At what point do the selection bombshells stop coming as a shock? At what point is it our own fault for taking Cricket Australia (CA) at its word, and assuming our national team will be selected using logic and the rules it sets for itself?
A week out from the Ashes, what should have been a settled, well-prepared Test XI now looks like an elaborate experiment from a selection panel hoping to confuse the opposition into submission.
Let’s start with Shaun Marsh, the easiest target and the inclusion that is proving to be the hammer-tap to the knee, provoking most of the reflexive kicks.
Of the three, this one should come as the least shocking. If you don’t know by now that CA adores Marsh and will select him whenever fit and feasible, then your angry Facebook comments have been for nothing.
The word is that Marcus Stoinis was preferred — yes, even with his top score of 32 from three Shield innings this season — but family tragedy intervened. And so the door opened again for Marsh, as it inevitably always does.
Should we be surprised that CA and co have different rules for Marsh than for, say, Ed Cowan, who was bombed out of the New South Wales team for having had too many birthdays?
Probably not really, and it certainly doesn’t feel like 34-year-old Marsh is on anything approaching a last warning.
Shaun Marsh failed to make an impression during Australia’s tour of India earlier this year. (AP: Rajanish Kakade)
South Australia’s two Jakes — Lehmann and Weatherald — have both sparkled with the bat in recent weeks, but their youthful flair has been ignored for the “valuable experience” of Marsh.
So you can mark that one down as expected hypocrisy.
In Cameron Bancroft, we have probably the country’s form batsman and the one player who demanded selection in the Test team by sheer weight of runs. It’s a relief to see a player come into the Australian team in such fantastic form.
But the treatment of Matt Renshaw over the past few weeks has been deplorable.
In watching a young player — so impressive in his short stint in the Test team — be thrown to the wolves by national selectors, state coaches and often his own team-mates, we have seen a man’s confidence disintegrate.
Manufactured pressure leads to Renshaw axing
Three weeks ago, Renshaw was under no pressure whatsoever and Australia was looking forward to seeing its newest top-order hope battle it out against the country he once called home.
Then Mark Waugh spoke up, and Steve Smith opted against supporting him, and Justin Langer sunk the boot in, and the papers joined in.
The pressure came from nowhere, completely manufactured by just a few influential people. But it manifested in Renshaw’s head and beyond, and for the first time in his professional career, he looked like an overwhelmed batsman.
Matt Renshaw fall out of favour as the Ashes selection announcement approached. (AAP: Dave Hunt, File)
There was room for both of Renshaw and Bancroft — Bancroft could easily have started his career at six, just like Langer and Simon Katich and other eventual-openers before him — but instead Renshaw has been tossed aside, a project abandoned before it was given a chance to fully succeed.
To call on a young player to rescue the side at a time of great need then bin him at the earliest and most convenient opportunity? Depressing hypocrisy.
All of which leads us to Tim Paine.
You probably remember Paine as the bright, blonde-haired bloke that emerged around 2009 and looked like becoming Australia’s long-term wicketkeeper. If your mind is conjuring these images, you probably see no problem with his blindsiding recall.
But that’s not what the Tim Paine of 2017 is.
The Tim Paine of 2017 has a Sheffield Shield average of less than 30, and a year ago was dropped by Tasmania altogether. The Tim Paine of 2017 has stood at first slip next to Matt Wade, as his state team has adjudged the latter a better wicketkeeper currently than the man who will replace him in the national team.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann has a more-recent Shield century than the Tim Paine of 2017.
An innings of 71 against Victoria — after a duck in the first — seems to have been enough for the selectors to take the punt. That he was only afforded the opportunity to grind out these runs at the expense of Tasmania’s chances in the match, and only so Wade could potentially have a chance to bat himself, is more painful irony.
Perhaps none of this would be a problem if Australia’s keeping pool was bone dry, but it is anything but.
Selectors opt for Paine over better options
Just what Peter Nevill has done to the Australian selectors is anybody’s guess. He should never have been dropped last summer and he should have walked back into the side now. He is at least as good a keeper as Paine, probably better nowadays, and has a Shield average approaching 40.
Pick Alex Carey, another exceptional wicketkeeper with only one fewer first class century than Paine.
In Shield games this season, both Carey and Nevill have selflessly thrown their wickets away in pursuit of quick runs for the team — had their states given them the same licence to audition as Paine received, maybe it would be their name on the list.
Paine is not the best wicketkeeper in Australia anymore, and his batting record is nowhere near the top of that pile either.
So why has he been picked? There is no logical answer, and any claim to the contrary needs to wilfully ignore all available evidence, both on paper and on the field.
To see blatantly better candidates ignored for a bolter on a hunch is infuriating, maddening hypocrisy.