Australia March 8, 2013

The worst Australians since the last lot

Australia need to make changes to the team of lumberjacks that have chopped themselves down in India - but those yukking it up in England should know that we've seen worse and haven't given up on the Ashes yet

That's what they look like - choppers. Woodsman © BCCI

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

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

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