THERE was a mind-boggling exchange at a news conference this week where John Inverarity sat down to announce Australia’s one-day team for games three and four against Sri Lanka. His combatant was the respected agency sports reporter Greg Buckle and it went like this:
GB: Just with the rotations and the constant fast …
JI: (interrupting) I presume you mean informed player management? Is that what you mean or not?
JI: Is that what you mean or not?
GB: Well, I try to keep it short for our readers.
JI: Yeah, but I mean, that’s what you mean. (Turning to face cameras) Thanks.
As if more evidence was required to prove the present disconnect with cricket and its hierarchy, this was Exhibit A. Corporate mumbo-jumbo is certainly not the way to win back a public with whom you are thoroughly on the nose, even if you are fed up with the tirade of criticism of selection policies. The journalist might have wondered if he were about to receive half a dozen strokes of the cane from the ex-headmaster.
Inverarity, as the frontman for the laboratory experiment that is the Australian team, has found himself in the firing line, and falling to a popularity level that Andrew Hilditch, his pilloried predecessor, might appreciate. Some are calling the 68-year-old head selector, known for his ”my way or the highway” approach, the nutty professor.
Kim Hughes, the former Test captain, who has known Inverarity for four decades, disagrees strongly with such views. He believes his former Western Australia captain is paying the price, in some way, for being too smart for his own good.
Inverarity, as passionate about education as he is about cricket, is one of the game’s intellectuals, a thinking man’s player and official, the polar opposite of his selection panel colleague Rod Marsh, who, despite the wide divide in personalities, is a long-time close friend.
”I think [in cricket] there has always been a bit of a mistrust of people who are seen as overly intelligent,” said Hughes, now the director of cricket at Perth’s Hale School, where Inverarity was once headmaster. ”Not that he is a professor or anything like that. But John always gives a lot of thought to his answers.
”Australian [players] from our vintage … if you went to uni, you were thought of as a different cat. John is very much a thinking person.
”He’s probably not the typical Australian bloke that’s put-em-up, shut-em-up, knock-em-over and let’s get into it, but between he and Rod Marsh we’ve got the characters covered.
”We always had a lot of respect for John because you felt he was genuinely interested in you and I think that’s one of his great strengths. He cares for the players.
”There is the Ian Chappell side of things – he’s pretty rough, tough, brutal. [But] those days are gone. Now it’s more about getting to understand the players’ personalities.”
While Hilditch was lambasted in many ways for not saying enough, and according to the likes of Simon Katich and Chris Rogers for not keeping them in the loop or even returning calls, Inverarity is being castigated at times probably as a result of saying too much.
If there has been public confusion, not everyone in the inner sanctum has always been on the same page either.
One example was at a press conference in Sydney last October when he nominated Nathan Lyon and Victoria’s Jon Holland as the standout spin bowlers in the country in the minds of selectors. At least one member of the panel still favoured left-armer Michael Beer, who had played on the previous Test tour of the West Indies, and was taken aback at the statement.
Deeply entrenched in cricket for most of his life Inverarity might run his media appearances like a classroom but he is renowned as a master student of the game. It is said that Inverarity, as coach of Warwickshire at the time, advised Ricky Ponting and Australia not to bowl first at Edgbaston in 2005. They went the other way and it led to Ashes defeat.
The side of Inverarity that goes unseen, Hughes would argue, is his collaboration with the Australian team alumni and his line of communication with current players. Like a student reading their report card, they know where they stand, he said.
”He is very engaging and does really embrace other people’s opinions and seeks out other people’s opinions,” Hughes said. ”I find him a breath of fresh air – you actually feel as if you’re engaged. But from what I remember if a decision had to be made, he made it.
”From a players’ point of view all you want is your selectors to be honest. What do I need to do to get in? And if I do that, then I’m a chance.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.