Departing from a successful format

NOT so long ago all cricket teams selected to go overseas to represent Australia were based on the best 12 or 13 to win the series and one or two youngsters for the future.

BOB SIMPSON

NOT so long ago all cricket teams selected to go overseas to represent Australia were based on the best 12 or 13 to win the series and one or two youngsters for the future.

Steve Waugh leads the Australian Test squad to the West Indies on the strength of his form and popularity. -- Pic. REUTERS-

Over the last decade, with tours becoming shorter and with less warm up matches this very successful format has been diminishing.

The latest group to be selected has signalled the end of this practise for this may well be the most mature team to represent this country.

With just one match not designated as international there is no place for a youngster to be selected, only for experience.

This is a great pity for the old method of taking youngsters for the future has worked wonderfully well and made the progress through to a full international just that little bit easier.

I have no doubt that not being able to fit young players into touring parties due to the limited opportunities they would receive, has hindered the development of young players and accounts for the debut age of our cricketers being greatly increased.

At one time we had numerous young men playing for their country in their teens or early twenties.

This does not happen today and most of the current debutants are closer to their thirties than twenties.

A great pity this but not surprising as all countries try to cram into each season more internationals against more countries.

There is no finer development programme than being selected in a touring party where you can sit and travel with your heroes and absorb their experience and cricketing folklore.

At the same time there is nothing worse than being on tour and not playing in matches.

This will certainly be the case for several of the party chosen to go to the West Indies.

Fifteen players have been selected and two or three will probably go through the tour, barring injuries to the top, without playing a match.

Unfortunately that is the way of modern cricket and I wonder if 14 might not have been a better number.

I have never been on a tour, even, with injuries, when we have had too few players.

While you had to take protection against injury when team travelled by ship, these days you can fly over a substitute to any country in less than 48 hours.

Apart from the absence of a young player, say like New South Wales young batsman Michael Clarke, the Australian selectors have done a good job.

It is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most experienced team to ever leave these shores.

Once Steve Waugh got his monkey off his back when he scored a magnificent century in the last Test against England, I had no doubt that he would want to play on.

With the weight of runs scored in Cup competition and a huge ground swell from the public, driven by a local tabloid for his continuation, I had no doubt he would be picked as the Australian selectors were under too much pressure not to include him.

Shane Warne will be obviously missed. You cannot easily replace a genius, but I feel his replacements Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill will do a good job.

They may not be similar in style for Hogg is a left-hand chinaman bowler and MacGill a traditional leg spinner but they are similar in method.

Both give the ball a big tweak and both have very good flight.

They also have great variation and are not easy to pick.

The Windies batsmen have traditionally struggled against this type of bowling and have seldom been able to pick the direction of spin.

The current groups of West Indies batsmen also like to hit the ball hard and in the air so it will be an exciting struggle to see whether the batsmen or the spinners will come out on top.

My view is providing the spinners retain their accuracy and "cool" they will have successful tours.

The major problem MacGill and Hogg will have is whether they can be both successful in the Test XI.

The Australian pace attack has been superb in recent years and Ricky Ponting used to go in with three quick men.

The only way they can have the two spinners and the three quicks and go for a bowling victory is to use wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist as a No. 6 batsman.

The Australian selectors have wanted to do this in the past and with no batsman apart from Steve Waugh, a capable, but reluctant medium pacer these days, they have no one else to use the new ball.

In addition of course, at the recent World Cup, the Australian batsmen have had a worrying number.

On paper they certainly look very strong with Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Martyn, Waugh and Lehmann the likely top six and love to keep them honest.

While I like the idea of two spinners, my gut feeling is that they will use Lehmann as a back up spinner and go for the six batsmen and three quickies.

Whatever way you look at it, the Australian squad looks very strong.

In the end the state of the varying pitches in the West Indies will dictate the composition of the Aussie team.

No matter which way they go I feel that they will be too strong for the unpredictable Windies.