The Forgotten Men – A New Deal in Australian Cricket’s Great Depression

A great pall has been cast over a once great cricket nation the likes of which have not been seen since those despairing and parlous times of the mid-1980’s. Indeed it might be termed another ‘Great Depression” at least in the sense of hopelessness that has invaded the very soul of many a fan.

History can be a great teacher, and seeking inspiration, I read a little about how US President Franklin D Roosevelt dealt with such challenging circumstances in the 1930’s. In particular I was reminded of his famous ‘The Forgotten Man’ speech of 1932, and in it I found a number of phrases that could apply to the circumstances Australian cricket face today, so much so that I can almost imagine them coming from the mouth of Allan Border.

Accordingly I have taken a little journalistic licence and come up with AB’s State of the Union Address, selected highlights of which are ‘quoted’ below.

“[28] years ago my public duty called me to an active part in a great national emergency, [rebuilding the Australian cricket team] … In my calm judgement, [we] face today a more grave emergency than in [1985].

It is said that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because he forgot his infantry – he staked too much upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present [NSP] provides close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our [cricket] army.

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten … that put their faith once more in the forgotten man [atop the Shield pyramid] … It is high time to get back to fundamentals. It is high time to admit with courage that we are in the midst of an emergency at least equal to that of war. Let us mobilise to meet it.”

These words, from so many years ago, seem to tap into a way of thinking once so prevalent in our cricketing ethos, namely that years of hard graft and consistency of results in our premier domestic competition were a prerequisite to attaining a childhood dream of a precious baggy green.

So today I set off on a quest to find those “forgotten men” based on performances over the past three Shield seasons, and to perhaps offer some alternative solutions for Australian cricket moving forward.

Luke Butterworth (Tasmania)

Perhaps there is no more forgotten cricketer in Australia than this unassuming fast-medium all-rounder from Hobart.

Since his debut in 2007, Butterworth has played 61 FC matches taking 205 wickets, including eight 5WI, at 23.55 with an excellent strike rate (51.4) and economy rate (2.74). He has also handily added two centuries and nine 50s while amassing 2,319 runs at 27.28 batting anywhere between 6 and 9 in the order.

Crucially he has scored many of these runs in big games and in three Shield finals he has scored 66 and 106 in 2007, 88 in 2011, and then 86 and 17 in this year’s decider. This, combined with his bowling in all of these victories, shows terrific temperament and fight and a sense of rising to the occasion which is needed in Test cricket.

However, most importantly of all, he is one of only three players (the others being James Faulkner and Michael Hogan) to feature in the top 10 wicket takers for the Shield competition for each of the last three seasons. Indeed no player has taken more than Butterworth’s 121 wickets at 20.22 over the past three years at the excellent strike rate of 48.4 and economy rate of 2.49.

Butterworth is getting better as a player and his useful swing and accurate seam bowling, combined with handy batting and sound temperament, mean he should be anything but forgotten. Indeed, he may be a great metaphor for the malaise affecting our cricket in that his outstanding and consistent performances have rated him barely a mention as a possible Australian player.

Rob Quiney (Victoria)

Some might say he is best forgotten given his performances against the South Africans last summer, but in many respects the selectors got his initial selection right.

Rob Quiney had been in and out of the Victorian team for quite some time and had been at best a modest performer prior to a breakthrough season in 2010/11, indeed his overall FC record of 3,445 from 60 matches at an average of 36.26 is certainly unremarkable to say the least.

But, and here is the kicker, over the past three seasons Rob Quiney has scored more Shield runs AND at a better average than any player recently brought into the team or discussed as a candidate with 1,957 runs at 45.51 with 5 centuries.

Prior to his selection last summer, in the previous 2 seasons Quiney had finished as the second highest run scorer in both years and his total of 1,662 runs at 51.94 during this time was more than anyone else. So yes he was worthy of a call up and it might be said that he deserved a more extended opportunity to show his talents against the Sri Lankans rather than being a crash test dummy for Phil Hughes against the mighty South African pace attack. In fact prior to his debut it is arguable that Quiney had a better and more consistent case than Cowan for inclusion, and steady Eddie is hardly setting the world on fire since selection.

James Faulkner (Tasmania)

Well he is probably not forgotten given his elevation to the pyjama cricket ranks this summer, but James Faulkner absolutely deserves mention as a serious Test candidate, not just for his fiesty approach, but mostly due to his bloody terrific FC record.

In each of the past three seasons he has finished as one of the ten leading Shield wicket takers and his total of 114 during this period has come at the wonderful average of 21.16 and the even more impressive strike rate of 42.2.

Oh, and the guy can bat a bit as can be seen by his performance in the Shield final and overall record of 1,252 runs at 29.11. How he was considered a lesser all-rounder than Henriques or Maxwell for the recent Indian debacle is beyond me.

Mark Cosgrove (Tasmania)

Certainly Mark looks like he might enjoy a little too much of the sponsors product (for those slower on the uptake I mean VB and KFC) to fit in with the metrosexuals Watto, Patto and Clarkey, vegan Siddle, and even studious Ed, however only one player has scored more the big man’s 1,937 runs at 43.04 in Shield cricket over the past three seasons.

With three centuries and twelve 50s, Cosgrove has appeared in the top ten run scorers in two of the past three Shield seasons, a feat only matched by five other players (NO player has appeared in the top ten run scorers for all three summers). In fact his numbers are quite comparable with two young tyros in Phil Hughes (1,558 runs at 43.27 with four centuries) and the invisible tourist Usman Khawaja (1,311 at 43.70 with three centuries).

An experienced player with 120 FC matches to his credit, Cosgrove could surprise if given an opportunity. Perhaps the fact he is not often mentioned in dispatches could be another example of the “cavalryman” being preferred to the “infantryman”.

Chris Rogers (Victoria)

Perhaps not exactly forgotten, but there is only one player still available for Australian selection (unbelievably it is David Hussey) with a better FC average than this redoubtable and vastly experienced opening batsman who has scored 18,962 runs at 49.90 in a FC career that includes 58 centuries across a 14 year career spanning some 231 matches.

During the past three seasons, Rogers has featured in the top ten Shield run scorers for the past two seasons, scoring 1,741 runs at 41.45 with six centuries. What makes Rogers such a remarkable case is not only his even better FC record in English conditions, but the fact that even at the ripe old age of 35, his season Shield average has improved every year of the past three and has occupied a higer position on the run scoring charts each year.

In a war does age really matter, or do you need your best fit men to take up the battle ? Surely we are not so flush with talent that a man such as Chris Rogers could not be a pivotal part of the discussion re our cricketing future over the next few years ?

Australian Spin Bowling

Truly the forgotten men – do they even exist ? It hardly comes as a surprise that we are unable to find a reliable partner for Nathan Lyon and resort to project players and those who have a certain ‘X factor’, given that no spinner has taken more than 26 wickets in a Shield season over the past three years, and that was Michael Beer, an honest journeyman at best (O’Keefe has taken 55 wickets in that time with 24 this season being his best effort).

I am not sure whether this is a statement on the quality of spinners, their lack of opportunity and selection,pitch bias, or something else entirely, but the reality is that no one has truly earned a right to selection so for the moment they will remain the forgotten men.

And then there are a couple of other players who might be best termed as the great pretenders, players who have been mentioned in dispatches but whose cases for inclusion are not really supported by the evidence.

First cab off the rank is Alex Doolan from Tasmania. Supposedly a wonder child Doolan has a modest FC average of 37.92 with just 5 centuries. This is remarkably consistent with his record over the past three Shield seasons where he has amassed 1,684 runs at 37.42 with just 2 centuries. Indeed his return of 715 runs at 42.05 marks his best season in the last three, hardly the mark of a Test player yet.

Then there is young Joe Burns from Queensland. Over the past three seasons he has scored 1,649 runs at 40.21 with five centuries which is acceptable, however in each season his average has gone backwards with last season’s 587 runs at 32.61, not the form of a Test aspirant.

Make no mistake these are desperate times fo Australian cricket and we face a prolonged war for The Ashes and the climb to reaching number one in the world again.

To succeed we will very likely need to call upon our infantry, the forgotten men of Shield cricket.

Until next time … that is stumps.

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