Chris Waters: How unfancied trio are helping to spare blushes of Australia's '˜moron' selectors
'MORONS masquerading as mentors.'
Stuart MacGill’s memorable assessment of Australia’s selectors prior to the Ashes series led the protests from former players.
Shane Warne branded the selection choices “confused”, Brendon Julian called them “silly” and “illogical”, while Dean Jones reacted with the rhetorical: “Really?”
The consensus – both in Australia and England – was that the hosts had shot themselves in the foot before a ball had been bowled.
“I actually think England are in a better situation going into that first Test than what Australia are,” Warne had reflected.
Now, with just seven days gone in the Ashes campaign, and with England already 1-0 down after a 10-wicket battering in Brisbane, the controversial choices of Tim Paine, Cameron Bancroft and Shaun Marsh are starting to look somewhat less controversial.
Australia’s selectors, although perhaps not absolutely vindicated just yet, are at least breathing a darn sight more easily, with all three players having so far had an impact.
In Brisbane, Marsh scored 51 in his solitary innings, adding 99 with captain Steve Smith, whose unbeaten century tipped the scales of the contest.
Paine effected the smart and contentious stumping of Moeen Ali at a key point at the Gabba, while Bancroft hit an unbeaten 82 to help Australia home.
Then, on yesterday’s second day in Adelaide, Marsh struck 126 not out as Australia declared on 442-8, adding 85 with Paine, who hit a sprightly 57.
All in all, it’s been a good few days for the “morons”, who might feel inclined to quietly pat themselves on the back if not yet break out into full high-five mode.
A good few days, yes, but no one should pretend that MacGill and co were unjustified in making their pre-series comments.
The selection of Paine, in particular, represented a comeback so astonishing that it rendered the raising of Lazarus banal by comparison.
For this is a man who had not played Test cricket for seven years, who had only kept wicket in three state games in the past two years, and whose solitary first-class century came in 2006.
Injuries had hampered Paine’s progress since 2010, but few expected him to get the nod over Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade.
Marsh’s recall was also ridiculed.
The 34-year-old left-hander, who spent time at Yorkshire last summer, is enjoying his ninth crack at international cricket since making his debut in 2011, thus equalling the number of lives traditionally enjoyed by a cat.
Marsh got the nod over another former Yorkshire player in Glenn Maxwell, and despite the fact that Australia’s selectors had vowed to turn to youth after suffering a home series defeat to South Africa not so long ago.
Marsh’s return was doubly derided as it left Australia without a fifth bowling option that all-rounder Maxwell, for example, could have provided.
However, as he showed during his fleeting time at Headingley, Marsh is a splendid player on his day and he exhibited patience and control en route to a fifth Test hundred, one more than his father, Geoff, the former opening batsman.
Towards the end of his innings, as Australia accelerated before declaring into the sixth session after Joe Root had put the hosts into bat, Marsh smashed Stuart Broad back over his head for six, a stroke of dismissive disdain.
The day had begun with Broad yelling triumphantly in Peter Handscomb’s face after he pinned the former Yorkshire player lbw.
Alas, there are some pretty classless types on both sides in this series, with standards of behaviour degenerating fast and setting a poor example to watching youngsters, not to mention detracting from the classy skills of the players themselves.
On reflection, with England closing day two on 29-1 and spared further punishment, perhaps, only by rain, it might be a good idea to save the triumphant yelling for when there is something to really yell triumphantly about.
But England did not bowl well overall, one statistic emerging which showed that their average new ball length was 7.36m from the stumps, compared with Australia’s 5.87m; in other words, they bowled far too short.
Not for the first time on this tour, however, be it on or off the field, Root was let down by his senior players, with England’s bowling attack so far outgunned by Australia’s.
It could well prove the biggest difference between the teams for there is not much more than a cigarette paper to choose between the respective batting units.
For now, then, Australia’s selectors can bask in the efforts of Marsh, Paine and Bancroft.
Perhaps the “morons” are not so moronic after all, or perhaps they just got lucky.