Famous last words…


I’ve been meaning to write about the cricket world cup for a while, and as it’s now started better get onto it before it gets away from me.

Let me put it up front. I think Australia will play New Zealand in one semi-final, and England will take on India in the other. Would expect Australia to win and probably England, then Australia in a canter in the final, much like 1999.

England have been the hot favourites for ages. They’re playing at home and are the best performed team over the last couple of years. I have queries on them on a number of levels.

Firstly, I wonder if they have a plan B. Their A plan is mighty, but it won’t go all their way this tornament and you need to scrap sometimes and find ways to win ugly. I also wonder if their attack is penetrating enough. Then there’s the mind side of it. Seems to me in England their side is either the best in the world or the worst, and that goes for all sports. They’re either as cocky as hell or disdainful. Right now, and for a while now, they’re as cocky as hell. I wonder if a few results going against them might affect their mentality. That’s where the tournament play of a world cup makes a difference, and where Australia has always excelled.

It’s basically matchplay and it sorts out the men from the boys. You need to have continuity and professionalism and a hard-edged belief. Even in 1999, when Australia struggled early, they didn’t waver and after a couple of immense results against South Africa had a walkover in the final against Pakistan. Every other winning campain (and there’ve been five in all) there’ve been steely eyed to the point you never thought they could lose.

England talks themselves up like that, but I don’t see it in them yet. That belief comes from getting it done in all conditions against all opponents. It’s that lack of belief that has undone an otherwise excellent South African team several times. It’s the sort of belief that England has never come close to attaining, but will have earned it if they walk away with the cup this time.

I think they’re good enough to make the final, though it won’t be as easy as they think.

I’ve put a line through South Africa – likewise, lacking penetration without Steyn and x-factor with de Villiers. Pakistan are mercurial, as always, and may fluke it, but don’t think so. I put the Windies in the same category. Sri Lanka aren’t nearly good enough, and while Bangladesh and Afghanistan are willing – and capable of pulling off an upset or two – they don’t have the depth of talent.

That leaves New Zealand, India and Oz.

I’ve nominated the Kiwis because they generally show up and, like Australia, are good tournament players. They’re even across the park and when it all clicks can be very dangerous. They’ll win the games they should and might sneak another game. Good enough to make the semis, not good enough to go further.

India are an easy pick because they’re jammed with talent and have the best ODI batsman and bowler in the world playing for them. They should make the finals easy, but I’ve got question marks over their temperament when it gets to the pointy end. They’ll overcome that at some point, just don’t think it’ll be this time.

That leaves Australia. As an Australian I could be accused of being bias but, given our record, it’s hard not be bullish. We’ve won this five times before. We have belief ingrained into us. Come the cracking whips no team has been steadier – in fact, no team has lifted more when its had to. On top of all that I think this squad may have a point to prove.

With Smith and Warner returning it’s as good as any squad out there. If I have any question marks it’s not over the quality, but the composition of the batting line-up. Are Smith, Marsh, Khawaja too similar a player? Do we need a big hitter between them? I’d be tempted to shuffle the batting order a little, but that’s dependent on Stoinis finding some good batting form. Nonetheless, Warner, Finch, Smith and Maxwell are among the best ODI batsmen in the world.

They’ll hold the game for us and make it competitive, but it’s the bowlers who’ll potentially win it. I think the Australian bowling attack is clearly the best in the comp. It’s a cutting edge all the way through and that’s what you need. It defines Australian philosophy too, different to most of our rivals. They set out to beat the opposition, not outlast them.

England may have the best record over the last couple of years, but no team has a better recent record than Australia. Counting the warm-up matches they’ve won ten in a row – including India, three times; Pakistan, five times; and England, once.

That’s ominous form and the world knows it. My only reservations are if the bowling attack goes off or gets injured, and if the team has been together long enough to make it happen. Still, my money’s on Australia.

The Aussies are coming


I have a friend, an Australian cricket fan, who’s become so depressed about the state of the game here that he won’t read anything I write about it. I’m ever more optimistic, but I understand. We’ve been spoilt for a long time and the recent ruin and disgrace is hard to stomach. Man, I’m telling you, it has to turn though, and maybe it’s starting, and maybe enough that my friend feels positive enough to read this.

Australia has been in the doldrums for the last year, most of it self-inflicted. Used to winning more often than not in recent times the losing has been more common, and there’s been some ugly stuff in there. Every now and then there’s a patch of promising form and little green shoots of improvement and you think, hang on a sec, but generally there’s not been too much to get excited about. The rest of the cricket world has been pretty much in accord. The demise of Australia is the cause for much schadenfreude across the cricket playing community. They’ve been quick and very keen to write us off as a serious contender for the World Cup in a couple of months’ time but, sort of, fair enough. I don’t mind being hated. I sort of like it in a way. But then there’s been justified writing us off – until now.

Australia’s just finished playing India over there. Back in Oz in summer they beat us 2-1 in the one day tournament. Playing them on their home patch they went into the series slightly strengthened and, on paper, ours slightly weakened. They were strong favourites across the board, but in the T20 series we unexpectedly beat them 2-0. Normal service returned in the one day series that followed after we lost the first two games. I was watching the games here. I hoped for a win, but mostly I wanted brave performances. I’d cop that. But then we lifted from what had been a narrow loss to post a succession of right from the top drawer – most notably chasing down 359 with a couple of overs to spare to level the series 2-2. The decider was overnight yesterday and, you guessed it, Australia won it. From being 0-2 down we came back to take the series 3-2 against one of the best teams in the world playing at home.

No point getting hyperbolic, but what we saw in this series was a return to the clinical performance we were renowned for. The team has bonded through the dark times and begun to click as a unit. They’re playing with great spirit. When it’s got tough they’ve doubled down throughout, in the same way as the Australian teams of the past – the teams that have won five World Cups in 30 years.

A few months ago I boasted to an Indian at work – getting cocky with his team’s success – that Australia would knock-out India in the semi-final of the world cup. I’m always bullish about Australian prospects – they’ve always found a way – but some of this was bravado. You believe it in a way though, you don’t rule it out no matter how hard others disbelieve, and their opposition only serves to stiffen your resolve. I’m not playing, but my proxies will be. Making the statement I did was a way of defending territory, but it’s also the sort of arrogance that supporters of other teams have grown to hate about Australia. Come the world cup and if I’m wrong I’ll shrug my shoulders and cop it sweet, fair play. You’ve got to believe it first though and it’s that historical belief that leads you to make such statements in the first place, and the sort of belief that becomes self-fulfilling. You’ve got to be bold enough to believe though, to challenge it by putting it out there, and through the years I reckon that’s given us a big edge.

I don’t want to get to far ahead of myself. We go to the UAE to play Pakistan now and could be whitewashed there. Regardless, we’re now a serious contender for the world cup, and doubly so when you consider that Warner, Smith and Starc need to be squeezed into a team already good enough to beat the best in the world. That’s the message to the world: be afraid.

I’ll cack myself if we get up to win after being pronounced so profoundly and gleefully dead by the pundits. Hope my mate does too. And if we don’t you know where to find me.

Looking towards the Ashes


I’ve got a friend who’s a cricket fan, but who’s so depressed with the condition of Australian cricket over the last 12 months that he won’t read a word of what I write about it. I know plenty of others like that, disillusioned and disappointed by the events last year that they still can’t come at the Australian team.
I had a twitter conversation with one of these people recently, a political journalist in Canberra. I understood his perspective completely, I told him, but couldn’t he find a way to support a revamped, and hopefully reformed, Australian team? I urged upon him Tim Paine, a paragon of fair minded and mature leadership and he agreed with me, finally conceding that he would come around to it – just not yet.

No-one was more disappointed than me with what happened in Capetown. I know that’s a cliché, but fair dinkum, the outrage was raw and spontaneous, just as it was for thousands of others. This is something others struggle to understand, and perhaps that’s fair, perhaps there’s some wilful hypocrisy in such belief – but from day dot I was brought to believe there would be no more fearsome competitor than an Australian, but that at end of the day it would remain true to that great Australian dictum ‘hard but fair’. That meant, among other things, that after going at it hammer and tongs on the field all day it was all good to catch up for a social beer after it.

In retrospect I figure those golden days were long gone, and it was all a bit of a fondly held fantasy – though I still believe in the basic principle. While it always made eminent sense to us, to many of our opponents, coming from entirely different cultures, I suspect it was all a confounding nonsense. It was one of those tropes we innocent Australian supporters held dearly to, so that when we were shown to have transgressed it came as a shock to our mentality. That’s why the reaction was so extreme, why the penalties were stiff – they not only betrayed the sport, they betrayed our dearly held notions of Australian self.

I was one of those ready to move on once the penalties were handed down. In fact, I’m happy at the concept of rehabilitation, of – to abuse another famous Aussie dictum – giving the transgressors a ‘fair go’. I wrote in the heat of battle last year that Smith should never play for Australia again. That’s too harsh I think. He has his penalty, once completed he’s welcome to return to the team – though never as captain. I think he was a poor leader regardless of this controversy, but I think this episode should bar him from future leadership. That’s where the line should be drawn.

Now the banned players are poised to become available again, just in time for the World Cup and Ashes tour of England. Smith and Warner should almost be automatic selections, and even Bancroft, given performance. Should be a chance. There’s no doubt in my ever combative Australian mind that we can win both competitions, and that’s what I want.

The availability of these players raises selection questions. Australia finished the summer on a high having easily disposed of a weak Sri Lankan team.

There were some outstanding performances in those tests. Cummins continued his rise superstardom. Head, promising all summer, finally cracked it for his maiden test century. Likewise Khawaja, disappointing much of the summer, got a hundred in what was a virtual dead innings. And Starc finally returned to form with devastating effect.

What was encouraging though was the performance of newcomers. The Australian selectors finally bowed to public pressure and reinstated Burns to the team, and he promptly got a hundred. An injury to Hazlewood gave a fortuitous opportunity to Jhye Richardson, who performed very well. He’s a clever bowler who aims at the stumps and can swing the ball at pace – he’ll be perfect in English conditions. And Kurtis Patterson finally got his chance, and promptly scored a hundred too.

I’ve been a rap for Patterson for a while. I think he’s just the player we need to balance out our line-up. He’s got good technique and a good head on his shoulders. He’s patient too, something we’ve lacked. My only disappointment was that Will Pucovski, perhaps the next great Australian batsman, was denied his chance.

Much can happen before we head off to England, and there’s still a few rounds of Shield cricket to have a bearing on selection – things can change – but here’s my squad:

Warner

Burns

Khawaja

Smith

Head

Patterson

Paine

Cummins

Starc/Richardson

Hazlewood

Lyon

Stoinis

Pucovski

Handscomb/Wade

Worrall/Pattinson

Labuschagne

Harris

There’s a couple too many players there. I think one of Starc and Richardson will be selected in the starting eleven according to conditions and form. I suspect Pucovski won’t be picked. I’ve got one either of Handscombe or Wade will be picked as back-up batting/wicket-keeping. One either of Worrall or Pattinson – Worrall can swing the ball big time, and we know what Pattinson can do if fit. His Shield form will be telling. Tremain is stiff. Labuschagne because he’s an incumbent, and because he’s the only other spinner besides Lyon. And Harris as back-up opener, making way for Warner.

Maxwell might be an option, except the selectors have put a line through him. Will be interested in the final squad selected. It’s a pretty good first eleven though. England beware!

The world cup squad


There’ve been a couple of tight, competitive ODI’s with India since the test series ended. Australia won the first, India the second, and the decider is tomorrow in Melbourne.

With the World Cup in England later this year everything is geared towards this – not just finding form, but putting together a team for the comp. That’s especially true of Australia, whose ODI form has been generally hopeless lately, and who will have Warner and Smith available again come tournament start.

That was the background when this ODI squad was announced, and there were a few surprises. For a start, none of the frontline test bowlers were picked. The reasoning behind that was to rest them, and fair enough, and also to blood some alternatives to see how they measure up. Then, some of the notable limited over batsmen were left out of the squad – Lynn, Short and McDermott particularly. Handscomb was a surprise inclusion, and Khawaja finally got another go.

In both matches we’ve batted first. In the Sydney game I thought we lacked urgency with the bat but posted a respectable score. In the second match we were heading towards a ver good score until a late order collapse left us probably 25 runs shy of what was likely.

I was sure India would easily surmount our score in Sydney, but some excellent bowling had them 3-4 at one point, and they never fully recovered. In the second match excellent partnerships and a century by Kohli saw them get up in the last over.

I’ve always got an opinion about cricket, and my first impressions were that we were too conservative. I was disappointed that Maxwell was coming in so late, but I was pleased with our application. On reflection my opinion is unchanged, but my perspective is. I understand that we are trying to build a template, a platform going forward. Get the architecture right and once it’s in place we can push it more, particularly with the players returning.

By my reckoning, with Warner returning and Finch back in form (I have doubts about his long term tenure, however) I reckon there’s an extra 15-20 runs in the initial powerplay to be had. I reckon there’s another 20 runs through the middle overs, and another 20-30 in the last 10 overs. That makes for an imposing total – assuming, of course, we keep our wickets. No-one said it would be easy, but limited overs cricket is inherently full of risk. It’s the game.

There’s still a match to go, but in my mind at least a shape is forming.

Warner and Smith are walk-up starts, probably for Khawaja and Handscomb in the first XI. We should adopt a floating batting order which changes depending on the situation of the game. In this series Maxwell has come in too late, regardless of what Langer says. He’s one of the best ODI players in the world, let’s capitalise. Stoinis can be a bruising batsman also, but he needs time to get in. In both cases I think they should’ve been batting ahead of Handscomb. In the WC teamI see Carey dropping back to the middle-order (from opening), which I think is a bonus. He’s a very capable and clever batsman and I see him – particularly in run chases – as being a critical cool head in the later overs, much like Michael Bevan was. In fact I see Carey as a future Australian captain.

Bowling is more interesting. I think we’ve lacked the variety previously, but now have the options. Richardson and Behrendorf have been impressive, and should be in the squad – not so sure about Siddle. Starc, who I’ve been critical of through the test matches, is possibly the best ODI bowler in the world. He’s the x-factor who can devastate opposition batting line-ups. I’d partner him with Cummins, who is just a winner, with the heart of Phar Lap. Both are pretty handy with the bat, too. Hazlewood is the one who misses out – he has his moments, but he’s neither really one thing or another. Stanlake is the other unknown.

For me the spinning option is clear-cut. Lyon has played the first couple of games and fair enough. He’s one of the best test spinners in the world, why not give him another go? The problem is he never really looks like getting a wicket, and doesn’t. He’s tidy, but unthreatening. And he’s an offie. Maxwell bowls clever off-spin, and leggies are all the go in limited overs cricket these days – and Zampa has the score on the board. Lyon out, Zampa in.

I’d be adding Darcy Short and Ben McDermott to the squad also. Both are explosive batsmen, and I think Short, particularly, will replace Finch some time in the near future. Lynn probably misses out because of his dodgy shoulders, which means he can’t dive and barely throw and isn’t up to it in the field.

The other thing I want to see is more urgency. Have been impressed with the attitude so far, no I want some of that fear factor back. Everyone has written us off, but I have confidence still, if only because we’ve done it so many times before.

Today, I expect Zampa to come in for Lyon and Stanlake to come in for either Behrendorf or Siddle.

The ’84 second-semi


Many years ago I attended a footy match at the MCG I’ve long thought of as the best match I’ve ever seen. That was the 1984 second-semi between Essendon and Hawthorn.

I’d never seen a replay of it since then, though I’d tried to get my hands on a copy over the years. Yesterday I finally caught up with it and watched it again for the first time since that dim Spring day.

The match is famous not just in my household. Many proclaim one of the best finals ever, and it featured those two titans and arch-enemies of the eighties. Hawthorn and Essendon hated each other, but there was also a lot of respect. They played in three grand finals in succession, and in the years since that bitter rivalry has continued.

I’m glad to say the game lived up to my memory of it. It was fast and skilful and hard and tough. It holds up very well against modern footy, which isn’t surprising given the roll call of absolute champions playing. There’s an argument that this era of footy was the greatest because it the VFL – as it was then – was a compact twelve team competition that drew the best talent from around the land. There wasn’t the dilution of talent once the competition went national and expanded – ultimately – to eighteen teams.

It’s hard to judge eras. Football is more professional these days, and more scientific. Coaching, in general, is more advanced, and the game itself has changed – less confrontational now, but more pressure. I’m not going to buy into the general conversation because the game ebbs and flows, quality rises and falls away. I’d safely suggest that either of these two teams playing would be top four today. And I reckon the 1985 Essendon side would be premier more often than not – the best footy team I’ve seen.

But anyway, back to 1984. In 1983 Hawthorn had smashed the Bombers in the GF. I was there that day, and all the excitement of an unexpected finals run ended ignominiously with the team over-awed and out of their depth. We finished top of the ladder in ’84, but Hawthorn had beaten us twice that year and was said to have the wood on us.

They won on this day too but watching the game again it was clear the game could have gone either way. On balance I think Essendon was the more dynamic team on the day, but Hawthorn steadied went it counted. It was pulsating game though, thrilling to watch then and now.

History tells us that the Essendon players came out of that game with renewed belief: they knew they could beat Hawthorn. The next week in the prelim we made a mess of Collingwood to the tune of 133 points – their best player that day an ex-Essendon man, Ronny Andrews. That was pure footy.

In in the grand final, Hawthorn and Essendon matched up again in what was to become one of the best and more famous finals in recent times. Down by four goals most of the day, despite playing well, the Bombers stormed home in the last quarter to kick a (then) record 9.6 in the last quarter to win by four goals.

That’s a game dear to Essendon hearts, with many great and indelible moments in that last quarter. We beat them again the next year, finishing up with a new (and current) last quarter scoring record of 11.3. That was a mighty team, hard as nails, but silky skilled, like no other team in history.

Great memories.

Flipping the coin


As I write this, the final test match against India has commenced in Sydney. Finch is out for Australia, unsurprisingly, and Mitch Marsh – no surprise there either. Labuschagne is in for his leg-spinning prowess, though he’s actually a batsman first, and mediocre at that. He’s batting at three. Handscombe is back as well. He made a big score in the BBL the other night and it looked like he might have changed his technique a tad, batting closer to the crease. He gets the gig because of his prowess batting against spin. Good luck to him, but better-credentialled batsmen are missing out.

Unfortunately, we lost the toss again. This is an under-reported stat. Tim Paine has won the toss just once since he became captain, and it just so happens that was the match we won. We’ve got a fair bit going against us regardless, but batting last generally means we’re behind the eight ball from the start.

I’m hoping that we can rip through India this morning, but I’m not confident. I’m with Shane Warne and believe some of our bowlers have underperformed.

Let’s start with Starc. On his day he’s an absolute matchwinner. There’s no more devastating bowler than him when on song. That’s pretty rare though, which is the biggest tick against him – a lack of consistency. He’s an undisciplined, often loose bowler. He reacts emotionally too often when he should stick to the plan. Counting against him is that I don’t think he’s the brightest spark going around. These traits are evident in his batting also, which is disappointing given the talent he has.

Then there’s Hazlewood, long touted as the next McGrath. He’s just about the opposite of Starc in temperament. He’s steady, reliable, intelligent. He’s also a bit of a soft cock at the batting crease and can be a bit vanilla with his bowling. I reckon he should be more vanilla. McGrath had the patience to bowl his way ball after ball and I think Hazlewood should do the same – aim for the top of off stump, and just outside. Too often he errs from that, particularly down the leg side – which is honey for Indian batsmen. I’m happy for him to bowl basically the same line every ball, vary the length a little, the pace of the ball and, of course, the direction – some coming in, some going way. Keep it simple and you’ll wear them out.

Then there’s Cummins. Not much can be said of him except he’s everything we want in an Australian cricketer – smart, tough, reliable, talented, and a matchwinner on his day. His effort never wavers, and his courage undisputed. Compare him to Starc and he’s all application and match sense. He does what needs to be done, and will sacrifice himself for the team. He’s good-looking and articulate, and a very decent bloke – no wonder he’s touted as a future Australian captain.

Likewise Lyon. I used to be hard on him. He lacked confidence and I used to think he bowled without courage. He’s a much smarter bowler these days and bowls a much more aggressive line than he did. Confidence makes all the difference. Not a lot of tricks, but can be a matchwinner.

As for this match? I came into it thinking if we bat first on a pitch that will deteriorate then we’d win. Unfortunately – and I hope I’m wrong – I think the best is more likely to be a draw. Must bat well.

Ranting from the sidelines


Look away now if it’s not your thing, for I want to expound at length on the state of Australian cricket.

On the scoreboard, at this moment Australia is level with India 1-1, but on the verge of losing the third test. More broadly, there are substantial issues that go far beyond the disgraces of earlier this year that must be addressed.

It’s an Australian pastime to bang on about Australian cricket selectors and their capricious choices – though I think it’s something common to many sports. Certainly, I have been vocal in these pages many times, and am about to be once more. The difference, this time, is that I’m about to sheet it home to Australian cricket administration.

Firstly this test match. There’s been a bit of comment about abject batting failures in this game, and in the games preceding – there’s only been one Australian centurion since last summer. You take your two best players out of the team, and another very promising, and it’s disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

In this match, there are some mitigating factors. India is well on top but was greatly advantaged by winning the toss and compiling a bunch of runs on a flat first-day wicket. That was the matchwinning score, with the pitch deteriorating thereafter. They made 440 odd, we followed up with a miserable 150 before India declared eight down for just over a hundred. As it stands it’s the fifth morning of the test with Australia 140 runs off victory, and India just two wickets away.

It will take a cricketing miracle to win this match, or divine intervention to save it. There are showers about – thunder has cracked this morning, rain has fallen – but India will need no more than a session to wrap this up, and likely much less.

So, you can make excuses, but the fact is there have been too many poor performances to accept. You look at the batting, which is the real culprit, and there have been repeated failures in application and technique. Some players aren’t up to it, pure and simple, and wouldn’t have got a game if not for the bans – but you have to question some of the decisions made.

Look at Aaron Finch, for example. I’m an admirer of his character, and in the shorter games he’s a brute – but this is test cricket. Watching him open the batting is enough to give you an ulcer. His discomfort and confusion are palpable. He just can’t cope with the moving ball and it’s only a matter of time before he departs. He averages sixteen this series and was out the second innings steering the ball directly to second slip the ball after surviving a DRS review. If he’s to be in the team then it should be down the order, but his shot selection – doubtless the result of a muddled mind – doesn’t aid his case. He might survive to play in Sydney, but really he shouldn’t.

Shot selection is an issue in general, as is technique. Throughout the series, the tailenders have often outshone the top order, this innings no exception. The difference generally is in application and concentration. A player like Head – who I think has a future – is let down repeatedly but poor shot selection and failures in technique.

Shot selection comes down to maturity and concentration. Some players have it, some never do. You want to select players who have it, or can learn it. Technique, by comparison, is something learned.

When I was a kid I was coached a few years by a former Australian test cricketer. The cornerstone of what I learned was the forward and backward defensive shots, from which all else flowed. I was an attacking batsman, but it came from a defensive foundation – the forward defense became a flowing drive, the back foot defence became a back foot drive (my shot), or perhaps a pull through midwicket. You learnt the fundamentals until they became second nature. On the few occasions, I play social cricket these days I find my feet moving automatically as I learnt.

These are test cricketers, they have more talent than anyone else in the country, but sometimes I wonder if my technique is not better than theirs. Head has been dismissed when well set at least half of his innings this series playing extravagant shots with the bat well away from the body. I learned: foot to the pitch of the ball when going forward, and back and across when the ball was short. You knew to play straight, and from a side-on position. Sure, there are some funky techniques these days, but at what cost.

So many batsmen play by the eye these days and you can’t help but believe that’s because of T20 cricket, where the emphasis is on expansive, attacking shots. In bash and crash technique becomes redundant – but in test cricket, with top bowling attacks and attacking fields, when the emphasis should be on building an innings, the absence of technique becomes telling. This is one reason our bowlers bat more surely than our batsmen – because they play within their limitations and know that technique is their friend.

Cricket administration in Australia has been complicit in this deterioration. Shield cricket has been weakened with the advent of officially sanctioned batting strips, an emphasis on youth over performance, and rotten scheduling. There isn’t the fierce competition there once was which crafted tough Australian test players for generations. The emphasis on crowd-pleasing, commercially rewarding hit and giggle fixtures have pushed four-day cricket to the margins while encouraging the spectacular over the proficient.

To highlight this, and against all advice, the ACB extended the wildly successful BBL this season, to the detriment of other forms of cricket – there’s a gap of nearly two months between shield games. There’s a risk of over-saturating the public with this form of the game – I’ll watch occasionally, without really caring – while it further undermines the production of test quality cricketers.

It’s easy to be critical of the selectors, but in truth, there’s a shallow pool to select from these days. Still, they manage to fuck it up. As noted, Finch should never have been selected as an opener, if at all. Young, virtually unknown cricketers get called up to wear the baggy green while others, less favoured by the selectors, are dropped without good cause (i.e. Maxwell).

It seems likely come the Sydney test next week we’ll be down 2-1 in the series, and with serious questions to answer. What do the selectors do? If it was me both Finch and Mitch Marsh would be gone, and maybe Sean too. I’d probably push Khawaja to open and replace Mitch Marsh with Stoinis or Maxwell, though there’s a push for Labuschagne given his leg-spinning in the UAE.

Longer term we need to straighten up. The banned players become available soon, and we need them. Any talk of Smith returning to the captaincy eventually should be quashed – he was never a good leader, and after what he allowed should never be in a position of authority again. Let him bat though, and Warner too (who, strangely, I respect more than Smith – because he is at least true to himself). I think Bancroft will find a spot also.

We have a great captain now in Paine, with a worthy understudy in Cummins – probably the most admired Australian cricketer at the present time. There’s a lot to love about Cummins – talent certainly, but great application and unyielding effort, and cricket smarts rare in this team. If Starc played with as much heart as Cummins then he’d be a great bowler, rather than just teasing us with it.

On the field, these have to be our building blocks – Paine, Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, Lyon, the banned players, and Khawaja. The other spots will sort themselves out.

Off the field, the challenge is greater. We need to fix the game here in Oz. There needs to be better coaching at every level, with an emphasis on technique. And we need to re-prioritise good, tough domestic cricket with players selected and rewarded on merit. Fundamentally a big part of that means shifting or amending the BBL, and I can’t see that happening.