The Australian summer built up misplaced confidence and exaggerated talent but the Indian summer has cast the absolute damning judgment on the test team, the national selectors and Cricket Australia.
Australian cricket has ventured into the realm of sports science, embraced complexity over the simplicity and abandoned instinctive logic. CA has tried so desperately to stay in front of the game that they have taken their eye off the ball. The Aussie and Indian Summers prove this.
The safe and familiar Australian pitches and medium paced Sri Lankan bowling padded Australia’s test ranking. Sri Lanka might have test-status but their team is barely test-quality. The Lankans had two champion batsmen (one nearly finished), a handy swashbuckler and a spin-bowler crying out for support. Realising this, the Aussie selectors ensured Phil Hughes, one of their favourites, skipped South Africa’s pace-barrage and eased him back into the test arena against a pace attack that would be inferior to most state teams.
Australia’s first two performances against India have been humiliating, weak and not surprising.
The truth is CA hasn’t allowed the test team to consolidate and rebuild since the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.
Australia’s short and maybe even long-term future is reliant solely on Michael Clarke’s ability to repeatedly rise to the task.
Yes, Clarke has no test equal as a batsman and captain but eventually his shoulders have to give way. His health and state of mind has to be a huge concern to his teammates, coaches and selectors who are failing to play their part.
CA has always had a severe dose of the “mate-syndrome-paralysis” that rivals Chanel Nine’s “boys club” but only now there’s limited talent to cover-up such a childish management-style.
Consistent performance at state level should be the determining factor on test selection not if you’re one of the “lads”.
How does Hughes get preferential treatment over Victorian Rob Quiney who was the sacrificial lamb to South Africa? How does Quiney play just three test innings and be relegated to his state duties, seemingly for the rest of his career? Yet, Steve Smith’s seaming leg-breaks and underwhelming batting guarantees him a spot on the Indian test tour despite posting just the one first-class ton from 40 innings and 17 wickets at 73.11 since 2010.
In football, Richmond Coach Terry Wallace and Football Director Greg Miller lost their heads for their inability to recruit, draft and nurture talent.
The Australian selectors should suffer the same fate.
John Inverarity’s position as chairman of selectors must be put under serious questioning as he has failed to support the right young talent, the most appropriate player-management scheme and establish a balanced test team.
CA’s rotation-policy has stirred public discontent and surely in the state and national player ranks as well.
Why has Australia endured so many spineless batting collapses under Clarke’s captaincy? I argue that the lack of top order talent is not the main culprit. Instead, the rotation policy has played the most influential hand. CA’s controversial resting policy has created a culture of softness. Cricket is the most mentally dependent game on earth but not the most physical. Even though CA’s player-management plan is for the bowlers, it still instills a scapegoat mentality amongst the XI. The policy implies to payers that exhaustion, mental or physical, directs you to quit. CA is countering Clarke’s attempt to embrace a Stephen Fleming-like captaincy model by empowering his young teammates to share responsibility in performance and preparation.
So, where to now for Australian cricket?
Culture cannot be changed overnight but under Clarke’s adaptable leadership style, Australia will eventually find a team identity that will underpin their preparation and performance but CA must first fall into line.
In the immediate future, the best and most in form XI must be selected. While Australia’s pace bowlers have been ineffective in India they are the world’s most talented young pace attack. England’s green country will serve James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird and Mitch Starc well. Although, Australia’s current batting top-order will not find the same solace in greener pastures.
Ed Cowan is like that off-milk lingering at the back of the fridge. It just has to go. Cowan refuses to use his feet to both spin and pace and lacks the weaponry to play test cricket. Some believe Cowan’s Bill Lawry-esk ability to bore the bowlers and even the crowd has its place in the game. This old-school idea no longer has a place in the modern game particularly when Cowan doesn’t have another gear to go to. Just like the tall lumbering forward has no place in modern footy, the one-geared blocker is more paralyzing for his team than the opponent.
On the other hand, Hughes has looked painfully lost in India but England’s seaming decks and experienced team will prove even more hazardous for him. I am a firm believer that we are all creatures of habit and when the situation rises to its most challenging and spiteful we revert to our innate practices. Hughes’ mates up in the Channel Nine commentary box told us all summer that he tightened and corrected his technique to the short ball and the wide swinging delivery. Slats, Heals and Binga might be right to a degree but Hughes’ cricket IQ is shockingly basic for a test player. In the Australian summer, he blatantly ignored cricket fundamentals and ran out Dave Warner on the stroke of lunch and then over in India he looks amusingly perplexed and tactically inept facing spin.
Finally, there is the curious case of Shane Watson. 18 months ago Watson was Australia’s most important player. He was one of few Aussies who could reverse swing the ball and was a fine opening batsman. Now, Watson has put his bowling to the backburner and his batting looks truly lost. For Australia to be competitive against England Watson must be in a strong mental state and his bowling utilized. He must tour England as he, Clarke and to a lesser extent Warner, are Australia’s only proven batting commodities.
Australian cricket must adopt the philosophy of “using more with less” and abandon the gross number of egotistical coaches who are more worried about justifying their position than creating a strong environment for their players to flourish.
Darren “Boof” Lehmann should be the national batting coach, Ashley Mallett must be allowed to tutor Nathan Lyon and for once post-career Warney is right, Stephen Fleming should be Australia’s coach.
The greatest tragedy is that while Australian cricket continue to twist a knife in their own gut, we are underappreciating Michael Clarke who is one of the most graceful and willfully dominative batsmen and astute captains that have ever donned the Baggy Green.