Time alone will restore cricket Down Under

2013-03-23 00:00

THE Australian cricket team in India is face to face with the real prospect of their first 4-0 whitewash in a series since their 1971 tour of South Africa. The players involved in that comprehensive defeat blamed much of it on the umpires and most of them still do. With neutral umpires now in place, such an excuse is no longer available to the current team, despite the absence of the decision-review system in all matches involving India.

In 1971, Bill Lawrie, the Aussie captain, had an indifferent bowling attack at his disposal, but his team did have a number of decent batsmen who grew from the experience of trying to deal with a Springbok attack that was led by a rampant Mike Procter. These batsmen, together with Greg Chappell, who was unaccountably left out of Lawrie’s touring team, formed the core of the Australian team of the seventies.

That team, under Ian Chappell, was bolstered by the arrival on the scene of two great fast bowlers, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Less than three years after the fiasco in South Africa, they were dominating world cricket minus, of course, the isolated Springboks.

It is difficult to see such salvation awaiting Australian cricket this time. Some commentators are forecasting as precipitous a decline for the Aussies as befell the West Indies after their long period as the bully boys of cricket. This is a little harsh, but the lack of quality batsmen in Australian cricket must be alarming to selectors and fans alike.

One has to feel sorry for Michael Clarke, who was appointed captain of Australia at a time when he, personally, was in the batting form of his life. For a couple of series, his brilliant batting was complemented by some fine performances from both Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, but the departure from the team of these two great batsmen has left a hole that gets bigger with every passing Test.

When the Aussies were last in Johannesburg, John Inverarity, their chairperson of selectors, told me then that their batting cupboard was empty. Nothing has happened since then to indicate that he was wrong. Clarke is now the only quality batsman in the team and it may not be long before the burden of captaining a losing team begins to weigh upon his form.

It is not as if the Australian itinerary over the next year is about to give the team a chance to regroup among the flotsam of international cricket. Once the Aussies are done in India, they face the prospect of a back-to-back Ashes series against an England team that has all its bases covered plus experience to burn.

Clarke knows what back-to-back defeats against England will mean. There will be a flurry of books on “the greatest year in Test history”, a knighthood for captain Cook; OBEs for those who did not get them in 2005, enduring celebrity status for all of England’s heroes, and decades of replays of all England’s victories, etc. The year will stick in Australian throats more than any other year in their cricket history.

There is nothing Clarke can do to stop this avalanche of celebration. He may have a well-armed battery of fast bowlers at his disposal, but no spinners worth the name and certainly no batsmen who can put the Poms under the sort of pressure that wins Test matches. His year that has started so poorly is about to get worse.

What has happened to Australian cricket? For years, the way things have been done Down Under has been the template for all other cricket countries.

Their academies have been imitated everywhere. Their old-time leg spinners have been employed in an effort to reproduce the genius of Shane Warne; in South Africa nine provinces were reduced to Australia’s six of the best; their hard bouncy pitches were regarded as the best surfaces on which to produce cricketers, their administration was combed for pointers even though it probably was an example of how not to do things.

Despite the solid base of all that makes up the fabric of their national game, the baggy greens are looking distinctly saggy. Much hand wringing is taking place and fingers are being pointed in all directions, including at their South African coach. Consultants will be paid to tell them in wordy documents what they think is wrong. Restructuring, the old stand-by of those without a clue, will take place.

The truth is that the magnificent confluence of talent that enriched cricket in Australia in the nineties has run dry. Like all barren periods, no amount of wishing will bring it to an end, but end it will. Cricket Down Under has never been infected by the insouciant arrogance that was passed on by the great West Indians of the eighties to players of indifferent ability. Cricket is a well-grounded game in Australia. It is part of the nation’s psyche, but that does not prevent a talent drought.

In many institutions, those in charge have little idea why they are successful, which is why those that imitate them do so at their peril. Usually success is driven by a handful of gifted individuals and so it is with sport. Curiously in team sports, real talent often arrives in clusters thus giving rise to great teams.

In the nineties, Australian cricket was so rich in gifted players that the likes of Stuart Law, Darren Lehman, Stuart McGill, Michael Hussey, Matthew Elliot, Greg Blewett, Tom Moody and others could only find occasional places in the Aussie Test team. They had enough batsmen to fill two Test teams, but now they have just Michael Clarke.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s cup is overflowing. The glory of Jaques Kallis has received added lustre from the star players who surround him. One day, however, our cup, too, will look empty, to be replenished only by the mysteries that belong to time.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.