January 5, 2011

Fawlty Hours

Let us begin by listing the signs of promising improvement seen in the Australian cricket team today
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • Asif on January 6, 2011, 5:04 GMT

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

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • Asif on January 6, 2011, 5:04 GMT

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

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Kzmadds on January 6, 2011, 0:47 GMT

    "The bowlers might as well have been lobbing mangoes: up they tossed, splat went the bat." amazing line.... utterly funny.... :)

  • Chris Howard on January 6, 2011, 0:13 GMT

    I wouldn't keep Hussey. He's had his day. It's time to quit while he's on top. I'd slot Siddle into the middle group. I think he makes a handy number 3, just gotta pick him for the right grounds. And Hughes I think, like Hayden, Martyn and Katich, is a longer term prospect, who needs a couple more years learning to control his game.

  • Bcheezy on January 5, 2011, 23:43 GMT

    Why would you give Haddin "The Flick" he's a good player...

  • Anonymous on January 5, 2011, 22:19 GMT

    You stick with Clarke, Hughes and Smith ?

    Cameron White would add more than Clarke and Smith to the team. He can captain, field and bowl better than them. And is a betetr bat than Smith at least.

    Hughes is yet to past 50 in about 8 innings is he not ?

    Siddle - flick - as least he plays with heart. And if he works on his batting he will get even better,

  • Kanchan on January 5, 2011, 20:43 GMT

    You've hit the nail on the head here Christian.

    Now all we need is to put the nail in the coffin of the so-called "leader of the bowling attack" - or to paraphrase your analogy, the fruit salad tosser...

  • Grahame on January 5, 2011, 18:59 GMT

    Goodness - was it as good as that!!

  • Balajee on January 5, 2011, 17:56 GMT

    What's wrong with Haddin? Why won't u stick with haddin?

  • Greg on January 5, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    Chris: pretty damning stuff when you're proposing to give the flick to your whole pace-bowling attack. But who would you replace them with? And why on earth would you give Haddin the chop? He's been one of the few players to show the kind of solidity and ticker you're going to need as you rebuild.

  • Phoenix on January 5, 2011, 17:20 GMT

    There was a time when I hated the Australians but after this Ashes I really feel bad for them. Compared to the current Australian side I would take the pompous Australian side from the early 2000's any day. The current side looks like a bunch of Jokers celebrating for any and every wicket because it looks like they never expect any wickets to fall and when they get it it looks like joy and surprise to them when compared to the previous side who expects a wicket every ball of the game. Look the Shane Watson in the above picture celebrating after getting Cook out for 189. The previous side would have taken his wicket for granted even before the series.

  • Stabbo on January 5, 2011, 16:28 GMT

    I think that Ian Bell did feel the blow to the 'cobblers', but having just been booed by a full SCG crowd for not walking when he nicked it (and he did nick it!), he thought best not not show it. I have always enjoyed watching Ian Bell's career as he has always been easy on the eye. I even enjoyed his match winning innings in this years CB 40 Final against my beloved Somerset!

    But for the good of the game he really should have walked. I heard it, a 40,000 crowd heard it, and i imagine people jogging down by Sydney Harbour Bridge heard it! Bell and Prior knew they had a referal left and thought 'why not?' I don't think technology benefited the game of cricket in this case. Aleem Dar is a fine umpire.... and was made to look a bit of a fool

  • Anurag on January 5, 2011, 15:42 GMT

    Neat work, Chris...as always! Count me a fan... ;)

  • Phil on January 5, 2011, 15:12 GMT

    Drop Haddin. Really??

  • Afrikaner on January 5, 2011, 15:02 GMT

    The aussies knew it wasn't their daywhen Ian Bell hits a ton against you in Australia. I mean this guy is so weak that he needs to be hidden at No. 6 to prevent his fragile ego from collapsing.

  • Sesh on January 5, 2011, 14:13 GMT

    You'd consider sticking with Hughes (probably useless and not ready for Test cricket), Smith (totally useless and not ready for Test cricket) and Beer (who knows, but not ready for Test cricket), but you would drop Haddin (second-best batsman, saved one Test this series), Johnson (leading wicket-taker, won one Test this series), Siddle (hat-trick, two six-wicket hauls, emerging cricketer of the year) and Hilfenhaus (ok, no argument)? I suppose you'd probably refuse to pick Nathan Hauritz either, and you'd drop Hussey next series.

    It's because the selectors are like you that the Aussies are in such strife.

  • David on January 5, 2011, 14:05 GMT

    "That’s what happened when Shane Watson hit Ian Bell in the cobblers."

    They referred it and as there was no hotspot showing so he didn't actually get hit in the cobblers....

    Got to laugh at Botham calling Hughes a cheat - Don't you reckon Bell knew he hit that ball - same as Peterson knew he hit it in the last test. You heard Clark say they all know hotspot doesn't catch fine edges (if this is true then it has to go no better than snicko)- love to know what he said to Cook -" B - might have hit it - C - If you did it was a fine edge, worth a referral hey! could get lucky"

    What gets me is why did the Umpire give him out? On what basis did he make that decision. Fair enough if he said not out and the Aussie referred it and there was no evidence of an edge - but he gave him out, he must have heard a noise or saw the ball move of the edge - which it did- that Hotspot didn't show an edge makes him go hmm I was wrong! - does he 2nd guess all his decisions now?

    bah humbug

  • Al Curr on January 5, 2011, 14:02 GMT

    "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." - Best way I ever heard Test cricket described.

  • George on January 5, 2011, 13:38 GMT

    & then Ian Bell kicked them back in the cobblers by doing what EVERY Australian batsman would have done, calling for the review, riding his luck & making a good start count.

  • Dave Dudding on January 5, 2011, 13:10 GMT

    Why drop Haddin?

  • Gerry on January 5, 2011, 13:08 GMT

    When Cook/Trott/Anderson/Tremlett are made to look like Greenidge/Richards/Roberts/Holding then some serious rethinking is in order.

  • Greg on January 5, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Why would you flick Brad Haddin? And other than reflecting upon their date of birth, why would you consider keeping Hughes and/or Steve Smith?

  • Ishan Hirunaka on January 5, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    Nicely said..the only reason i watch cricket matches involving Australia is because i want them to lose. It's not because i hate them, but because my high intolerant levels to R.Ponting. Seriously he is a very good player, a very good batsman. But his attitude towards non-Australian players, media, match officials make neutral cricket lovers like me wanting Australia to lose. I felt bad today (3rd day in 5th test) seeing Australia toil. I was wondering why...aha Ponting is not playing..

  • Alex on January 5, 2011, 12:25 GMT

    Give the flick to Haddin and Siddle? Consider sticking with Beer and Hughes? As an England fan, I say get this man on the board of selectors at once.

  • David Wise on January 5, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    If you stuck with Smith - how would you play him? At 6 or 8? 7 seems to be the least suited position for him to play.

  • Richard S on January 5, 2011, 12:05 GMT

    You'd consider sticking with the lamentably bad Steve Smith and Phil Hughes but you would get rid of Haddin? Christian, for your next blog can you please do a run down of who you believe Australia's Test XI should be and why? Thanks.

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  • Richard S on January 5, 2011, 12:05 GMT

    You'd consider sticking with the lamentably bad Steve Smith and Phil Hughes but you would get rid of Haddin? Christian, for your next blog can you please do a run down of who you believe Australia's Test XI should be and why? Thanks.

  • David Wise on January 5, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    If you stuck with Smith - how would you play him? At 6 or 8? 7 seems to be the least suited position for him to play.

  • Alex on January 5, 2011, 12:25 GMT

    Give the flick to Haddin and Siddle? Consider sticking with Beer and Hughes? As an England fan, I say get this man on the board of selectors at once.

  • Ishan Hirunaka on January 5, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    Nicely said..the only reason i watch cricket matches involving Australia is because i want them to lose. It's not because i hate them, but because my high intolerant levels to R.Ponting. Seriously he is a very good player, a very good batsman. But his attitude towards non-Australian players, media, match officials make neutral cricket lovers like me wanting Australia to lose. I felt bad today (3rd day in 5th test) seeing Australia toil. I was wondering why...aha Ponting is not playing..

  • Greg on January 5, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Why would you flick Brad Haddin? And other than reflecting upon their date of birth, why would you consider keeping Hughes and/or Steve Smith?

  • Gerry on January 5, 2011, 13:08 GMT

    When Cook/Trott/Anderson/Tremlett are made to look like Greenidge/Richards/Roberts/Holding then some serious rethinking is in order.

  • Dave Dudding on January 5, 2011, 13:10 GMT

    Why drop Haddin?

  • George on January 5, 2011, 13:38 GMT

    & then Ian Bell kicked them back in the cobblers by doing what EVERY Australian batsman would have done, calling for the review, riding his luck & making a good start count.

  • Al Curr on January 5, 2011, 14:02 GMT

    "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." - Best way I ever heard Test cricket described.

  • David on January 5, 2011, 14:05 GMT

    "That’s what happened when Shane Watson hit Ian Bell in the cobblers."

    They referred it and as there was no hotspot showing so he didn't actually get hit in the cobblers....

    Got to laugh at Botham calling Hughes a cheat - Don't you reckon Bell knew he hit that ball - same as Peterson knew he hit it in the last test. You heard Clark say they all know hotspot doesn't catch fine edges (if this is true then it has to go no better than snicko)- love to know what he said to Cook -" B - might have hit it - C - If you did it was a fine edge, worth a referral hey! could get lucky"

    What gets me is why did the Umpire give him out? On what basis did he make that decision. Fair enough if he said not out and the Aussie referred it and there was no evidence of an edge - but he gave him out, he must have heard a noise or saw the ball move of the edge - which it did- that Hotspot didn't show an edge makes him go hmm I was wrong! - does he 2nd guess all his decisions now?

    bah humbug