Live scores
Live Commentary
South Africa
| South Africa 1st Inn 8/266

Australian cricket’s rebuilding phase must begin all over again

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert


51 Have your say

    Michael Clarke. Australian cricket's Mr Glass may have played his last game of cricket.

    Related coverage

    A couple of years back, as the last of Australia’s golden Test generation drifted towards the giant commentary box in the sky, we told ourselves good-naturedly that there would need to be a period of rebuilding.

    We would have to be patient. New replacements for Warne, McGrath, Langer, Hayden, Gilchrist and MacGill would not be found easily. We all nodded in satisfaction at just how humble and realistic we were.

    Fast forward to the present, and we’re about ready to spork that humble sentiment in the eye. Losing sucks. It was possible to do it graciously for a little while, but when you’ve got the English trampling all over you, not on a mouldy Headingly dish-sponge but the MC bloody G, it’s just a little too much to bear.

    Those are my five days, England. My five days to sit in the sunshine and eat sandwiches and pretend that wearing a shirt with a collar means I’m classy enough not to have smuggled in this bottle of vodka in my pants.

    If you run into me at the MCG in those days, England, you’ll normally find a very happy man. So how dare you turn my five glorious summer days into three crap ones? The only thing worse than robbing us of half our Test match is forcing us to look at Kevin Pietersen being happy. It’s like having to eat the cold grease out of a fish-shop chipper.

    AFL fans understand the rebuilding thing. The salary cap and the ordering of drafts (which incredibly haven’t yet been denounced by Tony Abbott as part of the evils of socialism) mean that team fortunes go in cycles. Teams dominate, age, fall away, rebuild, rise again.

    So it just needs patience, right? Well, in this crazy world of sporting achievement, it’s not quite that simple. Some are at their peak, some in decline, some on the rise, and some are the Richmond Football Club.

    By which I mean, they rebuild, they have patience, they put together a team, and then they look around a few years later and realise it still isn’t very good.

    The not-very-good team ages, and disintegrates, and suddenly the club finds itself having to start all over again, without ever having enjoyed their shot at the top. Richmond have been rebuilding since about 1984.

    Alas, in recent weeks, I’ve come to realise that our national cricket team is in much the same way.

    Wind back a few years, and the post-legend era looked promising. We had MacGill to bridge the gap post-Warne. We had Stuart Clark giving a pretty good impression of McGrath.

    Phil Jacques had made centuries as an opener. Marcus North notched one in his first match, Phillip Hughes two in his second. Good batsmen abounded, or so it seemed.

    Mitchell Johnson was sporadically dangerous with the ball, and sometimes the bat. Peter Siddle announced himself by firing bouncers off an Indian deck at Tendulkar’s helmet.

    But the rebuilding phase hasn’t worked. Senior players were supposed to guide the up-and-comers to a new period of strength. Instead the seniors have grown weaker, and the new generation haven’t come on.

    Of the recent representatives, Simon Katich has already been dumped, one 36-year-old too many in a team featuring three of them. Ricky Ponting was preferred, but given his form, looks set to join his contemporary sooner rather than later.

    Brad Haddin, too, is surely finished: he is 34, has younger rivals who are both better batsmen and ‘keepers, and apparently wouldn’t recognise a Test match if it hit him in the head with a sock full of sand.

    “Play your natural game” is the Australian mantra, backed by positive-thinking adherents like batting coach Langer. But if your natural game entails trying to play like Adam Gilchrist, you kind of need to be as good as Adam Gilchrist. Haddin’s mail goes to a different suburb.

    No-one is settled at No. 6, after North was dumped and Stephen Smith deemed a failed experiment. Hughes, too, has a touch of the Norths: good at saving his career with a big score, then putting together a string of failures. The response to him could best be described as ‘unconvinced’.

    At the bowling end, Johnson’s erratic form has dragged on so long that people in Ecuador chat quietly about it. (El Zurdo Tatuado, they call him.) The raw young talent never had his predicted flowering, and having just gone 30, pollen season is over. Another two years will see him awfully close to the fast-bowlers’ compost heap.

    He could contribute until then, as he’s done of late, but he could also give that couple of years to bowlers who’ll be around in a decade’s time. Like a clever dog at a barbeque, he surely can’t be far from the chop.

    Nathan Lyon looks a decent competitor, but asking him to learn on the job sufficiently to challenge India’s Three Tonners is a mighty request. The end of summer may see him collecting the damp shreds of his confidence to take home in Zip-Lock bags.

    As for Peter Siddle, he could not have been better summed up than by my colleague Ben Pobjie: “a mighty trier who you’d love to have in your team, but would despair if he ends up being your best bowler.”

    And it’s not just form, but health. Ryan Harris, generally Australia’s most dangerous flinger when he plays, can’t back up physically for the next contest. The bones in his knee grate on each other like an old married couple.

    Six days to recover after Newlands, and he flew home with a hip problem. An admirable player, but it’s time to admit that Harris is done.

    Shaun Marsh has been strong in a three-Test career, starting with a dream century, but back problems mean he can’t reliably make it through a match. Clarke has battled similar issues.

    Shane Watson’s body, meanwhile, has more question marks hovering over it than the landscape in Super Mario World.

    Watson is Australia’s most important player by a distance. Despite his failure to convert centuries, he has been dominant for over two years in an opening position at which most said he was doomed to fail.

    We laughed, too, when he made the Honours board at Lord’s for his five wickets against Pakistan, but the fastest five-for in Test history against South Africa at home proved it was no anomaly. Watson’s bowling has become a weapon.

    It’s just that, as with a guitar string pulled too tight, there is the feeling that something could twang at any minute, leaving the team having to desperately transpose their chords mid-song in order to avoid being bottled from the stage.

    Mike Hussey is the only true reliable: his series against Sri Lanka read 95, 15, 142, 118, and 93; his Ashes included 195, 93, 52, 61 and 116.

    But at 36, we can’t expect him to last more than another couple of years. It will not take more than a few failures before the pressure starts to build, self-inflicted or otherwise. Three poor scores in South Africa, and the get-in-early types are already starting to mutter.

    Pending a few bad matches, the list of recent discards could soon read Katich, Hughes, Ponting, Smith, North, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle, and Lyon. Add an injury for Watson and Marsh, and the team taking the park will be fresher than that watermelon I put all the vodka in.

    The likes of Khawaja, Pat Cummins, Trent Copeland, James Pattinson, Matthew Wade, Nick Maddinson and so on need to get their opportunities now. They need to be allowed to fail at Test level so they can learn how to succeed.

    It’s time to come to terms with the fact that the team being groomed for the past couple of years has not worked out.

    This doesn’t mean burn everything to the ground. But it does mean that it’s time to get games into the cricketers who will be representing us in five or ten years’ time. It’s time, like Richmond, to suck it up and start another rebuild.

    It may not be appealing. But that way, there’s a chance that in another couple of years I’ll get to start enjoying my trips to the MCG again. That way, summer might come back to me. That way, it means maybe that won’t be a bottle of vodka in my pocket. Maybe I’ll just be happy to see you.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (51)

    • November 21st 2011 @ 7:12am
      Gormon said | November 21st 2011 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      very funny, and a good article!

    • November 21st 2011 @ 7:59am
      Tony said | November 21st 2011 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      All that and not one mention of the word “transition”. For shame.

    • Columnist

      November 21st 2011 @ 9:17am
      Brett McKay said | November 21st 2011 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      And yet Geoff, the rebuilding might have to be held off. If – IF – Ponting goes on and gets the other 46 runs tonight, he becomes difficult to drop, more so when you consider that Marsh may not be fit for Brisbane, and Watson himself has admitted that he may not be right either.

      I thought Johnson actually bowled quite well with the new ball before lunch, but ended up with nothing to show for it as Cummins got the rewards. Copeland waits in the wings, and Ben Cutting has again added to an already mounting case. And I thought Nathan Lyon bowled really well too – he should have had Steyn LBW, but Hawkeye somehow managed to produce a mirror image of Warne’s Gatting Ball for the review.

      Interesting week coming up for Messrs Inverarity, Marsh and Bichel…

      • November 21st 2011 @ 10:02am
        Matt F said | November 21st 2011 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        I think you’ll still see a rebuilding even if Ponting gets a century. It just won’t include him. Haddin, Siddle and Johnson will be close to the axe. Barring a match-winning knock from Haddin it seems highly unlikely that more then one of those three players will play at the GABBA. The fact that Cummins is our leading wicket taker in the series, despite playing only one test, is quite damning.

        • Columnist

          November 21st 2011 @ 10:07am
          Brett McKay said | November 21st 2011 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          Matt, if Marsh is fit and right for Brisbane, I could probably agree that Ponting perhaps shouldn’t be, regardless of how many more he adds tonight. But I’m not so sure about Marsh being right, and thus, the door is re-opening for Ponting.

          Can’t disagree with your other points though..

          • November 21st 2011 @ 11:02am
            jameswm said | November 21st 2011 @ 11:02am | ! Report

            SO let’s hazard a guess at our team for Brisbane

            1. Watson
            2. Hughes (don’t think they’ll drop him). Maybe when Marsh comes back, he goes 3 and Khawaja and Hughes are battling for the opener’s spot
            3. Khawaja
            4. Clarke (Ponting dropped or retired?)
            5. Hussey
            6. Warner comes in at 6 if Ponting gone
            7. Wade
            8. Harris
            9. Cummins
            10. Copeland/Siddle/Cutting/Pattinson/Starc
            11. Lyon

            • November 21st 2011 @ 11:49am
              Matt F said | November 21st 2011 @ 11:49am | ! Report

              That seems about right though I’m almost ready to put a line through Harris. He just can’t play more then 1 or 2 tests at a time which will mean that our bowling line up will never be settled, particularly in the longer series like India and the Ashes in 2013. Maybe keep trying him this summer but if he can’t string some consecutive matches then we have a problem.

              Don’t think Starc is ready for Test cricket yet. Play him in T20 and ODIs. Cummins is certain after this test so that leaves Harris/Copeland/Cutting/Pattinson would be my 4 who fight it out for the two spots (Harris is an automatic start if his body is ok.)

              I’d say that if Marsh is fit then Khawaja will drop to 6 (unless Ponting cracks a ton tonight then Khawaja probably drops out altogether sadly) and Warner will miss out. Warner probably deserves a go but I can’t see them making that many changes.

            • Columnist

              November 21st 2011 @ 12:14pm
              Brett McKay said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

              James, I think your bracketed comments prove that there’s probably too many variables at the moment to even try and name a team for Brisbane yet. Marsh, Watson, Ponting, Haddin and Harris all have varying types of question marks about them, and then what to do about Johnson and Siddle becomes the issue.

              I worry about Copeland, I think the squad is back from SA in time, yet he didn’t get picked in the Aust A side. If Hilfy (especially) or Cutting/Pattinson do well, his career potentially stalls at 3 Tests…

          • November 21st 2011 @ 12:00pm
            Matt F said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

            Brett I’m not sure if my last post was 100% clear (that or I misread your last post!) When I said “It just won’t include him” I meant that if Ponting gets a ton then he won’t be included in the axings, not that he won’t be in the GABBA test team. He’ll be picked for the GABBA test if he gets a ton and fair enough, but it should only guarantee the NZ series. He still needs to make runs against NZ to make the India series. If Marsh isn’t fit then i think Ponting will be spared regardless of what happens tonight. Especially if they axe Haddin, Johnson and/or Siddle.

            I just saw that not only is Cummins our leading wicket taker this series, despite playing only one test, but he has taken the same number of wickets as both Siddle and Johnson combined (Siddle 4 and Johnson 3.)

            • Columnist

              November 21st 2011 @ 12:10pm
              Brett McKay said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

              ha, sorry Matt, I did think you meant the rebuilt team wouldn’t include Ponting…

              I can’t see both Johnson AND Siddle playing in Brisbane either. Both should probably miss out, but for that to happen, I believe Harris would need to be fit. Copeland should come back into calcs, but I fear he may be being surpassed by the likes of Cutting and even Hilfenhaus at home. Pattinson and Starc are certainly in the picture, but I don’t think the new selectors will want three quicks with one Test between them.

              • November 21st 2011 @ 12:37pm
                Matt F said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

                I can’t see them dropping both unless Harris is fit for the same reasons you mentioned. Siddle might survive because of this reason. Ideally I’d like to see a line up of Harris/Copeland, Cummins and Cutting/Copeland/Pattinson but the inexperience, particularly if Harris doesn’t play, make this very unlikely. I hope they don’t go back to Hilfenhaus yet. He’s having a good season but Pattinson and Cutting are having better ones.

                I’m baffled as to how Copeland seems to have slipped off the radar. The obsession with pace over anything else is ridiculous. Cummins didn’t get wickets just because he was quick but becaue he put the ball in the right areas and got good movement. Copelands ability to bowl unbelievably long spells (I’m pretty sure that he bowled for almost two sessions straight for NSW last season) would take a lot of pressure off Harris and Cummins (both of whom we need to manage very carefully re workload.) The fact that the 1st test is at the GABBA will work in Harris and Cuttings favour.

              • Columnist

                November 22nd 2011 @ 12:25am
                Geoff Lemon said | November 22nd 2011 @ 12:25am | ! Report

                Harris is gone, surely. Can’t be relied on to be available, and it’s chronic. I’d have thought they’d be better off keeping Cummins, giving Copeland a gig, and keeping Siddle for some experience. Plus Lyon for the spinner, and there’s your four. If the batting was stronger you might even have a fifth.

      • November 22nd 2011 @ 8:50am
        Anfalicious said | November 22nd 2011 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        Ponting is the master at scoring just enough runs to justify keeping in the team; if it wasn’t all but impossible to drop a captain then he would have been gone years ago. Pity he was such a poor captain to boot.

    • November 21st 2011 @ 9:29am
      jameswm said | November 21st 2011 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      The biggest batting problem is actually our openers. Ever since Kat left, our opening partnerships have mainly been small.

      Watson should probably be batting at 5-6, and Hughes is all over the place and iffy, despite his chancy 88. He’s got more edges than a hectogon.

    • November 21st 2011 @ 9:31am
      Spiro Zavos said | November 21st 2011 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      I believe that there should be an independent investigation, somewhat like the Argus Review, into the number of batsmen and bowlers who break down. Geoff has listed a raft of them in his excellent piece.
      The argument is that there is too much cricket these days. But pardon an old codger in his days of anecdotage, the fact is that the old time players, say, Freddie Trueman, played far more cricket with far fewer break-downs than the modern player.
      Trueman, off a long run-up, used to bowl over 1000 overs a season. And this did not include charity and festival matches in the weekend. There was the country circuit in summer and then the so-called ‘winter’ tour in the British winter.
      In Australia and New Zealand we have seen bowler after bowler break down almost in direct proportion to the number of bi-mechnical experts employed in order to prevent this,
      Geoff Lawson who was never prone to breaking down as a bowler in his career and who is a thoughtful expert on the game believes that the problem is not too much bowling for youngsters but too little. They should be bowling more and exercising less. Trueman, for instance, never darkened a gym in his life,
      I think this Test shows that Australia has two Test match quality bowlers, Patrick Cummins and the off-spinner Nathan Lyons (who was handled shrewdly by Michael Clarke, the sign of a good captain). Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are not good enough. The new seletors have the interesting task of constructing a new attack in the next couple of years around Cummins and Lyons – providing, of course, neither of them break down in the interim.

      • November 21st 2011 @ 10:59am
        jameswm said | November 21st 2011 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        Spiro you can’t simply ignore or disregard modern science.

        Fitness and core strength work must be focused on. Lillee had stress fractures till science helped him re-work his action. It’s similar for others.

        Saying you get fit for bowling simply by bowling, is like saying to Usain Bolt just go out and sprint 100m a few times every day, or like telling David Rudisha to run 800m hard every day to get better at 800.

        • Roar Guru

          November 21st 2011 @ 1:10pm
          The Barry said | November 21st 2011 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          Don’t think you can ignore modern science but it shouldn’t be the holy grail in cricketers preparation.

          Back in the days when I played cricket and footy, I’d finish footy season at peak fitness and strength but after my first half dozen net sessions bowling I’d be stiff and sore and hobbling like an old man, regardless of my core strength or fitness.

          I don’t think there’s any activity that prepares the body for the rigours of bowling, like bowling does because you use back and shoulder muscles in a way that you don’t for anything else.

          In terms of Australia’s re-build, I think we have the perfect model from the 80s. I think attitude as much as aptitude is important for the team. Border was the foundation they built on and they tried players until they found those with the right attitude. Boon, Marsh, Jones, Waugh, Taylor, Healy, Hughes, etc. I think the model should be to pick the guys who are willing to work hard in the trenches rather than those that will try and look flash, swing the bat and make a breezy 30 off 45 balls.

          Unfortunately current players are looking at the teams from the late 90s, early 00s for inspiration – understandable as that’s what they’ve grown up with – but todays situation has more similarities to 1985 that 1999.

          I’m not convinced that Clarke is the skipper that you build a team of this type around. Perhaps he’ll be a transitional skipper like Kim Hughes was.

      • November 21st 2011 @ 11:13am
        MrKistic said | November 21st 2011 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Not enough beer and smokes in the dressing room these days, that’s the problem.

        • Columnist

          November 22nd 2011 @ 12:27am
          Geoff Lemon said | November 22nd 2011 @ 12:27am | ! Report

          You’re right, Mr K. A brew and a durry would at least help everyone relax. Can’t do a hammy then…

        • November 22nd 2011 @ 8:54am
          Anfalicious said | November 22nd 2011 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          Just chuck in a few meat pies and problem solved.

      • November 21st 2011 @ 12:55pm
        Viscount Crouchback said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

        The Australians ought to take a look at the English approach of withdrawing fast bowlers from frontline action every so often for specialised strength and conditioning work. It’s a nonsense to suggest that these guys just need to bowl more – gym work is crucial, but it needs to be appropriate gym work and not “beach muscle” gym work.

      • November 21st 2011 @ 4:16pm
        Ben G said | November 21st 2011 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

        Despite some old-timers wanting to convince us otherwise, bowlers are quicker these days. It’s no different to any other pursuit. Much like athletics, swimming etc, people get faster over time. Just adding a few km/hr to a bowler, adds a lot of extra stress on the body. When you have guys regularly getting around 150km/hr you are going to have issues no matter what you do.

        • November 21st 2011 @ 7:21pm
          JohnB said | November 21st 2011 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

          You probably want to look at the world 100m running record over time. It’s gone down steadily, and some of that is no doubt due to improved and increased training (and the occasional freakish athlete like Usain Bolt coming along) – but a big part of the reduction is more a product of better shoes, tracks and timing. I’m unconvinced that the very fastest bowlers now are faster than Thomson, Hall, Lindwall, Tyson, Larwood and others were.

          • Columnist

            November 29th 2011 @ 12:33pm
            Geoff Lemon said | November 29th 2011 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

            Bowling coaches seem to be less about influencing speed than influencing accuracy, lessening stress on the body, coming up with plans and strategies and variations, and looking after the mental aspect. Maybe the average bowler is a bit faster, but the true quicks are made that way. Thommo would have been fast in 1862, 1970, or 2025.

    • November 21st 2011 @ 11:58am
      Bakkies said | November 21st 2011 @ 11:58am | ! Report

      Watson should never have opened. If he continues to do so he will burn out like Flintoff did. Watson is still averaging under 40 which is very poor for a test opener and has to start converting starts in to hundreds. We aren’t the Black Caps and need more than a poor man’s Michael Slater in the opening partnership. He needs to be at number 4 (when Hussey retires) or at 6. Put Clarke down at 5 long term. Clarke has to go back to his original strengths which was playing shots which he can do at 5. 6 is usually a spot that we put youngsters in than move them up the order. Martyn, Border, Waugh, Hussey, Clarke, Ponting all had stints down the order before they moved up that’s the way it should be. Khawaja needs to bat down there so he can settle down. Number 3 is the key batting position in the Australian line up and we need to get him some proper experience in test cricket.

      The way Jaques was treated by the selectors was criminal. Left out of the one day team while he was one of the top batsman in domestic one dayers and only lost his test spot due to injuries. He built his reputation by making big numbers in state and county cricket. With massive numbers against English bowlers in their conditions it’s a joke that he hasn’t started in an Ashes test in England while guys like Hughes, Clarke and Katich struggle against swing and seam bowling. Leaving out one of the few out and out openers that Australian cricket has stuffed up the balance at the side. We have won very few series with an allrounder as the opening batsman, the team needs to be balanced to get results. You can’t have a guy bowl 20 overs and expect him to open the batting.

      • November 21st 2011 @ 12:32pm
        Chaos said | November 21st 2011 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        Jacques got seriously injured. Never been the same since. Can hardly put his injuries on the selectors in his case. They were useless just not this time.

        • November 21st 2011 @ 6:45pm
          Bakkies said | November 21st 2011 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

          Considering that he never got his spot back after he recovered from his injury and other players have got plenty of chances after injuries, the moronic selectors preferred to put middle order players at the top of the order (Katich and Watson). Couldn’t blame him from going of the boil, the guy was averaging around 50 at the time in test cricket. It was a short term fix that stuffed the balance of the side. One of them is gone and the other on the physio’s table. Would of wanted more opportunities for Chris Rogers too.

          • Columnist

            November 22nd 2011 @ 10:18am
            Geoff Lemon said | November 22nd 2011 @ 10:18am | ! Report

            Yes, Rogers certainly got shafted.