TEST and one-day captain Michael Clarke has issued a considered defence of the much-maligned rest and rotation policy of selectors, saying Australia was no longer the team it once was and could not afford to field players at anything less than fully fit.
Australia's selection offerings have been in the firing line for much of the summer, and criticism has intensified over the past fortnight after the resting of leading players for the first two one-day internationals of the summer.
One dayers alive and kicking
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One dayers alive and kicking
Cricket fans at the Gabba back the future of one day cricket, saying it is "what Australia is all about" but warn against the dangers of rotating the best players out of the team.
Clarke said he was cognisant of the public discontent for the panel's decision-making - ''I've read that'' - but followed staunch backing of their principles by coach Mickey Arthur and national selector John Inverarity with his own explanation of their approach as has been delivered.
He said supporters and past players who have slammed their policies - including Shane Warne and Brett Lee - had to understand that picking an Australian XI was not as simple as it once was when Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were automatic inclusions.
''What the public wants to see is the best possible Australian team on the field every game. And honestly, I think we're trying to do that, I really do,'' Clarke said. ''[But] the risk of playing someone when they're not 100 per cent fit, if they do get injured, can put them out for six weeks, six months.
''The issue where the Australian team is now compared to where it was 10 years ago is that 10 years ago you had four, five, six, seven great players in one team. If they were 80 per cent fit, they were still good enough to win a game for Australia. Where we sit now as a team, is it's a lot different to that. The gap between the 11 players that take the field and the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th player is quite close, so if you're not 100 per cent fit to perform at your best, it's not worth the risk for the team for you to take the field and let the team down.
''If somebody is not 100 per cent fit to play their role, then they don't make that best XI. No matter what their name is, no matter what their reputation is. Our team is a lot different now to what it used to be.''
The public relations problem for Australia is that selectors have been attacked most viciously when leaving out players - the best example being Mitchell Starc for the Boxing Day Test - without critics knowing all relevant information. It has since been revealed by Arthur that the fast bowler was left out because he had bone spurs on an ankle. Likewise, fellow quicks Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were omitted from the deciding Test of the South Africa series in Perth after the hugely taxing second Test in Adelaide before it later emerged they were dealing with, respectively, slight hamstring and knee niggles.
Full disclosure of those fitness issues would have dulled much of the criticism levelled at selectors on each occasion, but Clarke said not every development with a player's body could be relayed to the public because that would advantage the opposition. He did concede, however, that Australia could have better communicated the reasoning behind some of the team changes this summer.
''There is a lot that is spoken about in the group that people outside the group aren't aware of,'' he said. ''We've probably seen cases throughout the past 12 months where guys have not been 100 per cent fit or had little niggles that probably haven't been communicated as well as they need to be to the media, in essence to the public. The Perth Test was a great example. Call it resting Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus … well, the facts were they just weren't fit enough.
''We as a selection panel [know] there is going to be times when we have to cop criticism, that's for sure. But I just want the public and the media to understand that we're trying to do the best thing for Australian cricket today and also in regards to what's coming up.''