Australia admit: 'We can't actually bat, bowl or field

Boot well and truly on other foot as sweeping changes made Down Under after Ashes mauling
  • @stephenbrenkley

Around halfway through the report on the crisis in Australian cricket, the authors reach the nub of the problems. They conclude that nobody can bat, bowl or field.

This astonishing if obviously understandable admission published yesterday after a prolonged bout of navel gazing (copyright held by England, see reports passim) is intended to lead to a restoration of the world order in which Australia are once again lords of all they survey.

But what bloodletting there must be first. The chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, has lost his job amid a welter of criticism, the coach, Tim Nielsen, must reapply for his, with absolutely no guarantee that he will be the successful candidate.

Instigated and published by Cricket Australia, the Australian team performance review bears an uncanny resemblance to the Schofield Review launched by England. Both were commissioned after grievous losses in Ashes series, as if that is what it takes to prompt action.

England decided that something must be done after losing 5-0 in Australia in 2006-07; Australia were in a state of shock after the Poms gave them a 3-1 mauling last winter. Ken Schofield, a former golf administrator, helped out England but Australia went for an even heavier hitter, the former banker and mining conglomerate boss, Don Argus.

In a wide-ranging document that amounts to a willingness to accept a multitude of shortcomings and failings, and should make Englishmen everywhere whoop with wild delight considering the privations to which we were subjected during 16 long years without the Ashes, Argus eventually reaches the nitty-gritty on page 20.

He says: "The evidence from the Ashes and other recent series is that our basic cricket skills are lacking in key areas, in particular: For batting – Batting for long periods, batting against the moving ball, our approach to playing spin, general batting technique in some instances."

Which pretty much covers every weakness imaginable. But there is more where that came from. "For bowling – building pressure, bowling to an agreed plan, spin bowling and captaincy of spin bowling, swing bowling, including generating reverse swing. For fielding – overall fielding, especially catching, general athleticism. This has extra significance as in the panel's view fielding standards reflect the attitude and professionalism of the team.

"These shortcomings clearly exist at Australian level. They must also exist at State level because that is where the Australian players are developed." It is a damning indictment of the system and Nielsen, whose contract was recently extended, may not be too optimistic of retaining an enhanced role.

The selection panel has been instantly changed. The report's recommendations echo Schofield's in calling for a full-time chairman of selectors, to be called the national selector and two part-time selectors who will be joined on a panel of five by the captain and the coach. Traditionally, Australian captains and coaches have played no formal role in selection.

In another echo of Schofield, Argus, who was joined on his panel by former Australia captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, has suggested the appointment of a general performance manager to oversee all aspects of selection and play.

It means that Hilditch whose tenure has been marked by controversy, will withdraw to concentrate on his Adelaide law practice. His successors were vying for position yesterday with Rodney Marsh, the former Test wicketkeeper, who was briefly an England selector, reported to be interested.

Argus said that the last three years had seen confusing selection. The plan now is to win the next World Cup, the next World Twenty20 and be the No 1 Test team in the world within four years. The reasons for the decline, of course, may be perfectly straightforward. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are no longer playing.

The Argus report

1 A full-time chairman, two part-time selectors, the coach and captain will all sit on a new five-man selection panel.

2 Andrew Hilditch can only apply to be a part-time selector.

3 Greg Chappell is to be removed from the selection panel, though he will continue as national talent director.

4 Tim Nielsen must re-apply to be the new head coach.