How Roebuck brilliantly summed up Ashes debacle for Australia
Peter Roebuck graced the cricket pages of 'The Independent' for several years. Here, we reproduce the final piece he wrote for us
Monday 14 November 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 10 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 Previously he had withdrawn from IPL.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 20-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 are 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 their 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 on to their sportsmen.
England also put a formidable combination in charge of the team. Captain Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower the coach 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. Former Australia captain 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 is 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 physio'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 their 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 former captain Steve Waugh, ex-speedster Merv Hughes and nuggety batsman Justin Langer.
The greenhorns have fallen short of the mark. India have put Anil Kumble in charge of their 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 home-grown candidates.
Likewise the states are accountable. Western Australia and South Australia are not contributing enough. It's easy to blame Aussie Rules. 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 12th 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.
'A gifted man' - Roebuck memories
Jonathan Agnew: "He was fearless and brave in what he wrote. He wrote in a very liberated way with a very unusual style. He was always very erudite."
Tony Greig: "The death of Peter leaves the grass less green and cricket without its most effective investigative journalist."
Derek Pringle: "Peter was a tortured, driven soul but his suicide still comes as a shock. Cricket has lost its most erudite idealist."
Kerry O'Keeffe: "Nobody cut to the chase more succinctly and saw how the game was and where it was heading better than Peter. [His] incisiveness and the way he delivered was the blueprint for our cricket commentary."
Rahul Dravid: "I looked forward to reading what he wrote about but more importantly how he wrote it. He had this incredible ability to use words to make the game of cricket and the players come alive."
Ian Chappell: "He was a damn good writer, a colourful writer, and he brought other things in life into it."
Mike Brearley: "The news of Peter's death is extremely sad. He was such a gifted man, both as a cricketer and a writer."
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