Shock selection undermines captaincy honour

George Bailey looks suprised upon finding out he’s the new Australian captain.

This article first appeared on The Roar.

The position of Australian cricket captain has long been regarded as one of the most important jobs in the country. Even our Prime Minister Julia Gillard has joked that her position of authority doesn’t hold quite as much weight in the eyes of sports-mad Australians.

With a triple century and a few Test series wins under his belt, Michael Clarke has more than justified his selection as Australia’s Test captain. The New South Welshmen hasn’t taken a single wrong step during his tenure in charge, and he duly deserves credit for it. What most Australians fail to remember, however, is that Clarke is just one of Australia’s top leaders. While we are all too aware about the schizophrenic nature of today’s cricketing landscape, few remember that Clarke is a nobody in the Twenty20 arena. In his place is none other than… George Bailey.

I know what you’re thinking… George who?

Yesterday George Bailey – a relatively unknown domestic and Australia-A veteran – was selected as Australia’s newest international cricket captain. Mind you, it’s only for the shortest form of the game, but it’s a hugely significant decision all the same.

Bailey will replace the experienced Cameron White, whose horror run of form in the recent BigBash League prompted his axeing from the Australian line-up. While Bailey is a capable cricketer and a respected leader at state level, his modest Twenty20 record hardly warrants selection in the Australian team, let alone captaincy honours. Indeed, the Melbourne Stars middle-order batsman produced just 114 runs in seven BigBash innings. His average of 19 and strike rate of 111 were decent, but hardly worthy of acknowledgement.

More than that, when Bailey leads his nation onto the battlefield on Wednesday week, it will mark his first ever match in a green and gold uniform. Usually on debut players are assigned the box and helmet and sent to short leg. On Bailey’s debut, he’ll be the one delegating short leg duties to somebody else.

According to John Inverarity the Bailey decision was based largely on the Tasmanian’s captaincy credentials. In particular, Inverarity made reference to Bailey’s successful domestic one-day and four-day campaigns over the past few seasons.

But if the Australian selectors wanted to choose a player for his leadership qualities alone, surely Cameron White could have retained his spot. Alternatively, respected domestic champions such as Michael Klinger, Marcus North and – dare I say it – Brad Hodge could have mounted just as strong a case for their own national ambitions.

Bailey celebrates his 5th Test century. No, wait, that’s just him playing for Australia A.

If, however, Inverarity and co. wanted to go with a solid batsman – somebody capable of becoming a mainstay in the current team – surely they would have looked toward Dave Warner, David Hussey or Shaun Marsh. All three should still be in the team by the time the Twenty20 World Cup rolls around this September.

Alternatively, if they wanted to make a statement and pick someone from left-field, it would have made far more sense to opt for somebody with at least some international experience. Sydney duo Steve Smith and Moises Henriques, and Melbourne all-rounder Andrew McDonald spring to mind.

Moreover, with Shane Watson likely to return soon and Warner looming as the leader of the next generation, Bailey’s appointment seems like an interim role more than anything else. The idea of a part-time skipper isn’t a bad one. In saying that, you don’t let any Tom, Dick or George hold the spot of Australian captain, even if it is just for a couple of weeks.

At 25 years of age and with 29 games to his name – the most of any Australian – Warner would have been the perfect candidate for the top job, even if he’d just be holding the spot for Shane Watson. With a long future in all three forms of cricket ahead of him, it is increasingly likely than Warner will one day captain Australia. Surely then it would have been wise for selectors to give him a taste of leadership action now, in preparation for the future. After all, his brief stints in charge of the Chairman’s XI and Sydney Thunder teams were met with great applause.

By denying Warner such a privilege, Inverarity and his panel have wasted a golden opportunity. More than that, by upgrading a sub-par domestic contributor to the role of national leader, the selectors have undermined the authority of one of Australia’s most prized positions.

If George who – a man without a face to many young Ausrtalian juniors – is the head of the country’s most popular form of cricket, what kind of message does that send to our state cricketers?

Furthermore, what do we tell the young Bradmans and Clarkes in front of the TV, pointing to Mr. Bailey and asking “Who’s he?”