Retired Blowhards, Haddin and the Indian Curse

It’s a little tiring to hear of retirees like Ricky Ponting, Ian Healy and Matthew Hayden bagging the selectors for failing to reinstate Brad Haddin in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston.

Darren Lehmann is absolutely correct when he says Haddin was replaced due to his poor form. It was the right call. This isn’t tiddlewinks, people, it’s the Ashes. It doesn’t get any more serious than this, and there is no room for sentiment. Players do not ‘deserve’ another game merely because they are popular or because they have played for a long time or because they took time off to be with family. Famous ex-cricketers speaking out in support of struggling incumbents is like turkeys getting together to vote against Christmas. You’d hardly expect anything else.

In fact, the mere fact that Messrs Healy, Ponting and Hayden are complaining about the selectors’ decision on Haddin underscores how sensible it was. None of these three knew when it when time to call time on their own careers. All three played for at least a year past their use-by dates, and in all cases it was painful to watch them struggle at the end.

  • Ian Healy made 134 against England in the 1st Test at the Gabba in November 1998. In his subsequent 12 Tests, he made 170 runs across 20 innings at an average of 8.94 before selector Trevor Hohns said enough was enough. Legend has it that Healy wanted to play his last Test in Australia after consecutive tours of the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, but Hohns put his foot down and Healy had to go.
  • Ricky Ponting, too, played for at least a year too long. He peeled off 134 in the 2nd Test against India in January 2012 and it followed it up with 221 and 60 not out in the Adelaide Test three weeks later. Thereafter, however, he made 178 runs at 16.18 in 11 innings in his last 6 Tests, scoring just one half-century. By the end he was a walking wicket.
  • Matthew Hayden scored centuries against India in Melbourne and Adelaide in the 2007-08 season but his scores tanked thereafter. In his next 9 Tests, commencing with a 4-Test series in India which Australia lost 2-0, he made 344 runs across 16 innings at an average of 22.93, with only two half-centuries.

The selectors’ decision to replace Haddin with Peter Nevill should be applauded. Cricket fans should acknowledge a selection panel prepared to retire players who are over the hill, regardless of whether retired players believe it is ‘fair’. When he was re-appointed to the selection panel about eighteen months ago, Hohns was quoted as saying “There’s quite a few blokes in that (veterans’) age bracket and not just 30 and above, some of them are 34 and 35 and above (including 34-year-old fast bowler Ryan Harris) so there’s no doubt that in the near future there will be some decisions made.” Haddin must have known it was coming. Healy, Ponting and Hayden should have, too. The ‘family first’ policy is irrelevant. It’s about form.

One last thing: a cursory glance at the final year or so of Hayden and Ponting’s careers does not bode very well for Michael Clarke.

Let’s face it, touring Indian teams in Australia fare about as well as Australian teams do in India. India is not terribly difficult to beat on Australian soil. It is worthy of note that both Ponting and Hayden made runs against India in Australia before falling apart once they came up against other teams outside Australia. In hindsight, it’s not difficult to believe the deterioration in their form was masked to some degree by the weakness of the opposition.

Michael Clarke, too, managed 128 against India in Adelaide in December 2014 but has made few runs since. His recent run of form is starting to look eerily similar to that of both Hayden and Ponting as they limped to retirement after series against India in Australia.

Sadly, though, most pundits now expect Clarke to retire at the end of the current Ashes series if not before. It would be a greater surprise if he actually makes a score before then.

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