Ashes 2010: Reaction to a Discouraging Defeat

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Matthew Wood, who also writes at Balanced Sports, reacts to Australia’s T20 defeat by Sri Lanka and considers the bigger picture.

It goes from bad to worse for Michael Clarke and the Australian one-day unit.  Their performance on the weekend against a good-but-far-from great Sri Lanka outfit offers further proof that the time is ripe for change at the top of Australian cricket.

The Australian team, to be blunt, has gotten too used to winning.  That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?  But perhaps not.  Because winning can promote complacency and winning absolutely promotes a fear of change.  How often have you heard the idiom “You don’t change a winning team”?  How often have you heard of sports players who have lucky rituals: goalkeepers touching each bar of their goal frame, an AFL player’s lucky underpants, a cricketer who had to have his bat taped to the ceiling to succeed in an innings?  (In case you’re wondering, those specific examples were Man City’s Shay Given, former Geelong forward Paul Brown and former South Africa batsman Neil McKenzie).

That Australia has gotten too used to winning is a bad thing when really they aren’t a good cricket side.  Only the most cursory of examinations reveals that the current Australian squad – in all forms of the game – lacks a game-breaking bowler and batsmanship of any technique.  The flaws that have plagued Ricky Ponting are still there and Michael Clarke has gone the way of Steve Waugh – paring elements from his game one by one until only the bare minimum still remains.

But still Australia has succeeded.  Perhaps swayed by their 3-0 series win in South Africa, Mitchell Johnson’s misfires are persisted with yet he’s shown no aptitude for thinking a batsman out.  That he hasn’t been able to reproduce that form ever since doesn’t necessarily prove that series a fluke, but it does cast serious doubts over his ability to be a consistent strike man.  The other fast men during that series, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle are honest but probably limited.

Their wins over the past three years don’t smack of an Australian side rebuilding but of a team trying to achieve short-term goals, much like the English side during the 1990s.  In fact, the parallels are so obvious it’s scary.  An ageing batting lineup and bowlers who tend to enter the scene with a bang but then don’t produce consistently conjurs memories of Mike Gatting and Dominic Cork holding up the England middle order.  A squad made up this means means you will always win occasional matches, perhaps enough even to think that all is developing at a fair pace.  If those bowlers don’t develop however, the team risks a lack of development and this suggests a lack of any plan for the redevelopment of a nation’s cricket hopes.

(If you’re doubting the comparison of 2010 Australia to 1993 England, take a look at the following batting lineups, man-to-man:  Gooch/Katich, Atherton/Watson, R. Smith/Ponting, Maynard/North, Stewart/Clarke, Thorpe/Hussey.  Notice the similarities?  I thought so.)

Australia’s recent occasional wins – in South Africa, in last year’s Ashes, against poorer opposition – have papered over the cracks to such an extent that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we are gradually rebuilding with a plan.  That’s just not true – we’re trying to build a team on the fly and that doesn’t work.  In order to build anything worthwhile, there must be some pain – just ask anyone who’s refurbished a house.  Though they cost more, the long-term decisions bring the most benefit – wallpaper can hide cracks in a foundation for a while, but the inevitably those foundation flaws devalue whatever it is you’re trying to construct.   Anything the Australian selectors build with just next year in mind is just flock wallpaper – irritating, ineffectual and saying something about the brains behind the operation.

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  1. Ben Roberts says

    The biggest problem facing Cricket Australia this summer is interest levels. That the Australian side in all forms of the game is heavily expected to struggle is undoubted. If you compete in any sport/contest you will lose at some stage, us Australians must accept that we have been blessed for 20 years.

    But sports fans don’t mind their team struggling when the team (and selectors) are being adventurous, its when the same faces are paraded unsuccessfully over again that people tune out and don’t attend matches. (You can trust my expert opinion on this I’m a Richmond fan in the AFL!).

    If Australia loses the series to England but bloods Callum Ferguson and Usman Khwaja along with giving Tim Paine the keeping duties then it could be said to be palatable (as palatable as losing to England could be). But serve up a series loss with a coninuing failure of a middle order then cricket will be largely ignored come January.

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