Promoting youth turned the tables for Oz

2009-03-10 00:00

GREG Chappell, the legendary Australian captain who now commentates for Channel 9 television in Australia, apparently cautioned Australian coach Tim Neilson after his team’s series defeats in Australia at the hands of South Africa. He suggested that if he and the selectors ignored youth in their selections, they would be doing so at their peril.

The composition of the Australian team that asserted its dominance over South Africa by clinching the Test series at Kingsmead yesterday confirms that both the selectors and coach have indeed heeded his advice. The average age of the touring team is 28 compared with previous sides with average ages of over 32.

One of Australia’s most exciting young prospects, unorthodox opening batsman Phil Hughes, has at the age of just 20 contributed significantly not only to his team’s success, but also to bringing down his team’s average age significantly.

Hughes took a liking to the Kingsmead wicket and South Africa’s off-the-boil bowling attack, scoring back-to-back hundreds in what was just his second Test match. Had Matthew Hayden retired earlier, there’s a chance he may even have been able to achieve this remarkable feat in his teens.

Ricky Ponting has done well to put what happened in Australia behind him, and his confidence in his young team’s ability to turn the tables is clearly well-founded.

His new-look team are in stark contrast to the unhappy charges he was doing his utmost to rally a few months ago Down Under. There is an air of excitement and exuberance about them, which has taken the Proteas by surprise, it seems.

Cricket Australia did well not to allow their team to lick their wounds for too long after their series defeats. They implemented swift changes, promoting youngsters like Hughes, and kept faith with the likes of Siddle and Hilfenhaus.

There is much that Cricket South Africa can learn from how Australia have rallied.

A good look around our franchise system will hopefully identify those players who need to move on and those talented youngsters who need to be promoted to the national team.

It’s tempting for senior players in both the national and franchise teams to hang around a bit longer than required. They have served cricket well, and of course it’s their livelihood, but it’s not always in the best interest of team development.

Shaun Pollock was a great example of someone who left the game at the right time. Although most people considered him to be irreplaceable, he recognised that there were younger players coming through who could fill his boots.

One hopes CSA’s development programmes are being run efficiently enough to identify those players who are excelling week after week at club and franchise level. A national selection policy, which favours youngsters, can succeed only if an effective development programme supports it.

Australia have learnt hard lessons, but have come back with renewed vigour and determination and South Africa will have to do just that in the final Test and one-day series.

Promising youngsters need to be assured that the selection door is open, and should they perform well consistently, they will be rewarded.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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