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July 26, 2013

Bring the angst

Matt Cleary
England good? Now there's a bone that'll stick in an Aussie throat  © Getty Images
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There was a time in recent memory when Australia's cricket team was so strong that people became bored. Sure, we roared for the achievements of Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath, the Waughs, and all the rest, as they plundered cricket nation states like rapacious Vikings insatiably hungry for Christian gold. Sure, we did that.

But we didn't really roar when they won. It was expected. It wasn't news. There was no wow factor. It was just what the Australian cricket team did.

Which is why those two series against India in 2001 and England in 2005 were so brilliant, and memorable. Australia lost but the host nations played inspired Test cricket to beat us. And Test cricket ruled the world. (And when they came to Australia, we flogged them like so many horse thieves.)

The first Test of this Ashes series was a bit like that. What a game! The Poms scored 300-odd, Pete Siddle took five-fer, Ashton Agar nearly ripped off the most improbable Test ton of all time. Then the Poms batted well again, the Aussies stuffed up the DRS, and Brad Haddin and James Pattinson put on lots for the last wicket, only to lose by 14 measly runs and James Anderson's offcutter. What a game.

Yet that first Test made Australia's deficiencies less glaring because of Agar's, Pattinson's and Haddin's superb rearguard batsmanship. We didn't win but we thought, well, what a game. And how we fought! Like tigers. We can be proud of tigers.

But the second Test? Not so much. Indeed to lose by 347 runs… and maybe we have short memories but now it's like, how much can a koala bear? We wanted to see competition but these Poms are much too competitive. We still don't want them to win. We can't accept that the Poms are better. Truly, we can't. It's quite hard. But we're gonna have to. Because they are, and by some margin. It's arguable Australia's lust for winning is what kept Australia on top so long. But everyone wants to win. Australia just had an incredibly good team. Today England wants to win, a lot. And so do India. And so do Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Ireland.

Australia has had two major lulls in the 35 years I've been addicted to the blessed game. In 1978-79, Kerry Packer took off with the cream of the crop and the Poms beat Graham Yallop's boys 5-1. Then in 1984, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all retired at the same time Ali Bacher's krugerrand enticed 20 of the country's best players to pariah nation South Africa. And we lost to England a couple of times and even to New Zealand. New Zealand! It's like losing to Tasmania. Or Nauru. Or Guam.

Our excuse today? Dunno, really. Maybe T20. There are those arguing, and with some justification, that the Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League mean players are earning millions of dollars swinging like maniacs and tossing down crazy-pies, when they should be playing long-form first-class cricket against each other.

Why this Test squad won't go back to Australia and play three or four hard-fought Sheffield Shield games as a warm-up/rehearsal/audition for the next Test series, I don't know.

Well, I do. The Big Bash League is on, right in the middle of the Shield season, and running concurrently with the Ashes Test series. Understand there's a commercial imperative - that light's on and burning for the kids. But everyone's getting more money and the Test batsmen are getting worse. There's been a direct parallel. Sure blokes have retired. But since the Big Three of '84, we have succession now.

I dunno. I might be getting old. But I am growing to hate T20 cricket. Actually scrub that - I do hate it. It's fireworks - it excites children. It has no context. It has no point. It is another column.

That said, Indian players play more short-form bash cricket than anybody and they beat Australia 4-0 in the recent Test series. Mind you, they lost at home to England. If that happens in Australia we'll be hurting like we've been stabbed with forks. Perhaps it is moot. Perhaps Australia simply does not have good enough batsmen.

Actually scrub "perhaps". We do not. And for Australian cricket fans it's a time of angst and self-critique. How can we be so bad? And so we gaze achingly into our navels, our very souls, and pick everything to bits, never quite daring to believe the notion that we are just not very good. And that is not very good.

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

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Posted by Anand_S on (July 28, 2013, 2:45 GMT)

"Flogged them like horse thieves?" Sir.. after the 2001 series against India the next sereis in Australia was played in 2003-2004 which ended 1-1, with India being 1-0 up at the end of the second test and Australia was chasing their tail in the final test to save the series... thanks to a Steve Waugh master class and some pathetic wicketkeeping by Parthiv patel... You dont call 1-1 a "flogging". By any chance are you considering the 2011-2012 4-0 white wash of INdia revenge for the 2001 series??? I think there were at least 4-5 series played in between.

Posted by ball_boy on (July 27, 2013, 19:04 GMT)

Pah T20 or test cricket on flat wickets with nothing for the bowlers,hate cricket if it keeps on producing flat wickets for the batsmann yo make merry.Figures in 15 years instead of bowlers we will have machines bowling at the batsman.Actually this game is continuosly being tuned up to be a batsman game more like baseball except in baseball you need more stategy.First helmets and then limiting bouncers to protect batsmans,it is clearly evident that the batsmans of old were way better than now,that a ricky ponting,sachin tendulkar or brian lara cannot hold a candle in front of Gavaskar,Bradman, Headly and so many others.Cause if they say no comparing generations then take a note from boxing,its said those who fear or in whom fear of the getting hurt is imprinted in their minds,their career is as good as done.So no reverse shot on a fast ball or even a hook for that matter if the old conditions were present now.So all i ask put a 30% money on the pitches.

Posted by   on (July 27, 2013, 15:04 GMT)

" If that happens in Australia we'll be hurting like we've been stabbed with forks."

Didn't Australia lose 3-1 at home to England?

Posted by   on (July 26, 2013, 20:11 GMT)

Couldn't agree more. Sometimes you just have to take the beating, even if you play your best, because others can be better, and you Aussies have had plenty of experience of that, including bringing the very best out of others.

If you love test cricket then t20 appears so banal and dull in comparison, there is no respect for the craft and the excitement of a day 5 run/wicket chase has the tension and excitement that evolves from the hard work it takes to get there.

Posted by paapam on (July 26, 2013, 15:51 GMT)

Matt the team per se is not that weak. It needs a leader who can heal. Even a short term Simpson like figure. Clarke will become one of Australia's all time batting greats if he is allowed to concentrate on his batting and his back. He is no leader of men.

Posted by   on (July 26, 2013, 15:46 GMT)

Mate you get it now, just like they did at the height of the Packer "Revolution". Greg Chappell was eons better as a batsman than anyone we had even in they early 2000's and post T20 anyone before that (I am going for MC) is palpably better. The degradation of batting technique has been going on since the early 80's and now it has reached it's peak. Who knows if anyone will be able to play a long innings in 20 years. Time will tell.

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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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