With the 2nd Ashes Test teetering on a knife edge in Adelaide (between England winning and a draw), I will attempt to see through the current hysterics of the fans of Australian cricket. The bowling analysis reads badly – over one thousand runs for just five wickets. Whatever. I suggest that the gap between the two teams is not as great as it seems. I offer one important word. A word of great, modern-day importance: Mojo.
The Australian cricket team has lost its mojo. (One of the many definitions of mojo is: a slang word for self-confidence, self-esteem or sex appeal.)
Don’t get me wrong. I think the that on paper and currently in practice, the English team in superior to Australia in all aspects. However, they should not be that much better.
During the rain interruption on Sunday afternoon, I saw some interesting footage that got me to thinking. I was supposed to leave the house at 5:45 but just as I picked up the car keys, they decided to show a replay of the final day of the Adelaide Test, four years ago. As Australia won from an impossible position, I decide to treat myself to some cheering up over the ensuing 20 minutes (you may recall that at the start of play, England lead by 70 runs with nine wickets in hand and proceeded to lose easily).
Warne bullied the umpire into giving a dodgy bat-pad. Warne bullied a weak Ian Bell into taking an ill advised run. Warne played with the head of his dear buddy, KP, and bowled him around his legs. Talk about mojo. Talk about sex appeal. McGrath, Lee and Clark mopped up the rest. The Aussie’s went for the kill and were as ruthless as they were skilful.
It was interesting to note that, order aside, that the only difference in the England top six now, is Trott for Flintoff. Of course, the Australian bowling line up is somewhat different. However, Siddle, Harris and Bollinger are all Test class bowlers. They have not bowled that badly and have been not been helped by some sub-standard fielding. I would be confident that Australia could field a metropolitan first grade side in Perth and take more wickets than in the past two innings. Not because they would be better bowlers. Just because they would be different bowlers, with a different captain.
If mojo is an aura of invisibility that emanates from within, how could Australia keep its mojo while losing McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist – three of the greatest players to walk a cricket field? Not to mention other great players from the next tier: Hayden, Martyn, Gillespie, MacGill and alright, I suppose the BNG. The collective deeds of those players are so immense as to guarantee the mojo of any team.
What the current Australian team lacks is self belief. They are not really entitled to, and should not expect any mojo. However, they need to aim for some self belief. The Aussies don’t think that can get the English batsmen out. The English would seem to share that opinion. And so it is. Cricket is no different to any other sport – the clash of the minds is half battle.
One of the tasks of a leader is to foster and build confidence and self belief through… leadership. Ponting is bewildered. He says he did all he could because he rotated his bowlers. Let’s overlook poor field placements for a moment and concentrate on leadership. Ponting is not the sort of leader to build self belief in his team when they are down. He’s not going to do it through brilliant people skills, encouragement (even, and especially, if it is not deserved) and innovation. And at the moment, he is not going to do it through his own great deeds.
In fact, Ponting has lost his own mojo. In the Australian cricket team, the captain must be revered for his playing performance. During Mark Taylor’s form slump, he remained a brilliant captain but his ability to command respect and remain an effective leader was undermined by his lack of performance. Guys like Warne and McGrath will not look up to someone who they regard as several rungs below them. Ponting’s lack of runs seriously affects his ability to lead and inspire.
If Australia is to turn this series around, it needs to come from the top down. Captaincy, coaching and management. I don’t really see that happening through the incumbents turning over a new leaf – it’s not reasonable to expect. The trouble for Australia is, who would be the replacements. Let’s rule Warnie out – it’s just not going to happen. Bobbie Simpson is probably a little old. My mind is now blank. Surely not Clarke. At least he regained some form today. In fact, he was in a place to make a big innings, save the match and make a big push for the leadership. Instead, as so he often has done in the past, he fell at the most critical moment.
Once again, Michael Clarke has been dismissed in the final over of the day’s play. I can just see it – it was a brilliant move from Strauss. He has the world’s best off spinner at his service but he puts on the part timer. I’m not talking Collingwood part timer – I’m talking KP – 4 Test wickets @ 144.75. He just knows that Clarke, being mindful of his last over demons, will heave a huge sigh of relief and start thinking about tonight’s episode of Glee. And before you know it, we have KP, the all rounder, 5 Test wickets at just 115.
In the short term, Australia needs to dig deep, rescue this match and go to Perth on level terms. Without help from the weather, I don’t see that happening but they must try. That in itself should buoy them. They then need “get back to basics”, use the home team advantage, hold some catches and the tide just might turn.