As promised, here is a special edition straight from the archives vault. Last weekend I stumbled across the 1991/92 season program. Contained within its covers was some interesting reading material. But first, let me set the scene. The season 1991/92 was quite a long time ago. If you are like me and think that anything in the nineties could not have been long ago, like me, you are wrong. Second hand car buyers beware – some cars made in the nineties are actually quite old by now. I wish I’d been made aware of that before I bought my 1991 Charade.
The 1991/92 season was 17 years ago. Border was still captain. The West Indies were still comfortably number one (although no official rating system existed – this was back in the archaic days when we simply acknowledged the bleedin’ obvious). South Africa was about to rejoin the fold. Australia was building in strength and had reclaimed the Ashes and retained them (the previous summer) without losing a Test in either series. This fortunate position was still a novelty. Warne had not bowled a ball in Test cricket, McGrath was unknown and Phillip Hughes was three years old.
What I noticed about this 1991/92 program more than anything else was the preoccupation with the future. What will happen? Who will succeed? Who is the next “Great White Hope”?
Who will be the next Border?
Tiger Hunt – the search for Australia’s next great leg spinner?
The dynamic duos – hunting in twos – Lillee and Thommo, Lindwall and Miller, MacDonald and Jack Gregory. Who will be the next great opening bowling combination? (Answer: McGrath and Gillespie)
Will Test cricket be able to withstand the onslaught of One Day cricket?
How will South Africa perform when they come back? Who will be in the team and how good will they be after all that time in exile (i.e. will Australia be able to beat them)?
Just change some names and substitute “One Day” for “Twenty20” and you could be reading the 2008/09 program. Split Enz were wrong. History is always repeating itself.
What is particularly interesting is to be able to assess the accuracy of all the speculation and predictions.
Lehmann and Bevan were the worthy contenders (aged 22 and 21 respectively at the time) to be “the next Border”. Border was obviously in his twilight but played another three full seasons. It was Bevan who stepped into Border’s position and struggled to play 18 Tests (without a single century) over the next three and half years. For Bevan, it was all over in Tests by 1998. Bevan did, however, become one of the greatest One Day batsmen of all time. That career for Bevan did not end until 2004. Naturally, that was not predicted – in all the speculation, the concept of a One Day specialist had not yet been contemplated.
Lehmann had to wait a further four years after Bevan (seven years from the time of the article) for his first chance. That lasted a few matches and he had to wait a further four years. It was not until 2002 – 11 years after the article – that Lehmann cemented his place in the Test team and enjoyed a brief career as a Test regular. He played 27 matches with 5 centuries. Not exactly another Border but enough to be placed above Steve Waugh in Warnie’s “50 Greatest Cricketers” list (it’s true).
The article of real interest was “Tiger Hunter”. The search for Australia’s next great spinner (“Tiger”, as in Tiger Bill O’Reilly). There is nothing new in the world. Remember that this was in a different lifetime for Australian cricket. Australia had not enjoyed the services of a great spinner, let alone a wrist spinner since Benaud – for more than 25 years! The article was by Peter Philpott (“former Australian Legspin great” – hmmm 26 wickets at 38.46 – he was one of the long succession in the 25 years between Benaud and 1991). The article has a tone of desperation about it and for pretty good reason. “My own view is that it is a matter of deep regret the Australian selectors were unable to find a legspin bowler with the form to be taken to the West Indies on the recent tour.” The short list of those who might be “it” was Adrian Tucker, Tim May, Warne and Peter McIntyre. Philpott to his credit chose Warne as the primary candidate. Not in his wildest dreams could he have guessed what a winner he picked there.
And here is another thing to remember. Things can change quickly. Warne descended from the clouds… like an angel… with a fag on his lips, a beer can in one hand and his mobile (did we have those in 1991?) in the other. He played his first Test in that very 1991/92 season and was smashed. We all know that. Next season, after being overlooked for the first Test against the West Indies – a match that in hindsight, he most probably could have won for Australia – Warne announced his arrival. Just one season after Philpott’s desperate article, Warne took 7-52 and won the match. Australia went on to narrowly lose the series (by 1 run in Adelaide) and that was the last series loss in Australia until 2008/09. Swings and roundabouts. Over the next 12 months – on the 1993 Ashes tour and then in 1993/94 Warne was at his unplayable best and became a Superstar – less than two years after Peter Philpott’s article. This is no criticism of Philpott. I’m simply highlighting how quickly things can turn around.
There is much gnashing of teeth at present about the lamentable state of Australian cricket and especially the lack of class spinners. But you never know when the next one will arrive. It might be tomorrow. Then again, it might be 25 years. That’s what makes these times so exciting – the unpredictability and uncertainty that troubles those who are desperate to succeed above all else, actually provides the intrigue and substance that floats the boat of true cricket lovers.