Australia need a scorched earth policy to repair this shambles
The Australian angle: The gulf in quality between these sides can only be rectified if the hosts tackle the many problems afflicting their national game
Saturday 08 January 2011
As England supped from the sweet cup of triumph, so the vanquished began to examine the entrails of cricketing calamity. Victory always looks the same. Defeat always smells the same.
Performance thereafter depends on how these experiences are treated.
The first step is to acknowledge that results are not random but the product of a hundred small decisions. Sustained success requires the sort of collective culture that takes years to build and ten minutes to destroy. Decline indicates that bad or lazy habits have taken hold.
Cliché has it that the Australians take defeat badly, but that is untrue. They take it terribly and then do something about it. Recently the Times correspondent condemned the sycophancy of the local media. After reading the comments recently published in the papers, he was not quite so sure.
The press conferences told the tale. Michael Clarke looked tired and shocked and spoke constantly about the talent in the dressing room. Unfortunately talent is nothing until it has matured. Next he announced his retirement from international T20 cricket in order to concentrate upon his Test career. Previously he had withdrawn from IPL. Not that he is much cop at twenty-over cricket because he does not hit the ball hard enough. Still, it was a step in the right direction.
Clarke was followed by the chairman of selectors and then the coach and the CEO of Cricket Australia. Cricket is the only truly national team game so the side's vicissitudes attract considerable attention. They looked grave and weary but seemed to think the pace bowlers had done well and the selectors had been shrewd. This culture of denial will not go down well.
As far as England is concerned, no team since the great West Indian sides of the 1980s have maintained their intensity and athleticism as well as these visitors. Of course, the Caribbean sides also contained lots of glorious players, which set them apart.
England used its resources intelligently and players joining the team became part of a strong ethic. A few years ago, English cricket decided to seek excellence. Four-day cricket and central contracts helped, as did the way money was invested in the top team. Money has an increasing part to play in the rise of sport in the Northern Hemisphere, where 80 per cent of the world's population can be found. With every passing year it is harder for southerners to hold their sportsmen.
England also put a formidable combination in charge of the team. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower found the right balance between team and individuals. Headstrong but gifted players were absorbed and appreciated. Graeme Swann was unleashed and Kevin Pietersen brought into the tent.
Meanwhile the Australians fell back. It was a slow subsidence that led to a collapse. The production line is not working. For 20 years, domestic batsmen ran amok in county cricket. Like so many of the great West Indians, Simon Katich and Mike Hussey made their names in that arena. Now reserve players cannot secure places in those same counties.
Clearly the time has come to hold those responsible to account. Substantial changes are required across the board and especially in the Board. The custom of collecting a few fellows from States and putting them in charge of a multi-million dollar industry and national game will no longer suffice.
The Board ought to be ditched and replaced by a Commission. Nor is it difficult to find appropriate candidates to appear on that body. Mark Taylor can serve as chairman assisted by thoughtful cricketing, sporting and business people. There will be no conflicts of interest allowed.
After the bungle over the team announcement it's clear an administrative shake-up is required whilst the public relations and communications departments also need to be culled. Nor can the medical staff survive the review. Too many pacemen and even batsmen lie on the physic's table.
Andrew Hilditch's claim that the selectors did a good job came as a surprise. Three spinners were chosen without obvious progress. It was hard to believe that Australia fielded its best six batsmen. It's all very well talking about talent but batsmen are supposed to score runs and bowlers to take wickets. All the more reason to appoint a new panel made up of Steve Waugh, Mervyn Hughes and Justin Langer.
The greenhorns have fallen short of the mark. India has put Anil Kumble in charge of its promising players, a bunch urgently in need of mentoring due to the unprecedented opportunities and temptations. Allan Border has similar qualities and could be asked to assist Australia's next generation.
The coaching staff can't avoid scrutiny. Nor need replacements be chosen only from this continent. England appointed a Zimbabwean coach and an Australian bowling expert. Yet there is no reason for Australia to ignore strong homegrown candidates.
Likewise the States are accountable. Western Australia and South Australia are not contributing enough. It's easy to blame AFL. The habit of preparing dodgy decks means that bowlers do not work hard enough for wickets and batsmen lose confidence.
Naming the next team is the hardest part. In bad spells, neglected players look better and established men worse than usual. Ricky Ponting is to survive another year but Tim Paine's nomination as captain of the PM's XI and vice-captain of the T20 side is significant. In 2013 the side, including twelth man, could read Cowan, Marsh, Khawaja, Clarke, Lynn, Watson, Paine (c), Smith, Pattinson, Hazlewood, Starc, Lyon.
Regardless, CA must instigate an independent review of all cricketing bodies, including itself. It is time to build a proper corporate structure off the field and to go back to basics on it.
As far as Australian cricket is concerned, it's back to the drawing board. The generation between 25 and 32 has failed. The future lies in the hands of the next lot, and it could be a long way distant.
Winning shots: How England retained Ashes Down Under
The first Test began badly for England but ended in a mountain of runs as Jonathan Trott (135no) Alastair Cook (235no) and Andrew Strauss (110) amassed a remarkable second-innings total of 517 for 1
Four years ago Kevin Pietersen was part of the England team that suffered a dismal last-day loss at the Adelaide Oval. This time he hit 227 – and took the crucial wicket of Michael Clarke – to set England en route to victory
If England thought the urn was theirs, they were mistaken. Mitchell Johnson produced a superb spell of high-speed swing bowling to blow away the tourists in their first innings at Perth: not long after, the Ashes score was 1-1
England brought in Tim Bresnan for the fourth Test and the Yorkshireman played a key role as the hosts were utterly outplayed. Bresnan, indeed, took the wicket to retain the Ashes
The urn was safe but England were not satisfied. A crushing win in the final Test completed Australia's humiliation as Ian Bell struck his maiden Ashes ton in typically elegant style
History Men: England's record-breaking tour
First Test Brisbane
England 260 (Bell 76, Siddle 6-54) & 517-1 (Cook 235*, Trott 135*, Strauss 110) Australia 481 (Hussey 195, Haddin 136, Finn 6-125) & 107-1
*Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook's opening partnership of 188 in the second innings was an England record at Brisbane.
*During the stand, the pair overtook Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe's tally of 3,249 runs to become England's highest-scoring pair of opening batsmen.
*Cook and Jonathan Trott's unbeaten partnership of 329 runs was the best for England for any wicket in Australia, beating the 323 set by Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes in Melbourne in 1911-12, and the ninth-highest England partnership in history.
*Cook's score of 235 not out broke Sir Donald Bradman's record for the highest Test score at the Gabba.
*It was only the second time in England's cricketing history that the top three batsmen had made centuries and the first since 1924.
*England's total of 517 for one declared was their highest in a second innings in a Test match in Australia.
Second Test Adelaide
Australia 245 (Hussey 93) & 304 (Clarke 80, Swann 5-91) England 620-5 (Pietersen 227, Cook 148)
England won by an innings and 71 runs
*England condemned Australia to their worst start to a Test match in 60 years when they slumped to two for three.
*At the end of the second day, Cook's tally of 136 not out meant he had scored 371 runs and batted for 1,022 minutes without being dismissed, an England record.
*Kevin Pietersen's innings of 227 was a Test best.
*In racking up 620 for five, England passed the 500-run mark in successive innings in the Ashes for the first time.
Third Test Perth
Australia 268 (Hussey 61) & 309 (Hussey 116, Tremlett 5-87) England 187 (Johnson 6-38) & 123 (Harris 6-47)
Australia won by 267 runs
Fourth Test Melbourne
Australia 98 & 258 England 513 (Trott 168, Siddle 6-74)
England won by an innings and 157 runs
*Australia's total of 98 in their first innings was their lowest Ashes total at the MCG and their lowest completed first-innings score in a home Ashes Test since 1888.
Fifth Test Sydney
Australia 280 & 281 England 644 (Cook 189, Prior 118, Bell 115)
England win by an innings and 83 runs
*Ian Bell made his first century in Ashes Tests in his 18th match while Matt Prior also notched a first Test ton against Australia from only 109 balls – the fastest England Ashes century since Ian Botham's 1981 effort at Old Trafford.
*England's total of 644 was their highest ever in Australia.
*The margin of defeat meant Australia had lost three matches by an innings in a series for the first time in history.
*Cook's tally of 766 runs in the series is the second-highest by an England batsman in any Ashes series, behind only Walter Hammond's 905 in Australia in 1928-29, which was achieved over nine innings to Cook's seven.
*The opener's average of 127 is the second-highest by an Englishman in the Ashes behind Geoff Boycott, who averaged 147 in 1977 but played in only three Tests. Apart from Cook and Boycott, only Hammond, Len Hutton and Eddie Paynter have finished an Ashes series with three-figure averages having played three or more Tests.
*Cook has set a new world record for a five-Test series by spending 2,171 minutes at the crease, beating Shivnarine Chanderpaul's 2,057 for West Indies against India in 2002.
*During the first innings of the fifth Test, Cook became the second youngest player behind Indian titan Sachin Tendulkar to reach a career total of 5,000 runs.
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