Australian Cricket Fans at the moment are not entirely sure how to react to the current fiasco that has taken place over the past summer and now on tour in India. The culture of Australia’s national sport at an elite level is under question. Not only are there off-field dramas grabbing headlines but also there are more concerning on-field performances from the majority of the team to worry about.
A dissection of the off-field issues may shed some light into how this team is failing to show any form coming into a back-to-back Ashes tour. The Australian public is hungry to regain the urn but with the current test side’s form, many will hope the inevitable can be avoided or delayed long enough to form some suitable excuses for our English/South African rivals.
The current selection panel’s (which includes the coach and captain) decision making is showing an awful lot of resemblance to that of the English team management of ten to fifteen years ago. Having an English father you come to understand why they are so grumpy and whiney. At the first sign of failure the axe is sharpened and its out with the old and in with the previous failures or a newcomer (whose been working hard and they “want to show the faith”). For example the revolving door that has been operating since Warney’s departure had, until recently, been stopped by Nathon Lyon. With one poor performance in India it seems it was a good idea to bring in a bloke averaging around 100 over three tests and a new bloke who comes in looking like an above average park cricketer. They did take more wickets than Lyon, but that was after two players scored more than the Australian team did in two innings. The current state of Australia’s selection policy is confusing to many and without any consistent approach. The best move is to pick a team based on talent and stick with it. Only when it is obvious that a player’s technique is not becoming of a test match cricketer will it be time to move them on.
The best case of this is Phil Hughes. Despite his numerous chances and his supposed recreation he still has a technique not suited to the longer form of the game. A technique great for the shorter forms of cricket as most bowlers find it awkward to pin him down but at test level, bowlers have all day to wait for him to nick the ball into the slips. It’s not surprising to hear rumours that selectors wanted to shelter him from the South Africans. If drastic changes aren’t made then England can cash in a cheap wicket for them in pretty much every innings of the Ashes.
Although, I do sympathise with those in charge of performance at Cricket Australia. The standard was created by a team of cricketing demi-gods. They have created expectations that are almost beyond the abilities of a current world XI and the Australian public has still yet to come to terms with it. With hindsight in the one team the best spinner and pace man bowled together with the best wicket-keeper batsmen smashing blokes everywhere and BSB (best since Bradman), Punter, casually going about his business.
The only player with any sort of memory (and magic) produced by that team is the man in charge, Clarkey. Apart from his bowlers it looks like he is taking the Indians on his own. Clarke leads his team by example, producing some of the best runs in world cricket. Interesting to think the Australian public wanted Shane ‘the dummy-spitter’ Watson as the Australian captain twelve to eighteen months ago. Despite Watto backing down from retirement talk, his true colours were shown when he showed dissent towards his fellow leader and it still doesn’t change the fact that he’s Australia’s most overrated player.
Clarkes runs are vital to the teams performance but it has created a lot of pressure amongst the other batsmen in the team. There is greater concentration of power with Clarke, as he sets the standard amongst the team and other players will be trepidatious to question the direction of the teams culture and selection policy. You can choose whether or not to believe the rumours surrounding Hussey’s retirement, but it is an indicator of the concentration of power that now lies at Clarkey’s feet. With the potential that players will face sanctions for disagreeing with their captain it will create an even more undesirable environment for players to air their concerns and potential solutions to fix the unstable team culture.
Cricket Australia has to take a hard look at the structure they have in place for developing players to a test standard. They have indicated that they want to be number one by 2015, but this will require more than quick fixes. If they want to focus on being the elite in the test arena than the top 20 to 30 players need the incentive to be developing their skills for that environment. State cricketers with half the talent of the current test team can earn similar money to those above them in the food chain. They haven’t achieved this by getting better at their red ball skills, but by improving their skills to become more adaptable for the shorter forms of the game. If cricketers around the country have the support as well as the incentive to be better test cricketers they will be hungrier to get Australia out of its current rut.