Now that the Ashes is over and the rout is complete, the post mortems shall begin. I will abstain from an in depth examination of aspects of Australian cricket. I don’t intend to use this blog for therapy. On this occasion.
Firstly, let me say, “Well played England.” Who would have thought? The hits just kept on rolling:
1. The first time Australia has thrice been defeated by an innings in a Test series. By anyone, anywhere.
2. The first time England has passed 500 on four occasions in an Ashes series.
3. The highest innings total (646 in Sydney) made by England in Australia.
4. The highest innings total for one wicket conceded. Ever.
5. The most inept opposition faced by an English team. Ever. You would have to say that Graham Yallop’s lambs in 1978-79 had less to offer but the current team should have done better. Much better.
6. Cook made the second most number of runs by an Englishman in a series against Australia. Before the series, Flight Centre in Town Hall Arcade offered a special rate to England, less the highest score made by an Englishman in the series. I bet they didn’t count on giving a $235 discount.
As I said, I will not conduct an in-depth post mortem of Australia’s disintegration. Pick up any of today’s papers. Or tomorrow’s, Or Sunday’s. They will all have plenty of commentary and what’s more, solutions.
How do you find the magic fix. Blame everyone? Sack the players? Sack the captain? Sack the coach? Sack the batting coach? Sack the selectors (Hilditch’s contract is up in April). Rework the Academy and talent raising system? Pour more money into it?
Is there any one solution? Are there quick and easy solutions? No. It can be quite complicated and I will explore some of the potential bigger issues.
However, some things are not complicated – it is easy to see that many of the basics are being overlooked and I will make some general comments. I don’t hear anyone in Australian cricket saying, “We suck. We don’t understand why exactly but the wheels have fallen off. We need to have a good hard think and do something about it.” Quite the opposite. Just yesterday, at the conclusion of the series, Michael Clarke claimed that they had the talent and they just had to stick with it. Hitlerian bunker delusions (sorry, andrewg, I have stolen your metaphor). While I agree to an extent with Clarke that some talent is there, big changes need to take place.
When things are not going well, Ponting has always talked it up. Denial. It is good leadership to stick by your men in public but one gets the impression that really is the attitude. Before the series, in overlooking Bollinger, the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hildtich said they would stick with the pace attack that got the job done in South Africa. Hang on – that was almost two years ago! What kind of an idiot uses logic like that? Does he really believe it or was that just spin?
Looking more deeply into that comment from Hilditch, I suggested at the time of that unexpected series win, that it might do more long-term harm than good, in masking some real problems. It seems that this is exactly what has happened. In that series, we had two new batsmen (North and Hughes) who started with a bang and made piles of runs. Ponting was two years younger. Johnson played out of his skin, not to be repeated, or rarely even approached until a brief exhibition in Perth, almost two years later.
The selectors have not followed the principles of selecting in-form players. The players cannot even do the basic things like running between wickets, landing the ball on the pitch, or catching. They can’t think straight. But while I can see some merit in sacking idiots like Nielson, Langer, and Hilditch, and even some players, that in itself will not bring about a miraculous recovery. New and much better leadership is required. The current complacency and denial are typical responses to the natural ebb of fortunes and yet they need to be addressed for a turn around to take place.
In thinking about Australia’s woes, I did find myself reflecting on the changes to the number one team in the cricket world. Australia was the bottom of the heap in 1985 and the West Indies were at the top. In 1995, they passed each other on their respective paths to the top and bottom. Five years later, the West Indies had sunk to unplumbed depths. Now, ten years later Australia is hurtling towards where the Windies still languish.
India is now the cricket super power. Why? Partly weight of numbers. For example, Australia can never hope to beat China, USA or Russia at the Olympic Games because of sheer numbers. The USA population is 10 times Australia’s population, and China has 50 times. But it’s not just population – if that were the only requirement, India would be an Olympics super power. And it was not so long ago that Australia did better China at Olympic Games. Money, cultural and socio-economic conditions are also very important. If it were simply population, India would always have been a super power in cricket. When counting bodies, one needs to count the eligible player pool.
In the late nineties, the West Indies plummeted from number one to the bottom of the pile. Why? Surely one reason was the fading of the Lloyd empire. After Lloyd’s retirement, there was a gradual weakening as the team passed from Richards to Richardson and the greats retired and were not replaced. Where was the next generation? West Indian cricket must take some of the blame for not providing infrastructure. But why was there no infrastructure? Was it because there was no money? And why was there no money? I have heard that West Indians are now mad about basketball. Cricket no longer enjoys the standing it once had as the number one sport in the Caribbean. If interest in a sport is not there, neither is the money.
Why would a country lose interest in a sport? For the West Indies, I’m sure it is complicated. I could guess that as that group of countries moves more away from the culture that colonised and exploited it, they would move away from the sports of that culture, to the sports of the dominating culture that is right on their door step (the USA). Add to that “the group of countries” – the “West Indies” are not a country. They are a group of island countries that don’t always coexist harmoniously. That would be understating it. In Australia, cricket has the advantage of being the national summer sport. There is no such unifying force in the West Indies.
Perhaps that thinking is too idealistic. It is not as simple as a desire to move away from legacy colonial influences. If that were the case, India’s interest in cricket would be decreasing, not increasing. India has every bit as much interest in distancing itself from its British occupation. Look no further than the blocking of John Howard as ICC vice president for evidence of this. But Indians love their cricket and there is unprecedented interest, and money. Is this because of the success of the team, or is the success because of the interest? I watched a program about the Indian World Cup victory in 1983 – it claimed that was the making of Indian cricket. All that glory made all the little boys want to play cricket.
Perhaps that is part of it, but I would suggest that Indians have always played cricket. However, the chance to represent their country was limited to the very privileged few – the talent pool realistically available for selection was probably less than that of Australia. The little boys were playing cricket but they simply were nowhere near a selector of any sort. With India’s exploding economy, cricket has changed dramatically.
Firstly, there is money in the economy for BCCI to provide infrastructure and more and more Indians have money to buy equipment, travel, attend coaching seminars etc. Add a corresponding demand for cricket in the corporate world (IPL) and you have a thriving economy based on cricket. The “decolonisation” of India has not resulted in India abandoning cricket. Cricket has a use. However, I think we will see that India will use its power to change cricket itself. Look no further than the blocking of John Howard as ICC vice president for evidence of this.
Returning to the original question, I don’t think that Australia will go the way of the West Indies. Rather, they are repeating the time honoured cycle of rise and decline (Australia is at about 1985 level currently). What they do to drag themselves out of it, or whether it happens by less controllable, organic means, and how long it takes, all remains to be seen.