27 December 2010
Australian Cricket: A Dilemma?
I have always been a cricket fan. Perhaps that is because of the traditions and importance of the game to a great many Australians. Or perhaps because I played as a youngster and was pretty good at it. So, I figure I am as qualified as most other pundits to make a few comments on the current state of play.
Boxing Day is always a big day on the Australian cricket calendar. Not only because there is the Christmas Day hangover of giving and receiving presents and indulging in way too much food, but because this signals the start of the Boxing Day test. However, more than 83,000 fans found their way into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch some cricket and enjoy Australia's resurgence in this Ashes series, only to watch the best English cricket has to offer rout the best Australian cricket has to offer on a day that saw Australia bundled out for 98; the lowest total in an Ashes test since 1877 (so, I am told).
This debacle has led, and will continue to lead, to some serious public and private discussions as to the fate of some members of the current Australian team and to the people who select them.
Some hard and tough decisions need to be made if Australia is to return to the dominant position it once held in world cricket. Any failure to make these tough calls will result in Australia floundering, as it currently is, around being the 5th or 6th best nation in test cricket. This is surely not acceptable for such a proud cricketing nation as Australia. Perhaps it is time that Australia adopted the English approach to the game?
One must give credit where credit is due. England has played excellent cricket, and for the most part has out-classed Australia in all facets of the game. The English had a bit of a hiccup in the third Ashes test in Perth, but the quality of their outfit has been seen in the way they bounced back and humiliated Australia on the first day of the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne. The test will be whether Australia can exhibit the fighting spirit for which it is renowned and salvage a draw from the shambles of day one.
But I digress. What are the hard decisions that have to be made?
It must start at the top, at least in terms of the team. The captaincy of the Australian cricket team is one of the most important appointments in Australia. It is earned and the man given the responsibility is one who has achieved and proven their ability over many years. Many argue that it ranks second to that of the prime ministership. I would argue that it is more important than that! Therefore, it cannot be given and taken away easily. Yet, Ricky Ponting, despite his impressive record of achievement, needs to make some hard choices. It is time that he stepped down from the captaincy. Now, whether he stays on and tries to maintain his position in the team as a batsman alone, as Sachin Tendulkar has done in India, is a choice for him. But he needs to unburden himself of the captaincy and get on with his cricket or give test cricket away.
I like Steve Smith, and I think he is a wonderful talent, but he is surely not the best number six batsmen in Australia in 2010, is he? Nor is he the best spinner in Australia on current form. Let's face it, I am no big Nathan Hauritz fan, but the man gets dropped from the Australian cricket team, goes back to NSW and scores a couple of hundreds and takes wickets that see NSW on top of the Sheffield Shield table but a considerable margin. Despite the criticisms of Hauritz that he bleeds runs, it would seem that the selectors have erred in their haste.
Herein lies another tough decision. Australian selectors have to choose a spinner and stick with them, give them a chance to succeed in the Australian test team and the test cricket environment. It will be a long time before there is ever another Shane Warne, if ever, but to have burned through 9 spinners since his retirement smacks of desperation.
The final team dilemma, at least in terms of this post, relates to the captaincy in waiting deal. There is no need to annoit a captaincy in waiting beyond the selection of a vice-captain. Let that be as it is. Simply, the selection of the vice-captain suggests who the next bloke will be. Now, whether Michael Clarke is the man for the job is an issue for debate. Personally, I think there are better choices out there; Shane Watson for one.
It would be remiss not to address the matter of the selectors. After all, these are the men who put their heads together to come up with an Australian team. The only question I would have is this: Is this the best that Australian cricket has to offer?
Maybe it is time that Cricket Australia thought about changing its selection panel.
The final point is about coaching. Maybe Australian cricket needs a new coach. We were spoiled during the John Buchanan years with an excellent coaching staff and exceptional players. Yet, when things are going bad, then the coach needs to accept some of the responsibility too. Maybe it is time that the current coach fell on his sword?