The false hope of King Arthur, the Border wars and the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers – a plea against insider training

You I know I have developed a bit of a theory. I keep seeing former players going on about how Simmo and Border identified a group of players, and backed them in. Eg G Marsh. Boon. S Waugh.


I think they don’t understand history. I think they think that’s the right way to build a team all the time. As if form, class and being able to accommodate different personalities are irrelevant.


What they miss is the crucial context. By 1987, when at nadir, Australia had had 11 years of turmoil:


– the premature loss of Chappelli, Mallett and R Edwards


– the bizarre decision to recall Simmo
– re- integration of WSC players
– G Chappell and the “yes; no” approach to captaincy
– emergence of limited overs formats, with greater emphasis on fielding
– unstaggered retirement of Chappell, Marsh and Lillee
– dominance of program by Windies
– the Hughes v Hookes tensions
– the defections to South Africa, and then their impending return


Of course Simmo and Border were both craggy cranky self-identifiers. They gained comfort in each other.


In contrast, Australia suffers no such moment of crisis. It has an abundance of talent. There a million pathways. Modern cats are a very broad spectrum. For every Smith there are probably 10 Maxwells. Players move around between leagues and formats and teams. They balance a million expectations.


I think the Smith-Lehmann insiderism is a false reading of history. An Arthurist deviation.


Even AFL teams have moved beyond Swansification. They have integrated it, into other threads, like Balmism and Clarksonism. In people like Buckley, we have coaches able to see the positive in each and every young player.


So either these guys in Australian cricket are duds at hist0ry. Or have just found a convenient way of getting their mates into a team, against a hapless opponent.




About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids' book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional...


  1. The Maxwell ODI exclusion smacks of Groupthink to me. Dunno if its driven by Smith or Boof. I am all for leaders – in all walks of life – selecting their “team” based on cohesion as much as talent. But that leader needs to be self aware enough to tolerate diversity and difference in the name of performance.
    Mike Brearley is the greatest captain/leader in cricket history based solely on his ability to motivate beyond his own performance and personal will. He was able to get the best out of Botham and Gower without being similar types.
    Hard to mould a “team” now with cricket constantly breaking up into different formats and franchises. Players are contractors more than employees. The Marshes both seem happy to be seen as long form players currently. Shaun the dour middle order stability, and Mitch forgoing $ for consistency of approach.
    The current batting line up still looks fragile to me, but away series against India and South Africa are the only way to test the Smith/Boof formula. Big fish in a small pond. Not a good side – but good enough.

  2. crankypete says

    PB the irony of all of that is Maxwell has been saying – and doing – all of those things since he got his lucky chance In India last year. It’s bizarre parenting to criticise the child that is finally doing what you want.

    What I think has been revealing is that Ponting and now Waugh have both come out and said they find Smith’s public comments quite bizarre. Praise in public and criticise privately, which is sage advice – remains me of the best manager I ever had.

    In terms of cohesion, I still take the view that the Australian cricket team is not a normal team, compared to a football team or even a Shield team. Mark Taylor used to acknowledge that the dressing room would be filled with guys from different states and different cultures, who just had to come together to get a collective job done, by focussing on their individual games.

    It’s possible that summers like this with continuous tests have changed that dynamic, and the mob has to be together for 6 weeks straight.

    However I don’t see anything in the public displays of Smith, Lehmann and Maxwell that suggests that Maxwell is the one that would struggle to fit in. You only have to look back to the mark that was out against Rogers’ name by people like Haddin (allegedly). People who are full-on in their own way, and assuming that way is the one, true way.

    Surely you have to pick on record, potential form and structure (including age), and then only use “cohesion” as a tiebreaker?

    Personally, if I was Maxwell I would have responded by keeping the heat on over his red-ball omission, thanking him for the opportunity to clarify that his role is to be the next Martyn part 2. And looking for the opportunity to do that if lucky enough to be picked for the upcoming test of strength against the magnificent Sth African team.

  3. John Butler says

    Insightful and provocative as always PW.

    Are there not lessons here re the natural authoritarian inclinations a position like coach can cultivate. Lehmann’s alleged strengths are a relaxed and positive approach, but selections haven’t always borne that out. He would need to balance out Smith’s uptight tendencies.

    Personalities will always come into play. It’s a question of the balance struck to ensure a prevailing sense of fairness. Otherwise divisions will eventually loom large.


  4. Peter Warrington says

    And i kid you not, from Cricinfo:

    Despite struggling over the course of his first Ashes series, notably showing evidence of technical trouble in the region of his off stump, Bancroft is highly regarded by the Australian team set-up after spending six weeks in camp. This is partly for his high work ethic and eagerness to improve, and also for an off-beat personality summed up when he had Smith in stitches when describing his pre-series altercation with Jonny Bairstow in the aftermath of the Gabba Test.

    So says Cricinfo.

    You can be rubbish at opening. Have a flawed technique. But use the funnybone bit of that elbow that should be guiding your bat, use it instead to provide some much needed infantile mirth – and you are in for life!

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Interested in the Hughes v Hookes tensions. Were they well known by the public at the time? Hookes’ omissions a result of this? Is Smith v Maxwell similar?

  6. Love it C Pete.

    With Australian cricket selection the “good bloke” test must sit pretty high up the list of selection criteria.
    All merit-based, of course.


  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Luke the Hughes v Hookes was known with in cricket circles not so sure re public wise

  8. Peter Warrington says

    Dave, I was going to write M.Ash as in the mountainy type, and then realised that the next comment was from your name sake M. Ashwood. What are the odds…

    Good bloke. as judged by certain types. We all have a type. What if Maxwell got their first? And didn’t like preppy intense self-obsessed types? Just bizarre. To me. I guess that’s why my career plateaued 25 years ago (at a happy level).

    Hughes and Hookes, isn’t that a thing. Christian Ryan gives it a good going over in Golden Boy, but it seemed almost a proxy war. They had so much in common, and were so different. Some random disconnected thoughts:

    1. How much did Hughes’ move to SA, uninvited, in 74-5 rankle Chappelli? He still thinks he’s the Pope so you were probably meant to ask his approval (notwithstanding his brother’s then recent move).

    2. How must it have felt to Hughes to be overlooked for the Centenary Test in 77 when Hookes scored 5 tons – an amazing feat, don’t get me wrong – on pretty dead tracks against Test-free attacks, while Hughes struggled around on the NZ tour on seaming decks against Hadlee and others? A queue jumped is a queue jumped?

    3. But 5 tons in a month is as many as Hughes made in the two seasons that put his name before selectors (albeit his tons were pretty special.)

    4. Allegedly Hughes wanted to be asked to go to WSC. It’s not clear. HIs card may have been marked already. By…? But Hookes dearly wanted to stay, despite signing. Their orbits collide like those planets at the end of Melancholia.

    5. What was Hughes thinking in 83? I genuinely don’t remember. Finally made captain, he then does exactly what Chappell did, by not touring Sri Lanka. So Chappell and Hookes and Lillee and Marsh are in Sri Lanka, having a great old time – Hookes’ only ton. Then Chappell goes home and Hughes arrives in England. The vibe is wrong from day 1. If I could change one thing…

    6. Ryan mounts a plausible case that Hookes was “suspended” for his behaviour in the World Cup. He had had his best season in the 82-3 Ashes. And then scored the ton in Sri Lanka. The fact that Yallop went off in 83-4 papered over that. But, really, Greg chappell should have pissed off and both Hookes and Yallop would have been in the team. This would have made the transition to the West Indies tour that much simpler. and may have mended a few fences. If I could change one thing…

    7. Obviously Hookes had strong supporters in the Chappelli camp. And he may have felt like he needed to represent that position and their disdain for Hughes, especially as captain. But he was a big boy and maybe he just thought he was a knob – which is not disproven by the Ryan book!

    8. There are numerous times that I think Hookes could have been appointed captain. It’s clear that he was an incredible tactical skipper, and ferocious leader, at state level. I feel like Gwynneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors when I consider these:

    * if he had stayed behind after WSC
    * he could have been considered in 79-90
    * he might have been a better long-term choice in 81 once Marsh was sorta vetoed
    * Pakistan 82
    * 83-4 after chappell retired

    and especially when Hughes resigned. Maybe Hookes would have been a 3-4 year transition to Border, and Border may have been an even better batsman, we would never have developed such an intense style, and Border (or Lawson) would have been a breath of fresh air skipper in the late 80s.

    If I could change one thing…

    Anyway, it was just a thing, and not a hill of beans compared to Hookes’ tragic death.

    Peace to all!

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