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Obsession with age bane of Aussies

india Updated: Jan 04, 2009 01:42 IST
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The Australian selectors have had to make a lot of decisions lately but the toughest one is just around the corner; do they opt for band-aid solutions to stem the flow of losses or embark on a major operation?

The last time Australia experienced a downturn like the current spiral, triggered by India's 2-0 series win, was in the mid-eighties. On that occasion the selectors opted for a major overhaul. They took into consideration character as well as ability and this resulted in the selection of un-compromising young players like Steve Waugh and Ian Healy.

The difference between then and now is in the system that produces the up and coming players. In the mid-eighties, international players still participated in Australian club and first-class competitions and selectors were prepared to choose promising cricketers.

Nowadays, the sighting of an international player at club or first-class level is rare and the debut age of an Australian cricketer is more likely to be in the late rather than early twenties.

Cricket Australia (CA) has contributed to the problem by placing too much emphasis on under-age competitions, which tends to see players picked on age rather than ability.

In an effort to correct the flaw in the "28-year-old debutant" theory, the CA now stipulates that the interstate rookie contracts only be awarded to players who are U-23. However, this doesn't address the problem as a really good player should be fairly well entrenched in the international side by the age of 23.

Consequently, the current selection panel is choosing from a diminished number of talented young players with a chance of succeeding at international level.

There has to be an "express lane" for the better young players and they need to bypass a lot of under age cricket to be tested against men at an early age. This method places a priority on smart and ruthless selection, as it requires a large pool of teenagers playing club cricket to promote a dozen to first-class level, with a view to one or two clinching international honours by their early twenties.

The selectors also need to distance themselves from the senior player group. They have to take tough decisions and unfortunately, when the inner circle of players is influential, there's a likelihood that likes and dislikes become involved in selection.

Unfortunately, it will take time to correct the major flaw in the system to the point where benefits start flowing.