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March 8, 2013

Australia

The worst Australians since the last lot

Matt Cleary
That's what they look like - choppers. Woodsman  © BCCI
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Well. That was bad. Back-to-back obliterations against India; a top-order more clueless than George Bush on Mastermind; spinners who don't. Chowed down upon in Chennai. The Horror Show of Hyderabad. It's been emotional. And even embarrassing.

But the worst Australian team ever? Please.

I can think of two others.

In '78-79, Kerry Packer had made off with Dennis Lillee, Len Pascoe, Rod Marsh, Doug Walters, David Hookes and three Chappells, and left a mob of clubbies and Shield players (Peter Toohey! Geoff Dymock!) to battle the Poms for the Ashes.

England went up 2-0 before Australia won the third Test, moving captain Graham Yallop to declare, "We will win!" We lost 5-1. Mike Brearley's Poms - Bob Willis, Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham, David Gower, Graham Gooch, crazy Derek Randall - were super cricketers, and we hated them like Dick Dastardly. (Well, except for Randall, he was a kook.)

The WSC guys came back and order was restored until 1985 when Kim Hughes retired in tears. When he and a dozen or so Test-quality players (John Dyson, Carl Rackemann, Terry Alderman, Rodney Hogg) took Ali Bacher's Krugerrand in South Africa, we were back into the abyss.

Greg Matthews (speaking of kooks) was the best player beside Allan Border, and the team lost 2-1 at home to New Zealand and scraped a draw against India (0-0). A couple of years later, Australia beat New Zealand 1-0* when last man Mike Whitney survived an over against Richard Hadlee. That's what we cheered about then: survival.

When the Poms came again in '86-87, Australia had one class batter (Border), some quality but injury-prone pacemen (Bruce Reid, Craig McDermott) and a batting order more brittle than sun-baked peanut brittle. It was a team that could not: catch; field; run between wickets; effect run-outs; play spin; play pace; play swing; play.

They were lacking in several other disciplines too.

Chris Broad, meanwhile, batted for the entire series - upright, bat raised, left-handed, ubiquitous. Graham Dilley bowled beautiful, hooping outswingers that Mike Gatting clapped overhead from the slips. We were hammered.

Players were drafted in and shafted out, and new blokes' kit bags were stuffed in toilets (true). Men were on tenterhooks, wondering should they have taken the Krugerrand rather than hang about, being abused in the streets by urchins (sorry Mr Ritchie).

They were dark days indeed. But there were excuses. Legends retired. The Test team was gutted.

Today? Today there are no excuses. But there are reasons. And there is hope.

Hope? What? Yes, there is hope. For despite being annihilated in two Tests by India, who were beaten 2-1 by England - and this before ten straight Ashes Tests - all is not lost. That's why they call it audacious, hope.

Paul Marsh, CEO of the Australian Players' Association, acknowledges the severity of two drubbings but he does make the point that no Australia team - apart from the ridiculously great side of 2004 - has won in India since 1968. And the pitches in India don't really compare to those the Ashes will be contested on.

There's also the question of how to replace Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey. Marsh counsels against the "hysteria" that comes with Australia not doing well and reckons the current group should be invested in.

"The keeper's batting at No. 6, there are bowling allrounders at No. 7 and No. 8. Then nine, ten, Jack. Good night, nurse. Remember six batters, keeper and four bowlers? That used to work, didn't it?"

The man can make a case, but it's the manner of these losses, the capitulations. The lack of … well, you wouldn't say an Australian team lacks grit. You don't come up through first-class cricket without bark.

But my - it's been ordinary.

Let's start with selections. I mean, I like Moises Henriques. But Moises Henriques? He played a couple of fine hands in the first Test, and took a couple of wickets. But he's scored one (1) first-class century. He's taken 79 first-class scalps at 28, which is okay. But how has it earned him the trip?

They call Glenn Maxwell "Big Show" and that's a cracking nickname. And he took four wickets when the deck was turning on the third day at Hyderabad. And good luck to him. But Maxwell a Test player? A slow-bowling allrounder batting at No. 8? This is Australia's other spinner? I hope he proves me wrong. But his apprenticeship has been short-form giggle cricket, not years of hard-boned sunstroke and slog.

Nathan Lyon has looked one-dimensional the last few months. And he took some tap from MS Dhoni. But everyone did. Now, fair enough you might replace him. But with Xavier Doherty? He has six wickets at 72, including three in Hyderabad. He was picked for this series on the back of two (2) Shield wickets at 80. He's 30-years-old. He's a good fellah, X-Man. But if he was gonna he'd have dunna.

And they took over Steven Smith. Where to start … I mean … why? For the love of dear sweet Mr Lillee why? Steven Smith? In the Test squad? You may want to give someone experience on Indian wickets but don't hand out Test caps to learn if they can cut it.

I don't get it. The keeper's batting at No. 6. There are bowling allrounders at No. 7 and No. 8. Then nine, ten, Jack. Good night, nurse. Remember six batters, keeper and four bowlers? That used to work, didn't it?

The top-order? Abominable. I had a yarn with Ed Cowan once about his success after moving to Tasmania, and one thing he said rings true today: "Playing for NSW, I personally felt I was always playing for my spot in the team. And when that happens you probably want to survive rather than score runs, which is a dangerous attitude as a top-order batsman."

Apart from Michael Clarke they're batting like choppers. That's what they look like - choppers. Woodsman. Calloused, hard hands; great thumping lumberjacks felling mighty redwoods. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have turned them into bad-dancing puppets.

The next in? Usman Khawaja appears the obvious one to replace Phil Hughes. Looks like a batsman, Usman, an important asset for a batsman. Back at home, West Australian opener Chris Rogers is averaging 50-odd and has done so every season since '98-99. Brad Haddin is averaging 58. I'd stick with Matthew Wade but bat Haddin at six. There's a thousand other combinations being debated as we speak, in every possible media. Several involve RT Ponting, ME Hussey and BJ Hodge. How handy would those three be batting four-five-six for Australia? Answer: handier than a man with 72 hands.

There's more chance of three Chappells.

Like Marsh, I don't advocate Sack Them All. These guys are talented. And you can't buy experience in a shop. There are no shops that sell experience, unless you walk into the shop and go down a slide, and they call it an experience. There is that.

But we have to sack some of them. So, X-Man? Hughesy? Moises? Thanks. Get on the plane, Hadds and Steve O'Keefe, and pad up, Usman.

Whether it'll make a difference, I don't know.

But I do know this: Hyderabad is not Headingley. And so while our Englander chums yuk it up, equating the brown gravel of Chennai with the green swinging seamers of Trent Bridge, The Oval and Lord's, they should know this: Australia doesn't have great spinners. And the batting order needs tweaking. And the capital of Mozambique is Maputo.

But there's a dozen-plus high-quality quicks spilling out like murderous white orcs fresh from the goop. And another Worst Ever Australian Team is on the way.

*March 8, 1300 GMT - This was changed to reflect the fact Australia beat New Zealand, rather than drew 0-0

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Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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Posted by Mitch069 on (March 10, 2013, 7:22 GMT)

Matt is obviously a very knowledgable writer. For me the lack of planning from CA is a worry. It was obvious to most folks that Ponting was not going to make the Ashes series given that his only successful series was against the weaker Indian pace attack. We should have got a bloke such as Khawaja in earlier given he is one of the better number 3s around but we never planned properly. Hussey's retirement did throw me away alot. And for this tesw series we have picked guys to a bits and pieces role. Your top 6 in the order should be your top 6 batsmen in the country Your best wicketkeeper and your 4 best bowlers (who aren't bunnies which most Australian bowlers aren't these days) for the conditions. We have diluted the side with so many changes and rotations and last minutes 'gut feelings'.

Posted by Paul_Rampley on (March 9, 2013, 23:27 GMT)

Very informative article; albeit excluding our savior, 'Captain Clark', the Australian side needs to improve. Too many rogue shots, no matter of consistancy. Besides Clark, the only inkling of hope in the first 2 tests was from Pattinson. I would bring in Khawaja not only for this series and for the ashes as well. Why don't we go back to the basics of selecting a cricket team. Pick the best six batsmen in the country, pick the best wicket-keeper in the country and pick the best four bowlers in the country (including one spinner). From this group you select the Captain. Now if any player falls into more than one selection category, then you have a genuine "all rounder" and you can add another player from one of those categories. Then you add your reserve or flexibility players to the squad to cater for fitness, weather, pitch or other conditions. It really is quite simple and served us well for many years.

Posted by mk49_van on (March 9, 2013, 16:13 GMT)

What makes the Aussies believe that they can bat better against a better bowling attack? Blaming defeats on 'dustbowls' is bogus talk - it was swing that reduced the Aussies to nothing for 3 on the first day in Hyderabad and they never recovered after that.... Aussies don't have the batting to cut it - whatever the conditions.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (March 9, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

@jonesy2: " i just think oh well this person literally has no clue what they are talking about and pretty much everything they say is the opposite to reality" ---

Don't be too hard on yourself jonesy. When one starts describing bowlers like Lyon and Maxwell as 'the best in the world', it was bound to come unstuck at some point.

Posted by Beertjie on (March 9, 2013, 14:48 GMT)

Great article. Yes Rogers needs a shot. When Hodge played the Saffers in '05 he got a double century he was that hungry. Will the NSP learn anything from this disaster - there's so much to learn, but will they? Can they see Swann dismissing LHBs? Can they see the need for a keeper who can keep standing up? Can they mix and match promising newbies with experienced old hands in the away conditions? Probably not, if their selections for India were a barometer! By all means give Hughes and Watson a go in England, but do they have to be in the first team? Same with Lyon and Wade. Give other players a shot. Trent Bridge will likely swing so my team there would be Rogers, Watson, Warner, Clarke, Khawaja, Doolan or Ferguson, Haddin, O'Keefe, Pattinson, Starc, Harris. SO'K is guaranteed KP as his first 2 wickets and he'll get a few runs too! The quicks will get the rest and then it'll be a batting competition. It won't be India but it will sure be competitive - that'll satisfy us all!

Posted by hycIass on (March 9, 2013, 11:51 GMT)

Finally a expert in the game saying the basics, go with 6 batsman, a keeper and 4 bowlers, not half baked allrounders in Maxwell and others who are good in the shorter format but not test cricket. Same goes for Smith sho is more suited to the shorter format and there are better options at home for test cricket. Khawaja should pad up as he is one of the few young batsman whose batting hasn't been ruined by T20 cricket and is tailored made for test cricket so lets get him in. The point Cowan made is a very good one, if you are simply trying to survive then all you will want to do is survive and Khawaja can write a book on that as he always gets 1-2 games at a time. I would either go for SOK or Haurtiz as our other and fly them in and play them with Lyon. And if you have bought Lyon as your main spinner then give him the remaining games, he got key top order wickets in the last game he played and should have played ahead of Maxwell. Lets hope one of the selectors reads this

Posted by Mary_786 on (March 9, 2013, 11:03 GMT)

Fantastic piece here by Cleary, haven't read too much of his work but this is good. A good point made was that Australia's pitches are being designed to a likeness and as Warne indicated, they are not encouraging spin on these wickets. Its not just a dearth of coaching, its also wickets that arent allowing spin bowlers to develop their skills and wickets not designed to make batsmen work hard against spin for their wickets thereby improving both. It seems obvious that Watson, Cowan and Hughes have serious problems against good spin. Cowan being more careful in his approach probably handles spin better, but lacks the range of batting skills to take advantage of it. Got no idea how Khawaja would go because he has had virtually no serious opportunities though in one of his three trial innings he looked as if he was handling spin well, but he ran out of time to exploit it ending with 30 not out. I suspect though that Khawaja may have the game to at least offer some resistance against spin.

Posted by Sunil_Batra on (March 9, 2013, 10:53 GMT)

Good article. The stark reality is that our Test team has been mismanaged by incompetent selection, poor player motivation and performance seemingly without consequences, Typically, our national teams' results always head in a downwards spiral once the role of head coach is awarded to a non Australian. Border should be called to run the cricket team after the current crop finishes and Lehman should be our next coach. As for the current crop Khawaja deserves a real crack and should be given the same amount of games as Hughes has had and even half of what Cowan has had. He can be our long term test batsman. How many players are walk up starts? Clarke, Pattinson….I'm struggling after that. We wouldn't lose anything if Wade was replaced with Haddin, Paine or Nevill. Even Watson is not the guarantee he once was. This tour will make and break a few careers so alot to look forward to in the coming 2 tests.

Posted by geedubnz on (March 9, 2013, 10:24 GMT)

jonesy perhaps the point is its hard to tell which type maxwell is as he appears equally shite at both to the neutral observer. This article hit the nail on the head. Australia have been obsessed with picking second rate allrounders since 2007 under some misguided belief that a poor allrounder is better than no allrounder at all. Which is patently ridiculous and the rest of the cricket world knows this.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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