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Opinion

The underachievers of Australian cricket in the 1990s

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Roar Guru
18th March, 2020
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1398 Reads

The decade of the 1990s saw Australian cricket gradually build its way towards world dominance.

There was complete dominance in the Ashes and the historic win over the West Indies in 1995 saw them become the unofficial world champions of Test cricket. No less important was the success in Pakistan in 1998. And of course there was success in World Cups as well.

Some outstanding talents represented Australia at the time. But the biggest factor was the very strong domestic cricketing circuit. In fact, at the time, Australia enjoyed a plethora of talents in all the departments of the game.

Players like Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Stuart MacGill and Adam Gilchrist basically had to wait until the turn of the millennium before establishing themselves in the top level.

But then there were some cricketers like Stuart Law who ended up getting little or no opportunity to show their enormous talents to the world audience.

Some of them, of course, enjoy superhero status in their own state. This article is about these unlucky players.

Matthew Elliott
In 1996, Elliott made his Test debut against the West Indies on the back of some strong performances for Victoria. While the Windies’ pace battery was in slow decline at the time they still had Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop in the squad.

Opening against them was still a daunting task. And Elliott had a moderate beginning, scoring only 0 and 21 in his debut. Just as it seemed that he had found his niche at the highest level in the second innings in the next match at the SCG, he retired hurt after scoring 78.

After an indifferent time in South Africa, he finally came good during the Ashes tour of 1997. Sadly, hundreds at Lord’s and Headingley were only a false dawn and Australia’s Bill Lawry of the ’90s failed to shine properly on the big stage.

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Matthew Elliott

(Photo by Brendan Monks/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Ryan Campbell
A hard-hitting top-order bat and a capable keeper, Campbell was unlucky to be playing in the Adam Gilchrist era. The presence of Gilchrist meant that initially he played as a specialist bat for WA, but as Gilchrist became more involved with international cricket, Campbell did an admirable job as a keeper in the domestic arena.

Despite regular successes at the domestic level, his international career with Australia ended with just two ODIs. However, he had strong family connections with Hong Kong and he represented them in three T20 matches. Here, I have picked him just as a specialist batsman.

Greg Blewett
Great things were expected of Blewett following his back-to-back hundreds against England, and the selectors showed great faith on his ability, regularly picking him as the number three in the team despite also having Ricky Ponting in the squad.

In the end, just four hundreds from 46 Tests and a modest average of 34.02 did scant justice to his talents. The NSW favouritism theory was popular in South Australia when he was excluded from the 1996 World Cup team, but no one in Adelaide can complain about the fact that he had more than enough chances to establish himself in the Test squad.

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Michael Di Venuto
Unlike Blewett, Di Venuto never had enough chances to show his ability at the highest level. He represented Australia in just nine ODIs. However, he later used his Italian connection to represent them in T20 WC qualifiers.

For the most part of his career he remained a prolific scorer for Tasmania in Shield cricket and for Derby and Durham in the county circuit.

Tom Moody
An all-rounder ideally suited to ODI cricket, Moody was a vital member of the 1999 World Cup team. Less well known is the fact that he was also a part of the 1987 team.

Australia went into this event as a rank outsider having lost their previous five ODIs. Moody was one of the new faces brought in as part of the rebuilding program. But he failed in his middle-order role and it was his WA teammate Michael Valletta who played the key role in the knock-out matches.

His brief Test career ended in 1992 when he was tried unsuccessfully as an opener during the Sri Lanka tour.

Stuart Law
My first pick for this side, and my selection for the captaincy job, little needs to be said about Law. His 54* against Sri Lanka has ensured a permanent place for him in the list of one-Test wonders. He did play 54 ODIs, but even there his role was more of a fringe all-rounder.

He at least finds his place in the folklore of Queensland cricket, having led them to their long overdue first Sheffield Shield title.

Michael Bevan
The great finisher of ODI matches finds his place in my team as the specialist spinner. After an impressive Test debut on the slow pitches of Pakistan in 1994, his deficiency against quality fast bowling on quicker pitches became apparent to everyone.

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But then the Aussie selectors in a shrewd move picked him as the second spinner to support Shane Warne on a spin-friendly track at the Adelaide Oval against the West Indies in January 1997. The selectors reckoned that there was simply no other spinner available for the job at the time. Bevan took the centre stage, taking 4-31 and 6-82 plus scoring 85* batting at number seven as the home side recorded an innings victory. This win ensured Australia’s first series win against the Windies at home since the Chappells’ era.

However, success in Test cricket was rare for Bevan and he is best remembered for his ODI batting.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 27: Michael Bevan of Tasmania in action during day four of the Pura Cup match between the Victorian Bushrangers and the Tasmianan Tigers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on February 27, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Paul Reiffel
It is generally accepted that injuries denied Reiffel a long international career. But other factors also contributed.

Reiffel was seen as an old-fashioned medium-pacer who would bowl long spells, taking three or four wickets and keeping things generally tight. Unfortunately, with Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in the team, Australia didn’t really need a bower like that.

They needed Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee more as they would take wickets quickly even when going for some runs. Then there was Colin Miller, who offered variety in the bowling.

Also, Reiffel was a capable lower-order bat, making useful contribution down the order, but these efforts seldom made the highlights.

Phil Emery
The presence of Ian Healy meant the highly reliable NSW keeper ended up playing just one Test against Pakistan in 1994. In the pre-IPL and Big Bash days, such stories were familiar for many wicketkeepers: a long and distinguished first-class career with little time in the limelight.

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Andy Bichel
Another well known story. He played 19 Tests for Australia, along with numerous 12th-man duties. And he was a vital member of the 2003 World Cup-winning team.

Like Stuart Law, he enjoys a folk-hero status in Queensland.

Jo Angel
He played four Tests for Australia, but two of those were in Pakistan, often the graveyard for hit-the-deck type bowlers like Angel.

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He was at his best at his home ground of the WACA. He did play two Tests there, and while he struggled against the Windies in his debut match in 1993, his 3-65 against England in 1995 would suggest that he had more to offer for the Australian national team.

Sadly his international career ended that season, although he remained a loyal servant to WA cricket for many more years.