George Who: The invisible Australian captain George Bailey

During Australia’s World T20 campaign in 2012, George Bailey dined in the crab restaurant owned by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. More than other slightly overpriced crab restaurants, this is a place of cricket. They don’t hide who the owners are, and there are pictures of other cricketers around as well. The waiters also love cricket. They were very excited, as many famous current players and legendary ex-players had been in. They were keen on meeting more. The man who waited on George Bailey was a massive Cameron White fan. He spoke of how White used to be the Australian T20 captain. When asked who the current Australian captain was, he didn’t know.

Bailey just sat there uncomfortably. With a slight smile.

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The first ball of George Bailey’s Test career at the Gabba was eased through mid-on. It was from Stuart Broad. There are far worse ways of starting your career than with an on-drive for three. Interestingly, it was an empty mid-on. From the start it seemed that England didn’t rate him.

After that, every ball Bailey faced in that innings would be from James Anderson. He missed a bouncer, edged a length ball that didn’t carry, and played and missed at an outswinger. During all of this, Jimmy spoke to Bailey. His famous sledging style: through his fingers. Bailey spoke back, and smiled.

Until he nicked off to Cook at slip. His feet set in stone. His hands looking for the ball, and his edge completing the wicket. He had made 3 and was Anderson’s first wicket of the Ashes.

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Bailey made an impact almost immediately in domestic cricket. Not completely as a batsman, but for his smile. He smiles a lot. There was an ad one year promoting the one-day tournament and in it was Mick Lewis, the grizzled Victorian quick, saying how much he hated George Bailey smiling. But despite the smile, and the obvious talent, Bailey never really pushed for higher honours.

If you saw him bat, it was strange. With no real follow-through, he could smoke the ball to the fence. Pace and spin didn’t seem a problem. He could play on rough wickets. What he couldn’t do was produce the sort of season that you need to get picked. Almost all Australian cricketers do it. A 1000-run season that makes everyone shout your name.

Bailey never went past 778, which he made in his second season.

In 50-overs cricket he was always pretty good, but never “lock up your daughters this guy is burning your world down” good. In T20 he was the same. He played for Scotland when they were in the English domestic cricket set-up. But it was only in 50-over games, and he didn’t do enough to make a stir.

He also played in the IPL, for the best team, Chennai Super Kings. Many Australian players had made good reputations doing good things in the IPL. Bailey was there for four seasons. In that time Super Kings won two IPLs and were runners-up once. He played four games. His top score was 30.

There were no editorials written demanding his inclusion. He wasn’t signing multi-million dollar deals. He just played a bit of cricket, mostly at home, and occasionally abroad.

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After Mitchell Johnson’s first innings at the Gabba, batting got easier. And Bailey had only one over from Anderson. Australia were well in front, Anderson was soon taken out of the attack, and instead Bailey faced Joe Root, Chris Tremlett and an out-of-sorts Graeme Swann.

Bailey reacted to this like a good team man. He smashed Root and Swann for sixes. He had not yet hit a four in Tests, but he did have two more sixes than Jonathan Trott. He was keen to show how much he had listened to instructions to attack the spinners, and that he could forget about putting a price on his wicket and just get Australia the runs they needed to declare. It was not always smooth but it was a positive sign.

That was until he looked like a badly programmed robot, playing up a line that Swann had not bowled. He was out for 34.

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In Ed Cowan’s book, In the Firing Line (part diary, part bromance epic with Bailey), he wrote about a conversation that he and George had about the future after cricket. Both guys had got to around 30, felt a way away from playing for their country, and now had to think about the worst thing many professional cricketers fear – getting a real job.

There is good money in playing first-class cricket into your 30s, but you have to want it. You have to be prepared to get up early, train harder than the kids, prepare like a pro, knowing that your ultimate dream is gone. There are some players who play on without all this, but they are the obscenely talented. Bailey is good but not obscenely talented. A drop off in his work ethic could have meant he was no longer automatically picked, and even a career cashing in at the lower level may not have been available to him.

So when he chose to keep playing, it was because a part of him still believed. He was willing to keep working hard. He had won domestic titles. He had chased his dream professionally for over a decade, but when you are only one lucky phone call from playing for your country, it’s a big call to become a schoolteacher or batting coach.

****

Neither of Bailey’s Gabba innings made anywhere near the impact that his stoush with Anderson did. England had been placed inside a brass bull, the fire had been lit beneath it, and all that was left was the last screams as they roasted to death.

Australia pushed for the last wicket, but Anderson wasn’t quite cooked. Just before the 80th over started – one where he faced up to Johnson from around the wicket in the “Imma gonna kill you” style – he was already on edge. While Johnson warmed up, it was clear that Anderson and Bailey were chatting, and that Anderson wasn’t kidding around. He walked over to Bailey, standing tall above him, and nothing he said seemed like a John Keats poem. Politeness wasn’t in evidence. Neither man even seemed to let the other finish a sentence.

Bailey smiled, Anderson scowled, the umpires walked in hurriedly, they used the international sign for calm down, and then everyone went back to their marks. Michael Clarke chatted within the stump mics’ hearing range.

“Face up”, said an aggressive Clarke.

“I’m quite happy to,” said a passive-aggressive Anderson.

“Get ready for a broken f****** arm,” said Clarke walking backwards knowing that one of the world’s most dangerous bowlers was on his side.

George Bailey continued to smile. Anderson survived seven more balls.

****

If George Bailey wasn’t a good captain, he probably would have been even less known. Bailey had inherited a decent side from Dan (son of Rod, not Geoff) Marsh. But he made it even better. Partly through building a team ethic, partly by smart recruiting. George was well known and well liked within Australian cricket. Anyone he thought could be good for his team turned up. Ed Cowan, Jackson Bird and Mark Cosgrove turned up. Armed with these three, two good allrounders, and a bunch of other quality bowlers, he built an empire on green tracks that he and the other batsmen tried to survive on.

They made six finals under Bailey. They won three. For a state with no real record of prolonged success, and about 35 residents, it was a brilliant effort. And when Australian cricket changed under the reign of John Inverarity, George Bailey was their sort of man.

He knew about things other than cricket. He could bring people together. He was calm. He was cool. He was worldly. He was a winner. And he was bright. Then he was Australia’s first-ever captain who had not played for Australia before.

Even though it was the least important captaincy position, it painted a target on his back.

****

The score was 174 for 4 when Bailey appeared in Adelaide. He was dropped. He brought up his first Test fifty with a six off Broad. And continued to hit sixes.

When he came in, Australia were very nearly in danger of throwing away a huge advantage on a flat track, with their in-form captain at the other end. Bailey batted like a batsman without a care in the world. When England bowled a bad ball, he went after it. When they didn’t, he just handled them fine. Bailey outscored his captain.

The ball made a good noise off his bat when he smacked it. He looked, for the first time, in complete control. He came down to the spinners on the odd occasion Monty Panesar wasn’t bowling short. Even the chance he offered was relatively safe. He went down the wicket and smashed the ball at Panesar, who dropped it. If you’re going to pick anyone, it should be Panesar.

His six off Broad to bring up his fifty wasn’t just a six off Broad to bring up a fifty. It was a six off Broad, who was using the second new ball, to bring up a fifty. After that, Bailey resumed his battle with Anderson. It was an over where very little happened. The only question was what score Bailey would be not out on at close.

Then he middled another pull shot off Broad. This one went lower and Graeme Swann at square leg pulled off the sort of catch that gets you a lot of Youtube hits. Australia had recovered but were not yet out of the danger zone.

Brad Haddin would change that, and Bailey wouldn’t bat in the second innings.

****

In 2013, Bailey did something that had a higher-profile player done it, would have been praised on talkback radio and in opinion pieces. He turned his back on the IPL and made an attempt to prove himself as a Test player.

He could have sat on the bench for Chennai Super Kings again, and then played another T20 league or two, made a fair bit of money, and had a bit of off time. Instead he chose to be in England, playing mostly red-ball cricket, as the Australian team was there for the Ashes.

It was a two-fold attack. It started as a way to prove he was actually committed to playing Test cricket. And by being in the UK, and already being an Australian ODI and T20 player, at worst he might have made the Test side. Hell, with Michael Clarke’s back a shoelace tie away from breaking, Bailey could have even been a Test captain despite not even being in the original squad.

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At the WACA it was noticeable that Jimmy Anderson bowled quicker to Bailey than he had before. Now it could have just been the imagination of a sportswriter looking for narrative, or the rhythm that a bowler can get into during the day, but Anderson bowled as quick in one over to Bailey as he had at any time in the series. But he didn’t get him out.

It was Broad and the short ball that did it again. Bailey seemed intent on never taking a backward step, even when on the back foot. He wouldn’t be bullied or bombed by England. So he tried to hook a short ball and found Pietersen, who did everything he could to make the catch look awkward.

Australia were in another hole, but Haddin mopped up again.

****

Clarke’s back didn’t work at all for the Champions Trophy. So Bailey took over. He batted well, Australia played horribly, and it was suddenly clear, while many still didn’t rate him, that he had somehow become Australia’s most consistent ODI batsman.

With Clarke in London, and David Warner in trouble, it was Bailey who had to front the press. He did it well, while making it very clear he couldn’t wait for Clarke to come back.

Clarke would come back, and would captain with no more real problems for his back, so Bailey was never needed as Test captain, or even Test squad member. Instead he came back for the ODIs at the end of the English summer, and made more runs. His batting average and ODI batting ranking were really high for someone whom no one ever seemed to talk up, or often even about.

****

The second innings at the WACA was brutal on England. They walked out knowing the series was gone. They fielded poorly, Broad was injured, Anderson looked over it, Swann was fading, and it was really very hot. Australia skipped joyfully to a declaration.

Bailey rejoined the fun when Australia were over 400 runs ahead. He sat at the other end while Shane Watson head-butted the English corpse for a hundred. Bailey didn’t do much damage himself. After 24 balls he had hit one boundary (only a four) and was 11 not out.

Then he came back in touch with his old friend Anderson. What happened next seemed like it would break a few rules of the Geneva convention. Bailey tore up what was left of Anderson like he was made of tissue paper on a windy day.

When Bailey’s boundary-hitting massacre finished, there was a puddle of blood at the top of the mark where Anderson had once stood. For Bailey, that over could not have come from a more perfect opponent.

****

George Bailey had some fun in India. 85, 92 not out, 43, 98, 156 and 4.

Flat pitches, an amazingly weak bowling attack, and small boundaries all helped Bailey average over 95 at a strike rate of 116. People had to write about it. They had to hype it. Well not even hype it, just report it accurately, and let people moan at the numbers.

This wasn’t another series, this was a coming-out party. Every six, and there were 15 of them, rang a bell, and with the next Ashes around the corner, and a batting spot available for anyone who wanted it, Bailey had made it very clear that he wanted it.

The press could have looked at it from a detailed and analytical standpoint. Bailey had played very well in ODIs in England and India, and he was clearly seeing the ball amazingly, but how was his red-ball form? Had he made any runs playing for Hampshire in county cricket, or any runs for Tasmania in last year’s Sheffield Shield?

Who cares? Look at his hitting in Mohali.

The selectors and fans seemed to do the same. Very few seemed to notice, worry or bother with the fact he hadn’t made a first-class hundred since February 2012.

Bailey was selected with as much fanfare as a six at a Big Bash game. He had been noticed, and embraced.

****

Bailey faced 18 balls at the MCG. He was at the wicket with his team in trouble. The ball was reversing. This wasn’t the time to attempt to beat his world- record overs tally efforts of the WACA. This was the time for survival.

Straight dead bats. Grim determination. Last-minute adjustments. Small backlifts. Sure movements.

That was surely the plan. But Bailey was uneasy. One leave almost ended with him caught at slip, and then run out in the confusion. A huge leg-before shout from Broad was turned down because of a small inside edge. It was nervy, and nasty, and then Bailey found himself at Anderson’s end.

In the first over Anderson found a spot and just kept at it. The first four balls landed within six inches of each other. Three of them seemed to hit the exact same spot. The reverse was not deadly, it was just there. Even the smallest hint of reverse from a decent bowler can upset an Australian batsman more than most. But the second over at Bailey, now that was Anderson the chessmaster.

The seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth balls from Anderson to Bailey were all on or about the same line and length. He was keeping him on the crease, not letting him really come forward or back. None had big movement. None was meant to. They were about getting him used to the ball coming in at him from that line and length.

The 11th ball kept the same length. But it was six inches wider than the others. It was supposed to be wider, because it also went wider through reverse movement.

Had No. 11 kept its line, Bailey might have used the width to hit it for four. He certainly saw it as the weakest ball he faced. But it didn’t, it was a trap. And Bailey, who had not scored after being out there for several overs, didn’t see it and went for it.

England were convinced Bailey hit it. Aleem Dar wasn’t. The evidence was far from conclusive. But the dismissal had passed enough protocols for the third umpire to decide that it was out. It’s possible Bailey didn’t hit it. It’s not possible Anderson didn’t completely fox him.

Bailey was not needed for the second innings.

****

In Sydney, Bailey wasn’t just fighting Anderson and England. Another foe joined in.

There had been history between Bailey and Channel Nine. When Bailey was filling in as captain of the Australian ODI team the previous summer, he had been involved in a weird media event. Channel Nine had been bemoaning Australia resting of key players (informed player management, they call it). When Bailey was asked about it, he put a spin on the fact that Channel Nine were currently in negotiations with Cricket Australia about paying for rights, and that it may be in their interests to downplay the worth of one-dayers.

That prompted a bizarre response from Brad McNamara, Channel Nine’s executive producer of cricket. “It’s rubbish and George should stick to playing cricket and leave rights to the people who know what they’re talking about. I reckon he’s got his hands full as it is. He needs to concentrate on staying in the side. And he needs to understand where his money’s coming from. Without the TV rights deal, George is probably working in a coal mine or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”

McNamara was rightfully laughed at for his comments.

These comments were brought up a fair bit when Bailey failed to make a fifty in two attempts in Sydney. Mostly because it seemed that no one in the Channel Nine box could make a comment about him that wasn’t negative. His feet, hands, technique and temperament were questioned. His second-innings 46 was not enough. And they weren’t always wrong. It just seemed kind of mean. Especially when at the back of the press box some seemed happy when he was out.

But it went deeper than McNamara’s comments. Bailey had made mistakes in his career. He hadn’t made enough first-class runs. He hadn’t come into the team as a young man. He came into the captaincy without playing a game. He came into the Test team because of one-day runs. He was everything old-school cricket didn’t like. A thinking cricketer who had never demanded inclusion, but who had been included regardless.

For old-school types like Ian Chappell, he was pretty much everything he didn’t like. And Chappell wasn’t just turning on Bailey because of his stoush with Channel Nine. He had not liked Bailey for a long time.

To show how Bailey never fit in, there is no better article than the one by former good old boy larrikin Aussie cricketer (briefly) Brett Geeves for Inside Cricket. In it, Geeves listed the many reasons why Bailey was not a good captain. And the piece would have had more relevance had Bailey not captained the reigning winning Sheffield Shield team when the piece was published.

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Before his fourth Test, Bailey stood outside the MCG doing an interview. He stood there for a long time, and because of the cameras and the familiar Australia tracksuit, a crowd turned up. But it wasn’t until the interviewer said, “Thanks George” that most of the crowd realised who it was.

At that stage, he had been an Australian captain for two years. He had played three Ashes Tests, all won. He had fought with Anderson. But he was still not really known. Not embraced. Still invisible. After Sydney, he wasn’t really dropped, just not picked for the next series. Just sort of faded away.

At a press conference afterwards he didn’t complain, or rant. He just took the decision with a slight smile. And then left.

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One thought on “George Who: The invisible Australian captain George Bailey

  1. Reblogged this on simplycricket blog and commented:
    Really well written and very interesting article

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