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Why not give Jake Fraser-McGurk a chance to go berserk for Australia? | Geoff Lemon
Cricket Sport

Why not give Jake Fraser-McGurk a chance to go berserk for Australia? | Geoff Lemon

Let’s be honest, we wanted it. You all did. Short of those actively hostile to 20-over cricket, anyone would have liked to see Fraser-McGurk go crazy berserk, after the boy Jake has spent the past three weeks tearing up bowlers in the Indian Premier League. Instead, he will head from India back home, left out of the T20 World Cup that follows the tournament he’s currently dominating.

It takes something special for the IPL to cut through in Australia. Fraser-McGurk produced it: 55 off 35 balls to vindicate coach Ricky Ponting on a nerveless debut, a vicious 65 from 18 balls in his other innings at first drop. Up to open the batting in David Warner’s place for Delhi Capitals, he started with 20 from 10 balls and 23 from 14, before another skyrocket with 84 off 27 and a last start of 12 off 7. Even his failures have a strike rate over 150.

So why not do that in an Australian shirt? With some irony, it is like when Warner came on the scene back in 2008. Young, brash, no domestic record of substance, but a noted talent for crucifying a cricket ball to the point that it would never rise again. Both times, the development pathways have bubbled with talk about just how high the player’s ceiling might be.

Fraser-McGurk has had more lead time in domestic cricket, some quiet seasons at Victoria leading to South Australia, where a 21-year-old with a dodgy mullet broke the List A world record with a ton off 29 balls. He ended with 125 off 37, went on to hit 18 sixes across his Big Bash campaign, and played two ODIs for Australia. Most of his hitting has been about a set of whip-crack wrists, launching the ball from off a length, up and under, to send it over the leg-side.

The choice to pass him up is very coach Andrew McDonald: stay calm, back current players, stick the course. Similar work through a difficult 50-over World Cup was ultimately vindicated, bringing home a trophy that few expected. Also, McDonald, with selectors George Bailey and Tony Dodemaide, did make the call to leave out Steve Smith from this next assignment, not unexpectedly given the format, but one where other selectors would have been cowed by reputation.

Smith aside, Australia will stick with convention at the top. Travis Head is another having a fierce IPL, but his opening berth comes from incumbency. Mitchell Marsh will bat three, now the T20 captain and Allan Border Medallist. The other opener will be Warner, at 37 years old and rising, in the tournament he nominated a year ago as his final national ambition. Warner is 44th for runs in this year’s IPL, and of that top 50 his strike rate is 43rd. National selectors will cite experience, tactics and fielding as reasons to disregard statistics, and there is a strong case that recency should not make all decisions.

Jake Fraser-McGurk bats View image in fullscreen

To a point, the IPL isn’t real. It’s fantasy cricket, where consequence behaves differently. There are top players, but they ride out good games with bad and still get hired next season. Fringe players have personal pressure, taking their chance to impress in a crowded marketplace. But the fact that someone else will impress the next night, the endless cavalcade, must make it easier for them to go boldly. If it’s hard to make people remember your successes, they’re not going to remember your failures. Failures in an international shirt leave a mark.

The batting carnage this year is unlikely in a World Cup, where scoring can drop back. There will be no substitutes to bolster batting. Surfaces are an unknown, with drop-in wickets across the US plus the tendency of some Caribbean grounds to play slow. On mindset and conditions, you would expect quality bowlers like Anrich Nortje or Mitchell Starc, going at horrible IPL economy rates, to come back strongly. Those batters enjoying the wind at their backs have to one day turn and face the weather. And yet, and yet … Fraser-McGurk right this minute is batting on another plane. He has 259 in six innings, nowhere near the top scorers, but his strike rate of 233 is way faster than the whole top 50. Look further, find that across the entire 17 seasons of the IPL, nobody in any season’s top 50 has ever scored as quickly as this guy.

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Nor has it been small fast scores. Averages aren’t much use in T20, but his mark of 43.17 is the highest by anyone this season who has been dismissed in every innings. Second for that boutique stat, with eight innings for 338 runs, is Head. He is also third on the strike rate list, at 211.25.

Which does make you wonder. Those two paired at the top could be an onslaught beyond any side, ending games within 10 overs. T20 has changed, and Warner’s style may not be the way. He could bat at three or four if you wanted a strike manipulator who also has an arsenal. Cameron Green and Marcus Stoinis have been picked for middle order spots where they have struggled for runs, and their bowling is minimally important given the squad options. Does either have more upside?

One part of sport administration is the balance of instinct. Do the planning, do the admin, be responsible, look long-term, but leave room for impulse when the moment demands. Someone being so good forces recalculation. Acknowledgment of that might be the reward that makes them flourish, while ignoring an otherworldly streak might deflate them to the point of hindrance. Australia had the perfect chance in the pool stage: set Fraser-McGurk against lower-ranked Oman, Namibia, Scotland, plus England in a game that is simultaneously a big match-up and inconsequential for advancing to the next stage barring other losses. If he didn’t fire, Warner would be well able to hit the ground running.

We saw this with England choosing Jofra Archer weeks before the World Cup in 2019, leaving out long-term player David Willey. It was the move that won them the trophy. It also gave Archer the only season of substance he has been able to deliver for that team. That is the other thing. It is easy to assume that every young player has plenty of time, the rolling expanses of the undefined future going on forever, but for plenty that future never appears. One thing or another goes wrong, something else comes instead. Perhaps for Fraser-McGurk this was the time, slapping a ticket into the hottest of hot hands.

Source: theguardian.com