Pitfalls of short tours

On short tours, such as the one currently undertaken by AUSTRALIA, it is very difficult for the lesser players to break into the side because of a lack of opportunity.

After so many years of association with Australian cricket, I now have a fair idea of what is in the minds of the selectors when they announce a team for a tour. I must, however, admit that the squad selected for the Tests in South Africa has left me intrigued.

The Ashes defeat in England coupled with the advancing age of many of the players and the temporary loss of Glenn McGrath due to his wife's illness has obviously left the Australian selectors in a quandary. Adding to the selectors' worry has been the inconsistency of several of the top order batsmen in the last 12 months.

At this stage in our cricket history you would normally see consistent planning for the future. While quite a few young players have been given opportunities, particularly bowlers, in the last 12 months, none of them has seized the chances to cement his place in the Test team. Michael Clarke has been in and out of the Test team and he thoroughly deserves another opportunity.

To me it looks as though the selectors have tried to have a bit each way, but have settled on a holding pattern. To some extent I can understand this, for the vital role of the selectors, particularly when your team is considered the best in the world, is to pick the team that you consider has the best chance to win the next Test and let the future take care of itself.

To me, the greatest problem that the Test squad selected for South Africa will have is in deciding the balance of the team. For some time now the Australian selectors have made no secret of the fact that they are looking for a batting all-rounder to help the balance of the team. They wanted Watson to fill the role and gave him plenty of opportunities, but discarded him this time, leaving the position of the batting all-rounder for Andrew Symonds to grab.

South Africa have the reputation of not playing the leg-spinners well and Australia would dearly love to pick both Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill. To do this it is imperative that Symonds comes through, for he can provide balance to the team as the third seamer and assist in the workload shared by the four main bowlers. On short tours, such as the one currently undertaken by Australia, it is very difficult for the lesser players to break into the side because of a lack of opportunity. With so few opportunities available, I would think that the first Test team might well play in the whole series.

If the wickets seam, Michael Kasprowicz, with his ability to seam and swing the ball, could be one of the bowlers to stand out. He knows how to use a friendly, green wicket for he has had plenty of practice on his home ground, the 'Gabba. Without doubt, the 'Gabba is the friendliest fast bowler's track in Australia and the big Kasprowicz has used it magnificently for the last decade or so. He is a good selection and with a drought of quality fast bowlers in Australia at present he can provide the consistency from one end to allow the strike bowlers to prosper at the other.

The difficulty of developing young bowlers and batsmen in the modern era has led to a lack of quality youngsters throughout the world. When I was a youngster it was reckoned that a tour of England would enable you to play as much cricket as you would get in three seasons back home. On my first tour of England, injuries to opening batsman Colin McDonald and leg-spinner Richie Benaud gave me the opportunity to play in most matches. In those 29 matches (49 innings) I scored 2060 runs. I also bowled 569.4 overs for 57 wickets. On that tour six batsmen scored over 1000 runs and Colin McDonald, in 17 matches, scored 914 runs. Eight bowlers bowled over 400 overs, and they all took over 50 wickets each.

Playing in so many matches ensures that every player on the tour has an opportunity to get into form and compete for a place in the Test team. This wasn't unusual then, and up to about the middle or late 1970s the scenario was the same on every Australian tour of England. After that period, the matches were reduced, and by 1989 the most matches played was by Geoff Marsh, who featured in 18. Still, it was a nice tally to get into form, and in direct contrast to the number of matches played in 2001.

Matthew Hayden played the most first class matches during Australia's tour of England in 2001 with five Tests and six county games. He scored 636 runs in his 17 innings, while Damien Martyn scored the most runs, 942 in 14 innings. On that tour Shane Warne bowled the most with 263 overs.

Short tours worry me greatly for they deny young, up and coming batsmen and bowlers the opportunity to develop their talent and secure a Test spot. Graham McKenzie was probably the last teenager to tour England and secure a permanent berth in the Australian Test team. Big Garth missed selection in the first Test in 1961, but took five wickets in the second innings in his debut Test at Lord's. He played in three Tests on the tour and took 11 wickets. He bowled a total of 596 overs on the tour and took 58 wickets at 27.84.

All this while he was only 19. I wonder how the scientists of today would accept all this. For, it goes against their theory that teenagers shouldn't be allowed to bowl excessively because they might break down.

Australia will face some very difficult times as many of their senior players are set to retire, and it doesn't appear we have ready replacements for them yet.