Attitude not aptitude the problem with Australian cricket
When will the Aussies learn to master reverse swing? (AFP)
The reaction to the poor performance of the Australian cricket side in the first Test against South Africa has been swift and excessive.
Many are calling for significant changes to the side, but altering the make up of the team will achieve little without addressing the misguided approach of the players which underpinned their poor performance in Cape Town.
The batting collapse in the second innings should mark a critical juncture for the Australian cricket side, and with it herald a shift in mentality from this point forwards. The days of playing aggressive, attacking cricket irrespective of the circumstances of the match are over.
For fifteen years Australia dominated the cricketing world. The period of dominance was such that a generation of cricket fans, and its current crop of players, grew up believing that the Australian side was almost unbeatable. Any loss within this period of sustained dominance was viewed as an anomaly.
The approach of the players was characterised by a resolute and unwavering belief in the team’s superiority over all others. Nothing was beyond the Australian cricket side, no position too dire, no goal unachievable.
While the side was filled with players of the ilk of Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist, this may well have been the case, but those days are over, and this piece is not going to be another nostalgic trundle through the golden age of Australian cricket.
Playing aggressive and attacking cricket when you are a front-runner and the best team in the world by some distance is a fine strategy, but this approach no longer befits a middling team.
A change in playing stock over the past several years has not been accompanied by the required change in attitude from the national side.
Three times in the past twelve months the Australian side has been bowled out for less than 100, compared with one sub-100 innings in the 25 years before that. This statistic says considerably more about the batting approach of the players than the skills they possess.
The idea that Australia can club its way out of trouble is a flawed one, and needs to be addressed. In its second innings of the most recent Test match against South Africa, no Australian player appeared willing or able to grit his teeth, take guard, and grind out an innings when one was so desperately needed.
For so long the Australian side had enough genuine stars that rash shots which lead to dismissals were forgiven or forgotten because someone down the order would always steady the ship with a whirlwind half century, but not any more. As the make up of the side has changed, the players’ approach to batting has not.
Maybe Alan Border needs to have a quiet chat with a few of the current players, and explain that not so long ago during the 1980’s there were occasions when just surviving at the crease was seen as an achievement against sustained good quality bowling.
The current players need to realise that they can no longer simply hammer teams into submission through relentless attacking play. They need to let the circumstances of the match dictate their approach.
Scoring at two runs or less per over for periods of a Test match may not be the most exciting prospect, but players need to recognise when to put their foot down, and when to simply hold up an end and wait for the opposition bowlers to tire.
Sure, there will be times to bring out the old bag of tricks and take the long handle to a poor bowling attack, but this should no longer be the main game for the Australian side. A significant measure of circumspection and caution desperately needs to be added as players learn that over the course of a match the momentum will ebb and flow, and likewise their approach must change with it.
Australian cricketers can no longer afford to play with the unbridled self-belief and attacking mentality of decades past.
It is time someone made the players aware of this uncomfortable truth.
Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi