Diagnosing Australia

Jarrod Kimber has a fine essay on Cricinfo about all that ails Australia. It’s a beautiful piece, and I recommend it in full. That said, while I’m not nearly as smart or observant as Kimber (the little I know about cricket, I learned from commentary), I want to add a note of caution to the recent diagnoses of Australia.

Please keep in mind, all ye critics, that Australia just lost a great number of players in the past five years. Not just any set of players — but some of the greatest to have ever played the game. In my mind, it is still an open question as to whether Australia will face a terminal decline (a la The West Indies), or merely slide to something more mediocre and less dominating (but still very, very good). I’d like to think that a nation with as much cricketing history, talent and infrastructure as Australia will not allow Michael Clarke to suffer as much as Brian Lara did in the early 2000s. We shall see.

At any rate, think about how different this team would be if they still had, say, Michael Hussey. I’m not saying that they would be winning now, but perhaps they’d be more like Sri Lanka’s Jayawardene-Sangakarra — a combination that can still occasionally stop the opposition in its tracks, and provide succor and stability to the rest of the (largely middling) batsmen. Hussey’s retirement (as I understand it) caught Clarke by surprise, and I think it’s fair to say this Australian team would have had a less embarrassing transition had Hussey stuck around for another year or two.

Because let’s keep in mind as well that Australia are also playing against England in England. We’re dismissive of Watson and Hughes and Cowan (and Warner), but both Cowan and Warner performed admirably against India when India played in Australia in 2011-12. Of course, England is not India — Jimmy Anderson and Swann are much better than latter-day Zaheer Khan and Ashwin. But playing in England against a great swing attack is no easy task; even the mighty Australians of yore (e.g., the 2005 squad) failed that test. (Please also note: When Anderson played in Australia in 2006-2007, he was a shambolic travesty: five wickets in three Tests and 93 overs. He got better, sure, but it took a long time.)

So what are we comparing this Australia to? Are we comparing it to the Australians who didn’t relinquish the Ashes urn for nearly two decades? If that’s the case, we’ve got a problem — we are refusing to recognize the greatness that has passed. No, compare Australia to a team that’s in the middle of a generational change — didn’t England suffer in 2006-2007? Didn’t India suffer in 2011 (against both Australia and England)? Every cricket fan from every country has been humiliated in the past; now it’s your turn, Aussies. Stop being so dramatic about it.

2 thoughts on “Diagnosing Australia

  1. Subash says:

    The funny thing is the Aus selectors have pushed themselves in to a corner by a combination of things. Of course, they were blindsided by the retirement of Hussey. If you look back at the Indian tour down under, they still had a pretty weak top order, but Clarke was superman, Ponting got back in to form and Huss was Huss. With Ponting and Hussey gone, they were going to struggle to bridge the gap.

    Now, the people they brought in, weren’t coming in on the back of some superlative FC form or record. Selectors included them mostly on hope. I mean, Smith and Agar weren’t even in the original Ashes squad but played the opening Test. Ed Cowan was played in all the build up as the opener and they drop him to #3 and then out of the XI.

    The Aus selectors soon after Ponting’s retirement should have been blooding the ones that they thought were going to be long term solutions, not just based on “feel” but on form, and stuck with them. Now they are neither here nor there with Hughes, Smith, and of course Warner is all over the place.

    For them, Ashes is the gold standard and everything is geared towards it. However, they panicked and resorted to throwing shit on the wall to see what stucks, weeks out from the Ashes. oops.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Yeah, I think a more than reasonable case can be made against the Australian selectors’ choices over the past few years. Someone on Twitter also reminded me about the Katich episode, which I think was especially unfortunate. Katich, Clarke, Hussey — not a bad lineup with those three in it. I think dumping the coach right before the series wasn’t that smart either (and probably explains the lack of long-term thinking).

      But teams in transition face a very difficult quandary: they have to pick younger players with not as much experience as those they are replacing. They then have to wait as these players will (almost inevitably — excepting Pujara) fail, and then face incredible pressure to drop the player for another newb.

      There’s also the legitimate concern that you have to get to know your new players — many batsmen switch positions around in their career, especially at the start. So then, the question becomes, “Does this player need more time, a new position, or simply a return to the first class level?”

      Add to this the concern about picking players for local conditions (like, say, Chris Rogers, whom I doubt will survive this tour) or for internal politics (where is Nathan Lyon?), and it becomes extremely difficult for outsiders to discern any logic to the selection choices.

      People say that India has had an incredible transition, but to my mind, it hasn’t been all that easy. We forget the Chappell episode, the 2007 World Cup and the incredible number of players who have worn India Blue over the past five/six years. And even now, we still don’t have anyone to replace Zaheer Khan, and at least I am still iffy about who will become our premier spinner post-Kumble.

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