You may remember a classic episode of The Simpsons when Homer saves his town from destruction by avoiding a nuclear meltdown by effectively guessing which button to press. Homer is celebrated and venerated for his work, when deep down he knows that his lack of knowledge could have resulted in disaster. He performs the feat a second time later in the epside, except when colleagues get to see his ‘process’ he is found out, and reprimanded for ‘guessing’ instead of knowing.
When the National Selection Panel (NSP) selected Shaun Marsh we were among the many that howled about his inclusion. The selectors were having a punt on Marsh. Again.
Then Marsh scored a hard-fought 50 in Brisbane and followed it with a well-made century in Adelaide and the conversation changed. A curious little narrative emerged – that the selectors had rewarded his good shield form, and he had repayed them with test runs. It was heard on television and on the radio. But where did it come from?
Marsh’s shield form had in fact been solid. He averaged 39 before the tests begun, scored three half-centuries. This was less than incumbent Glenn Mawell (averaged 40). This was less than captain-appointed candidate Daniel Hughes, who was averaging over 70 when the test side was selected. So it’s clear that Marsh had done little to stand out from the crowd before his selection. As Mark Taylor noted before the Ashes started, the selectors made a choice based on familiarity and on faith.
This was not the case that the NSP wanted to put. Chair of the panel Trevor Hohns instead said:
“We just feel that Shaun Marsh … has performed much, much better and demanded to be chosen”
This was clearly untrue. Marsh hadn’t scored more runs than other contenders. His runs weren’t scored against better sides, or in more difficult situations. He made three half centuries, which meant he had less centuries than Jake Weatherald, Jake Lehmann and a host of other players that ‘performed’ during the first three rounds of the shield season.
Make no mistake, Shaun Marsh was not selected because he performed better. He was selected because Australia’s cricketing hierarchy remains fascinated with him, and because he looks beautiful when he scores runs.
The selectors crude attempt to graft a logic beyond guessing on this choice has been aided by his performance. While Hohn’s claims were roundly critiqued before the series, his lines have subsequently been parroted elsewhere as though they were true since Marsh’s success. This gives the impression that the selectors didn’t just punt on Marsh, and instead made a decision based in evidence.
Frankly, it’s designed to give the impression that Hohns and his team know what they are doing when in fact they are having a guess like the rest of us. They have got three guesses right this summer and they have been applauded for that. But if we’ve learnt anything from sabermetrics and sample sizes, when you rely on short batches of success to determine your decisions, you’re doomed to fail. They won’t pay the price this summer, but South Africa await.
Like Homer, the selectors will be found out.