No. 1 still in sight - Argus
Australia's ruinous Test results in India have not dissuaded the architect of the plan to rejuvenate the national team from his view that the world No. 1 ranking can be attained by 2015. Don Argus, the former BHP chairman, authored the review released in August 2011 that overhauled the structure around Michael Clarke's team, resulting in the appointments of Mickey Arthur as coach, John Inverarity as national selector and Pat Howard as the team performance manager.
Those changes wrought promising early returns, but the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey left Clarke to lead a gapingly inexperienced side to India where the vagaries of playing on the subcontinent have contributed to a humiliating duo of defeats. Nonetheless, Argus told The Age he was adamant that Australia were still capable of achieving for the sustained success striven for in his review, provided those in charge were not panicked into compromising on its dictums.
'I wouldn't compromise on that at all," Argus said. "It's like a five-year plan in a company - if you commit to something, you've got to get it, and all these players have committed to it. I don't believe in blind faith. I believe in a lot of hard work, and it doesn't come tomorrow. I think there's a lot of effort going into getting this team to its goals. I've got great faith they will get to where they want to get to.
''Stay the course, but also recognise the challenges that are there. We tend to fall back into thinking we've still got this side with seven champions in it. Maybe that will come again, but that just doesn't come overnight.''
Argus was largely supportive of the path taken by Howard, Arthur and Inverarity in following through on his directives, though he admitted it was "debatable" whether the area of spin bowling weakness was being adequately addressed. He stated that current impatience with the team's results could not be allowed to change the path that had been committed to.
''I think they have been quite bold in implementing a lot of the stuff and going down the recommendation path in the report,'' Argus said. ''Everyone wants instant success … and the trouble when you go through a transition or succession phase is that impatience manifests itself into a bit of emotion. Up until this series, the guys have done pretty well in trying to unearth new talent and things like that.
"Everyone is going to have to hold their steel here to get the ultimate outcome, because if you start thrashing around in water then you drown, and up until now I think they've held it pretty well. I think India is probably the toughest environment of all to blood new talent and that's what is happening over there.
''I'm not that despondent. I think it's probably teaching the selectors a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. I don't think they could put together a better squad. They've tried a lot of people and you can add a few here and a few there, but they've gone about a process quite systematically that will get us there in the end, but it was never going to be a short-term fix.''
Addressing questions about whether the selectors had adequately fulfilled his stated goal that performance had to be rewarded more consistently with national team representation, Argus said Inverarity's panel had done so "by and large", though Xavier Doherty's Test recall after a barren home summer was a deviation.
''Selectors will sometimes make subjective judgments for whatever reason … I'm sure they can justify their selections," Argus said. "Up until probably that one [Doherty], they've stuck with what they've said they were going to do, and I think that has paid off for them.
''They've won in the West Indies, they've comprehensively won two series at home [against India and Sri Lanka, but also lost to No.1 team South Africa], and they go to the toughest environment in the world with an inexperienced side in those conditions, and it's tough.''
Suspicious in the review of the impact that the then nascent Big Bash League may have on international performances and focus, Argus said compromises in the name of commercial gains would result in the team being compromised.
''If you deviate from your priorities, if you compromise on your plan … you'll always get caught out," he said. "If Test cricket is the No. 1 game, and we say it is, that's the way it is."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here