying to ‘even up’ the chances they give players, which is a silly thesis, but which would fit with the inclusion of Moises Henriques, who was not only cast aside like Bailey, Cameron White, and many others before him, but whose current form hasn’t screamed ‘pick me’ either.

Anyhoot, the T20 is about to start, so I’ll leave these two tables to ponder which show the ‘contenders’ (with Test experience or otherwise) for the national batting line up. The first is sorted by Adjusted Average, the 2nd by the frequency of innings of more than 50 runs as a proportion of all innings. Personally, I’d have given Hughes another go, with Doolan an exciting prospect. I would even have put Voges, Silk and Lynn ahead of Marsh, even Cameron White.

* Adjusted Average ignores Not Outs, which I believe have a highly distortionary effect on the stats. Look at your son’s U10 competition stats and see what I mean! Or look at Marcus North’s 98 average before adjustment to 74. Not Outs have given him a 33% uplift on his average.

I defy anyone to describe the mechanism via which batsmen are selected to bat for Australia, a system that is ramshackle and with no solid grounding. Shield Adj AveShield 50+


NRL Wasting Time on ‘Wasting Time’ Rules Changes


Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again! 

The Dr had been planning to squeeze in a little more leisure time before taking to tapping the keyboard again, but the NRL has rudely interrupted the siesta with another outbreak of incoherence, necessitating a prompt riposte (as has Cricket Australia, but that will have to wait a day or two).


The announcement of the results of a five month ‘think tank’ on time wasting in the NRL were a major disappointment, inviting the idea that time wasting is exactly what the NRL and Competition Committee have been doing for the past, well, five months. It was a minor irritation that it was the Twittersphere that linked to the story last night while the site was silent until today, but that’s what I’ve come to expect … By the way, this is not anti-David Smith, because I like his structures. He is being let down by those he has delegated to.


Why it needed to take this long was as mysterious to me traffic lights, female erogenous zones and putting, until I stumbled across the final paragraph of the SMH coverage, which solved the puzzle for me far more swiftly than any hooch hounds in a yellow van ever could. It noted “This has been the end of five months of heavy consultation with clubs” which, when translated, clearly refers to the heavy subsidisation of bars and pubs and Leagues Clubs, with long, liquid lunches being de rigeur. There’s nothing wrong with an LLL. They’re a lot of fun, and are also thoughtful towards wives, who usually won’t need to factor you into dinner plans. It’s just that any decisions made during these romps generally lead to the rules changes we’ve just had inflicted upon us.

When Todd Greenberg says that ”People want to see football, they want to see the ball in play …”, and that, in making these changes, the NRL have to be “careful not to disturb the fabric of the game”, I take that to mean they will actually keep the ball in play longer without the time clock diminishing for no reason, and that the fabric of the game will be preserved. The rule changes below don’t appear to achieve this objective. Let’s go through them:


Crusher and Canon Ball Tackles


The original Crusher tackle was rare. That’s because Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal wasn’t predisposed to long periods of stoic defence. He preferred to simply run over people and crush them into the dirt, often maiming them in the process.


The modern version is a neck vertebrae-crunching career-killer. They have been an irregular feature of the NRL for years now, and the only reason the subject still has oxygen is because the NRL hasn’t dealt effectively with what is a fairly straight forward problem. They even had a blue ribbon example to make of Paul Gallen late last year, yet typically fumbled it. Oh, that’s right, it was too close to the Semi Finals.


Oh Burt, you have a lot to answer for!

Oh Burt, you have a lot to answer for!

The Canon Ball tackle is a truly awful addition to the game, mostly because it preys on a defenceless ball carrier, whose legs are targeted on a varying scale of intent that runs from completely stopping the ball carrier at one end of the spectrum, to trying to remove all knee ligaments in one fell swoop. It is to rugby league what the ‘king hit’ is to society.


Five months to work out they should charge Crushers ‘at the higher end’ of the grading scale and new rules to combat canon ball tackles? Like … referees couldn’t have called held earlier last year as they are proposing to do this year?


This could have been sorted out in five minutes many moons ago. It didn’t need five months, and it’s farcical the subject is still being discussed. Next!


Captain/Referee Communication to be allocated to breaks in play and half time


The idea of reducing the dribble coming from team captains before it forms a pool large enough to rival the biblical deluge is a good idea, but effectively making it ‘appointment only’ isn’t the best idea I’ve heard. The jibberish will simply move to the allocated points in the game (injuries, cautions) and lengthen those periods, and to what will henceforth become a half-time interrogation.


Let’s not forget what captains are generally trying to achieve when approaching the referee. They are invariably seeking a sneaky rest for their team, while hopefully halting opposition momentum. There’s plenty of time after a try, given there’s seven to eight of them, on average, per game. See Stop the Clock below for more on this.


Zero tackle from a 20-metre restart when the attacking team is deemed to have kicked the ball dead


Similar to the idea expressed when the shoulder charge was banned, this is about as watertight as a back lane Tag Heuer diving watch in Thailand. Nothing could possibly go wrong … could it? Aside from the kick being delivered by Ben Roberts or Chris Sandow, where intention is harder to prove than Fermat’s last theorem, how are we to judge if any particular kick is ‘intentional’? Let the referees decide? Like I said, what can go wrong?


But that’s not even the worst part. If a team kicks the ball dead from half way because, oh I dunno, they (quite sensibly) don’t want Greg Inglis steaming back at them and completely offsetting the kick, they are probably also happy to give the other side the extra tackle close to their own line.


Quick digression: Can anyone else see how the referees might now be more likely to lose the tackle count? This idea can’t have come from the Cowboys, could it? Now that would be ironic.


The simplest (and best) idea, as recommended here last year several times, is to simply restart play from where the ball was kicked if it happens to go dead, or the 20-metre line if the ball was kicked from between that point and the try line. That’ll stop negative play, and you don’t even need to assume intent. Oh, that’s right, it’s a rugby rule …


40/20 restarts to be taken with a tap kick 20-metres infield?


Why would an attacking team want this 10-metres out from the opponent’s line? Why on earth would rugby league as a sport want this? The 40/20 is a thing of beauty, skill and endeavour which deserves to be richly rewarded. Allowing a full defensive set-up across the park once achieved takes this away almost completely.


Scrums aren’t exactly the most picturesque set play, nor are they in rugby any more where they have become the enfants terrible of the game there. But the point of the scrum in rugby league is not to entertain purists who want to see a win ‘against the head’. They are there to open the field to the attacking team and to initiate some attacking momentum with set plays that have ample field space.


Restarts from kicks out on the full to be a handover


Once again, why penalise the attacking team with a fully set defence for the first tackle, and who are on the attack by virtue of an opponent’s mistake?


Stop the Clock for goal kicks in the final five minutes of a match


Hold the phone! Why make the last five minutes any different to the first five minutes? Or the middle five? Or the 9th five minute period? The game is played over 80 minutes, and should be played under the same rules for the entirety of the game. That’s the fabric of the game as I’ve grown up with it, and it’s a nonsense to change.


Then again, I suppose it comes from the same place as Golden Point, where the fabric of the game has been turned on its head, to the detriment of the sport. While we’re on the subject, extra time, if we really have to have it, should be a 10-minute period where the winner is decided by total points scored.


Quick taps


I can imagine this idea originated when a slow barperson held up the flow of beer on one of the LLLs, because quick taps are … how should I say this? Oh yes! … In the rules already! They haven’t been a feature of play because there has clearly been an unannounced NRL-directive not to allow them. I’m sure you all remember the controversy last year after a Benji Marshall try. Anyhow, good luck with it. Nothing can go wrong here … No room for incorrect rulings and all that … The simple answer is to outlaw them entirely, rather than get caught in the hornet’s nest of incorrect interpretation.


Goal Kicking Time Limit


Here is one of the poorest decisions of the lot, in all its glory.


The NRL says that time will be stopped at, I kid you not, ‘about’ 1m20s after a try is scored, and if the kick hasn’t been taken by 1m40s, fines will apply.


So, in formulating an anti time-wasting policy, the NRL is clearly happy to waste 1m20s per try, or about 9 minutes each game, on average. For what reason?


I thought the idea was to cut time wastage, and this blog has been rock-solid on the solution – time off as soon as a try is scored (or referred to the video referee), and resuming again only at kick-off.


The real Solution?


The idea is have an 80-minute game, not one where action is limited to 55-60 minutes.


In the same spirit as stopping the clock to avoid time-wasting for conversions (and penalty goals for that matter), whenever the ball is out of play because it has crossed the sideline or dead ball line, time should be stopped.


The AFL uses it to great effect, the game will be longer, and all stakeholders benefit.


In the interests of transparency, I would actually like to know who recommended what, very much in the spirit of board ‘Minutes’. There were a lot of sensible people canvassed for these rules changes, and it would be preferable not to tar them with the same brush as others given the results above.