High cost of the McGrath compromise

To some, the urgency to recall a match-winner so close upon a major injury suggests that a whisp of desperation has snaked its way into the Australian camp.

That's not necessarily so. At Trinidad in the Caribbean in 1973, the Australian captain Ian Chappell turned an ankle so badly on the eve of the Third Test that he could barely walk. The series was level and the Test, to be played on a turner especially prepared for Lance Gibbs and three other spinners, would certainly be a defining moment in the struggle for the Frank Worrell Trophy. Chappell played, hobbling badly.

Consider the alternative: a team without their captain, their tough No 3 batsman and their brilliant first slip - quite a hole. Chappell failed in the first innings but made 97 heroic runs in four hours in the second. It was inspirational stuff. Australia won just after lunch on the last day, by 44 runs. And went on to win the series.

To England and Australia, this Old Trafford Test is a bit like Trinidad. For the Australians, shocked at Edgbaston, McGrath just had to be in the selection mix if it was at all possible. But, taking a risk on a not fully fit batsman like Chappell is far removed from gambling on a fast bowler with a dicey ankle.

The compulsory question around the selection table - "What if he breaks down again?" - is simply answered in the case of the batsman: "The others will just have to get more runs." But the McGrath issue was more complex. If he suffered a recurrence and was suddenly out of the attack, what then?

That leads us into the most intriguing selection issue: did McGrath's fitness, probably assessed as a moderate risk, compromise the rest of the process, particularly the theory that Old Trafford might suit the second leg spinner, Stuart MacGill? Should MacGill, a noted striker in Test cricket, have been given his chance on a pitch that is sluggish and gripping and with shrapnel and craters abundant in the batsman's front yard?

For a long time now the Australians have studiously ignored what remains a reasonable tactic, to bat Adam Gilchrist, surely a genuine all-rounder in any judge's eyes, at No 6 and play an extra bowler. That's why Brett Lee was left holding the drinks with his smoking right arm in the Kiwi Tests leading up to the Ashes. The message was: "Four bowlers are doing the job."

Yet, when there was talk pre-Old Trafford about Australia playing two spinners the point was made that it could only happen if Shane Watson, a rookie medium-pacer who can bat a bit, came into the team. Suddenly, five bowlers had to be the tactic. Why? Why not simply swap MacGill for the hapless Jason Gillespie? What's the difference between three fast bowlers (one of whom is alarmingly off-song) and one great leg spinner, and two fast bowlers and two great leg spinners?

It's hard not to sense that in the end the selection was an "insurance job" to cover any mishap to McGrath. Gillespie got the nod because he was the fast bowler with the experience, if not any worthwhile current form. And, an historically blinkered selection philosophy meant MacGill could only be one of five bowlers, and that had consequences for the batting line-up.

Australia can only watch the success of England's five-man bowling attack, with an all-rounder at No 6 (is Andrew Flintoff any better a batsman than Gilchrist?) and wonder if, in some of those "soft kills" in Tests over the last decade, when a batsman was out of touch but allowed plenty of time to find his feet again, it might have been wiser to trial the five-bowler tactic. Sort of "insurance", you might say, for murky moments that were sure to come.

These Australians have a "selector on duty", the former fast bowler Merv Hughes, who has replaced Allan Border on the national panel. Until recently tour selection was left to the captain and a couple of senior players.

Big Merv the player liked to rattle the cage, a skill that might be useful in an Australian camp that seems reluctant to move out of the selection comfort zone no matter what the circumstances.

Even if Australia get out of their sticky predicament in this Old Trafford Test, changes will need to be made against an England side who are threatening to wrest back the Ashes via creative planning, growing self-belief and smart bowling.

At the moment the only level part of the playing field between the two is the woeful catching.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's most starring part
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week