Just what is Australia up to?

IT has been obvious for some years that there is a conflict between the Australian selectors and the Australian captain and coach. It first surfaced some years ago in the final years of Mark Taylor's reign when he was going through an extended period of bad form.

It was obvious on the English tour of 1997 that Mark Taylor's performances were not good enough to warrant selection in the Test or ODI matches, but the touring selectors did not have the strength to leave him out.

Shortly thereafter, on the tour of South Africa, the Australian selectors did not want him to play in the one-day team, but Mark and his team-mates and coach who made up the tour selection panel could not take the tough decision to leave him out.

In the last 12 months or so there have been worrying differences on how Australia should play one-day cricket.

Steve Waugh and coach John Buchanan support the rotating of a squad of 13 or 14 and the use of pinch-hitters and hopeful allrounders, while the selectors favour a more traditional mix of selecting the best performers for both forms of the game.

This conflict became a real issue this summer when Australia's performances slumped alarmingly and they missed out on qualifying for the finals of the ODI tri-series.

Shortly before the final matches, the ACB decided that beginning with the tour of South Africa they would take away the traditional responsibility of selecting all teams on tour from the captain, vice-captain and one other player or coach.

Steve Waugh will have an input in the team selections, but will not sit in when the final selections are made.

In many ways this will take away a very awkward situation with many of his long term team-mates and, of course, brother Mark, nearing the end of their careers.

I find this decision to downgrade the captain's and senior team-mates' responsibilities very disappointing.

While there has been some muttering about too much power for the players I am amazed that consultation could not have brought this matter to a more sensible resolution.

It will also certainly raise the question of a conflict of interest over Allan Border's situation as an Australian selector and a TV commentator.

Already there has been player unease about selectors speaking out too openly and sometimes too critically about players and this could place Allan Border - the selector mooted as the main man in South Africa, as he will be there as a cable TV commentator - in an invidious position.

While this possible conflict of interest with Allan Border can be sorted out with good housekeeping, just what tactics will be adopted by Australia in the shorter version of the game is a more vital decision that has to be made immediately.

I don't believe the format and the tactics being used by Australia at present are the ones that will win the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

At present we have a bits and pieces team, who on a good day and in the right conditions can turn in a thrilling performance.

It may be a combination that can do well in flat conditions, in, say, the sub-continent. But, as they have shown this year in Australia, they have a brittle batting line-up when the white ball is moving about on pitches that are doing a little. And this is what they will strike in South Africa.

The policy of using make-shift openers may work in perfect batting conditions, but has been exposed this summer as the new white ball has moved about.

The Australian selectors and players, including the captain and coach, must get back to the basics and pick a hard-nosed Test style batting line-up.

That is when Australia play at their best and most efficient. It is time we got back to the basics.

I am all for inventive, new ideas, providing they will bring consistent winning ways, but I am not a supporter of making changes for change's sake.

The Australian selectors had the perfect opportunity to stabilise Australia's top-order batting when Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden had such outstanding success in the recent Test series.

They were scoring at nearly four runs an over and would have given the Australian top-order batting the stability it so badly needs.

Not picking them when they were on the boil did Australia a great dis-service and this, I believe, was the major reason why we did not qualify for the one-day final.

Australia have always done best when we have seven batsmen, four bowlers and make up the remaining 10 overs by the batsmen who can also bowl.

That was the combination that played and won the last match in Perth in the preliminary rounds.

Darren Lehmann proved an admirable fill-in bowler with a little help from his batting mates.