It is beautiful really. You, YouTube, a glass of scotch and more batting highlights than you can poke a stick at.
Gilchrist, the bowler’s Anti-Christ. Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn, all elegance and timing. Steve Waugh, all bloody-mindedness; Matthew Hayden, just bloody for bowlers.
Beautiful times, were they not?
If you want something from this decade you’ve a hell of a task. There’s Michael Clarke against South Africa, Michael Hussey against England, Michael Clarke against India, Michael Hussey against Sri Lanka.
Therein lies the problem: of Australia’s 37 Test centuries since January 1 2010, 20 came from a man called Michael.
Of the current Ashes squad pugilist David Warner has three; Matthew Wade has two; with Ed Cowan, Brad Haddin, Phil Hughes and Shane Watson scoring one each.
Compare this to the 90s and early 2000s when batsmen like Stuart Law, Martin Love and Brad Hodge struggled to get a meaningful run; where Darren Lehmann, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and even Matthew Hayden hit century after century before they could get in green.
So what happened?
The bowling seems to be coming along nicely; provided of course that messes Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc keep developing and stay injury-free.
But watching Australia bat is like getting blind drunk and playing Five-Finger Fillet – every now and then you’ll pull it off, but you know deep down it’s going to end in tears.
So what went wrong?
For starters, Cricket Australia did themselves no favours by tinkering with the format of the Second XI competition.
Back in 2002/03 a group of dedicated amateurs covered Cricket ACT matches against the South Australia and Western Australian Second XI’s for local radio.
While there were plenty of young guns like Shaun Tait, Adam Voges, Beau Casson and Luke Ronchi in the opposition ranks, they were being led by some seriously experienced heads.
Former Australian ODI representative Brad Young scored a century and took 14 wickets for South Australia. Stuart Karppinen, Nathan Adcock, Jeff Vaughan and Mark Harrity were all in their late twenties and looking to play themselves back into first-class cricket.
In short, it was the perfect combination of youth and experience that made these matches the perfect nursery for talented young cricketers.
Fast-forward to 2009 and Cricket Australia decided to tinker.
The Second XI competition became the Futures League, with only three over-23s allowed in each team.
While this article from The Roar’s Brett McKay at the time suggested good things for Australian cricket and Australian spinners, it didn’t take long for the players to voice their concerns.
In his book In The Firing Line, Ed Cowan (a late-bloomer himself) made this point:
“All of a sudden accomplished players in the larger states … were merely treading water if they found themselves out of favour or form, relegated to playing club cricket that they had dominated for six, seven or eight years already.”
“In their place, talented but not yet ripe youngsters, not quite across the game as a whole, let alone their own, were given preferences for places. It has taken a few years but we are now reaping what we sowed as a cricket community.”
Tasmanian captain George Bailey wasn’t a fan either.
“It’s become really difficult to have guys who aren’t in your best XI, consistently playing good, hard cricket against other teams, with that under-23 rule,” Bailey said.
“I’ve got no doubt that cricket and the way the bodies are, you play your best cricket after you’re 23, and it’s much the same as the Australian team. I think the best Australian players are better for having a really strong first-class system and we’re much the same.”
Nowadays teams are allowed six over-23 players; again, the late-bloomers and 24-year-olds don’t seem to get much of a look-in.
Combine this with the large amount of experience lost with the retirements of Warne, McGrath, Langer, Hayden, Gilchrist et al, and it really wasn’t a great time for anyone to be missing out on some tough cricket.
Discipline seems to be a problem as well.
During Australia’s fallow period in the mid-1980s many had the talent, yet few had the self-discipline that would make them truly great.
When Bob Simpson became coach in 1986 he decided to run with a few players that he felt had the “ticker” necessary to consistently succeed at Test cricket, giving players like Steve Waugh and Ian Healy a long run over players like Greg Ritchie and Tim Zoehrer.
Likewise, who wouldn’t want to see a Chris Rogers, Sam Robson, Adam Voges or George Bailey get a run right now ahead of a David Warner or Shane Watson?
Could it be that the aforementioned players are slightly hungrier by not playing Twenty20 cricket around the world?
So there are a couple of possible reasons for Australia’s cricketing decline. Question is, how do we fix it so that Australian cricket highlights aren’t archived in the “Classics” section of the internet?