When he was a teenager, people said Cameron White was the next Warne, who could bat and might captain Australia. It was a lot to carry.
White looked like he could carry it. Until you’re standing near him, you don’t quite get the full effect. His nickname is from a polar bear that appears in rum ads. Which when you’re close to him you fully understand. He’s not built like a batsman, or even a cricketer. He’s built more like a gym-body beach bum.
His shoulders are epic. White is constantly pulling at his sleeves. It is probably a tic from a lifetime of ill-fitting shirts. He has what sports commentators like to refer to as an impressive frame. He looks like he could pick up most cricketers and toss them back over his shoulder just for fun.
If that’s what he looks like, it’s often the complete opposite of how he actually is on the field.
When White bowls he seems one ball away from breakdown. A stock ball that produces few worries. He relies on pushing his even straighter ball through a bit quicker and trapping a player back on the crease. It is a risky practice. And unless you have the genius of Anil Kumble, you are going to fail more than you succeed. The only way it works is if you believe in your method completely. It seemed like White never has. At times of late, he has even resorted to medium pace. Giving up legspin for medium pace is the last resort of any leggie.
When White bats he has two modes. Angel of death or dead duck. Early on he always looks one full and straight ball away from a dismissal. Other men with his power intimidate bowlers, but unlike Symonds or Watson, White can look awkward and out of place in the middle. Until he hits the ball long and straight, his innings seem to be played with a handbrake on. When he does take a ball long, he often leaves his bat up for a good few seconds. On other batsmen it looks arrogant. For White, it is almost surprise at what he can do.
There is not a bowler on earth that he can’t lift down the ground and into the stands. Most of them well beyond that. When he is in a purple patch of form, your best chance of getting him caught is in the second tier. And once in that form, the good form can last for months. Unfortunately, the bad form can last just as long. And he has seemingly no middle ground.
The only time you see White as he should be is in the field. If he’s unsure as a bowler and flawed as a batsman, as a captain he’s a king. David Hookes was given great credit for giving White the captaincy at such a young age, but Hookes would have been pronounced blind had he not seen the phenomenal tactical nous of White.
White reads cricket as well as any modern player. It has not been taught by coaches or academies, it is a natural gift. To see him in the field is to see a captain as one should be. Upbeat, attacking, in charge, active, and ahead of the game. In limited- overs cricket he understands angles about as well as any captain. He has the energy and spirit of a young captain who is not scarred despite ten years of professional captaincy. For captaincy nerds, it is worth just watching him in the field. He’s Shane Warne 2.0 without the “all lost to win” attitude in every game. Results-wise he is the best captain Victoria have ever had, and he’s still only 30.
From the start of his international career he was in the circle, giving Ponting advice. Sometimes Ponting liked it, sometimes it appeared as if he had a headache. Before, Ponting had listened to titans of Australian cricket – Gilchrist, Lehmann and Warne. Now a young kid who looked like he’d got lost on the way back from a beach was yapping at him, and pointing to all the places he thought Ponting should be attacking or defending.
Australia thought so much of White that when Michael Clarke stepped down from T20 cricket, White took the job. It wasn’t a big surprise. He had led Victoria as they dominated Australian domestic T20 cricket. He broke records in English T20 cricket, and was one of the first players tapped on the shoulder for the IPL. He was known to most as a captain before he was known as a cricketer.
White’s reign was short. Six games. As a batsman he struggled due to one of his hauntingly long form lapses. He never bowled. Soon he was out of the ODI team and lost his role as captain. White has not played ODI cricket since 2011, and was not in the current T20 side to play England.
At one stage he was future Warne. At another, future Australia Test captain. Now he is a very occasional bowler who will barely be remembered as a former Australia T20 captain. If he ever could have put the confidence and belief he had in captaincy into the rest of his game, he would have become the sort of Australian cricketer their team needs so much now. He has elements of the three kinds of cricketers Australia want most. A spinner. A batsman. And a leader.
At 30, he has been replaced as Victoria’s captain. Matthew Wade has taken the job. It is a massive move to dump the second-most successful captain in Shield cricket when he is only 30. But it is only partly about White.
Cricket Victoria felt the indirect pressure of Cricket Australia to provide Australia with a potential future captain. There is a leadership gap in Australian cricket, and Cricket Victoria (Cricket New South Wales replaced Simon Katich with Stephen O’Keeffe) is trying to fill it. Wade is a fighter, someone who has overcome cancer and a poor wicketkeeping technique to make it as Australia’s first-choice keeper, right up until the Ashes. Yet the major reason Brad Haddin was brought back was for leadership. Which seems odd, considering Wade’s new job.
In the push for youth and magic potions, Cricket Australia have often discarded their strength, a strong Sheffield Shield competition. Their tampering with the Futures League was a disaster that they are rectifying. Cricket Australia constantly rewards youth over skill and experience. While some would love it if the kids all had a go, if the kids all have a go and there is no one around to test them, what is the point? What will they learn playing in Cricket Australia’s indirect age-group series? This pressure on the states to find leaders is just another short-term fix that won’t help. Wade, 25, is a potential leader. White, 30, is out.
The only problem is, Australian Test captains rarely come from Shield cricket these days. Australian captains are picked from within the team. Mostly from the players who have played several years of international cricket, which makes them unavailable for Shield cricket. Border, Taylor, Waugh, Ponting and Clarke didn’t get to play entire seasons as Shield captains. Perhaps with the exception of Taylor, they really learnt the job as second in charge of the Test team, or through captaining the limited-overs sides.
With Haddin averaging 22 in his comeback series, the chances are Wade will be the keeper in all three formats and he’ll barely captain Victoria. With Haddin out of the side, if the Australian team really rate Wade, he’d be made vice-captain of the Test side. If Victoria really wanted to replace White with a potential future captain who could get invaluable experience, they’d be better off with Alex Keath or Peter Hanscomb. They are both older than White was when he took over from Darren Berry.
Or they could have left White there to help develop the next generation of cricketers. Other than as an occasional member of the limited-overs side, the one thing that White can still give Australian cricket is his captaincy. Not at the international level but at domestic. A young first-class batsman should be examined by a smart captain. Poking at a technique that has been largely untested in age-group cricket and academies. A Victorian bowler with promise being mentored by an expert. A player trying to get back into the Test team up against a captain who knows how to make him struggle.
White’s batting and bowling might not have been Test quality, but his captaincy is. The one thing he did best, the one way he could continue to help Australian cricket, is now being taken out of Shield cricket. How soon before he drifts into the life of a T20 freelancer and is virtually lost to Australian cricket altogether?
You’d think a country that is having so many problems producing skilled cricketers would be a little more hesitant to throw away the ones they have. A few days after his 30th birthday, Australian cricket has started to distance itself from one of its lost generation. In doing so, they continue to lose.