Third Test – Day 1: Shocking, Australia

Sadly, we have all played in sports team like the current Australian Test cricket side: really, really bad ones.

I remember the summer of 1979-80, my first in men’s cricket. Big cricket, where the ball whistled, and slips catches knocked you over, and blokes (like Metropolitans skipper Alan Ward, a former English Test quick) sledged you (although he did it nicely, knowing I was cacking it, and inadequate, and might be permanently scarred).

I remember thinking some of the fun had gone out of it. From the very first match at Godsall St, Toowomba, where I arrived (still in shorts mind you) to be confronted by a coup (the vice captain and wicket-keeper Big Al had called for a spill and Big Pat was unceremoniously dumped before he tossed the coin to start the season). Big Al then strode out, lost the toss, and we were in the field.

I was sent to the gully and in the opening over a slashing cut shot nicked the shirt under my arm-pit as I was cupping my hands to take the catch. I think I was still getting my hands in position (just to my right) as the ball hit the trunk of one of the camphor laurels which ring the pretty Queen’s Park ground. The opener was on nought at the time. He went on to make 140.

At least I got a bit of shirt on mine. Michael Hussey got nothing on the slash from Strauss which, had the West Australian taken the chance, would have meant Mitchell Johnson was sitting on 1/0, having held the Australian innings together as well. What if? Boy, do I know about what ifs.

We were no good: the Wests Reserve Grade side that summer. I remember one match at 7SD (the air force ground with its perfect white picket fence looking like it got a new lick each fortnight, just to give the recruits something to do). We were 3/25 when Big Geoff (the farmer from Mt Tyson way who was just weeks away from getting his girl-friend pregnant) joined me at the crease. The ball was zinging (by Toowoomba Reserve Grade standards) and we put our heads down, determined not to get out (like it was your brother bowling at you in the backyard). After a couple of hours we were starting to frustrate them. I’d made about 16, when I got inside a short one and it crashed in to the fence at mid-wicket. It was the day I learnt that applause can contain the sentiment of surprise. Big Geoff and I put on 100. I got 45 in four gruesome hours. The tail failed to wag again: we made 180, but had a lovely half hour in the Darling Downs evening. They went to stumps at 0/50. I was wondering why Big Fech and Big Bidders (both of whom were as quick as the opponents’ opening attacks) always got belted through extra cover and carved away over point. We were no good.

Neither were the Australians that summer – although they had an excuse. And neither are they this summer – only now they have no excuse. Absolutely no excuse.

Cricket Australia is magnificently resourced. Go to a Test match and have a look at how many people in blue and orange uniform are sitting in the media lunch marquee, and hanging about on the ground at some point during the day. Squillions of dollars in salaries and consultancy fees.

It has enjoyed success over a couple decades. And yet the most obvious elements have been lost up its own fundament.

What a disgraceful performance from the top order, against a novice attack. Hold off Anderson (who can bowl) and return the pressure to Finn and Tremlett.

But no: Hughes demonstrates his complete inadequacy. Ponting (no, nothing like Bradman, more like a very good Gary Cosier) nicks through the vacant slip region, and then hangs the dangly out there again to be picked up by Collingwood in goal-keeper fashion (great catch!) Clarke capitulates, as crook a shot as you will see all summer.

Where’s the fight? Where’s the sense that Test cricket is about survival? The Rats didn’t hang on in Tobruk by going through the right processes, and waiting for the rest to fall in to place (although I suspect they did take it one day at a time).

Just put your heart and soul in to it, and tough it out. And then Swann is not going to trouble you at 2/140, and you’re going to take three an over for him until the nightclubs open in Northbridge.

Shocking, Australia.

Shocking from the selectors.

Shocking from the top order.

Shocking from the new ball bowlers.

The only thing that can turn it around is an intense this-really-matters first session.

This must be initiated and led by the skipper else Big Ricky gets the big chop.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Agree, JTH. The lack of a “tough it out” attitude was palpable in the top order, save for Hussey. Imagine how much worse it might’ve been had the dropped him before the First Test!

  2. JTH – yes I agree. The hangers-on who sit in the rooms pumping the players with nutritional information, psychology, bio-mechanics, psychology, fitness and conditioning, psychology, and health checks – all completely unaccountable.

    Clarke’s shot to get out will be remembered as the worst this summer. I think it was Rod Marsh who yesterday commented that the captain of the Australian Cricket team should not be tattooed. Says something about Clarke’s lack of character, as my mother would say.

    We’ve got about a year of this crap before things improve.

  3. Only a year, Dips? You have a more optimistic outlook than me.

  4. John,
    I feel that Australian cricket has reaped what it has sown. For the last 5 years to focus has moved so far from Test cricket to the short stuff. The end result being a group of players who reflect the demands of the short game. Quick scorng, made up shots and a decided disadvantage to bowlers who now bowl into a Basebll like strike zone because everything else is called a wide or no ball. That change of focus and the increase in money from the IPL etc has resulted in the players becoming impatient and lacking in dicipline (GEN Y anyone). Dare I say it but Australia need a Geoff Boycott type more than another “young gun” who was selected on the back a some dogdy hit and giggle 20/20 games like Doughety was.

    Sadly the selectors and coaches, whose positions are untenable, have been sucked in a well. The recent decision by that young bloke to not play fooite and play cricket sums it up. What is his ultimate goal. The represent the baggy green or make a killing in India and the new Australian 20/20 league. I think the latter.

  5. And one other point. There was a small reference in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth regarding the effects of Climate Change on Australian cricket pitches. Well not a reference as such but the point is the piches have become too generic. The use of drop in pitches must also be changing the characteristics of pitches such as the MCG.The character of individual pitches has all but gone because the preparation are again focused on producing predictable flat tops. If they don’t, the batsmen whinge that its not fair. When was cricket supposed to be bloody fair. They’re getting like golf pros.

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    As I write, England are 3-82. That first session you were calling for Harmsy is being delivered.

    Isn’t confidence an amazing human characteristic? It can turn Alistair Cook, who averaged 30 for the year before coming to Australia, into a player looking to break Bradman records. Johnson was dropped after Brisbane, got 60 yesterday and is ripping into the Poms now. Confidence can also make men get ahead of themselves (3am, any Sunday morning, late ’80s, Lady Bay Hotel, Warrnambool). Trott and Pietersen, both just in, played across the line to Johnson and were caught plum in front.

    Harmsy, your piece has caused me to reflect on my promotion from Mini-Colts to Colts for West Warrnambool one summer back in the mid-80s. I had plundered opposition MC attacks in previous weeks, racking up a number of unbeaten 25s (retired), and the public calls for me to be thrown in the deep end of Colts cricket were growing louder.

    So, mum got the phone call and I was sent up. I arrived at my first training session a shy, nervous wreck, however, somehow managed to get behind a few in the nets and was named in the 11 for the next week. The other players in the team spent the session rustling my hair and calling me Young Starks. They were a year above me at school.

    I made my debut against East Warrnambool on a typically freezing Warrnambool Summer Saturday morning in gleaming new whites (I had wore shorts and t-shirt in MC). I tried to hide at square leg and fumbled the first ball that came my way. Five minutes later I looked down to see blood on my new whites. As it turned out, I had torn the skin and fair chunks of flesh from a finger in my first fielding attempt, however, because it was so cold, I didn’t feel it. I spent the day in outpatients.

    So, not a very glamorous entry into big-time cricket, however, I did happen to play in three winning West Warrnambool Colts premiership teams. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after accepting I was an even slower bowler than Uncle Basil after a few on Christmas Day, I decided I was a leggie and occasionally was actually able to spin a few. Members of those teams made up West’s first ever A grade premiership team a few years later. Having played with those boys was my claim to fame.

    England 5-98. Johnson has 4. Look what confidence can do.

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