Ever since the 1950s, Australia has longed for an all-rounder who can do it all.
The idea of an all-rounder is, in essence, a romantic one. A swashbuckling hero who can take the game away from the opposition in the space of a few overs, or “turn a game” with just a few deliveries.*
In the 1950s and ’60s, we had people like Keith Miller and Alan Davidson. Miller was a war hero who embodied the raw masculinity that Australians (erroneously) aspire to. A charismatic playboy cricketer idolised by his teammates, who was never short of a one-liner.
Like Shane Warne, Miller was a chronic philanderer who made some questionable life-choices, but this was never held against him by those who were in raptures over his cricketing ability.
Today, Australia is still searching for their Miller surrogate. And for years, we all thought it was Shane Watson who would fill this void.
Watson broke onto the scene in the early 2000s. Blonde, big, and fortuitously named ‘Shane’, the selectors were immediately swept off their collective feet.
Now, Watson is more than just the schoolkid with potential. He is a man in his mid-30s who has promised much, but delivered little.
Watson has been given a ridiculously generous stint in the Australian side over the past decade – principally due to our nostalgia for the era of Miller, Davidson, and let’s face it, the 1950s in general.
Watson is not a Miller. In fact, we need to give up on the idea of a ‘Miller’, because this type of personality, this type of cricketer, does not exist in modern Australia.
Aesthetically, Watson is a Miller, in that he is big and has muscles. However, this bigness was obtained at the gym, rather than by doing manly things like killing Germans in World War II, and is therefore false.
And while brylcream haircuts are suddenly en vogue again, they are too ironic, too ‘hipster’ – and therefore insincere. Especially when adopted by bogan athletes whose idea of subculture is attending a Flume concert.
In the business world, there is a tendency to compartmentalise organisations into controllable units. Companies are broken down into strategic business units, which is dependent on their separate product/service offerings.
This is how the business world works, just as it is now how the sporting world works.
Each player in the Australian cricket team has a specific function; he is marked by his own specific KPIs. Therefore, there is no need for the erratic all-rounder who can, on his day, do it all. Big data/business analytics simply will not allow for it.
Why, in modern Australia, is there still this desire for a “match winning all rounder” – and why should this particular player be given so much leeway in comparison to his teammates, who are marked so much more harshly?
Over the past decade or so, this all-rounder obsession has become increasingly absurd, to the point where last month, Australia selected Glenn Maxwell at number 3 in the second test against Pakistan.
The Maxwell Decision was obviously the most extreme and insane example of selectors favouring a supposed all-rounder over a specialist player.
Now, Mitchell Marsh is being touted as our next big thing. And while he has commenced his test career well (with the bat), he is bound to experience the peaks and troughs that come with being an all-rounder in post-WWII Australia.
Australia will fall in and out of love with Marsh. Sure, we will initially allow plenty of leeway in the hope that, one day, he will score a hundred and take a 5-for in the same test.
Meanwhile, we will churn through several cricketers who serve a specific function. We will trial and discard them over and over again while continuing our obsessive quest for the ultimate jack of all trades.
By Dave Edwards
*I write this article as someone who positioned himself as an all-rounder during my own cricketing ‘career’.