The Stoinis Selection Conundrum

With Marcus Stoinis getting flown to India to cover the injured Mitch Marsh, the Australian Cricket Team selection panel has been thrust under the microscope once again.

Stoinis, one of the most highly-rated young talents in Australian cricket, has found himself on the verge of test selection despite averaging just 17.90 in the Sheffield Shield this season.

Thankfully, his highest score came in his most recent hit out!

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But he made just 46.

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That’s right, Homer, the Australian selectors are sending a man to India who is yet to make a half-century in red ball cricket this season.

He’s picked as an all-rounder, though, so his bowling must’ve been exceptional this year, right? Well, not exactly. In the eleven innings in which he’s bowled, Stoinis has sent down a total of 97.5 overs for 8/351. That equates to a bowling average of 43.87 – roughly the same as his career First-Class bowling average of 48.27.

So, if he’s been one of the worst cricketers, statistically, in the Shield this season, why has he been selected? Two reasons, basically.

Firstly, his incredible 146 not out against the Kiwis to nearly steal a victory from an unwinnable position. Granted, this was one of the greatest One-Day knocks ever played, but based on Stoinis’ track record, we can start to unravel the meaning of this innings a little.

In 37  domestic One-Dayers for Western Australia and Victoria, Stoinis has passed the 50 mark on seven occasions, whilst reaching triple figures once. In 73 First-Class innings, Stoinis has a 4/16 conversion rate of 100s to 50s, often losing his patience and throwing his wicket away after getting a start. What does all this tell us about his 146 not out? That it may have been an out of body experience, a one-off fluke that is potentially unrepeatable. There is always the chance that this knock could be a “coming of age” innings and the beginning of a prosperous International career, but based on his track record, I’d guess this is unlikely.

One of his four First-Class hundreds – and undoubtedly one that has stuck with the Australian selectors – was in the winter “A Series” for Australia A against South Africa A at Allan Border Field. Stoinis piled on 120 that day against an attack that included Vernon Philander. Whilst this knock was impressive, it was made on a relatively flack Brisbane deck against an attack that also included honest toilers Sisanda Magala, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo and gentle off-spinner Dane Piedt. Part-timers Stiaan van Zyl and Dean Elgar combined for nine overs whilst Stoinis was at the crease. In fact, in his entire 170 ball innings, he faced all of 22 balls from Philander, the last of which brought about his downfall. In India, he won’t be able to slap around ‘spinners’ van Zyl, Elgar and Piedt on flat decks, instead he will be tasked with taking down Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who combined for 15 of the 20 Australian scalps in the second test.

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So, what is the second reason that Stoinis was picked? Well, that comes down to Australia’s obsession with picking an All-Rounder, despite the fact that so far this series, our four main bowlers have delivered 237.3 of the 242.3 of available overs in the four innings (97.94%).

Our obsession with All-Rounders is well documented. Ever since Freddie Flintoff tore Aussie hearts out in the 2005 Ashes, we’ve been trying to find one of our own. From the much maligned Shane Watson to Marcus North and his gentle off-spin, we’ve tried it all and our most recent remedy has been prodigal son Mitch Marsh. In the twelve tests preceding this series, Marsh played in the first nine before being dropped for Nic Maddinson (picked purely as a batsman) and then Hilton Cartwright. Moises Henriques lined up alongside him in the third test in Sri Lanka. Over this time, the highest score we got from an All-Rounder was Marsh’s 53 in the final test against Sri Lanka, with his next best score of 31 coming in the first test of that series. In his one chance at the role, Hilton Cartwright produced a solid 37, good enough for the second highest score on this list (despite him having played sixteen fewer innings than Marsh in the same period of time).

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Nevertheless, the All-Rounders role is to contribute with both bat and ball, so they must be doing a job with the ball to keep their place in the side, right? Again, not exactly.

In eighteen innings, our all-rounder has bowled a total of 160 overs, resulting in 14 for 582. A bowling average of 41.57. Basically, our All-Rounder is bowling less than ten overs an innings (surely we can share these overs between Smith and Warner) and is a non-threat during them.

It’s time to give up on the All-Rounder experiment until we have an All-Rounder that is worthy of his position in the side. As for the number six position, fill it with a specialist batsman. Usman Khawaja had a standout summer, but his confidence is shot against spin. He’s only 30 and should be on the next tour of India, so let him play and see if he can make a score. If he can, it will do the world of good for a player whose head is all at sea when it comes to facing spinners at the moment.

Chennai: Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja during a practice session ahead of their first four-day game against India `A`, at MAC Stadium in Chennai, on July 21, 2015. (Photo: IANS)

The other option in the squad is Glenn Maxwell, who would be picked as a specialist batsman, but also an option to fill in those ‘crucial’ two overs Mitch Marsh was bowling every game. He has a ton of experience in India and has a First-Class record to rival most (ave 39.60). He’s also a gun fielder who would bring run out and catch opportunities that can potentially break open a match.

Back home, we have Travis Head, who is enjoying a breakout summer in both Shield and One Day International cricket. He is a man potentially being groomed to replace Steve Smith as our next Test captain down the road, but he struggles mightily against spin. He, alongside Kurtis Patterson (averaging nearly 48 in the Shield this year after averaging nearly 57 last year) and Jake Lehmann (averaging 46.41 in First-Class cricket) would’ve been better options than Stoinis.

But, if we are obsessed with the idea of relieving the bowlers, we had other options for this position. Let’s run through them quickly

Moises Henriques: 

Averaging 65.90 with the bat and fresh off a career-best 265, Henriques has been around forever but is only just starting to flourish. He’s toured India and Sri Lanka previously and has played for four different IPL franchises. Despite a wealth of experience, Henriques is just 30 years old, meaning that he has plenty to give whilst already knowing his game back to front. His batting average in red ball cricket may only be 34.8, but he’s in great form. When you combine this with a bowling average of just 31.21 and you have an excellent option to make the touring squad.

Hilton Cartwright:

After showing promise in his first Test, Cartwright was subsequently dropped not only from the team, but from the squad at large. He’s only played 21 First-Class games, but he’s already notched up three tons and an average over 45 (41.4 this season). He has a long way to go with the ball, but both his batting and bowling averages are miles clear of Stoinis both this season and for their careers.

Both of these guys have credible arguments to be picked, yet the Australian selectors once again go for ‘gut feel’ tactics. If Pat Cummins – flown over to replace the injured Mitch Starc in the squad  (another contentious decision) – plays, the selectors will feel forced to play an All-Rounder to negate his injury risk. This means we could see both Cummins and Stoinis in the next match – a man who has played one First-Class match in six years and a man averaging a tick over 17 with the bat this year.

As Gough Whitlam once said (sort of), “well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Chairman of Selectors.”

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