As the Australian Cricket XI begin the first day of the Test match against Sri Lanka I look carefully at the selected side and see two teams within a team.
With day one of the Test match completed the first of those ‘mini-teams’, the bowlers, have proven their world-class status. Mitchell Starc, despite a recent run down on form, is still the premier strike bowler with an exceptional record of just under 30. Patrick Cummins is the 25-year-old bull who charges in and bustles for his wickets and is getting better with each test. Jyhe Richardson, the debutant, looks fiery and fast despite his slight frame, proving the depth of our bowling stocks at domestic level. And of course the GOAT, Nathan Lyon, the best off-spinner and fourth highest Australian wicket taker (soon to be third highest after a test match or three). All chipped in on the first day at the GABBA, including notably Richardson, who bowled a menacing and probing line to pick up three genuine fast bowling wickets.
Then the second of the two teams, the batsmen.
This is when the questions begin to arise from a whole array of different forums.
Have we ever seen such a lackluster team? As the second day of the Test match begins, the hosts chasing down a miserable 144 from Sri Lanka, the pressure is mounting on this shaky batting order with two wickets already having been lost. Those two wickets are of the only two batsmen in the side that have scored test centuries.
It may be the first time ever in history that Australia have fielded a team with only two centurions, not only that but the grand total of tons between Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja is 10. Certainly not a number to have supporters excited about.
Fair, Harris is in only his second series, Patterson is a debutant and Head has also played only six test matches, but how does the team get to this state, with a plethora of inexperience down the order. Even the captain, the ever solid Tim Paine, has a highest score in the 90’s.
On that point, it is ludicrous to think that one of those batsman, Travis Head, has assumed the vice-captaincy role after only six tests with his co-VC going to the 25-year-old Patrick Cummins, who I think is worth of the spot.
Obviously there is a huge hole left by David Warner and Steve Smith after sandpaper-gate, but it seems unreasonable that we can go from being competitive to shambolic with the loss of two great players.
There are a number of things that I think Cricket Australia need to consider.
1. The lack of talent coming through. Shocking as it may the lack of centurions in the national side it is actually difficult to identify other batsmen who deserve those spots. Shaun Marsh has had chance after chance and never cemented his spot, Moises Henriques has been around for a while though and barring a stellar year from Matthew Wade (what does he have to do to get a gig!?) the pressure from below is lacking. Your top side is only as good as your talent pool and at this time in cricket history it is lacking.
2. A concession plan is needed. It is apparent that the Australian Cricket Team is picked from the players performing at domestic level, the players in form at the time. In this day and age, that system is not good enough. Organisations around the world groom their talent with elite coaching and training, and from a young age. Cricket Australia only has to look at their winter rivals in AFL to see a successful formula, where youngsters are identified and developed to a point where they can flourish at the elite level. It also gives Cricket Australia a chance to instil the morals and character into its players, traits that have been questioned by the public of late. The difficulty here is the seeming divide and tension between state bodies and the governing body, with archaic and inefficient domestic organisations working against Cricket Australia, or perhaps the latter imposing too much on its constituents. Either way that relationship needs to be repaired, more training programs need to be carried out at the top level for talented individuals and incentives for State teams to have international players have to be present.
3. The Big Bash may provide a financial benefit to the organising body and perhaps it is encouraging a new generation of cricketers in some situations from a different market. Despite this, Big Bash has undermined the quality of Test cricket. Players coming through have a different temperament and have disregarded technique for power and boundaries. Players aren’t transitioning. The length of the Big Bash as well means the limited overs format is shortened and the long form of the game is also neglected. Players don’t get a chance to settle and practice patience in these games, aspects that are crucial to success.
Until Cricket Australia address these points we will continue to see underpay performances from our top side. Sure, some talented individuals may come along and wring out success for a few years, but sustainable success is not possible under the current model.
Looking at the series as it stands, we hope for the inexperience to success and we beat Sri Lanka. However, don’t forget we are only months away from a world-class side in England and an Ashes series overseas. I think the inexperience may be found out…