February 18, 2009

Michael Jeh

The New Australia

Michael Jeh

At the end of a long summer of international cricket that began in Bangalore and finished in Sydney, one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all doom and gloom for the average Australian cricket fan. Beaten comfortably by a resurgent India, ambushed in their own backyard by the resilient South Africans and then mugged by the Kiwi’s, it hasn’t been the sort of summer that we’ve been used to since … well since ... the early days of Border’s captaincy in the 1980s.

Despite that, I get the feeling that this summer brought with it a genuine sense of enjoyment, perhaps brought upon by the realisation that each and every match was a genuine 50/50 contest. Speaking to members of my local cricket club, knowledgeable without necessarily being experts, patriotic without necessarily being one-eyed, disappointed at the losses without necessarily being distraught, it strikes me that many Aussies are philosophical about the see-sawing fortunes of the national team.

There is almost an inevitability about their acceptance of the current state of affairs, almost as if it is only fair that we too must now learn the art of occasionally losing games of cricket with equanimity and grace. No great gnashing of teeth or looking for excuses – most of the people I spoke to were prepared to accept that winning can no longer be taken for granted. What’s more, there was even a grudging acceptance that it might actually be the best thing for the game.

I must confess to being a tad surprised by this relatively sanguine attitude until I realised that even the cricketers themselves might have sensed, deep in their souls, that the great era of dominance was soon to be no more. Watching their on-field behaviour this summer, there was none of the snarling and boorishness that characterised previous teams. They played it hard, they played it fair and they accepted the triumphs and disappointments with good grace. The series in India was perhaps a bit testy (both teams were guilty at times) but both South Africa and New Zealand played the game in the sort of spirit that made it easy for all three teams to play uncompromising cricket without crossing that invisible line.

There seems to be a general acceptance that the much vaunted depth in Australian domestic cricket proved to be somewhat of a false promise. For many years, Australian cricket prided itself on the belief that it could turn out two or three XI's that would beat most other countries. The performance of the new kids on the block this summer has laid that theory to rest. Our depth is solid without being spectacular, certainly no hint of a genuine world-class cricketer in the Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist mould. That realisation has been sobering but it hasn’t been depressing. It’s almost as if we’ve been relieved of that burden.

The middle part of Australia’s game, in both Tests and ODI’s remain the biggest area of concern amongst the average cricket follower. They point to an unconvincing middle order and the lack of a genuine spin bowler as the main reasons for some tame performances midway through an innings, batting or bowling. In ODI cricket especially, Australia looked very vulnerable in that 20-40 over stage of the match. When you compare David Hussey and Michael Clarke’s bowling to the likes of Vettori, Botha, Harbajhan, Muralidaran and Mendis, it is easy to see why we miss the class of Warne and Hogg in the middle part of our bowling innings. With the bat, the current middle order is a far cry from the Martyn, Waugh, Lehman, Bevan, Symonds heyday. Admittedly, without Gilchrist and Hayden to set the innings alight, everything else that follows must work with less credit in the bank. The credit crunch has hit Australia hard!

Credit where credit’s due though – there’s great admiration for some classy opposition players too. Gambhir, Laxman and Zaheer Khan were outstanding in India. Duminy, De Villiers, Steyn, Smith and Kallis were given due credit for their talents whilst Vettori commands enormous respect for his craft. This summer, Australians really appreciated the skill of the opposition teams instead of merely looking for someone to blame. Many people merely said "we were outplayed".

The confusion and angst lies with the selectors – most Aussie fans confess to being a bit bemused by the logic of some selections. Who is the best spin bowler in the country? How does someone who has never played a first-class game get an Australian cap (Warner)? Why are the two form (best?) batsmen, Brad Hodge and Lee Carseldine, ignored by the selectors? If Cameron White is not going to get a bowl, is he amongst the top 5 pure batsmen in the country? Our selection panel are discovering that it’s not quite a bed of roses when you haven’t got ‘all-time greats’ in the mix. Those teams virtually picked themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a lament for the dead, nor is it a denial of the bleeding obvious. It’s not panic stations and it's not hiding from the truth either. Most people accept that we’re a pretty good team playing against other very good teams who have the weaponry to put us away if we have a bad day. No shame in being competitive, no shame in occasionally coming second in a tight contest. In fact, this summer of cricket has actually brought a lot of people back to the game. It just goes to show that winning isn’t everything – a genuine contest, played hard and fair, without any of the 'silly stuff' has everyone buzzing about cricket again.

Can’t wait for the South African series. And the Ashes…

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by ramzees on (February 25, 2009, 1:20 GMT)

TBoy, get over it mate. you got it all wrong. listen to ashu and revist those replays - Or it may be the case as in the old saying that goes this way - "you could wake up a sleeping man, but you cant wake up a man pretending to sleep". accept the fact and get on with it - its already 3 series old - watch out for the knock out in SA.

Posted by ashu on (February 24, 2009, 15:59 GMT)

Tboy

good to see you bring the point of Gautam Gambhir. Strange you aussies newver want to see who started it. Please see the clippings, You see this guy (Watson) threatening with arms raised. Is that Cricket.

Natural justice is also that you punish the aggressor, which is a must, but what about the guy who started it all. No comments eh..

Same was the case with McGrath and Sarwan, which Tboy will conveniently forget what say.

Posted by Roger@1stSlip on (February 21, 2009, 22:14 GMT)

Thanks David.

Yes, I agree that the openers used to make the middle-order's life alot easier. Ponting it seems has particularly suffered from having to come in much earlier in the innings than when Langer & Hayden were together. He's averaged only in the 30's in recent Test Series (v India, NZealand, SAfrica) which is markedly down on his career Test average which is well over 50.

Posted by David on (February 21, 2009, 9:56 GMT)

Roger@1stSlip, while I agree that the openers used to make the middle order's life easier, there's just one little detail worth mentioning: Clarke has not struggled, but has generally thrived under the pressure. His average over the last 12 months is 56.61. This includes a sub-par series in India (ave. 35.85), which is more than offset by an exceptional series against SA (ave. 76.60). The middle order has struggled primarily because of Hussey's form slump (ave in last 12 months: 34.33; ave. v SA: 17.00).

Posted by Roger@1stSlip on (February 20, 2009, 13:04 GMT)

Yes..the Australian midlle-order is suddenly looking vulnerable but there is a reason why. Until their recent retirments Hayden & Langer would invariably put on at least 100 for the first wicket so the middle order could come in and - in relative terms - relax and play their natural game knowing that there were runs in the bank. It is much harder for a middle-order to play with confidence if they are coming in at eg 2 for 23 or 3 for 37 as they've had to more recently. Put simply Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke have not been used to coming in at 3 for 37. In the same way, when Langer & Hayden were around Ponting was used to coming in at 1 for 107. Now he is invariable having to come in at eg 1 for 11 and face the new ball which frankly at times he has looked susceptible to.

Posted by Boydo on (February 20, 2009, 1:32 GMT)

The problem is that we have a whole generation of 'fans' who have never seen Aus lose. I grew up watching in the 80's when we didn't win anything! But now we have yobbos and media crying foul at every loss. We NEVER win in India, what did everyone expect with Hayden/Hussey/Lee/Clark out of form or injured against a talented Indian side? I agree with David, our middle order is very solid, with Hus back in form it is even better and as good as any teams. P.Hughes is a genuine talent and Katich is in great form. Unfortunately Lee & Clark may be gone for good, but Siddle looks promising and Bollinger has bowled brilliantly the last few seasons for NSW Hopefully the selectors do away with the all-rounder idea and just pick the best 6 batsmen and the best 4 bowlers. I have to agree Michael, I have no idea how Warner made it the ODI team or how Hodge can be left out of the Test side. The man scored 200 in last test..AGAINST SA!!!!!!!!!

Posted by David on (February 19, 2009, 13:51 GMT)

As an Australian, I agree with most of Michael's sentiments. I'm a little confused, though, as to whether he's referring primarily to the ODI or Test team. The Aus middle order in ODIs is a bit directionless, but in Tests it is, on paper at least, pretty much as strong as the middle order of their recent great teams ... Ponting, Clarke, and Hussey are world class, and while Haddin isn't Gilchrist, he has a better average than Dhoni, Boucher and McCullum. The no.6 slot is a definite weakness with Symonds and Watson out of the picture, but even still, that's a very strong lineup. What's mystifying is that the batsmen seem to have done worse than the bowlers this summer, when it should be the opposite ... Warne & McGrath should be much harder to replace than Martyn and Langer, so why has the Test batting been so brittle? Hopefully Hussey is coming out of his form slump (if ODI form can be transferred to tests). If so, the Aus batting should have more spine this series.

Posted by Brendanvio on (February 19, 2009, 11:50 GMT)

The fall was always going to happen, but it has been not as dramatic as what some thought. We lost to india in india and that was expected. We lost 2-1 to sa, but the series was tighter than it sounds, often the result bearing on a single session. It will be an intriguing 2009, we'll have a better idea of how we're travelling after the sa tour.

Posted by Tboy on (February 19, 2009, 11:17 GMT)

When Aus was winning & dominating Jeh used the term “the Aus.” He sees a new team losing & now its “us, our etc” Flexible patriotism offers many advantages just ask Tony Greig. Perhaps Mr Jeh is ignoring the salient point that the Kiwis & SAfricans know what a sledge is: a statement designed to psychologically engage & upset the opponent. If its your game to fire back, go for it. If you lose your cool trying to reply don’t bother & focus on your game. (eg G Smiths 1st aus tour vs his 2nd)Jeh is not shy of a few words in reply to posts on this forum & I bet that hes not short of a word or two when he takes the field either. As for the tour of India I wonder if jeh will write up about Gambhirs stupidity in throwing a cursory elbow at Watson when India were thrashing Aus when Gambhir could merely have resorted to the tried and true maxim: look at the scoreboard. I wonder when jeh will write about India & its esoteric collection of the most fined individual in world cricket?

Posted by Ben on (February 19, 2009, 10:34 GMT)

Yeah go on, write off the team, write off the depth and chuckle while you may. This is another lull but Australia does have the depth yet - this is all bar 3 players a 2nd XI we could have fielded last year. And still there are guys pushing for places who could get picked. And still we nearly won both the test series we lost, the only series we were really outplayed was the one dayers at home. Wait for Magoffin to get a cap. Watch out for Marcus North in saffers. Phil Hughes.... Australia is 5 minutes away from being back on top - so everyone take advantage of this little window of opportunity, we will be dominating again very soon.....

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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