John Benaud: Border haunted by the ghost of a captain past his prime time

You will think this ridiculous but it's true - Australia's cricket selectors are under more pressure right now than England's. It's all to do with their treatment of the tallest poppy, Steve Waugh, and a tub-thumping public campaign that threatens to relegate Save The Koala to relative obscurity.

The present state of play indicates it is England's selectors who should be ordered to wear hair vests. Dire straits can offer an insight into the minds and personalities of selectors. England's Ashes campaign is in disarray but any level-headed selector would take into account the casualty roll call and only a cricket selector of sadistic bent would be circling the captain, Hussain, who hasn't got a bad record and has clearly got "bottle".

This sets up the toughest of all selection tests: find a replacement captain with the same, or more, "bottle", a playing record to inspire the rest of the team, and a mature cricket brain. Not one of the England players doing the rounds of the kitchen down here appears to fit that bill.

In any cricket crisis a sense of humour helps a selector. Down here the airwaves are full of jokes about England's record losing run: What do you call an England cricketer with an average of 50? A bowler.

Would David Graveney see the funny side of that? Allan Border is a member of the Australian selection panel and it's fair to say that the Steve Waugh Forever campaign deprived him of his sense of humour, if only for one stony-faced, tight-lipped, teeth-grinding moment. It happened this way...

When the selectors announced their 30 players for Australia's preliminary World Cup squad Waugh's name was missing. Sort of like J K Rowling killing off Harry Potter. Enter another famous name, Alan Jones, once a highly rated Australian rugby coach. These days in Sydney, capital of Waugh country, he's the top-rating breakfast talk-radio host. One of his staff is the former Australian spinner Gavin Robertson, a best mate of Waugh.

Jones called for the immediate sacking of the Australian selectors, whom he described as "the Taliban of cricket". A Sydney newspaper ran a phone poll asking the question: should Steve Waugh be in the top 30 one-day cricketers in the country? Ninety-three per cent of callers said "yes".

The headline said: "Landslide vote sends message to selectors". Small problem – small sample. Only 2,070 people bothered to ring in out of a total Waugh country population of about seven million, but why let apathy get in the way of a good campaign?

The same newspaper then offered Waugh the chance to comment on his non-selection. Surprisingly, he accepted and, in an article titled "Courage Under Fire – Never Give Up", he pointedly mentioned the late-in-sporting-life triumphs of Kieren Perkins, Lance Armstrong and Pete Sampras, but conceded he probably needed to "put results on the board over the next couple of weeks".

Next night he whacked 24 off 12 balls against England. Next day the newspaper asked Border if, in light of this compelling new evidence, the selectors would grant Waugh a reprieve from World Cup execution. Border said: "You blokes are going in hard and causing enough trouble. I'm not going to talk about selection issues with you, so you can make up your own minds."

The "issues" surrounding Waugh are in fact singular. It is this: the Australian selectors have a major World Cup worry – the all-rounder. None of those earmarked in the past few summers, the soft Shane Lee, the very untried Shane Watson, the erratic Andrew Symonds or the injury prone Ian Harvey, have fulfilled their potential. Shane Warne, perceived by earlier selection panels as having great all-round potential, has been the biggest disappointment, so multi-skilled but so immature. Hence the re-emergence of Greg Blewett.

Waugh's only way back is as a lower-order batsman who can bowl 10 overs under pressure. Waugh has been told that, and he's been dabbling. Note that he bowled a few overs in the last Test, a soft option, but didn't against England in last week's day-night warm-up match, a tougher test and the selectors' preferred option.

Note, too, that since the last World Cup, and before his dropping from the Australian one-day team, Waugh played in 57 matches but bowled just 35 overs for five wickets at five runs an over. And, imagine for a moment if Waugh did make it back – who'd be the captain? Since Ponting took over the one-day team their record stands at 15-4. Waugh will know it's a lost cause.

What is occupying his mind right now isn't this World Cup fantasy but the reality of a form slump that, should it continue for the little that's left of this Ashes series, might prompt the selectors to invite Waugh to end his career during the Fifth Test at the SCG in January.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us