There was an article during the week by Graeme Smith, the former South African cricket captain, about the decline of Australian cricket. He spoke of how Australian sides were always so tough and competitive, and of the respect they held within the cricket world. He then went on to say that the current Australian cricket side has none of that. He spoke of the seeming lack of spirit and fight in this side, citing as a possible cause the rotation policy and the possible cheapening of Australian representation by being so free with it. It’s tough to read such things, especially coming from a South African, but sadly I had to agree. I said as much myself a week ago, and nothing has changed since – if anything, the troubles are more pronounced.
After being lamely rolled in Perth the Australian selectors were forced to make changes for Hobart, against their stated policy. Batting first, Australia was all out for 85.
To be fair, Australia had the worse of the coin toss (again), and were put in on a seaming deck in overcast conditions, and facing an South African bowling attack at the top of its game. Still, it was pretty poor.
Whatever happens from here I think it’s pretty clear there needs to be a re-think. I don’t rule out Australia fighting back and pinching a test, but that would simply be nothing more than a consolation.
I’m going to be radical because I think the Oz cricket team is in a rebuilding phase, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not. For that reason I think we need to begin shaping our decisions for the future, and playing a younger side.
Voges had a golden run, but it seems well and truly over. He’s a form player, but not the greatest technician, and now his form – and perhaps luck – has deserted him I think we should be looking to replace him. It would be a different story if he was 10 years younger, but he’s 36.
Mitchell Marsh has copped a lot of recent stick and lost his place for Hobart. That’s fair enough, selection must be backed up by performance, but in general terms I’d rather Marsh in the team ahead of Voges because he’s young and has huge potential.
Siddle played the first test and came out of it with back problems. He’s an honest toiler, but he’s plagued by injuries and now getting on. He should be considered as a 3rd or 4th replacement option, not first one in. Mennie got a go this test in place of Siddle, which is good, and Bird is thereabouts is well. They’re the next level down pushing through, and should be encouraged. Then there’s Pattinson and Cummins, both returning from injury, but if they can get fit they will be the pointy end of the Australian bowling attack with Starc.
I think we need to be more critical of Lyon. In my opinion he’s the most overrated cricketer in Australia, and perpetually disappointing when it counts. He gets a gig in the absence of real spin bowling competition, but perhaps it is coming to the stage where he doesn’t get the automatic pass he’s been blessed with for years. O’Keefe is an obvious replacement, though I’d be tempted to be bolder than that. Agar has been taking big wickets lately, and scoring big runs too. Then there’s someone like Zampa. Doubtless others will emerge.
One player I’d like to see mentioned as a potential all-round option is Glenn Maxwell. He’s a dangerous and talented batsman, a very handy spin bowler, and probably the best fielder in the world. He’s a frustrating character, but supremely talented – and he makes things happen.
For now you’d stick with Joe Burns at the top of the order, for lack of a better option, because he’s young, but he’s got technical deficiencies undoing him he needs to work on. Perhaps Maddinson is an option, though I’m also a big fan of Handscomb. And there are some good young batters around the country, but probably a year or two off.
Then it comes to leadership. Smith is a fine batsman, but a poor captain and leader. I wish we’d get away from this premise of automatically handing the captaincy to the best batter in the team. Personally I think Warner, with all his rough edges, would have been a better option because of his abrasive energy. Smith is a conservative on field skipper, and as a leader doesn’t seem to inspire anything much more than indifference. We’ve had a fine tradition of great captains, but Smith isn’t one of them.
Then it comes to the coach. It’s impossible to dislike Boof Lehmann, and he was just the right man for the job when he got it. That time has past though. He puts me in mind of certain AFL coaches who have a stellar season or two on the back of motivation and team spirit. That fades though as the message grows stale, and to survive longer something more substantial is needed.
Boof is a great bloke, a healing force when it was needed, and has a good cricket brain, but I think it’s time for him to move on. Listening to him these days is disappointingly unedifying. He’s trotting out some pretty unsatisfactory lines, and seems lost for ideas. The obvious replacement is Langer, who has the runs on the board with WA, is as hard as they come and as passionate an Aussie as you’ll find. From what I’ve seen he’s a bold and innovative coach too, and won’t accept second-rate efforts.
The coaching team needs looking at too. From outside there appears a boys club mentality whereby many recently retired players are getting jobs. I’d be more selective with that, and would prefer coaches from earlier playing eras, or from outside, brought into the team.
On the admin side the rotation policy has to be done away with in its present form. It’s too dogmatic a program, and needs some flexibility to be introduced to move with events. I’d like to see some old-fashioned pride in the baggy green be instilled once more. It was once the highest honour in the land. Nowadays national representation has been cheapened by giving it away too freely. It has to be tougher than that, and so to do the players.
Finally no more KFC ads until they perform. I haven’t got the stomach watching them cavort for commercial interests when the team can’t manage a century between them.