Why do cricket selectors continue to pick hunches?
The simple answer is because sometimes they work, and sometimes it is a good idea to pick them. It’s worth the risk. But most of the time it is not.The last time that Australian Test cricket had a hunch that worked was Michael Clarke, Australia’s 389th Test cricketer, who was picked for Australia on 6 October 2004. Since then we have had 67 new Test cricketers, 32 of them batsmen, 15 of those being hunches, including the last five in a row.
A rate of 10 out of 27 is a far higher hunch to genuine pick ratio than we should have had, but five out of five is awful. Too many hunches, too few genuine picks.For the sake of this article, I am going to quickly look at those 32 batsmen, the 15 hunches and the 17 genuine picks, and work out whether or not they succeeded at test level, and then work out whether picking a hunch or not is a good idea.
Players selected against sound cricket logic.
- Cameron White (4 Tests / 29.99 bat ave)
- Marcus North (21 / 35.48)
- Shaun Marsh (38 / 34.31)
- Ed Cowan (18 / 31.28)
- Rob Quiney (2 / 3.00)
- Moises Henriques (4 / 23.42)
- George Bailey (5 / 26.14)
- Alex Doolan (4 / 23.87)
- Mitchell Marsh (31 / 25.39)
- Nic Maddinson (3 / 6.75)
- Cameron Bancroft (8 / 30.92)
- Aaron Finch (5 / 27.80)
- Travis Head (6 / 32.63)
- Marnus Labuschagne (3 / 23.80)
- Marcus Harris (4 / 36.85)
The above figures are alarming. All of these players got multiple tests, in spite of failures like Rob Quiney (2 tests at 3.00) and Nic Maddinson (3 tests at 6.75) and we even persisted with some for lengthy periods like Mitchell Marsh (31 tests at 25.39) and Shaun Marsh (38 at 34.31). Those old enough to remember may recall how horrid the selection of Marcus North (21 at 35.48) was, and yet they just kept picking him.
None of those players did well at Test level, but none of them were ever really likely to, as these were hunches. These were players who had done nothing to warrant selection, plucked based on one good innings or perhaps a “good feeling”. That’s okay occasionally, and giving them one Test is fair enough, but not this many, and not this often.
Cruelly, the last five batsmen that have been picked for Australia (Bancroft, Finch, Head, Labuschagne and Harris) have all been hunches. Hopefully in the Sri Lankan series we will pick two genuine players (Pucovski and Patterson) but if so they will be the first batsmen in two years, and five debuts, who were picked genuinely.
The Genuine picks:
Players selected based on sound cricket logic.
- Shane Watson (59 Tests / 35.20 bat ave)
- Michael Hussey (79 / 51.52)
- Brad Hodge (6 / 55.88)
- Phil Jaques (11 / 47.47)
- Chris Rogers (25 / 42.87)
- Andrew McDonald (4 / 21.40)
- Phil Hughes (26 / 32.65)
- Steve Smith (64 / 61.37)
- Usman Khawaja (39 / 42.11)
- David Warner (74 / 48.20)
- Glenn Maxwell (7 / 26.07)
- Joe Burns (14 / 36.76)
- Adam Voges (20 / 61.87)
- Callum Ferguson (1 / 2.00)
- Matt Renshaw (11 / 33.47)
- Peter Handscomb (16 / 38.91)
- Hilton Cartwright (2 / 27.50)
It’s not that a genuine player is guaranteed to do well. Some, like Callum Ferguson (one test at 2.00) fail. Others, like Steve Smith (64 at 61.37) failed at first but got better. Not all genuine picks do well instantly. The late Phil Hughes (26 at 32.65) did well initially but then faltered as his career went on. Some like Brad Hodge (Six at 55.88) did well and was still dumped. Some, like Andrew McDonald (Four at 21.40) and Glenn Maxwell (Seven at 26.07) actually did better than their statistics suggest.
There are some players who can’t handle the big time. They can be great at First Class level but just not be able to handle the better bowlers, the bigger atmosphere, the longer game, the greater intensity. Others do better at test level. Michael Clarke and Steve Smith both have better test batting averages than their first class records.
Some cricket records look better in hindsight.
Some people talk about Shane Watson (59 tests at 35.20) as a failure, but fail to note that he was a good bowler too (75 wickets at 33.68), and in comparison to Mitchell Marsh (31 tests at 25.39 and 34 wickets at 43.91) there is simply no comparison. Shane Watson was a genuine pick, and had a +1.52 differential between his batting and bowling averages, while Mitchell Marsh, with a -18.52 differential, was not genuine at all, and didn’t do well at test level.
While many genuine picks got extended runs (59 Tests for Shane Watson, 79 for Michael Hussey, 64 for Steve Smith, 39 for Usman Khawaja and 74 for David Warner), not all of them did. While Callum Ferguson definitely failed in his one test, averaging 2.00, it’s a bit unfair that he only got one Test while hunches like Nic Maddinson (thee Tests at 6.75) and Rob Quiney (2 at 3.00) did just as badly and yet got more of a chance.
Why is it that a genuine pick like Joe Burns (14 Tests at 36.76) was dumped after just one bad Test match while Mitchell Marsh (31 at 25.39) did much worse and got more than twice as many chances? Why did we dump genuine pick Matthew Renshaw (11 at 33.47) in favour of hunch Cameron Bancroft (eight at 30.92), then a second hunch Marcus Harris (four at 36.85)? Why is hunch Marnus Labuschagne (three at 23.80) considered ahead of genuine picks Renshaw and Burns for the tests against Sri Lanka?
Current Best Australian First Class Cricket Batting Averages.
- Steve Smith 57.27
- Will Pucovski 49.00
- David Warner 48.63
- Usman Khawaja 43.66
- Chris Lynn 43.53
- Matthew Short 42.00
- Glenn Maxwell 41.10
- Kurtis Patterson 41.00
Why aren’t we picking our top six out of this lot? Numbers one, three and four are there, but the other 5 are not. Chris Lynn is injured too often so can’t really be considered, but the others can, and yet they aren’t. Will Pucovski didn’t play against India due to having mental health issues associated with concussion. Otherwise he hopefully would have. While he had only played eight first class games, he has also been scoring centuries galore at under 23 level, so it’s not a hunch at all. He’s a real prospect.
Kurtis Patterson was a last minute addition to the side to play against Sri Lanka but he should have played ahead of Travis Head in the UAE against Pakistan, and against India too. Yet his name wasn’t even mentioned. Matthew Short isn’t even being mentioned. Averages 42.00, bats at six, and even bowls occasionally.
Chris Lynn, we’re told, shouldn’t be even talked about as Test quality.Glenn Maxwell, we are told, is a short format player only. Numbers aren’t everything, of course. Some players do better than their numbers suggest. Others do worse. We should have a pathway that includes the numbers as part of the reasoning.
Selectors have been so bad that they have forgotten what their reasoning even is for Glenn Maxwell’s exclusion. Kurtis Patterson, we are told, was only picked on a hunch based on the twin unbeaten centuries against Sri Lanka in the practice match.
If they were going to go with a hunch, what about Jake Lehmann (43 matches at 39.62)? He’s not really a total hunch anyway, with that average, but he sure as hell is a big match player. The kind of player who could be a future Australian captain. The kind of player who surely is a near guarantee to do better at Tests than he does in First Class cricket.
But nah let’s stick to the hunches that almost never work.
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