A Wasted Opportunity

What a total embarrassment for Australian cricket last night in Cape Town.

The soft underbelly of modern-day Australian batting has again been exposed. In 2005 it was bad umpiring and a substitute fieldsman, in 2009 we apparently batted well except for a few sessions. Last summer we supposedly picked the wrong blokes from our bottomless pit of talent. Now we waste the best opportunity we could have dreamed of to restore public confidence in the national team.

It would be forgivable if the opposition were primed for their ambush, armed with the heavy artillery of a great West Indian attack of the past, on a treacherous wicket. But none of that was the case. This was a capitulation of epic proportion again nothing more than a goodish Test attack on a challenging wicket  –  Steyn was nothing like the superb bowler he’d been on day one.

We have some problems which just won’t go away, and the underlying attitude is best summed up by the allegation that we’ve become a bunch of whingers and excuse-makers. After being dropped in slips already, Phil Hughes thought he was hard done by because a replay showed that a slips catch had carried. He whinged the same at Lord’s in 2009, and then whinged on Facebook that he’d been dropped for the next Test, a Test by the way, that heralded the arrival of Shane Watson as a world-class batsman.

Ricky Ponting is by far the best Australian batsman we’ve seen in the modern era, but it’s all going to end in tears on current evidence. We all love and admire Ricky, but no player in the game hastened the arrival of the Decision Review System more than he did. For ten years, going back to the Headingley Test of 2001, he has been challenging  – usually successfully  – the legitimacy of catches off his bat. Fuzzy evidence, his strong personality and the fact he’s a legend have all worked in his favour. He’s been the beneficiary of so many close LBW shouts over the years that one could hardly keep count, yet now that modern technology is working against him he is dismissive of its legitimacy. He may well have a case with the Tracker technology that brought him undone in the first innings, but he can’t have it both ways.

What was Mike Hussey thinking, playing such an expansive drive first ball after lunch? What was spoken about in the dressing-room in the previous 40 minutes? As for Brad Haddin, we can only assume that he has given up. What a shame to see such a fiesty competitor reduced to this : but the game can sometimes do that to even the best.

Shaun Marsh has been a gem in his short time in the team, and at no.3 he offers the protection that other players need. But his absence from the pivotal spot was a disaster last night, and if he’s going to continue to be the injury-prone crock that he’s been throughout his domestic career he’s going to be no use to anyone. He a bloody batsman for goodness sake, not a front-rower ; it’s not that physically demanding.

Modern batsmen the world over can’t concentrate properly anymore  –  Rahul Dravid and Johnathon Trott are probably the only ‘boring’ batsmen going around  –  and swing bowling seems to be more effective than ever before. How can Australia be 9 down after 11 overs, Sth Africa get bowled out in 24 overs and Sri Lanka likewise in England this year?

The modern player wants everything his way, and usually gets it. If they don’t, they won’t play  – witness Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo. Players talk incessantly about money, as if what they earn reflects their standing in the game. Well, I’ve got news boys  –  the average bloke in the street, or cranky/jealous former player, doesn’t give a rat’s backside how much you make. The only way to earn their respect is to show some ticker when it’s hard, and to cop your medicine if it doesn’t go your way.

The tragedy for Michael Clarke is that a truly great Test innings has been wasted. Even more importantly, a wonderful opportunity has been wasted to win back the interest and affection of the cricket-loving public with a seies-shaping victory. Pat Howard and John Inverarity need to get to work to restore some pride and confidence.

 

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Brendan, you may have more insight into this question than those of us further from the scene.

    The modern coaching emphasis seems to favour aggression (certainly in Oz), hard hands and early establishing of a foot position. Great on a flat deck when its doing nothing. Bloody hopeless when its moving.

    This is to judge at least from the modern crop.

    Is this a correct perception? Or is what we’re seeing simply the influence of more and more limited overs stuff?

  2. John,
    I reckon it is a combination of all those things, plus mental weakness. Players have everything without having to gaft for it.
    They get paid $800,000 in the IPL even for not playing.
    What is their level of hunger?

    Brendan

  3. Gday Brendon,
    What is their level of hunger indeed? Not much I’d say. Things are way too peachy.
    But what is the solution more importantly? I dont think the IPL cash will go away in the short term. How about a salary cap?
    Dont think the players will go for that though.Shame because the game is much greater than the individual self interest
    Hope it changes for the better.Somehow…
    Cheers
    David

  4. Brendan,
    I’ve watched junior coaching for a few years now and been reminded of my out-datedness.
    Foot straight down the wicket. Free the hands. Clear the front leg. “Feel” bat on ball. Hit boundaries. Dominate the bowlers.
    Of course, wickets are usually condusive to this style. Good, tight techniques have become redundant.
    I was firstly horrified and then later overawed at KP’s bludgeoning.
    Ian Bell is one who shows ticker.
    Mitchell Johnson is a disgrace. Plays like a millionaire because, alas, his accountant confirms the option.

  5. John Butler says:

    Crio, when I was coaching juniors at a local club some years back, a couple found their way into rep squads.

    I was similarly bemused by some of the advice I was hearing. Tough to explain to the kids you had your doubts without confusing them. These rep coaches were supposed to be the guns after all.

  6. John Butler says:

    I reckon modern coaching suffers from a lot of fads.

    Cricket isn’t alone in this.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Quite close to the worst Test lost in history.

    Technique and ticker required.

    And the batting line-up needs to be looked at.

    Bye bye Mitchell.

  8. Pamela Sherpa says:

    JB – I couldn’t agree more about fads in sport – from clothing and equipment for kids to ridiculous so called innovative fitness training regimes.

  9. John Butler says:

    That effort this morning from Australia pretty much amounts to a capitulation.

    Leaked 4’s like a sieve. Again.

    Will Marsh’s injury act as an alibi for others?

    It will be interesting to see the response.

    PS: Pamela, I don’t like to sound reactionary, but you know some new ideas just aren’t as good as some that they replace.

  10. Skip of Skipton says:

    crio; KP, Gilchrist and Graeme Pollock are three champion batsmen who were capable of bludgeoning because of their brilliant eye, sans footwork. You could put Lara in that mix also. They are exceptions to the rule and should never be considered as any textbook/blueprint for young people learning cricket.

    Mitchell Johnson has a Dane Swan-esque sleeve tattoo which he has acquired since being a Baggy Green recipient, and has always had an ear-ring in his tongue of all places. Cricket needs to revisit its previous standards. I’m not a moral-relativist and nor should this great game be. Let us keep some standards. Mitchell has given us glimpses of his talent with both ball and bat on quite a few occasions yet doesn’t seem too fussed about producing it regularly. HIT THE ROAD HIPSTER!

  11. One of the best articles and collections of comments I have ever read on this fine site.

    Brendan, you have nailed it. Everything comes to easy to these blokes. Tattoos, WAGs, fast cars, bling, Twitter followers, it is all a crock of shit. Get someone grumpy like AB to pick a team, out with the show ponies, in with some real cricketers who enjoy it when their backs are to the wall.

  12. Skip of Skipton says:

    Give poor old Drew a break, eh? He’d only be there because everyone else has passed on it. Admire his enthusiasm and lack of shame for god’s sake!

  13. Shaken, it’s a cultural change that is required and I think John Inverarity is the man to spearhead it. The guiding force behind Ashley Giles as a test player he recognises limited skill sets and exploits them to the max. Check out Daniel Breittig’s excellent report on him at: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/538359.html

    The key thing as with any cultural change is that it will take time, buckle up folks and expect disappointments I think it’s going to take the best part of 12 to 24 months before we see a new, more mature Australian team and I am very interested to see if Rixon is the new coach given Clarke’s very public push for him.

  14. and as an aside, it is an absolute tragedy that Tim Paine is not fit, if ever there was a man I would have felt comfortable coming into grind out an innings it would be him. Is there an ETA on his return?

  15. I am with Flynny: quite possibly Australia’s worse Test defeat.
    An appalling batting display, followed by a capitulation in the field.

    If any of the leaders had any ticker at all, they would get Matthew Wade onto
    the first plane out to Johannesburg, tap Haddin on the shoulder and say “It’s
    over” and retire him immediately. What is the point of him playing next week?

    Mitchell Johnson averages just over 30 with the ball. The fact that he was entrusted
    with the new pill in the first innings, only to have it whipped off him after just two overs,
    is instructive. Either give the kid a game, or play Copeland to keep it tight from one end.

    Regardless of who the fall-guy is, renewal must start now. Khawaja must play in Jo-burg.

  16. Dave Nadel says:

    Skip, I don’t think the answer is to tell the team that they should dress or act like pre-World War Two cticketers. Lillee, Marsh and the Chappells dressed (long hair and moustaches) and behaved in the 70s in ways that infuriated the older generation. However they also won the Ashes, beat the West Indies and most other teams they played. Discipline and dress is only an issue when it is linked to poor or selfish play and lack of application. Even Collingwood might have questioned Swan’s tatts if he was still the hoon of eight years ago. As one of the hardest trainers at the club who wins mega-possessions every week he can decorate his body however he likes.

    Mitch Johnson’s problem is inconsistancy and poor concentration. It is not what is on the outside of his body, it is what is on the inside of his head. Australia’s problem is not poor dress.It is playing too many different types of cricket without breaks, and poor choices by the selectors.

  17. Skip of Skipton says:

    Sorry Dave, but it’s short back and sides conservatism for me. I’m not keen on having some tweeting Ferrari driving metrosexual playboy as captain of Australia’s cricket team either. Nor was Katich it seems.

  18. And no doubt you also would have preferred not to have a bleached blonde texting playboy spinning for Australia – even though without him we would have won a lot less Tests.

  19. Warnie and Clarke are worlds apart. One bloke is as described above by Skip, the other was one of the best cricketers of all time notwithstanding his idiosyncracies. At least he always came across as true to himself rather than trying (too hard) to appease the masses. Warne never gives a toss what anyone thinks about him- which is the polar opposite to Clarke who is all about projecting an image (of what I’m not sure!)

  20. Steve Fahey says:

    Fascinating insights. I agree with Flynny and Smokie – a truly devastating loss.

    I watched in hope last night, thinking that the target could be difficult for SA. The body language when Watson dropped Amla early on was disgraceful – it screamed “we are beaten.” As the situation got worse, Johnson’s arm seemed to get lower and lower at the point of release. I’d send him back to Shield cricket for an extended spell and tell him that he is required to dominate games (and be capable of opening the bowling) before he returns. A big factor in his decline, in addition to the stuff between his ears, is that batsman rarely have a crack at the full wide deliveries from which he took many wickets early in his career. They can let them go knowing full well that other opportunities to score will arise from him. It drives me to distraction seeing him come around the wicket to right handers.

    Only Clarke, Watson and Harris came out of it with any credit, and Siddle and Marsh to some extent, although I agree with Brendan’s comments re the latter’s injury proneness. Having Ponting , who should be batting at 5 or 6, in after three balls of the innings didn’t inspire confidence. For the South Africans they really only had Smith, Amla, Philander, Steyn and Morkel come out out it with credit -there were a lot of players who contributed very little on both sides.

    I’m intrigued that in all of the above commentary the one word that doesn’t appear is Katich – an unfashionable player with a ton of ticker. He may not be the future, but he puts a price on his wicket.

    Hard to seeing us regrouping within a few days. To think that it could so easily have been the South Africans under this heat…..

  21. Dave Nadel says:

    Budge, you are quite right about the difference between Warne and Clarke but Skip wrote that he wanted “short back and sides conservatism” which doesn’t just knock out Clarke. It also removes Warne and Lillee, Marsh and Ian Chappell and probably Merve Hughes. My attitude which applies Warnie and the others on the cricket pitch and for that matter Dane Swan and his tatts on the football field, is that if you delver in the match it doesn’t matter how you dress or wear your hair or decorate your body.

  22. Of course Dave there is an opposite to that theory.

    I am a very radical dresser but I can’t play sport to save myself.

  23. “I’m not keen on having some tweeting Ferrari driving metrosexual playboy as captain of Australia’s cricket team.”

    I would like that on a t-shirt.

  24. Vale Peter Roebuck.

    I did not always agree with what you wrote but, most often, you wrote it beautifully.

    You once described a tight test as “an argument”. I still reckon it’s one of the best things I’ve read in sports writing.

    You also (PJF will understand) introduced me to the wonderful word “denouement”.

    Brendan – I reckon Peter would have loved your style above.

    CD

    CD

    CD

  25. Our batting fragility has been in evidence for ages. Since Sydney 2008 against India Australia have failed to make 300 a whopping 32 times. We have forgotten how to bat Tests.

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