Damien Martyn: 'I don't mind losing the Ashes so long as we get better'
Stylish batsman from the 'golden era' believes Australia's main problem as they head for back-to-back series with England is a chronic lack of runs at the top of the order
Sunday 31 March 2013
What has happened to the Aussie cricket team? Their confidence has been knocked around ahead of the Ashes. India may have been favourites on the tour there that's just ended, but it's more the way we've gone about playing that meant we got whitewashed 4-0.
The biggest worry is the top six. Only the captain, Michael Clarke, has performed at the level he should have done, and the rest just don't stack up at the moment. When we come to England the bowling will go OK with the big guys we've got. But we need a lot more runs, and to do that we need to get back to basics. It's a cliché but it's true.
Our pool is running dry, to be honest. In the old days, three or four guys would get 1,000 runs in a home season, or 2,000 runs in county cricket. We're not seeing that any more. The selectors can't say to themselves, "This kid is standing out", and they are picking players on the basis of talent rather than the numbers.
Having said that, two of our top six, Ed Cowan and Phil Hughes, have been scoring heavily in domestic cricket. They deserved to get picked and they merit a run in the side. It's hard to judge them on the basis of what they've done in India, and it will be very different in English conditions.
I knew Hughes got found out in the last couple of Ashes series but I think that says more about England. That's what is so impressive about them: their gameplans and the way they do their homework have been just fantastic. But Hughes went away and fixed a few issues, he's trained hard with Justin Langer and now he's the leading run-scorer. You have to pick him. After another 10 Tests, if he hasn't done it then we'll think again.
Our young batters really have to learn how to play Test cricket. Take David Warner; he has come into the Test arena through Twenty20 and one-dayers. He has had to learn how to build an innings. England's series in New Zealand has been an example of good, old-fashioned Test cricket with Alastair Cook and Co constructing long innings. We've got Langer and Darren Lehmann coaching the state teams now and it's great to get these guys back in first-class cricket, because hopefully they can improve our strength in depth again.
Some kids will only want to play Twenty20, whether for the money or whatever. But they can't lose the basics, you've still got to hone your technique. We've got to coach our kids with the foundations – and stop them playing T20 at too young an age. In the old days we used to play club cricket all day Saturday, 80 or 90 overs, and then all day the following Saturday too. If Ricky Ponting was coming through now, he would still want to play Test cricket.
Ponting's retirement has left Australia with a huge hole to fill, and now Mike Hussey's gone as well. So we've got to move on. But it's not easy. When the last generation of players all retired at the same time, everybody was looking for the next Warne or McGrath or Hayden. For a while it was a case of, "Who's going to bowl leg spin?" or expecting our keeper to bat like Adam Gilchrist. Warney has ruined it for everybody, to be honest, and Gilly. They've ruined it for the next kid coming through, who's thinking, "Oh God, I've got to do that".
People say our spinners are no good since Shane. But Warney was the best; he was special. We'll look back in years to come and just think we were bloody lucky, basically. Our group of players turned into unbelievable cricketers, it was a golden era.
There's probably been a heap of players who tried to be the next Shane Warne, but they just can't do it. So it's not a question of why hasn't the next Warne come along yet. He did inspire a lot of kids to play cricket in the first place. But it's a hard skill to bowl leg spin, and the wickets and conditions are not conducive in Australia now – even the SCG hasn't turned much lately – so the kids don't get the chances to show what they can do.
I haven't really got to the bottom of why Hussey has retired. He has got a big family, and he doesn't want to spend a long time away from home. But he loves the game so much and he's still making runs. I was waiting for him to stop but he never did. Perhaps he will come back. It's interesting that the coach, Mickey Arthur, mentioned it himself, that they had asked Hussey and he turned them down. The coach could have said, "We're not going backwards" but he didn't.
On the subject of the management, they have taken a lot of flak for banning those four players for not doing their "homework". The great teams I played in would have done their preparation but still, it's not as if no one ever missed the bus. Should the coach have taken such a public stance?
It's a tough one. Because our group was more senior we kept it in-house and knocked our problems on the head as a group. My old skipper Steve Waugh has come out and said that it should be kept in-house. But now this is harder, we've got a young captain and a new coach, and the players are a little younger, so I think it was supposed to be a kick in the arse.
Arthur and "Pup" [Clarke] both wanted to draw a line in the sand. They have said that it was a question of ill-discipline and slackness over a long period. It has certainly fed the media, and it really doesn't help if you are getting spanked as well, as we were in India. But then you might ask Mickey, since it had been going on for a long time, if he hadn't given them too much latitude in the first place.
I know Clarke well. He's a good kid, he loves the game and he's a big thinker. It's a hard position that he finds himself in, though. He has played in the side when they were winning everything. And now he's having to rebuild the team, and it was very bad for him to lose Hussey. They had been making stacks of runs together. Now Michael's trying to fast-track these guys into being Test cricketers. He needs to keep that group of players together and galvanise them.
It doesn't look good from the outside but I would want to judge it from this moment onwards and see how it goes in the Ashes. If they lose, then in a sense as long as they are playing better cricket you don't mind losing.
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