January 5, 2011

Fawlty Hours

Christian Ryan
Alastair Cook finally fell to Shane Watson 11 short of a double-century, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day, January 5, 2011
Alastair Cook's eventual dismissal - for 189 - was just about all Shane Watson had to celebrate on a turgid day  © Getty Images
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Let us begin by listing the signs of promising improvement seen in the Australian cricket team today. Spinner Michael Beer did not bowl a no-ball. There end the signs of promising improvement.

The day dawned brimful of sparkle. Australia had not quite a half-chance but better than a quarter-chance of levelling this Ashes series 2–2. Rob Smyth, the Guardian’s majestic over-by-over wisecracker, thought this monstrously unjust. Like a ferret catcher with the smell of ferret in his nostrils, Smyth hunted down the following oddity: England’s batsmen, at the time of writing, were averaging 48.71 runs per wicket and Australia’s 29.37, a differential of 19.34, a differential like no differential England had ever known in the full sweep of Ashes history.

Hats off. It was a cracking stat. But it was about as relevant as pointing out that were this Ashes series played to Sheffield Shield rules (six points for a win, two points for a first-innings lead in a draw), then Australia (14 points) would top the table over England (12 points) – thanks to their fairly humungous 481 at the Gabba, and provided they did indeed win here in Sydney. Which pretty much immediately looked like a numpty-brained proviso.

This day first started to grate with the unveiling of a Steve Waugh statue between the changerooms and the practice nets. Immortalised in bronze was not Patrick Eagar’s 1989 Lord’s portrait of Waugh entering forward defensive heaven – left elbow to the sky, right knee grazing the turf – but Waugh in celebration pose, arms outstretched and baggy green doffed, after his last-ball-of-the-day ton in 2002–03. Boring – and not very likely to inspire a new generation of Stan McCabes among the boys being dragged to the cricket by their dads.

And then this day took a turn for the worse.

Five-day cricket is such a delicately balanced and structurally unimprovable invention, whereby the unforeseen happens almost daily yet still we don’t foresee it, that it is seldom ever dull. But from lunchtime onwards, the cricket gave the dictionary definition of “dull” a thorough working-over. The fielders were reduced to fetchers. The bowlers might as well have been lobbing mangoes: up they tossed, splat went the bat.

There was nothing for it but to dig into the filing cabinet and pluck out my treasured 1983–84 edition of the National Nine Tour Guide, with Imran Khan on the cover and Q&As with every Australian cricketer within cooee of making the Test team inside. For the seven-squillionth time in my life I marvelled at how neatly Australian cricketers of that era split into three camps: those whose favourite TV show was Minder (Wood, Chappell, Marsh, Boon, Dyson), those who liked the The Winners the best (Hughes, Marsh, Alderman) and those who preferred Fawlty Towers (Hogg, Yallop, Woolley).

I thought of the Australian XI of today, and how tidily, how uncannily, they too slot into three categories: Those I’d Stick With (Clarke, Watson, Khawaja, Hussey), Those I’d Consider Sticking With (Hughes, Smith, Beer) and Those I’d Probably Give The Flick (Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Hilfenhaus).

Then I went back to my 1983–84 tour guide. Jeff Thomson’s favourite TV show? “All documentaries.” Carl – the Catherine Oxenberg of the bowling crease – Rackemann’s? “Dynasty.”

You know it is not your day when, on the 708th ball of the innings, your medium pacer gets one to nip in devilishly and ping the batsman in the cobblers and the batsman does not even rub them, he simply straightens up and smiles. That’s what happened when Shane Watson hit Ian Bell in the cobblers. That’s the kind of day the Australian cricket team had today.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and, most recently Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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Posted by Anonymous on (January 7, 2011, 10:53 GMT)

England alot better than Australia. thats about it. We can all winge but we wont be the ones who select the teams or selectors. I didnt mind England winning. I had seen far enough of Australia flooging everyone. I do rememeber the joy of seeing Australia defeat The WI in 1995 in the defining test series that made the Aussies world champs. I look forward to that time again in the future! Maybe 6 or 7 years.

Posted by peter warrington on (January 7, 2011, 8:51 GMT)

you'd make a pretty good selector. where do Ponting and Katich sit - hopefully in the Gone Daddy Gone bleachers?

unsurprising the Perth boys loved the VFL the most - with Wood at his usual contrary best.

Rackemann's Dynasty choice is apt given that googleable interview where he claims credit for ending apartheid. sort of.

wonder if Tom was a Hogan's Heroes fan? Greg Matthews' telly was probably off so he could admire his refection in it.

Posted by khawaja Ikram Ul haq on (January 6, 2011, 10:34 GMT)

do u think u'll stick with clarke...?i'll stick with siddle as a stock bowler and probably bring in three new ball bowlers and okeefe...what australia need to succeed is the best opening batsmen in state cricket...dont go for talent but for those who perform when required...

Posted by Warrick on (January 6, 2011, 10:25 GMT)

None of the current heirachy are exactly sure why Australia is so poor at the moment. The facts of very poor preparation, incorrect & inconsistent selections, factions in the dressing room based around very big egos, poor succession plans, poor bowling accuracy, misfields, dropped catches, loose shots & lack of concentration appear to be escaping them. I saw their warm up in the nets at the SCG on Tuesday & was shocked. The coach was doing throwdowns, the skipper was speaking at a breakfast, the bowlers were batting & our batting coach was watching over our bowling allrounder/opening batsmen bowl to an empty net? WTF? No one ground fielding, no one slips catching & when our out of form skipper did have a bat, he had teenage net bolwers for fodder. For the reasons why we are so bad it's quite clear. Discipline, of which there is none. That's why they can't put six balls in the on the spot, why we lose wickets all day & why they don't take wicket opportunities when they arise!

Posted by Lindsay Went on (January 6, 2011, 7:24 GMT)

What's wrong with Haddin?!!

Article didn't quite hit the mark for me, but it's a tough job being an Aussie and writing a great article about the current side!!

Posted by hahapauli on (January 6, 2011, 6:53 GMT)

i think you're being far far far too nice....australia's meek capitulation was the worst of any Australian cricket team....in the history of the game..at least Pakistan in Sydney had the excuse they were cheating and had bet against themselves. i mean if in a Pakistan match there should have been such a dramitic drop off....EVERYONE would be asking the question. STILL the one person who seems to have sailed perfectly under the radar...is the coach Tim Neilson....HEY when half your team are playing very much below ''their considered best''...and you replace the other half only to find promising players become second rate...then one can only look into the coaches game. IT must now be clear....that australia's drop in form came NOT with the retirement of McGrath/Warne...but the installing of coach Neilson....the stats mush be impossible to ignore.

Posted by Asif on (January 6, 2011, 5:04 GMT)

WHAT Consider Sticking with Hughes??? and sticking with Clarke ???

Posted by GlinnMgraw on (January 6, 2011, 4:44 GMT)

Christian - Give Haddin the flick? Really?

And who would you propose should come into the test team to replace the three fast men you want to get rid of?

Posted by Shankar on (January 6, 2011, 4:25 GMT)

You would stick with Clarke but give a flick to Haddin and Siddle? What series have you been watching Mr Ryan?

Posted by Matt Ryan on (January 6, 2011, 0:58 GMT)

Hmmm. Interesting stick or flick theories you have there, Mr Namesake.

Flick: Haddin? One of your most consistent performing batsmen in the series, who has barely put a foot wrong with the gloves - it can't be easy trying to second guess which direction the next 93mph wide will come from, courtesy of Wanger Johnson.

Consider sticking with: Hughes? Wafty waver with a defence as solid as our UK border control.

Smith? The 'all-rounder' who bats like an epileptic lemming and bowls wristy leg-spin (cack-handed finger non-spin).

Beer? Some control, but about as much threat and venom as a headless snake in a wine bottle.

Stick with: Khawaja? Nice composure but on first inspection, gets more squared up than a Rubik's cube - cannon fodder for the likes of Zaheer Khan.

And, finally, Clarke?!? Barely a decent score in 2010, never mind the series. Brought in a silly mid off for Cook yesterday, when on 136no, without a single run being scored thru the V. Genius captaincy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Ryan
Christian Ryan lives in Melbourne, writes and edits, was once the editor of The Monthly magazine and Wisden Australia, and now bowls low-grade, high-bouncing legbreaks with renewed zeal in recognition of Stuart MacGill's retirement and the selection opportunities this presents. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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