Usually, we're delighted when Ed Cowan turns out for Sydney University. You couldn't find a more committed, enthusiastic clubman. He adds class to any game he plays in, and the younger players in the team learn an immense amount from him. It's a privilege to have him with us.
But on Saturday, when Ed turns out for University against Hawkesbury, it will just feel wrong. Because on that day, the New South Wales team will be playing its first Sheffield Shield match of the season and Cowan ought to be there.
Ed was the leading Sheffield Shield run-scorer last season, not just for New South Wales, but in the entire competition. His 959 runs at 73.76 was almost one hundred runs ahead of the next best player, Hilton Cartwright, whose 861 runs (at an average twenty runs lower) earned him a Test place. He won the Steve Waugh Medal as the leading cricketer for New South Wales. It is simply ridiculous that no place can be found for him in the side, even with Test players like Smith and Warner available.
We have absolutely nothing against Daniel Hughes, who is obviously a good cricketer. But, right now, Ed is better, especially in the four-day game. Hughes, it's said, has been selected on the basis of his strong form in the 50-over JLT Cup. Cowan was asked to bat in the middle order in that competition and agreed to it because he's a team player. From very limited opportunities, he did nothing wrong, scoring a couple of valuable fifties. But it's more pertinent to look at what Hughes managed in the Sheffield Shield last season: 543 runs at 36.20. Which isn't bad. But it's not 959 at 73.76. And white ball form doesn't necessarily translate to the longer game, as Hughes' past record shows.
It now appears that Steve Smith weighed into the debate in favour of Hughes, on the basis that the game would give him "a good opportunity for him to play with the likes of myself and Davey [Warner]. Learn a little bit off us and the way we prepare and it's a good chance for me to see him play as well."
Which is nice. Except that it violates two important aspects of the pact between players and selectors. First: that performance is rewarded. How is it possible to be the best player one year, then out of the side for the next game? Secondly: that places in the team need to be earned. Do we really pick a player in the Shield team now so that Steve Smith can "see him play"?
If so, it's just wrong. Even if Hughes succeeds (and we hope he does), it still won't vindicate the idea of choosing the team this way.
Update: SUCC past Chairman and Life Member, James Rodgers, says:
This is a shameful act. What happened to meritocracy of performance? I can't be definitive but this discarding of proven talent and performance has happened only a few times before in NSW history. Two come to mind: Charlie Baker, from Newcastle, scored 123 and 24 not out against Victoria in 1968-69 and was never seen again in NSW colours. And HO Rock's treatment stands as a supreme example of capricious neglect of a player who had performed. But even this doesn't rank with the dropping of a Test player at the peak of his game!
In 1924, Rock (another Sydney University batsman) scored 127 and 27 not out on debut and was then dropped when Test players returned. Later in the season, he was summoned again, scored 235 and 51 against Victoria and was omitted again to make room for four NSW Test players. When I spoke with him 50 years after this, he was sanguine but he had an eye for the ridiculous. I could tell that he was grimly amused by his treatment. He was told on the train going to Melbourne that he'd be 12th man. He said that he felt like hopping off and catching the next train back to Sydney. But he had endured the horrors of France in the Great War and sport was a diversion.
In Ed's case, there are no excuses for this shameful act by those who should be hanging their heads.