Michael Clarke: The averages are average

Michael Clarke is Australia’s luckiest captain in 25 years.  Not since Graham Yallop was thrust into the role as captain in 1978 has Australia’s anointed been so lucky.

Yallop was gifted the captaincy when Kerry Packer annexed the world’s best players for his rebel World Series Cricket (WSC) troupe.

Clarke is captain because there is no other logical choice.  In any other era, it is doubtful he would be Australia’s captain.

He would’ve been a great deputy, but wouldn’t have been selected over Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting or either of the Chappell brothers.  In Clarke’s favour, he might’ve shaded out Kim Hughes.

Unfortunately for Clarke, he’s a great batsman in an era of struggle.  The days of Australia’s top order being filled with batsmen who averaged between 40 and 50 is over.

The days of true grit and class are over, too.

Australian cricket has regressed to a dreadful era that lasted about six years, from 1983 to 1989.  Back then, Australia set a modern day record of six consecutive Test losses.

The current side is comparable to that team of the eighties, when Australia was routinely hammered, not only by the West Indies but by England and New Zealand.

Consider the following bowlers who represented Australia in the eighties:

 

Player Tests Wickets Average
Dave Gilbert

9

16

52.68

Peter Sleep

14

31

45.06

Peter Taylor

13

27

39.55

Ray Bright

25

53

41.13

Chris Matthews

3

6

52.16

Murray Bennett

3

6

54.16

Bob Holland

11

34

39.76

Trevor Hohns

7

17

34.11

 

 

Does anyone remember Dave Gilbert opening the bowling for Australia?  Or Chris Matthews’ calamitous Tests, when he was shockingly overwhelmed by the occasion and disrespected by the West Indies and England?

The rest of the bowlers listed above are spinners.  Taylor and Bright were off-spinners while Sleep, Holland and Hohns were leg spinners.  None of them made a significant impact on the field.

Unfortunately for the bowlers listed, their averages would be great if they were batsman.  It seems a miracle that Gilbert played nine Tests with such an appalling average, but it highlights how bereft of talent Australia was in the eighties.

Ray Bright, with 53 wickets from 25 Tests is regarded as a clever bowler, but his average is similar to Mark Waugh’s batting average.

With the exception of Bob Holland, the bowlers in the list averaged two wickets per Test.  Most bowlers aim for five wickets per Test.  Back in that dreadful era, few of these bowlers were capable of dominating a Test, hence their relatively short careers.

But the bowlers need not carry all the blame.  Consider the list of Australian batsman from the eighties:

 

Player Tests Hundreds Fifties Average
Greg Ritchie

30

3

7

35.20

Tim Zoehrer

10

1

20.50

Dirk Wellham

6

1

23.36

Geoff Marsh

50

4

15

35.13

Andrew Hilditch

18

2

6

31.55

Wayne Phillips

27

2

7

32.28

John Dyson

30

2

5

26.64

 

 

The averages above aren’t bad, in bowling terms.

Marsh, Dyson and Hilditch were openers.  How Dyson played 30 Tests while averaging 26.64 is mystifying, but it is another example of how shallow the talent pool was.

Wellham hit a century on Test debut against England.  Of course, he made a duck in the first innings.  Never again, in a Test, did he score a half century.

Ritchie seemed a better player than his average suggests, but the stats don’t lie.  Nicknamed fatcat for obvious reasons, he was a throwback to a less disciplined era, and it didn’t work in a transitional era.

Zoehrer and Phillips were wicket keepers often employed as batsman.  They didn’t excel at either job.

It is no wonder the side kept losing, but it forced Allan Border’s threat to quit.  The threat was rebuffed, for two reasons.  Border was the incumbent, and there was no one else qualified.

Australia kept losing, so it didn’t matter who was captain.  But change was underway.  When Australia lost the Ashes 3-1 in 1986-87, Border sought council from three hard men, Dean Jones, David Boon and Geoff Marsh.

They resolved to end the routs.  The side needed mongrel.  Players would be picked on determination, spirit and toughness.

After six years of mediocrity, earning a Test cap would once again be a privilege, reward for hard work, runs or wickets.

 

Two years later, Border led those same hard men to England and brought the Ashes home.  The turnaround was amazing, given Border’s team was described as one of the worst ever to tour England.

Ashes dominance would last sixteen years.  When Border retired, he left Australian cricket in better shape than when he inherited it.  The team, under Taylor, played with courage and relentlessness.

As the years went on, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting played uncompromising cricket as captains.  Records were set, competitors bested, and the accolades flowed.

Border was Australia’s last reluctant captain.  By necessity, he grew into the role.  Michael Clarke coveted the captaincy for years.  By necessity, he must grow into the role.  Unlike Border, Clarke doesn’t have men with the grit of Boon, Jones and Marsh.

When Border retired, he was 38.  Steve Waugh was the same age.  Ricky Ponting was 37, while Mark Taylor retired early at 34.

Clarke has already suggested he won’t be playing cricket, that he’d be gone from the game long before he turns 37.

That leaves Clarke, two, maybe three years, or thirty Tests, to stamp his legacy on his team.

Right now, his job is safe, because there is no one else to take over.  Australia can keep losing and Clarke will still be captain.

It is hard to imagine any of the current players being appointed when Clarke retires, or if he is sacked.  Shane Watson will be gone, as will Ed Cowan and Brad Haddin.

Can anyone seriously see Phil Hughes, Usman Kawaja, David Warner or Steven Smith as captain?

Given Australia has never appointed a bowler as captain, they can all be ruled out.  That’s not to say bowlers are silly, but their job is hard enough without the burden of captaincy.

Consider the averages of Australia’s current Test bowlers:

Player Tests Wickets Average
Ashton Agar

2

2

124.00

Nathan Lyon

22

76

33.18

Ryan Harris

13

54

22.48

Mitchell Starc

10

35

33.02

James Pattinson

12

47

26.42

Peter Siddle

43

161

28.58

Jackson Bird

2

11

16.18

If Harris and Pattinson could stay fit, Australia would have a formidable bowling line up.  Their averages are good, but they keep getting injured.  Pattinson has youth on his side, but Harris, at 32, is running out of time.  He might play 20 Tests, if he’s lucky.

If Australia is lucky, Pattinson might play 50.

Siddle is Australia’s best bowler.  He’s a reminder to Merv Hughes, in terms of stamina, dependability and his average.  Hughes was generally accurate and always aggressive.  Siddle has more control.  His aggression is subtle, but he doesn’t open the bowling.

 

That doesn’t make much sense.

Starc seems a poor man’s Mitchell Johnson.  He can be devastating but is prone to wild inaccuracy and erratic batting.  If Mitchell Johnson was in England and Starc in Australia, there’d be no controversy.

Our spinners hardly induce fear and loathing.  Agar’s career is too young to make a judgement, and Lyon’s career is too old to keep getting dropped.  If Lyon wants to be Australia’s best spinner, he needs to do it.  Getting dropped for a 19-year-old must’ve stung.

The bowlers, though, don’t make up the bulk of Australia’s problems.  Consider the averages of Australia’s current Test batsmen:

 

Player Tests Hundreds Fifties Average
Brad Haddin

46

3

11

34.69

Phil Hughes

26

3

7

32.65

Chris Rogers

3

0

1

18.00

Steve Smith

9

4

29.00

Ed Cowan

18

1

6

31.28

David Warner

19

3

7

39.46

Michael Clarke

94

23

27

51.58

Usman Khawaja

7

2

30.09

Shane Watson

43

2

19

34.92

 

 

Aside from Clarke, how many of those men would’ve played under Taylor or Waugh?  Only Clarke averages above 50, and Warner is the only batsman to average more than 35.

It’s no wonder Australia’s batting is brittle.  The order is bereft of experience and, in most cases, notable talent.

Only three players listed above have played more than 30 Tests.  No wonder coach Darren Lehman is inviting former cricketers to offer tips at training.

The presence of Waugh, McGrath and Warne, however good intentioned, must be intimidating.  Those men had few limitations.  The current side is riddled with limitations.

Of the list above, it is doubtful that Watson, Cowan and Khawaja will ever extend their averages beyond 40.

Australia need cricketers coming into the side with first-class averages of 50, as it used to happen.

Australian cricket is rebuilding.  The fans are asked to remain patient, but how long for?  And how long do underserved players keep getting Tests matches?

As it was in the eighties, they’ll keep getting them until someone else demands their spot, because the averages highlight how easy it is to get a game for Australia right now.

Just as it was in the eighties…

 

 

 

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Ray Bright attempted to spin the ball from the leg ; of the orthodox left handed version he was. He was not an off spinner. He did not spin the ball at all.

    The rest of his article was depressing accurate(for a parochial Australian fan) Could I remind young Matt what the editor of “Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game” said in the 1890s

    “Australian cricket has entered a terminal decline as there is no cricketers emerging to replace Murdock and Spofforth”

    The next Ponting and Turner are out there but we don’t know their names yet

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great analysis Matt. I first started following cricket in those dark days of the mid 80’s and never thought we would sink to those depths again. At least our fast bowling stocks are far far better now than they were back then. We will rise again.

  3. Time for Watson to go. Is not making runs or taking wickets and is divisive. If Poms overlook Pietersen’s antics but at least he makes runs. Too early to make such calls on Cowan and Khawaja. Steve Waugh and Matty Hayden were both considered technically deficient before going on to being great batsmen.

  4. Jamoz Senior says:

    Statistics don’t always tell you the whole story. When you go back 30 years and a player averaged 35-40, in comparison to today with flatter pitches, better bats and opposition that is a little more innocuous than those days (I mean who’d you rather face, a Tino Best or a Malcolm Marshall? A Doug Bracewell or a Richard Hadlee? A Bob Willis or a James Anderson?) it works out that a batsman who averaged under 40 then, their average would jump considerably in today’s cricketing climate.

    If you take the case of Kim Hughes who only averaged 38, which seems poor by today’s standards, before he played his last ten tests against the WI, away and at home, he averaged 42. Even Deano who averaged 46 would most likely have an average pushing closer to 50 if he was around today. There are always stories behind the statistics. Always.

    Just some minor notes on a few of the players to prove my point

    1. To look at Phillips average of 32, as just that, is unfair. His batting suffered as a result of his being made keeper as well, when he had never kept seriously above club level. He dug Australia out of quite a few batting holes if I remember correctly in both tests and ODIs. When he was dropped, he was still one of the best batsmen in the country, and why they went with Marsh over Phillips in the long term still staggers beyond belief. As a batsman he averaged better than Healy in both formats, and I’d still pick him over Haddin even at the ripe old age of 56!

    2. Greg Ritchie was a good batsman and to say that his weight alone went against him is not telling the whole truth because Boonie and Merv weren’t that slim either. He wasn’t booted just because of weight, he and Zoehrer were dropped because Simmo took over. The anecdote is told of when they heard he was announced as the new coach one said to the other “I’m gone” and the other replied “I’m gone too!” So said and so done. It wasn’t that Zoehrer was incompetent as both batsman and keeper, it was that his personality was aggressive, maybe more so than needed to be, hence him being jettisoned more quickly than he should have been.

    3. Dirk Wellham didn’t make a duck on debut, he made 24 in his first innings before his 103 in the 2nd.

    Now, If you look at the Australian batsmen who played cricket in the 80’s and finished their careers with an average of 50 and above, there are two (Greg Chappell and Allan Border). If you look at those players who played for Australia and have retired in the past 10 years, then that number jumps to five (Ponting, Clarke, Waugh, Hayden and Hodge). Would they all have have averaged 50+ thirty years ago? Doubtful. Probably closer to lower to mid 40’s.

    I do agree with you about the dearth of quality bowling (both pace and especially spin) in those days. Thankfully we had McDermott, Reid and Merv and to a lesser extent Lawson and Whitney to fill the void, and a little later on rebels Alderman and Rackemann (after their bans were lifted). Imagine how much tighter the ’89 Ashes would have been if there was no Alderman.

    As it was thirty years ago, Australia lacks quality spin options. After Lyon, who is there? Hauritz has lost his Qld contract; Beer and Doherty have fallen off the radar, which narrows it down to, and leaves, Smith and Agar. At least Warne had May, Matthews and MacGill as back up over his career. Lyon is the “lone Barone” in this case and is the only centrally contracted spinner right now. It may be a couple of seasons before 20 year old James Muirhead actually proves himself as a leggie worth investing in. Until then, Australian cricket potters around until the next great or at least worthwhile spinner arrives, just as it did in the mid to late 1980’s and early 1990’s, until SK Warne came onto the scene.

  5. matt watson says:

    Hi Jamoz Senior,
    You’re right about the quality of the bowlers back then. Cricket really went through a golden era in the seventies and eighties.
    And I have no idea how I listed Dirk Wellham as having made a duck in the first innings of his debut. Must’ve gotten confused with all the stats I was looking at. Wellham never made a Test duck.
    Apologies to him and well picked up by you.
    You’re right about averages to, in a way. Of the players listed above, their averages seem too low for this era.
    I doubt Watson would’ve averaged 46 in the eighties…
    Cheers

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Good article , Matt ( hadn’t seen it before ) my only complaint was re Flipper the worst thing he did was ever pick up a pair of keeping gloves re his test career . None of us could see the rebirth of , Mitch Johnson coming . Warner’s talent was ever questioned that he actually has started to develop a consistent game plan and shot selection was . Interestingly with in cricket circles , Steve Smith has always been hugely regarded both talent and leadership wise certainly far higher than any of us cricket watchers had him
    Further reflections unfortunately , Chris Matthews went to water as much as any aussie sporting person , very good in shield cricket but choked in test cricket .
    Hohns stats wise not great but played a important containing role in 89 ashes
    Thanks Matt love a fellow cricket nut

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