Where do we begin dissecting the Australian Cricket Team?
Is it the team who has entered their worst short-format losing streak and who succumbed to their second lowest ODI total at home this century?
The two Aussie captains from the Test and One-day arena, who have shown glimpses but have ultimately failed to inspire the national XI?
Or is it the governing body, who’s had their chairmen jump ship last week and received damming reports about toxic Cricket Australia culture?
One thing is for sure, spare a thought for the besieged coach who has inherited a shambles of a team with shaky support from above. Justin Langer has failed to land a punch since he took the reigns as the head honcho.
Where is the fix coming from? Everyone involved in the sport only needs to take a look back a generation or so to the team that Justin Langer belonged to, the Australian team that dominated the nineties and 2000’s, for a blueprint that can lead our cricketers back to regaining the respect of the sporting population and to ascending the world standings.
That team, ‘The Untouchables’, was full of great characters. Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matt Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were all colourful cricketers who played to win. They were aggressive and competitive, but their determination was overseen by the overarching principal that they played fairly. These qualities were instilled by the captain, Steve Waugh, who would play injured, would dig deep if he needed to, and would attack relentless if given the opportunity. Waugh’s character was built on a generation of cricketers bullied by scary Windies quicks and strong leaders, like Allan Border and David Boon. Waugh’s side demanded respect because they respected each other, despite the colourful characters there was an adherence to the rules and standards, and they celebrated success through this prism.
Culture defined and success accomplished, the administration at this stage had the ample opportunity to build on the sport, to continue encouraging the longer format on the game on the back of the previous role-models, and to tap into their achievements for the next generation.
Instead, there was a push towards Twenty20 cricket and the governing body grew to become arrogant. The disconnect between management and the players appears to be extensive. From player disputes, to over scheduling to an increased demand, the faith between the two appears to has been severed.
For whatever reason as well, the next generation of cricketers appear to be more petulant and conceited than ever before. Perhaps it is a generational difference, or perhaps with more focus on the shorter formats of the game, players have forgotten what it takes to dig in, work hard and bat time. Sure batsman are encouraged to lash and hit out during Twenty20’s and bowlers required to experiment and attack, but at the games core there is value in being able to preserve your wicket.
Twenty20 cricket in Australia, the Big Bash league has inadvertently bastardised the longer formats of the game.
By no means should we be rid of the Big Bash. It is a roaring success and indeed the future of the sport, but the administration and coaching staff at the top need to teach more versatility in our cricketers. Batsman need to learn where to go large and when to buckle down. Bowlers need to learn when to attack for wickets, and when to bowl consistently on the spot. With Twenty20 dominating the scene around and over Christmas, players can be forgiven to losing their touch for unlimited overs cricket, but they need to learn to adapt quicker.
Basically, the solution falls at Sheffield Shield cricket. Hark back to my comments on ‘the Untouchables’, well beneath them were domestic stars in their own right, Matthew Elliot, Mickey Maher and Jo Angel were all heroes in their own right, who couldn’t make the national side, but would be walk up starters today. They played in a state league which was prestigious and revered. The country generation look towards the shorter formats, to the Australian and overseas Twenty20 tournaments which will rake in a larger pay check.
The solution is nurturing the domestic game. Play some Sheffield Shield before the home Test series and let the players practice the longer form of the game. Put some money towards the state contracts that makes more sportsman attracted to the sport. Put it on free-to-air, at what every cost, to promote the domestic game. Take some dosh from the Big Bash, it is making a killing, and build up the prestige of the Test team.
It is easier to go from a stodge to a tonker than the other way round. That should be the beginning point, learning to grind an innings rather than whack. The focus has become skewed in recent years and a reset is required.
The NRL is built on State of Origin footy, and the AFL has had consistent bleating from the sport’s traditionalist to bring contests between the states back in a working format.
Cricket HAS an easy to tap into, parochial, state of origin contest, ready to go now! Instead of encouraging that contest however they are looking to franchise, and grow outwards, which has eroded the strong, foundations built by cricket administrations of the past.