|Simon Katich is not the only one scratching his head.|
Assessing CA's annual contract list is like trawling through the line-up of acts at an upcoming music festival. Each list invariably contains the following ingredients:
Major Headliners: These guys are hugely popular, have obtained a large following over a number of years and command the largest pay packets - so they had better sell tickets and perform on the biggest stage. Typical major headliners are Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Metallica, Van Halen, U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Over-rated Minor Headliners: Generally these guys had an immediate impact on the industry and became "it" guys, but as their fame and popularity grew exponentially they became over-commercialised to the point where their original fans struggle to relate to them any more. Now they get paid too much, are seen and heard in every commercial, and end up robbing deserved performers of time on the main stage. Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson, Kings of Leon and 30 Seconds to Mars are all examples of these guys.
Exciting Underground Performers: Promising prospects who have been hugely impressive during smaller gigs, and are surrounded by alot of buzz but have not yet gone "mainsteam". Pat Cummins, John Hastings, Ryan Harris, Stone Sour, Billy Talent and A Day to Remember are all Underground guys.
Recurring Acts: These guys perform at the same level every year, and will continue to be awarded the gig unless poor form or injury/illness strikes. Most of the names on each list fall under the Recurring Acts category, such as Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Cameron White, Birds of Tokyo and Grinspoon.
3. Ed Cowan
Scored a tough, gritty 133 in the Sheffield Shield final against a fired up Cummins and metronomic Trent Copeland. Is made of the right stuff for Test cricket: patience, good temperament, toughness and most importantly given the recent Ashes series, an ability to leave the ball outside off stump (I still can't get the nicking montages out of my head from last summer). Especially given how ordinary Phil Hughes was against England (avg 16), Cowan seems like the logical man for the job.
2. Trent Copeland
Am I missing something here? This guy is 6'5, swings the ball both ways with McGrath-like accuracy, has the engine to bowl all day (he trundled in for a whopping 56.2 overs in the Shield final!), has taken an astonishing 80 Shield wickets in just 15 matches AND comes from New South Wales! Usually that last factor alone is enough to get you an Australian gig. Given Mitchell Johnson's propensity to bowl at least one horrible ball every over, Australia needs an accurate presence at the other end to create pressure. There is no way Brett Lee would have been as effective as he was in the early 2000s without McGrath and Warne at the other end to tie the opposition batsmen down. At just 25 years of age as well, it just seems unfathomable that Copeland has not been considered.
1. Simon Katich
After being dropped following a reasonably poor 2005 Ashes series (he averaged 27.55, which incidentally is higher than Clarke's 21.44 and Ponting's 16.14 from last summer's series), Katich re-earned his position in the side the old-fashioned way; by sheer weight of runs. He set a Sheffield Shield record for most runs in a single season with a whopping 1506 at a Bradman-esque average of 94.12. Okay, so he was "only" facing domestic bowlers, but are there any other batsmen in the country capable of producing those numbers?
Since getting the opportunity to open the batting for Australia during the 2008 tour of the West Indies, Katich has been Australia's most consistent batsmen, averaging 50.94 and scoring Test centuries in the Caribbean, India, South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. In addition, he added the toughness and leadership to the side that once had Steve Waugh proclaiming him to be a future Australian captain. In the three Ashes tests that Katich was injured for, Australia averaged a pathetic 249, including being embarrassed on Boxing Day for 98 all out on a greenish wicket similar to the Gabba in 2008 where Katich defiantly carried his bat for 131* against New Zealand.
At today's press conference, Andrew Hilditch said the reason for Katich's axing was to "start blooding our next opening partnership in preparation for the Ashes two years from now". Presumably this means sticking with the same Watson-Hughes partnership that yielded a disgraceful run-out in Melbourne and an average opening partnership of just 33.67. Hilditch implying that Katich at 35, is too old is also curious given he selected Hussey (36) and Ponting (36) in precisely the same squad. Also, if Hilditch's law firm offices picked up Fox Sports he would have noticed that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (38), Rahul Dravid (36) and Jacques Kallis (35) all averaged well over 40 in 2010 - in fact Tendulkar scored more Test runs than anyone in 2010, amassing 1562 runs at 78.10.
Of course the conspiracy theory doing the rounds on Twitter is that the frosty relationship between Katich and new captain Clarke was a contributor to the axing. There was the infamous "Song-gate" incident in 2009, where Katich allegedly grabbed Clarke by the throat following Australia's thrilling win over South Africa because Clarke wanted to sing the team song early to spend time with his girlfriend Lara Bingle. There were also persistent rumours that the older members of the team didn't respect Clarke as a captain. If these whispers were somehow true, surely that is just another reason to vote Lara off Dancing with the Stars.
(Note: I'm not sure if she is even still on that show - I refused to watch it after learning that Bingle, Nathan AND Haley Bracken, Steve Bracks' son and that busty wife of some AFL identity were this season's "stars".)
The Australian cricket team have a couple of huge tours in the next 12 months, and only time will tell how each guy will perform. However, based on the current line-up, it unfortunately looks like it could be more like Stewie at Woodstock than Hendrix.