Has Hawthorn traded its soul for another shot at fame?

Hawthorn was never going to idly slip back into the pack after one of the most sustained periods of success in the modern era of drafts and salary caps.

Alastair Clarkson’s team were front and centre of the trade period, with an aggressive approach to revamping its midfield that has polarised opinion outside the club.

No matter what your thoughts are on the Hawks’ moves in the trade period are, one thing is certain – they have got form for getting these things right. Very right.

If we boil down the club’s major moves they dealt Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis for two younger models in Tom  Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara.

Cutting out the emotion of the ‘transactions’ that makes business sense.

At the very least it marks a staged succession plan to keep the Hawks relevant as its ageing core begin to bow out.

But at what cost?

Has Hawthorn sold part of its soul to keep its premiership window open for a little while longer?

Here’s my take on the ramifications of Hawthorn’s bold trade period, with a simple for-and-against analysis.

 

 

Argument for Hawthorn’s trade moves

The foundation of Hawthorn’s decisions were purely and simply built around regenerating its midfield.

If you take the moves at face value it has moved on two 30-somethings for two of the most promising young midfielders in the competition.

That’s hard to argue with.

Injuries permitting Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell pose as the heartbeat of the Hawks midfield for the best part of a decade.

Sam Mitchell and Lewis won’t be around that long. In a clouded trade scenario that is one certainty.

Hawthorn was always going to have to give up something pretty significant to free up the salary cap space to bring in its two midfield targets, and the club has shown considerable faith in the incoming players by sacrificing a club legend in Sam Mitchell.

That point should not be underestimated.

Jordan Lewis’ case was slightly different, but after refusing to meet his contract demands the club opened the door for his exit.

While keeping Lewis for another season would have been the ideal scenario, his departure to Melbourne gives the Hawks plenty of wriggle room in next year’s free agency period, when the likes of Nat Fyfe and Dustin Martin could have their heads turned.

That premiership window might just open wider again.

For outsiders the deal to move Sam Mitchell might appear to have been brokered in cold blood, but removing emotion from this sort of decision-making – and instead leaning on calculated risk – offers a higher reward for a club that has made a habit of getting these things right.

Hawthorn know that in 12 months Sam Mitchell could be hanging up his boots.

His move to West Coast has carried a strong whiff of suggestion that season 2017 will be his last before taking up the coaching role in Perth that apparently first endeared him to a move west.

There’s little doubt the Hawthorn hierarchy, and fans, would have loved Sam Mitchell to play his last AFL game in the brown and gold, but if his earlier-than-expected exit has prevented it from slipping back into the pack, it could be viewed as his last parting gift to a club he won four premierships at.

Argument against

You don’t trade club legends.

You don’t trade club legends that have just gone one-two in the best and fairest.

You don’t trade club legends effectively for rarely-used draft picks.

When Hawthorn made the decision to move Sam Mitchell it knew there would be backlash from some fans.

Sam Mitchell is idolised among the brown and gold faithful – four premierships, five best-and-fairest awards and, possibly, a Brownlow Medal will do that.

Jordan Lewis can’t boast the same amount of personal accolades, but he’s got four premierships too. Just ask Matthew Pavlich how precious that is.

Their exits were cut-throat, especially Sam Mitchell.

Hawks fans didn’t see it coming. Sam Mitchell didn’t see it coming. Sam Mitchell’s team-mates didn’t see it coming.

That has to have wider ramifications.

Hawthorn has done well to stage-manage the situation, with Sam Mitchell declaring himself content with the move. A happy man who knows the time has come to ride west into the sunset.

But what about the fans and his team-mates?

There’s some unease among Hawthorn supporters at this move, but the club has enough credit in the bank that they are prepared to let it fly.

Just what the rest of the squad are thinking, however, would be interesting to know.

What is apparent is that the club has sent out two clear messages.

  1. They want to be a contender net season.
  2. Sentimentality will not stand in the way of progress.

The last point must surely linger with every player in the squad.

If a player as important to the club as Sam Mitchell can be tapped on the shoulder and told his time is up, then everyone’s job security is at risk.

When your job security is at risk it is hard to prioritise loyalty quite so highly.

The Hawks can’t let that drift into their squad or the deconstruction of their culture will have begun.

Indeed, Lewis’ exit hinted at that has already happened.

After seeing Sam Mitchell leave he could have been forgiven for wondering why he should feel compelled to wait around for his club-prescribed expiry date.

And he didn’t. He left. Just walked out the door.

It clearly worried the Hawthorn hierarchy as they felt compelled to explain themselves to the fans in a 17-minute video that admitted to a “teary-eyed” goodbye.

It was about the first admission of emotion from the club during the trade period.

Sam Mitchell’s exit had been a calculated gamble, but Lewis’ departure was an unfactored by-product of their clinical thinking.

It’s a valuable lesson, and not just for Hawthorn.

The trade period is not 10 days of transactions. There is a human capital involved with every deal that must be factored in.

Hawthorn traded away a significant part of their culture, for pick 88, and then saw more of it literally walk out the door for the club with the longest premiership drought in the league.

That doesn’t appear a very good valuation.

And if we are to suggest that Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara are the missing factors in that equation then that is a pretty sizeable void for them to fill before they’ve even played a game in the brown and gold.

No pressure then.

 

 

 

 

Gayle taken aback by swift start

By Matt Somerford | ecb.co.uk

Chris Gayle has built a career around making the implausible appear perfectly routine, but even he was surprised by his blistering start to life in the NatWest T20 Blast last weekend.

Just days after stepping off the plane from the Indian Premier League, Gayle introduced himself to the tournament with a typically brutal 92 from 59 balls in a first-up win over Essex Eagles last Friday.

Remarkably, he went even bigger two days later on his home debut against Kent Spitfires.

The 35-year-old Jamaican, after amusingly billing himself as the #WorldBoss in the build-up, fully delivered on his self-promotion as 15 sixes sailed out of Taunton.

Somerset fans were sent into raptures, and one of them even into the nearby River Tone to retrieve one of the maximums as a souvenir, as Gayle clubbed his way to an unbeaten 151 from 62 balls.

Gayle, of course, has previous for that type of heavy hitting – no player has more Twenty20 tons than he does – but he did not expect it to come so soon after arriving from the sub-continental conditions of India.

Speaking exclusively to ecb.co.uk, he said: “These things don’t happen that often.

“Usually you need to get acclimatised to the weather before you can do those sort of performance.

“It’s fantastic to be amongst the runs. I know I had the capability to do these things – I’ve done it before.

“But to come in and do it in my first two games, in England as well, that is fantastic.”

When Gayle smacked his way to a then world-record double-century at the World Cup earlier this year he became the first player to have a Test triple-hundred, a Twenty20 century and a double-ton in the 50-over format to his name.

It is the sort of statistic that underlines Gayle’s enigmatic status – he is a player more prone to creating previously unthinkable records rather than breaking conventional marks.

“I just take in my stride to be honest with you,” he said.

“I don’t go out to do that. What comes on the day I’ll take for sure. I’m just loving it and I play as it comes. Hopefully I can get a score that puts the team in a position to win.”

It was then, with some irritation for Gayle, that his century against Kent was not enough to secure victory after Sam Northeast blazed 114 from 58 balls in a total of 227 for seven.

Gayle brought Somerset to within three runs of that score, but a failure to pull off the win is perhaps bad news for Hampshire when they visit Taunton tomorrow evening.

“I didn’t get the job fully done in the last game,” he said.

“I was happy to get a good part of the job done but I’m hungry to get more runs and I’m mentally ready for the battle on Friday.

“On Friday hopefully we can get the win and give the fans something more to cheer about.”

Gayle enjoyed a profitable IPL where he was the competition’s sixth-highest run-scorer, hitting 491 at 40.91, as his Royal Challengers Bangalore reached the semi-finals.

Gayle struck 38 sixes during the six-week tournament – 10 more than the next-best batsman – but already in three days of the Blast he has cleared the ropes 21 times.

He laughed off suggestions he might now have to try and break his mark of 15 sixes in one game, before crediting his opening partner and Somerset skipper Marcus Trescothick for helping him make an immediate impact.

“I was actually struggling in the first game and he was the one who was getting away the boundaries for us and that eased the pressure on me,” he said.

“It allowed me to get used to things and see what was what and then in the end it worked out well for me.

“I just picked up the baton from where he left off after the good start that he gave us.”

 

Gayle had plenty of praise for Northeast too and on first impressions believes the depth of English talent must be considerable if the 25-year-old’s clean hitting was any evidence of what is to come.

“He smashed it all over, that was really good,” said Gayle, who also had some positive words for England’s hopes of progressing their limited-overs ambitions ahead of the 2019 World Cup on these shores.

“There is superb talent in England all around. Maybe they just lack a bit of experience outside of England.

“If a couple of guys can get selected outside of England in other tournaments, the one-day cricket will be fantastic. They will always be superb in their home conditions.”

For now Gayle, who is hopeful he can return to Somerset should they reach finals day, is looking forward to enjoying English conditions himself having already taken a liking to Taunton.

“Yeah that is a great wicket for me. Hopefully there’s more to come,” said Gayle, who is enjoying the opportunity to relax between Friday night games.

“I’m loving it here in Somerset so far. I’ll try and just chill out and do my own thing in the week.

“I’m not doing too much, I might have a few drinks with the players, nothing big, just laze around.

“Then on match day I just do what I can, when I can.”

*****

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2015 Moments of the Summer – Ben Stokes at Lord’s

After another memorable summer, ecb.co.uk’s Matt Somerford has picked out Ben Stokesall-round performance against New Zealand at Lord’s as the best England moment he witnessed first hand. 

When Ben Stokes reflects on his Ashes-winning summer perhaps the moment he will take most pride from came before the Australians had even arrived.

It was in the first Test against New Zealand, the country of his birth, that the 24-year-old began a summer-long journey to unquestionably establish himself as England’s premier all-rounder heading into a new era under Head Coach Trevor Bayliss.

Stokes could hardly have claimed to be that man at the start of the summer when his hard-edged spirit, and that maiden Test ton in Perth, carried the weight of the expectation that had built on his broad shoulders.

If England’s selectors, and a host of pundits, were endeared by those qualities, finding a way to pair his all-round talent on a consistent basis remained elusive.

It was what had prevented him from separating himself from his colleagues – the likes of Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes, who had themselves made good cases for the all-rounder’s role.

Stokes began the task of ending the argument in the very first session of the first Investec Test against the Black Caps at Lord’s in late May when his promotion to number six, by stand-in Head Coach Paul Farbrace, prove the catalyst in his growth on the international stage.

England had crashed to 30 for four inside the first hour and the alarm bells that were already ringing – following the group-stage World Cup exit and drawn Caribbean Test series in the winter – were threatening to become deafening as discontent amongst cricket followers in this country became uncomfortably palpable.

Stokes’ reaction was to launch a counter-attack, alongside Joe Root, that would epitomise the tone of the summer.

They combined in a 161-run stand in 32 overs with Stokes crashing 92 from 94 balls.

That Stokes misread a Mark Craig delivery to be bowled just shy of a first century since he defied the jig-sawed surface at the WACA Ground was secondary to the marker he had laid down.

The frustrated exit Stokes made after that dismissal hinted he still had unfinished business and, while New Zealand would claim a 134-run first-innings lead, the Durham man set about completing the job he had started in one of England’s most stirring comebacks of recent times.

He would do so with the quickest-ever Test century seen at Lord’s, from 85 balls, that transformed HQ’s uniquely courteous mood into a throbbing hum and holler of recognition for his brazen power.

At his most devastating Stokes clubbed 31 in 13 deliveries, his bat providing a rivet-gun supply of boundaries, as he totalled 15 fours and three sixes.

With Alastair Cook, who later described the Lord’s atmosphere as the most raucous he had ever known, Stokes contributed 101 of a 135-run stand.

By the end of day four England had rushed 295 runs ahead and – with the winter’s travails ebbing from memory and a stunning victory within their grip – 20,000 fans flocked to Lord’s on a Bank Holiday Monday for the final day.

Queues snaked around the famous old venue before play and if the fans came for a sight of their new all-round hero, they were not to be let down.

After James Anderson and Stuart Broad stirred the mood by removing both openers without scoring, Stokes delivered the knockout blows to leave the Kiwis on their knees.

After toying with Kane Williamson, who had been so assured in making a first-innings century, Stokes drew a false stroke to offer Root a catch he dare not drop in the gully.

Next ball Stokes produced the delivery of the match. He cut Brendon McCullum in half, with a ball that moved back up the slope, as the cramped Black Caps captain diverted the ball onto his stumps.

Lord’s roared like it rarely ever does, Stokes fist-pumped with channelled anger and in that one moment England’s winter of discontent slipped off the radar.

The new brush of assertive cricket, embodied in the early-season visage of Stokes taking up the attack in troubled times, was imprinted and became the hallmark of England’s play, in all formats, for the rest of the summer.

Suddenly England’s under-fire young players had reason for belief, if not quite overwhelmingly confidence, ahead of the Ashes. And just as importantly, when Moeen Ali held a spectacular catch at third-man, a 124-run victory had been secured to kickstart the summer.

“(It was) absolutely amazing the best game of cricket I’ve ever been involved in,” Stokes told ecb.co.uk moments after Moeen’s catch.

“To be a part of something like that at such a great ground like Lord’s is absolutely fantastic and something I’ll never ever forget.”

Many more memorable days would follow, as Stokes became an Ashes winner for the first time, as he confirmed himself as a lynchpin of England’s forthright approach to all formats.

*****

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Furnace warms to Scorcher Carberry

By Matt Somerford | ecb.co.uk

There are not many England players who have ventured into the inhospitable surrounds of the WACA Ground and survived the ordeal.

The home of cricket in Western Australia has a fearsome reputation with its gnarled wicket, searing heat and the baying support of the territorial locals making it a bear pit for visiting players.

Indeed, many Australia players from the east coast are hardly spared leniency from one-eyed WACA Ground natives.

Aptly known as ‘The Furnace’ during the Big Bash League, it is a throwback venue unlike the fast-developing grounds around Australia.

Its low-fi facilities may have cost Perth a Test this winter, but its scarred demeanor suitably portrays a stage where reputations are earned the hard way.

Last winter Ben Stokes forged his status, and won over the locals, with a debut century on a gaping jig-saw of a wicket in the third Ashes Test.

Twelve months on and, almost unthinkably, the Perth crowd are again starting to warm to an Englishman – Michael Carberry.

The 34-year-old left-hander is the toast of the town after he smacked an unbeaten 77, from just 37 balls, to steer Perth Scorchers to the brink of a fourth-consecutive Big Bash finals series with an eight-wicket victory over the Brisbane Heat.

The defending champions have never missed the top four – they have in fact hosted all three finals – so there was understandably high expectation on Carberry when he arrived as one of their two overseas players.

Carberry’s early performances failed to live up to the home hope and, even when he hit a half-century in defeat to last season’s whipping boys Sydney Thunder, mutterings about the Scorchers’ new man were growing more audible.

Carberry silenced them with a display of power hitting that matched the quickest half-century by a Scorchers player.

The Hampshire top-order batsman cracked six sixes and four fours, in front of almost 20,000 fans, as he raced to his fifty in 24 balls.

His milestone arrived moments after he launched former England skipper Andrew Flintoff for back-to-back maximums, as the Scorchers won with 25 balls in hand.

Victory took Perth equal top of the Big Bash table and elevated Carberry, who spent 15 minutes after the match signing autographs with his pads still on, into fan favourite status.

“It is always nice to contribute,” Carberry told ecb.co.uk.

“I have felt as though a knock like that has been coming for a while and I just haven’t quite found my best touch early in the tournament.

“Hopefully this can kick-start things for me.

“It tends to be that way with me unfortunately. Life has it’s little ups and downs.

“I’ve always prided myself on my mental strength, which I showed today.”

Carberry suffered a scare before the game when he was hit by a ball in the nets, but recovered to deliver his devastating burst – the highlight a towering six into the famed ‘Fremantle Doctor’ off Daniel Vettori.

“It’s always nice to hit sixes. I haven’t hit many on the trip so far,” he said.

“Just as long as we got over the line I was happy.”

Carberry’s Perth fans were not the only ones to be suitably wowed, with Liverpool legends Didier Hamann, Robbie Fowler and Jason McAteer also in the crowd.

The trio were in Perth to meet Liverpool fans, although Carberry and former Germany international Hamann – who spoke to ecb.co.uk about England’s chances at the World Cup – are friends after teaming together on BBC quiz show ‘A Question of Sport’.

“Yeah he is a big cricket fan,” Carberry said.

“I did ‘A Question of Sport’ with him early last year. It will be good to catch up with him if he’s around later on.”

If Perth is starting to warm to Carberry he has already grown fond of the city after arriving in early December.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the staff here at the WACA,” said Carberry, who has been living in an apartment just a short stroll from The Furnace on the banks of the Swan River.

“They’ve looked after me. My mum came over on Christmas Eve and they’ve looked after her very well.

“They put me up in a nice place and everyone has been on hand to help if I’ve needed anything.”

Carberry’s Perth adventure could yet be to Hampshire’s gain too with the batsman admitting he would like to see one of the defending Big Bash champions players lining up at the Ageas Bowl next summer.

The Scorchers have earned their success on the back of young talent such as left-armer Jason Behrendorff, AJ Tye and Yorkshire-born wicketkeeper Sam Whiteman.

“It would be nice (for a Scorchers player to play at Hampshire). There is some really great talent here,” Carberry said.

“Behrendorff is a class act and you’ve got young AJ Tye coming through. There’s Marcus Harris at the top and I think Sammy Whiteman kept beautifully.

“There is a lot of good young players here so, yeah, it would be great for their experience to get over and play some county cricket if the opportunity arose.”

*****

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