Monday, August 24, 2009

'Sacking Ponting would be completely unfair' - Sutherland

Merv Hughes is one of the Australian selectors on tour.

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, has said sacking Ricky Ponting from the captaincy would be "completely unfair" and has praised his leadership through the Ashes. Australia lost The Oval Test by 197 runs and conceded their second Ashes defeat to England this decade.

"Ricky's had a very, very good series," Sutherland told reporters. "He's been under incredible pressure. I thought the dignity and poise that he showed in defeat was something that all Australians should be very proud of."

He also absolved the National Selection Panel (NSP) of responsibility for the defeat in England. One of the talking points in the post-mortem was the omission of the offspinner Nathan Hauritz, which captain Ricky Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen admitted was a blunder. Hauritz's counterpart Graeme Swann proved why a spinner was so essential on that pitch as he picked up eight wickets. Sutherland defended the team management for the final line-up, implying that not all gambles are likely to pay-off.

"I think everyone will be looking for people to blame. I don't think that in any way we can hold the selectors accountable for us losing the Ashes," Sutherland said. "At the end of the day, the players go out and do the business on the field.

"Only six or seven months ago we had a fantastic series in South Africa where we beat the No. 1 team in the world (2-1 in the Tests) with a pretty similar line-up. The selectors were hailed for their selection, I guess in some ways the perceived risks they took in backing young talent. I think it would be jumping to conclusions to be blaming the selectors for this."

Sutherland said it would be unfair to criticise the decision to play a four-pronged pace attack at the expense of Hauritz, while it was clear that Australia effectively lost the game when they conceded a huge first-innings lead of 172.

"That's something that the selectors can explain for themselves," Sutherland said. "Whether that had any bearing on the result of the game, who will know? We've lost the game by 200 runs, it's a pretty significant defeat, and having a spinner in the side wouldn't have helped us in the first innings, where we were bowled out for 160 and effectively lost the game."

With Australia free-falling to No. 4 in the latest ICC Test rankings, Sutherland admitted that plenty of work had to be done to reinstate their position at the top.

"I don't think Cricket Australia is under any illusions as to where this team is at. We're definitely in a re-building phase after losing some of the best players to ever play cricket for Australia, and right now, what you get with a young and relatively inexperienced team is some ebbs and flows in performance.

"We saw a little bit of that in the Ashes series. Our best cricket was very, very good, and our not-so-good cricket, in a couple of critical moments, were really the reasons why we let the Ashes slip."

Commenting on likely changes to the selection panel, Sutherland said at least one position in the three-man panel, led by Andrew Hilditch, will be converted to a full-time role.

"The selection panel is to some extent, professional already. We have in recent times had a review, where we are now moving to a phase of becoming more professional in our approach to selection. It's not just selection, it's a matter of identifying talent and being partners in the development of talent and I think that's part of the review and going forward we'll be moving towards having at least one of the selection panel full time."

However, he ruled out the possibility of appointing the captain and coach to the panel, on the lines of what New Zealand Cricket adopted on Sunday. "The captain and the coach are always heavily consulted before matches but the structure that we prefer is for the selectors to be independent and making their own decisions and to be accountable for selection on that basis."