It’s not them, it’s us. Another summer of cricket has arrived. It’s time to put away the studs, shorts, and guernseys from football season, and pull out the spikes and whites.
After taking home a cool million bucks as the number one Test team earlier this year, Australia’s fall from grace has been noteworthy, going onto a 3-0 whitewash against seventh place Sri Lanka immediately after taking hold of the mace.
Once again, Australia’s weaknesses away from home were on display.
Since 2010, Australia has played 34 games at home, and another 40 on foreign soil, and in that time, the home ground advantage is obvious. In 34 outings at home, Australia have a record of 22 wins, seven draws, and just five losses. However, in the 40 matches overseas, the record is 15 wins, five draws, and 20 losses.
To further break down this record away from home, only a single win is in the subcontinent region against Sri Lanka back in 2011 (a series which also accounted for two of our five overseas draws, too).
Besides that, we have four away wins each against New Zealand and West Indies, three in South Africa, two in England and a win against Pakistan that was played at Lord’s.
Most teams have a clear advantage on their home grounds, that’s to be expected. However, is it time to ask the question of whether Australia’s home ground advantage is translating into a significant away disadvantage?
There’s been plenty of commentary over the past few summers around the ‘roads’ that have been dished up by Australian curators. Flat, bland pitches that don’t provide a great deal in the way of ball movement – which makes it harder for bowlers to create much in the way of variety in their deliveries, and makes life a lot easier for the batsmen.
Yes, batting has evolved over the past 15 years with regards to bigger sizes, and more aggressive attitudes coming into the game. However, Australians are not being helped by the fact that our pitches, too, are being served up to benefit the batsman and to make things as hard as possible for the bowler.
It’s not just an issue at the top level, but it leaves serious problems with the development of our talent, too.
Swing is almost a forgotten art in the modern Australian bowler. I still remember watching Simon Jones and Freddy Flintoff giving clinics on swing bowling as England decimated Australia in the 2005 Ashes series. Over ten years later, we see Kagiso Rabada providing a demonstration on reverse swing in Perth, and yet for some reason, our bowlers just have been unable to master this skill to that same level. Instead, we’ve fallen into a routine of repeating the same technique.
For years we had Glenn McGrath, who could capably tie down one end with beautifully consistent, stump-to-stump straight bowling, and a serious aggressor at the other end in Jason Gillespie, then Brett Lee. Exit McGrath and Lee, switch in Ryan Harris and Mitch Johnson. This summer, it’s Josh Hazlewood and Mitch Starc, but the message is pretty much the same for opposition batsmen, “You’ll have one guy bowling very straight, not giving you much room at one end. At the other, you’ll have a firebrand who’s aiming at the top of off stump hoping to catch an edge or mishit to get you out caught.
Even Craig McDermott commented in 2014 that our young bowlers were lacking the ability to swing the ball properly.
So we have up-and-coming bowlers who are almost exclusively developing their talent on pitches that encourage this uncreative style of bowling. Meanwhile, we have our up-and-coming batsmen who are plying their craft on the same pitches.
Take our players out of this setting, though, and you start to get an idea why we’re struggling as a nation so much once we leave our own country. Our bowlers aren’t equipped to take advantage of the more “characterful” pitches overseas, and our batsmen aren’t equipped to handle the way the ball comes on in those places either.
I don’t have expertise in curating a pitch, so I don’t know whether it’s the way the modern drop-in pitches are made, or if it’s just the way they’re keeping the grounds these days. However, one key to Australia returning to the level of global dominance in international cricket that we’ve seen in past golden ages is returning some character and flair into the pitches around the country.