Why George Bailey had to go

The selection of George Bailey for the Ashes was a worthwhile experiment. But selectors have picked the right time to abandon it.

In the 18 months before Bailey was elevated to the Test team he had scored more one-day international runs than all but India's emerging great Virat Kohli. When that form was combined with the leadership for which the 31-year-old is renowned, it was the justification chief selector John Inverarity had been looking for to give him a run in the Test team.

As the selector who spearheaded the Tasmanian's elevation to international cricket two years ago – he picked Bailey as Twenty20 captain before he had made his international debut – Inverarity is deserving of credit for putting sentiment aside for this decision.

The axing of Bailey from the 15-man squad for the series in South Africa is not harsh.

During the Ashes he scored 183 runs at an average of 26. That record that could have been worse had England not spurned opportunities to dismiss him early in his three best innings. When he made 38 in Brisbane he was dropped on 17, in Adelaide he was dropped on 10 and went on to make 53, while in Perth were it not for an inexplicable fielding mix-up he would have departed on nine in the innings where he later bludgeoned a record 28 runs off a single over in making 39 not out.

Australia's dominance across the series allowed selectors to show more patience with Bailey than they probably would have had the team been struggling. That is not to say he did not make a contribution to the series win – teammates lauded his influence, plus his close-in fielding was great – but his lack of contribution with his primary role cannot be glossed over, even in a 5-0 demolition.

Of all the batsmen to make their debut for Australia in the past 20 years, only one, Andrew Symonds, has fared worse than Bailey in his first five Tests. Symonds, who was also selected on his one-day form, made a paltry 101 runs at 12.63 in his first five Tests. He did, however, have the advantage of also being a bowler, and that he was part of an exceptional team.

Even bowler Mitch Starc, with 175 runs at 43.75, scored only eight fewer runs than Bailey from his first five Tests.

Bailey could hardly have had a more favourable introduction to Tests: five at home, at No. 6, against a team for which only two regular bowlers, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, averaged under 40 with the ball in the series. It is near impossible to imagine that if two other well-credentialled veterans without a Test cap, South Australia's Michael Klinger and Western Australia's Adam Voges, were afforded the same stint as Bailey they would not have outperformed him.

One of Bailey's reputed main flaws, that he is too dependent on scoring on the leg-side, was not apparent during the Test series, with 60 per cent of his runs coming on the off-side.

The bigger problems related to his lean first-innings form – he averaged 12.8, only once reaching double figures – and his pattern of dismissals. Three times he fell nicking behind, while another three times he fell to one of his strengths, his pull shot. Both would be regularly targeted by South Africa's ruthless pace attack of Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, respectively ranked one, two and 12 in the world.

A huge factor in Australia's Ashes thumping of England was the regular rescue missions launched by Brad Haddin. He scored 493 runs at 61.63, the most ever by an Australian wicketkeeper – yes, including Adam Gilchrist – in a Test series. He cannot be relied upon to do the same in South Africa. That is why selectors reluctantly punted Bailey.

The right-hander's failure across the Ashes cannot be written off as an anomaly. Since his debut for Australia two years ago, his first-class record outside Tests is 1065 runs at 29.58, with only one century and six half-centuries in his 37 innings over that period.

In the same period, Alex Doolan, one of two new batsmen in the squad for South Africa, has scored 1761 runs at 40.02, with three centuries and eight half-centuries from his 45 innings.

Shaun Marsh fares worse than Bailey on that measure, with 675 runs at 26, featuring one century and two half-centuries. The reason selectors have nevertheless gambled on him was his stunning entry to Test cricket in the second half of 2011 in Sri Lanka and South Africa. In the latter, his 44 in the first innings at Cape Town was more assured than captain Michael Clarke's 151.

"We all know when Shaun plays at his best he's a very good player, and it seems to us he's in that space at the moment," Inverarity explained on Monday.

Bailey now faces a challenging stint at the helm of the Twenty20 team, and as one-day vice-captain. While the Tasmanian is conditioned to being a target of influential pundits sceptical of his talent, notably Ian Chappell and Shane Warne, the legitimacy of such criticism was countered by the fact he had not had a chance to prove himself in Tests.

Now, Bailey must, starting on Friday in Perth, prove that his struggles in his first attempt at Test cricket will not undermine his authority to lead, and perhaps even his self-confidence, in limited-overs matches.

Bailey's prospects of a recall are muddied by the fact selectors argued before the Ashes that they had seen enough of him to excuse him from the past three Australia A series.

"The general feeling is we thought George has gone past that," Inverarity said in October. "That's more development, and he's firmly entrenched as an Australian player."

For 50-over cricket Bailey is deservedly entrenched in the line-up. To replicate that in Tests, however, he will likely have to bash the door down in the Sheffield Shield to get back in.

Having averaged above 40 in only four of his 10 shield seasons – and above 45 only once – that would require a major improvement from him at an age where the majority have already established a pattern for their career.

This story Why George Bailey had to go first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.