Cricket test match selection: Play as you go?

Ricky Ponting Dismissal

Rana Malook discusses the potential pitfalls for test cricket administrators of not backing young talent.

The merciless axing of Usman Khawaja by Cricket Australia after the Hobart test against New Zealand last December, mirrors a certain trend in modern Test cricket.

Through a fog of uncertainty and string of strange decisions by Boards across the globe, it appears long terms goals are being replaced with short term quick fixes with more regularity than ever before.

Cricket Boards these days are seemingly run like strange mini corporations, where players represent investments. Places where investments that yield a higher return in the long run are being replaced by those that make a quick profit before fizzling out, at which point similar replacements await.

It could thus be argued that young players like Khawaja are merely the victims of being born in a time where the tortoise isn't valued as much as the hare. It's a shame really, because lest we forget some of the best test players in history began gingerly their respective journeys into folklore.

My first experience of watching Tendulkar for example was a rather underwhelming one. He was merely a young pretender at the time, very much in the shadow of Azarhuddin, Gavaskar et al, a far cry from his present Godly status.

It took 13 attempts for the little master to eventually reach his maiden test century. The young Ricky Ponting was no different. Despite a decent start, his first 10 innings resulted in a measly 330 runs, without a century.

But he looked classy at the crease and the selectors saw something special in him, keeping faith. Another Australian great I grew up watching was Mark Waugh, boy was he graceful at the crease. But even Waugh's statistics after his first 29 test matches were modest at best with a run tally of 797 at an average under 35. Which by the way included only two centuries, four scores over 50 and six ducks (four of them came in a row!) .

The "wall", Rahul Dravid only housed a ton after 15 tests! Jacque Kallis first 24 innings yielded just one hundred and only three 50s. Even our very own Goochie (England's highest test run getter of all time) took 35 attempts before becoming a test centurion. (He was averaging 31 at that stage)

I guess the reason behind my short statistical blitzkrieg is to make the point that success at test level takes time. All the aforementioned players arguably would have struggled under many of the modern cricket boards. The stats simply wouldn't have warranted investing in them any further.

After all not everyone can burst on to the scene like a Brian Lara, a batsman I consider to be the greatest in tests ever. Whilst the likes of Dravid and Ponting took time to find their feet, a 23 year old Lara in only his 5th test scored a mammoth 277 runs against the Australians in their own back yard.

Luckily for Tendulkar et al their mentors displayed a certain cricketing wisdom in knowing that short term success/failure is irrelevant and that in time, these young stars would eventually shine bright for all to see. After reading Jarrod Kimber's brilliant piece on Rob Quiney, I have no doubt the player deserves his test birth.

I also think it'd be harsh not to reward Nick Compton his test debut following his recent form in the county season. However with Quinney only really in for one test once Watson returns, and Compton a long shot to be playing test cricket this time next year, is it inconceivable to think that both will probably much like Gangnam style be forgotten soon?

Probably not. Whilst I do hope both Quinney and Compton go on to make successful debuts for their respective countries. Serious questions need to be asked about the short term mentality of modern cricket administrators, who appear to be operating on a football esque "you're only as good as your last game" basis. (Or something to that effect)

Form is temporary, class is permanent. It's what all cricket observers, players and fans have accepted for a long time. Having watched test cricket as religiously as playing commitments and school work allowed since the early 90s, I'd certainly concur.

Without the existence of this sentiment, I doubt many of the modern greats would have evolved into champions in their respective countries. And lets never forget that players like Tendulkar and Ponting are the equivalent of super heroes to cricket loving youngsters.

They are blockbusters that draw the crowds at matches, they are the heart and soul of the sport. Without them, Test cricket isn't the same. Khawaja's shelving after only six test matches is testament to the lack of patience evident today.

Patience we desperately need to produce the class of tomorrow, or just like good form test cricket will forever be looking over its shoulder.

image: © somethingness