When the batsman’s off the pitch, maybe it’s worth having a crack at the stumps?
So South Africa has become the first team to defeat Australia in three successive bilateral ODI series’. Pity the poor West Indies. Their many Tri-Series successes in Australia seemingly do not count in this context.
On top of this comes the news that, at least until the present series concludes, Australia has (deservedly) slipped to third in the ODI rankings, behind South Africa and India.
The first of Australia’s sequences of losses against South Africa came in early 2006 and was more a South African miracle than an Australian loss: somehow the Proteas chased down Australia’s score of 434 to win the deciding fifth match of the series in Johannesburg.
So really it is only in the two recent series against South Africa that Australia has been second rate. That is what is at issue.
This decline and fall has been a topic of some discussion at The Roar.
In particular, Kersi Meher-Homji opined in article that “Aussies struggle because quicks picked like a raffle”.
My contention is that Kersi’s focus is too narrow, and that really everything is a problem in the Australian one-day team at the moment.
One day it is the batting that is the problem, the next day it is the bowling.
I am accustomed to this from living in New Zealand for the last fifteen years, because this is how it always goes with the Black Caps.
We regularly hear that the retirement of McGrath and Warne is the root cause of Australia’s cricketing ills. I absolutely agree with this for Test cricket, a form of the game that above all else relies on having bowlers who can take 20 wickets in order for victory to be achieved.
But the “limited overs” nature of one-day cricket makes it fundamentally different, and results in it relying much more evenly on contributions from across the board.
So Australia’s decline and fall in one-day cricket is not primarily due to the absence of McGrath and Warne, as indeed can easily be seen from two simple facts.
First, Australia was a dominant team in one-day cricket for many years without Warne, whose last such appearance for Australia was in January 2003.
Yes, McGrath played until 2007, but frequently he was rested or absent due to wife Jane’s ill health. This had no perceptible effect on results.
Secondly, even after McGrath retired, the Australian ODI team rolled relentlessly on, recording very notable achievements like a 4-2 series win in India in 2007 and a 5-0 whitewash in the West Indies in 2008.
Here are the many factors that I believe are contributing to Australia’s current woes in one-day cricket.
Gilchrist and Hayden have gone, and even our next generation of openers, Marsh and Watson, are absent at the moment. It is almost impossible to be an excellent one-day team without excellent openers.
Haddin at least has promise, but Clarke has been dismal in this role, and really has done nothing more than prove that he is only suited to batting at no. 4. One wonders why the selectors did not consider Brad Hodge as a stop-gap opener, a position at which he has excelled in T20 cricket.
We need to be realistic about Marsh and Watson when they come back.
They have clocked up some good numbers so far, but they are not going to be Gilchrist and Hayden. Gilchrist’s career average may “only” have been 36, but, exactly as with Sehwag with India, it was the way in which he made those runs.
Even an “average” score of 30-40 would usually be made so rapidly that it set up the entire innings. He was quite rightly named Australia’s best-ever one-day player.
Neither Marsh nor Watson will cause opposition hearts to start racing just by walking out to bat, as Gilchrist did and Sehwag does.
Similarly with Hayden, whose physical presence at the crease is matched only by Viv Richards over the last 30 years. Marsh and Watson cannot achieve this.
2. MIDDLE-ORDER BATTING:
Love him or loathe him, it stands out that the missing player here is Andrew Symonds. Like Gilchrist and Hayden, his mere presence often has a demoralising effect on the opposition.
The Husseys have been tremendously disappointing in their failure to fill in for Symonds. I am beginning to think that David simply does not have what it takes (which surprises me), and I also wonder whether Mike will ever get his mojo back.
Speaking of returning mojos, once again we need to be realistic about what lies ahead: Symonds is to return, but nothing about his form for Queensland suggests that he will be the player that he was.
James Hopes is admirable, but he is no Shane Watson, simple as that.
4. SPIN BOWLING:
Brad Hogg could never strangle an innings a la Daniel Vettori, but he always took wickets (156 in 113 innings), and he never got belted. There has been essentially no progress in finding a replacement for him.
Show me a successful one-day team of the last two decades that has not had a spinner from whom 10 overs could be relied on.
Hogg’s departure has had an immense effect, and one wonders why the selectors have not tried the most successful (by far) spinner from the last few seasons of Australian domestic one-day cricket, Bryce McGain.
Yes, I am serious.
Have a look at how many wickets McGain has taken in domestic one-day cricket, just as Stuart MacGill also did. Successful one-day cricket requires a spinner who will chip in with a wicket or two every innings.
5. FAST BOWLING:
Brett Lee was always a much, much better one-day bowler than Test bowler. It should also not be forgotten that another absent fast bowler, Shaun Tait, did well as wicket-taker in Lee’s absence at the 2007 World Cup.
Both these players are in a different league to bowlers like Harris, Geeves and Laughlin, with whom the selectors have been fiddling around recently.
The fragile Tait still seems to be injured, and Lee’s return has just been put on hold.
Further, Lee’s test bowling in the second half of 2008 was so poor that there must be the same questions over him as there are over Symonds.
Hopefully this analysis makes clear the numerous significant ways in which the Australian one-day team has disintegrated in the last 12 months.
It is not just the fast bowling and it is not just the selectors (as Kersi contends). But I agree that doing better in both these spheres would be a good start.
Finally, a team needs a heart and soul.
All season the Australian one-day team has been playing like a team that has lost its heart and soul. Ponting and Mike Hussey are the best evidence of this: quite obviously things just do not feel right to either of them, as reflected in their insipid play.
Is Andrew Symonds the missing life force, or is it someone like Hayden or Hogg, who will not be back?
From this pot-pouri of retired players, injured players, returning players, out-of-form players, failed new players and promising new players (Callum Ferguson?), a purposeful, animated, confident, in-form team must somehow be fashioned by the selectors.
I am not holding my breath.