It’s November, this must be Brisbane.

The never-ending series reaches Australia. Barely has the carefully contrived dust of English pitches settled, yet the equally contrived headlines announce another instalment of sport’s longest running soap opera. The TV promos present Clarke’s men in soiled white repose. Is the dirt meant to represent the honest toil of millionaire sportsmen? Surely it isn’t some sly comment on the impact of filthy lucre?

Given recent efforts, Clarke and his not-so-merry men might be worried the soil represents the sand about to be kicked in their faces.

Languid anticipation of a cricketing summer seems a bygone thing. The idea of cricket as respite doesn’t sit easily with modern commercial imperatives. The game is now run by men in a hurry, often going nowhere. Cricket is to be avariciously consumed, just like everything else. This is not to claim that everything before was wonderful, just to decry a sense of balance sacrificed. The Indian Premier League was cricket’s true baptism into the murky waters of venture capitalism. If the subsequent fracturing of cricket’s common purpose has a solution, Cricket Australia certainly doesn’t seem of a mind to seek it.

So it is that on Thursday we begin the first of five Ashes tests spanning barely more than seven weeks of “summer”.

Such scheduling imposes mightily on the actual playing. Momentum conceded early becomes all the harder to reverse. Fast bowlers’ bodies lack recovery time. Everyone’s mental resources have little respite. With limited chance to reassess tactics, how you start will likely resemble how you finish.

Any way you look at it, the visitors seem better prepared for the starting pistol. Though weather and injury have intruded somewhat on best laid plans, their focus has remained clear. It is England’s recent Ashes fortune to have achieved steadiness of leadership and method just as their foe has floundered in the wake of a golden age.

As is now its wont, Australia has favoured contractual obligation ahead of cricketing common sense. Consequently, a couple of cursory rounds of Shield cricket are deemed sufficient preparation for what the administrators will still insist – hand on heart – is the summer’s major priority.

Australian cricket has come into some additional television money of late. This seems to have given administrators cause to feel a warm inner glow of vindication. There’s little indication, however, that they will know how to spend it productively. Their overall planning looks as well conceived as a Watto DRS challenge.

If the Argus review was meant to provide the framework for recovery then the structure set new standards for impermanence. The coach is gone (again). The idea of captain and coach as selectors proved as problematic as previous. Replacing Andrew Hilditch with John Inverarity merely served to highlight that the cultural distance between an Adelaide lawyer and a Perth principal is much less than the physical distance involved. The Sheffield Shield, once a key to Australian cricket’s pyramid of virtue rewarded, remains much neglected, denuded, sidelined.

Australian cricketers can’t even launch a book now without fomenting dressing room tumult.

The team Michael Clarke leads into the crucial Gabba contest reflects all this compromise and chaos. Whatever their various talents, it is hard to claim that Rogers, Bailey, Haddin, Harris and Johnson represent any sort of brave new dawn for Australian cricket. They are stop-gap selections attempting to forestall embarrassment.

Many (Australian) scribes seem currently struck by an irrational exuberance. They claim the gap between the combatants is closing. They reckon we’re some rough chance. If we lack batsmen of real quality, at least we aren’t short of optimists. Personally, I can’t for the life of me see a tangible basis for this. I wish I could.

I happily concede the limitations of the English team, as would the English. They are efficient rather than brilliant. Cooke is an unadventurous captain: he will only attack from a position of dominance. The bowling relies heavily on Anderson and Swann. England is every bit as aware of these facts as we are. They make a virtue out of playing within their limitations. Under pressure they don’t indulge, they dig in.

Australia’s current idea of digging is to place ourselves in the hole.

In spite of more money and “expertise” than ever before, the chastening truth is that Australian cricket currently lacks street smarts. We have become the sucker that never sees the right-cross coming. We lack survival instincts. We are the side that any half-decent opponent can wait out; knowing the fatal session is but a matter of time. This suits a team like England perfectly.

Sooner or later, someone in authority will concede that players like Watson and Warner are the personification of the system that fostered them. Their failings are its failings. And, sadly, these failings cancel out their strengths when exposed to the rigours of Test cricket. Chosen ones from an early age, they have learnt their craft surrounded by coaches, yet lack basic fundamentals. Why is Watto still a front-foot plonker? Why does Warner’s idea of defence look as useful as the Maginot Line? Answer these questions and we may begin to approach some necessary truths. We owned these truths not so long ago.

In the meantime, we will ride the rollercoaster with Mitch, Dave and Shane. Hope that Michael can pull a captaining rabbit out of the hat – and score about 500 runs by the by. Cross our fingers that Pete and Ryan remain sound of body. We must also prepare pitches unresponsive to the fingers of Swann, and Kookaburra balls that thwart the swing of Anderson. But most of all, pray to the heavens that something occurs to wipe that sodding smirk off Broad’s face.

 

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. Witty, insightful and appropriately acerbic. Welcome back JB.
    What do you think this is – Cricinfo?
    “Cooke” is an unadventurous captain, did seem to carry a hint of Freudian slips cordon about it.
    I am with you on the deep seated malaise. I thought Tim Lane summed it up perfectly on the weekend. England have essentially the same team that won 3-1 here a couple of years ago. We are minus Ponting and Hussey. You do the math.
    Our optimism seems based on the “surely something will turn up, it always has in the past”.
    Maybe there is Chinese billionaire interesting in acquiring naming rights for a national cricket team??
    Clive as Minister for Sport would option the current mob at a good rate. Tony needs the Senate support.
    Shenhua Ashes anyone? Just follow the money trail and you will eventually find Cricket Australia.
    Brilliant JB

  2. Australia’s current idea of digging is to place ourselves in the hole.

    Gold JB; pure gold.

    The Peter Roebuck of Australian cricket. I mean that in the nicest possible way of course.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great article , John personally I have more confidence in a politician to make a logical decision for the betterment of the country than in CA . Unfortunately I totally agree with you re , Hilditch and , Inverarity it is a like for a like but the problems go deeper than that as you have correctly alluded for us to be relying on , Warner and , Watson is scary .John would love your thoughts on th article I wrote re Why cricket is dying ? Would value your insight .
    Thanks John , great read

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    As the song said about Ian Redpath: It’s good to see you back JB.
    Gotta love a Carlton fan who can write a compelling Marxist critique about cricket.

  5. You just do not realise how much you have missed someone
    until you suddenly, unexpectedly, and most welcomingly,
    hear from them again.

    Welcome back, JB.

  6. John Butler says

    Thanks for the overly generous comments gents.

    I wasn’t aware I was officially “away”. I’ve just been busy.

    PB, the irony of the China joke is that you just know they would have looked into the possibility already.

    Wrap, this being nice to Carlton supporters will get you nowhere.

    Phil, if we’re going to quote Mojo at each other we are officially old farts.

    Smokey, hope to catch up at the launch if I can make it (Thursdays a bit of a bugger).

    Rulebook, I see your article provoked quite the discussion. I’ll give you my thoughts once I’ve had a proper read of it.

  7. see you there JB.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Great work John. Nothing to argue with here.

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