The Ryan Bailey Column
No room for sentiment as golden tickets distributed
Above all, it says a great deal about how far Irish cricket has come that a squad announcement, for a preparatory series against two of our Associate counterparts, has engendered such discourse.The Ryan Bailey Column: Previous Articles
The official line, of course, is that the recently-named panel is for the World Cup preliminaries pencilled into the itinerary for January: nothing more, nothing less. Read further between the lines, however, and as weíre all aware, the die has invariably been cast and the selectorsí minds all but made up.
There is the supposition that the fifteen players set to face Scotland and Afghanistan in the UAE are the ones in possession of the golden ticket. All indications seem to suggest that is the case and that the four ODIs will be used as games to formulate the stratagem rather then be utilised as glorified auditions.
To that point, the management and selectorsí decision to write the names on the squad sheet in marker rather than pencil is fully justified. The spate of injuries that left Phil Simmons devoid of his front line operators for the recent acclimatisation tours has meant time is not on Irelandís side. What should have been a protracted period of meticulous planning for a third appearance on the sportís most exalted stage will be shoehorned into a couple of weeks and a handful of games.
With the World Cup beginning in just 45 days, the window for fine-tuning the means, let alone settling on the composition of the squad, is a narrow one. The time for evaluating the resources has passed. Ireland now need to begin the process of putting the pieces in place rather than searching through the box for them.
That is, however, where the vexed selection issues arise. While other countries have declared a 30-man provisional squad, Ireland have, somewhat unsurprisingly, decided against making theirs public (although they have submitted one to the ICC, as is required).
In truth, there are barely that amount of players in the current senior set-up to compile such a long list but the position the selectors have found themselves is a far cry from bygone years when the only selection dilemma was whether a player would be afforded the necessary time off work or not.
Now, as professionalism levels have swelled, the resource pool has widened and the competition for places has intensified. Where as before the core group of players was twelve or thirteen, Phil Simmons now has several alternatives in each department at his disposal. That is not to say the calibre of player coming through is any better than what has gone before but there is an element of depth to the squad now.
And, as with any squad announcement, in any sport, there are contentious selections and in this case, non-selections. The omission of Max Sorensen, in particular, has raised a couple of eyebrows. There was always going to be winners and losers but such has been Phil Simmonsí loyalty and continuity in selection during his tenure, Sorensenís exclusion is confounding.
The 29-year-old has been an ever present in the squad - across all formats - since his debut in 2012 and in the past two years is Irelandís fourth highest limited-overs wicket taker. Many are perplexed by the decision of the selectors to overlook Sorensen and while everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone is entitled to voice that opinion, context must be added.
Sorensen is not the first, and he wonít be the last, to be the subject of a harsh decision. Andrew Poynter must be feeling equalling demoralised, and Graeme McCarter too, but such is sport - itís a pitiless business. Ultimately, it comes down to the judgement of a select few.
There can often be underlying factors that contribute to such a decision. The Sorensen bandwagon are adamant his exclusion has nothing to do with injury while there are also claims political reasons were behind the decision - it could be the case, Iím far from an expert - but perhaps the selectors are looking at a bigger, broader picture.
It can be argued, statistically speaking, Sorensen has been the consistent performer with the new ball for Ireland over the past few years. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
At the World T20 in Bangladesh, the 29-year-old bowled four wicketless overs at nearly ten a pop and was left out of what turned out to be the final game against Netherlands. A couple of weeks previous, in the only ODI against West Indies, he returned figures of 1/34 from just four overs. Last month, on his return from injury, Sorensen leaked 50 runs in six overs.
It may seem unfair to pick and choose substandard performances for the purpose of an argument, and while Sorensen has proved to be a matchwinner on occasions, he has failed to deliver consistently against the big boys, on the big occasion.
Itís all well and good ripping through Scotlandís top order in favourable bowling conditions or picking up a spate of wickets in the Intercontinental Cup but the World Cup is a different ball game, itís a different level.
There is also the possibility that Phil Simmons has already decided on his XI for the opening game at the Saxton Oval on February 15th. Sir Alex Ferguson, by way of example, always mapped out his team selection for matches weeks, if not months, in advance.
To that point, there simply may not be a place for Sorensen in the side.
Ever since Craig McDermott took Peter Chase, Craig Young and Graeme McCarter under his wing last year, there has been an expectancy that they would be moulded into the type of fast-bowlers - with a lean frame, extracting pace and bounce from the pitch - that would thrive in conditions Down Under.
They were, for all intents and purposes, the next generation who would lead the Irish attack at the 2015 World Cup and beyond. It did, however, look for a long time that the tournament would come too soon for all three of them but now that Young and Chase have produced performances warranting selection, the scheme can be followed through.
Whatís more, they are both home-grown products. They both learnt their grade in Ireland, their skills were developed and nurtured here and their talent nourished by Irish coaches. As Ireland continues to progress as a cricketing nation, producing our own players is the only way forward. It seems the selectors have decided that starts now.
Of course, they have rolled the dice. Both Young and Chase are inexperienced at any level, let alone internationally but neither, in truth, is Sorensen. He has played just eight ODIs and the vast majority of them were against Associate opposition.
If, hypothetically speaking, both Young and Chase are to be part of a three-man pace attack which also includes Tim Murtagh then including Sorensen as an understudy, who has played little or no cricket since September, may be deemed by the selectors as a risk.
Murtaghís inclusion has also been questioned. To be fair, there should be no debate surrounding this. A bowler who has been the stand-out performer in county cricket for the best part of a decade having taken over 800 career wickets or an accomplished club cricketer?
It doesnít take an expert to work out that this will be a high-scoring World Cup. The Manuka Oval in Canberra, the venue for Irelandís game against South Africa, has in its four previous completed ODIs produced scores of: 329, 329, 290 and 256.
Sorensen is capable of holding his own with the bat and his ability with the willow is another string to his bow but if Ireland are relying on the batting of their tail in a World Cup likely to be a run-fest then itís unlikely theyíll make much of an impression.
Amidst the brouhaha surrounding the selection debate, people are missing the point. Arguments for Sorensenís inclusion are being based on the inclusion of Cusack or Thompson. But, theyíre not like-for-like players. You canít compare players who fulfil different roles.
Sorensen would be picked for his bowling and not his batting. The latter, of course, is a bonus, particularly if it comes off but his primary role is with the ball and if his performances up until the point of selection havenít convinced the selectors that he is the man for the job then so be it. Whatís the point of selecting an out of sorts bowler because they can offer something down the order with the bat?
Phil Simmons and the selectors clearly had to make a choice between Sorensen and another fast-bowler, probably Young or Chase.
By hand-picking a travelling party made up of fifteen for next month, rather than adding in the understudies, the selectors have given Simmons the opportunity to reinstate that element of stability and regularity which has underpinned his reign.
Sorensenís omission may have been unforeseen and merciless but we have reached a point at which these hard-line decisions will have to be made. There is no more room for token selections based on loyalty any more. The selectors have to pick a squad of players they feel are best fit for the task in hand and they obviously are of the opinion that Sorensen is not the best option.
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