What we can learn from England
England batsman Alistair Cook celebrates reaching 200 runs on day five of the first Ashes test. AAP Image/Dave Hun
After the four-nil drubbing the Australian cricket team were handed by England in the recent ODI series, it would be easy to put this embarrassing humiliation down to the fact that our players lack ‘mongrel’.
It would be equally easy to dismiss the series as meaningless.
The fact is the losses had nothing to do with anyone not having enough ‘mongrel’ and the losses were unfortunately extremely meaningful.
So what should we say and do?
If we are smart, we will admit that we are currently inferior to England to the point of embarrassment. If we are smart we should use these losses to learn some valuable lessons.
Indeed we can learn a lot from the way England are dominating us at cricket and perhaps now sport in general. We need to lose our passionate patriotic demeanour that will not allow us to make such a humiliating admission.
Much like when we lost the rugby World Cup in 2003 and much like the fact that at the upcoming Olympics we will not win as many medals as Great Britain, we need to recognise a shift in dominance in sporting endeavours between the old dart and us, if we haven’t already done so.
We need to completely put to bed the ideology that our children come out of the womb with an inherited ability to take screamers in the gully and that English babies come out whinging about all the things that ‘poms’ whinge about.
This seemingly is no longer true, if it ever was.
One thing we can learn from England is that to their credit, they recognised in the 90s that they were the inferior of the two nations at most sports.
They knew that their Olympic teams needed a boost and so they funded their athletes with money made from the national lottery and they set up the same style of academies that Australia had through the AIS. Clearly they are now reaping the benefits from these changes. We will see in London 2012 that Australia has deteriorated so much that it is sending its smallest team to the Olympics in two decades.
Another example of this shift is in rugby. In the 90s, the English realised that they were losing the fight to have any chance at winning rugby world cups when in the southern hemisphere players were essentially becoming professional. They knew they couldn’t win by staying amateur and in this realisation the RFU changed the game that had remained amateur for one hundred and seventy odd years to become a fully professional one almost over night. They couldn’t beat ‘em so they joined ‘em
And with the emergence in the 90s of McGrath, Gilchrist and Warne and the like, England realised that they needed to start copying what Australia was doing in cricket as well. We had the cricket academy with Rod Marsh producing super stars, so England made Rod Marsh an offer he couldn’t refuse and hired him to lead their own academy in 2001. By 2005 they had won back the Ashes.
They also realised that they needed to improve their domestic game in order to create their own Sheffield Shield type of elite competition and went to a premier division in county cricket. This has made their domestic competition now arguably the best in the world.
They have a propensity to want to learn from those that are better.
It is time that we started to look to England for what to do next in cricket as they once did with us and perhaps in sport in general.
But for now let us stick with cricket.
It is curious that even though they invented it, England have not allowed the Twenty20 circus to infiltrate their Test or one-day side or psyche. They have not hero worshipped a ‘Warner’ and put him in to face the new ball at the 50 over or Test cricket arena. They have seen the emergence of players that could set new standards in one-day play but they play them where they are not a liability to good new ball bowling i.e. down the order.
Generally they have persisted with picking their best top order cricketers in both ODIs and Tests, (insisting that only Strauss their test captain miss the one-day games to prolong his more important Test career). Interestingly, they have not allowed Pietersen to pick and choose which of the one-day format he misses because he has not earned that right. We can learn from them on how they handled this despite much public outcry.
The English and Wales Cricket Board and selectors have sent out the message that they still know what is best for their national side. They will not be bowing to pressure from fans and they certainly will not pick fickle fan favourites to come out blazing at the top of the order.
They still consider the true fan the more important ticket buyer. He is the more sustainable fan that they need to keep happy and he wants to see top class cricketers play top class innings.
The Australian Cricket Board and Selectors on the other hand are trying to keep Mr Fickle Fan happy. He is the one that they see is key to prolonged financial success and he, ladies and gentleman, wants to see cheap thrills.
Our selectors should forget about appealing to the fickle fan. Instead they should be critiquing for example David Warner’s batting position in the team no matter how unpopular that would be. The odd blazing hundred won’t change the fact that Warner is technically inept and destined to average a mediocre 30 odd as a Test and one-day opener.
Everybody in cricket circles, at least in the UK, knows this to be true so why are we investing so much time and effort in players like this at the top of the order? Surely if he is to play Test cricket at all he needs to come in at a sensible no. six and perhaps in the ODIs as well. Lower down the order is where he could be more effective and less of a liability to the new ball.
We should be playing our most technically correct players at the top of the order like England. We should be requiring our domestic game to produce players in the ilk of Cook and Trott with their rock solid dependable techniques. We should not be producing top order players in the ilk of Warner or Hughes with their dodgy techniques. We used to produce quality top order players but our demand for the flamboyant flat track bullies is seemingly costing us dearly.
There are so many technical differences evident in comparison of the two top orders. Theirs rarely move their front feet across the line of middle stump ensuring they are balanced and not at risk of LBW or unnecessary edges. This also ensures that they play through the line. Ours walk across their stumps too much to play through the on-side and in English conditions that is tantamount to suicide.
Theirs can handle a swinging, seaming ball by playing less flamboyantly and relying on ones and twos to keep the score board ticking. Ours can’t handle any movement of the wicket at all apart from trying to slog their way out of it or by completely shutting up shop.
Theirs can manipulate spin bowling with the threat of playing sweep shots all day long. Ours, apart from Mike Hussey and to a lesser extent Clarke, lack the skill to sweep for historic Aussie macho reasons, which allows opposition spin bowlers to dictate terms more often than not. We need to be coaching our kids from a young age to sweep spin bowling!
We must learn from their domestic set up. We can do this by contracting more overseas players to play Shield cricket to make it more competitive and more of an indicator of class. We should also be allowing more of our young talent to spend time playing county cricket to learn their trades as a right of passage for a Test cricketer.
We should also learn that in England the money and infrastructure made available to the sensation that was Twenty20 has become in hindsight a bit of a mistake. The county fans have stopped going to watch this form of the game and essentially do not care about it. There are lessons to be learned for Australia’s ‘Big Bash’. Let’s not hasten to invest our time and money into what could become just a ‘fad’.
Indeed Twenty20 is yet to be proven a sustainable interest and could be a complete waste of time and energy in the long run. At the end of the day the fickle fans that demand such frivolous entertainment will turn away, as they have in England, when they inevitably come to realise cricket in any form must be enjoyed by a patient soul.
Eventually it seems you are going to be left with the true fans. These are the fans that will take an interest in all forms of it and these are the fans that will be demanding true Test class cricketers when it comes time for the Ashes.
If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. It’s time to take a good hard look at what we the English are doing well and to try and learn from them.