Ed Smith
Ed Smith Ed SmithRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

Australia: hubris, despair, panic

Clarke and Co find themselves where England were in the 1990s. But how did the two nations fall into such a state?

Ed Smith

July 24, 2013

Comments: 53 | Text size: A | A

Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke chat while training, Worcester, July 1, 2013
Sport suffers from the delusion that great leaders can change everything about their circumstances. They cannot © Getty Images
Related Links

I have been watching Michael Clarke, but the shadows I see following him around - to my eyes, anyway - resemble the ghosts of old English nightmares.

When Clarke stood at slip on the third day at Lord's, with the match over as a contest but unmercifully drawn out as a spectacle, he experienced what every captain dreads. He could move the deckchairs, but the boat was sinking. He could change the bowling, but it would be determined by a sense of fairness and sharing the burden rather than to swing the match; he could set new fields, but more to protect pride rather than ensnare opponents; and, worst of all, he had to weigh up how fully to engage in captaining the fielding effort, and how much emotional energy to preserve for when his turn to bat came around. Captaining the team, captaining your own mood, managing defeat, managing the draining away of hope.

I bumped into Mike Brearley during the long afternoon slaughter and we agreed: no captain, so far behind in the match and still awaiting a slim chance to save the match with his own bat, can captain flat out in the field all day. He inevitably dips in and out of full engagement, the long spells of routine steadiness in which he preserves emotional energy interspersed with shorter bursts of activity and invention designed partly just to keep up his own sense of interest and alertness. And what emotional outlook should you adopt? Is it easier to retain optimism and be perpetually let down? Or better to accept the inevitable, release the burden of pretence, and just wait to bat with coolly detached precision?

And that is why the shadows looked so English to my eyes. I thought of Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, hurling their considerable competitiveness and intelligence at the effort to win the Ashes - pick any moment you like, really, between 1993 and 2002-03 - and ending up exhausted, holding a losing hand of cards, looking within once again, wondering how much more they still had left to give when called upon to bat.

Clarke, when the series is over, will doubtless seek honest conversations with men who have experienced similar suffering. Ironically, the opposition coach, Andy Flower, knows more than most about how to retain exceptional standards while playing for an inferior team.

All of which leads me to the central point: if you are interested in leadership (and I have never met a sports fan without strong opinions about captains, managers and selectors) then you have the obligation to be equally interested in context. Sport, like political analysis, suffers from the recurrent delusion that great leaders can change everything about their circumstances, that they can engineer a new reality out of will power and charisma alone. They cannot.

Just think how beside the point the analysis of Darren Lehmann's character and personality now sounds. It is the same Lehmann - with the same sense of fun and enjoyment, the same sharp cricketing brain, the same mischievous enthusiasm. All of which is being applied to the same tendency of Shane Watson to get lbw, the same Phillip Hughes weakness against spin, the same holes at the top of the order, the same shortage of new cabs on the rank. No coach can solve all those problems in a few weeks. So it is largely irrelevant to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the man currently trying to do so. Mickey Arthur is suing Cricket Australia for damage to his reputation. Perhaps he should be sending them a cheque and a letter of thanks for preserving it.

So let us leave behind the soap opera, the tidbits of gossip and intrigue. No causal truths reside there. What David Warner's brother thinks of Shane Watson did not lose Australia the Test match, nor did the sacking of Arthur, nor homework-gate, nor an incident in a nightclub, nor even an alleged rift in the team. There was, in fact, no news from Lord's. Old failings, long present, were simply exposed in a clearer light.

Players, they are the problem; performance, that is the flaw; culture, that is the cause.

Before the 2010-11 Ashes, I suggested that the pillars of Australian excellence - club cricket, state cricket, and a hard-bitten unified cricketing culture that ran through their game at all levels - had crumbled. One firm push and the citadel might fall. I first put my theory to a distinguished former England captain. He didn't quite ridicule me, but he smirked at the idea that an enemy that had inflicted so much pain on him might now suffer structural decline. I deferred to his greater experience, cut short my conversational theorising, and steeled myself for print instead.

This is what I wrote in the Spectator on 20th November 2010:

The idea will not leave me alone. A sneaking question keeps coming into my head: are Australia losing their cricketing edge? And I don't just mean the Ashes. I mean the whole legend of the Aussie battler that has been constructed over decades of flinty toughness…

[Once] self-reliance was as central as toughness. Rod Marsh's coaching advice was simple: "Sort it out for yourself." That spirit ran through the great tradition. Bradman taught himself to bat by hitting a golf ball against a wall with a stick. Learning to bat was another form of looking after yourself, like pitching a tent in the outback. That resilience was compounded by the sense that Australians had a point to prove, that the world too often underestimated them. Cricket was a means of getting even…

I was brought up on the received wisdom that it was the Australian system that made them so tough - the strong club cricket, the fierce inter-state rivalries. Each has now declined, at least to some extent. It may be a very long time indeed - a full turn of the dynastic wheel - before Australia will again be able to boast such a record of dominance.

Let us leave behind the soap opera, the tidbits of gossip and intrigue. No causal truths reside there. What David Warner's brother thinks of Shane Watson did not lose Australia the Test match, nor did the sacking of Arthur, nor homework-gate, nor an incident in a nightclub

Since then, Australia have lost five Ashes Tests, several disastrously, and won just one.

It has become a truism that Australia now find themselves where England were in the 1990s. Less explored is the question of how the two nations fell into such a state.

Here is my abbreviated history of England's decline. First, phase one: "Cricket is our game; we run it. We have the oldest, richest and most fully professional game in the world. We know best and won't take any lectures from New World upstarts."

Well, that didn't work too well. After decades of being overtaken by leaner, hungrier cricketing nations, the original decline was compounded by the following over-reaction. Let's call it phase two: "England must now copy Australia, who are the best team in the world. We must reshape our character as well as our institutions to follow a new model."

Hubris, in other words, gave way to despair, confusion and panic. Sound familiar?

Yes, that is now the lot of Australia. First, phase one of decline: "We win because Aussies are tougher, braver, better mates and grew up getting bounced and abused in club matches tougher than war zones. We are cut from different cloth, born of a different gene pool. The rest of the cricketing world is effete and soft. Leopards don't change their spots. Seen one Pom, seen them all…"

At Lord's, Australia entered phase two: despair and confusion. History tells us to expect all manner of wrong turns and pseudo solutions, sackings and scapegoats, false dawns and bad logic. Most of it will be aimed at the wrong targets.

The English should be wary of gloating. After all, it took decades of quick fixes and attempted root-and-branch reform before England eventually emerged from the darkness. That was through luck as well as planning. Sporting success is increasingly determined by wealth and England can invest in success because it has deeper pockets, thanks to the bounty television rights, than any nation except India.

Conclusion: the best guard against hubris is continuing to recognise the role of fortune. Just ask Australia.

Ed Smith's latest book is Luck - A Fresh Look at Fortune. He tweets here

RSS Feeds: Ed Smith

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (July 26, 2013, 11:31 GMT)

Yes, Australian cricket is in decline, will it recover? Time will tell.....

Posted by   on (July 25, 2013, 23:39 GMT)

There is no doubt the prevalence of limited over cricket even in grade has affected spin and batting standards. But I would be looking a succession planning. The decisions like recalling martyn and keeping langer for the 06-7 series. Getting guys like North to debut when 30 (because Hussey broke the rule that you debut young.) not playing another spinner with warne at sydney in 06-7 because we were all for the 5-0 triumph.

We played for the moment. And now we have a different moment. It will pass...

Posted by thecricketdiary on (July 25, 2013, 23:14 GMT)

Australia are definitely in a transition period, no doubt. But it's about time the younger players step up and say "we're ready", rather than keep on blaming the past and calling each failure a "learning curve". Australia have lost 6 consecutive overseas Tests now, and there aren't really too many positives to take, apart from the tail wagging generously. If Australia are to get back into this series, which is possible only with a positive mindset, then they should focus on things they can control, and not external factors they can't control like the toss, Warner's unavailability, off-field issues, etc. It's not the talent that's lacking, but rather the mental application, as Gilchrist wrote in his blog. Hope Australia can make a real fight out of the third Test, without the help of their lower order batsmen. Lehmann talked about "1 hundred per Test" but we've seen none of that so far. Maybe the 3rd Test will be a change in fortunes for the Aussies...

Posted by   on (July 25, 2013, 19:04 GMT)

Not sure of a permanent solution, but Clark moving up the order to 3 might reduce some of his own challenges. When he comes in at 5, at least 3 batsmen are out before he walks in. If he walks in earlier, more of the Aussie newcomers will get time with him at the other end, hopefully one / more of them will learn new ways of batting from him and who knows Anyway, from where they are, the Aussies can't fall further down.

Posted by v_giri on (July 25, 2013, 18:21 GMT)

One key difference between Aussies of yesteryears and England of today is that Aussies did not just beat England - they were world beaters. While England may gloat over their "greatness" the simple truth is that they were beaten at their home fair and square by SA. Rankings say India in Number 2. I do not see good reason for England to gloat over their achievments except as payback for their past humiliations. When Aussie and WI juggernaut were rolling everyone on their path were dismissed with disdain. England still cant do that except being good enough to get past their past nemesis. Ind were beaten by Eng but may be Ind can give a good fight wit their present changed team. England need to look beyond Aussies. At least to the credit of Strauss, he set the bar a little higher. Cook needs to step up and review his goals beyond Aus - he can wait though till end of series

Posted by gsingh7 on (July 25, 2013, 16:04 GMT)

Australia showed their fighting skills in first test where as england of 1990 was beaten at home and away by every other team. austrlia still manages to win at home. also england have plenty of good players like kp and trott born outside of england. australia had all home born players then. just hoping it will not take australia decades to come good like it took england in the past. ashes in australia will be won by australia as they formidable record at home.

Posted by PPD123 on (July 25, 2013, 15:08 GMT)

This is the law of Gravity - whatever goes up, will have to come down.... Continuing to stay on top is like swimming against the tide - you can do it for sometime but you will eventually fall back, before regaining your strength and going against it again. Australia will rise again, they are too good as a sporting nation not to go back... it will just take a bit of time. The current group of players cannot compare with the legends who have left the game in the last 5-8 yrs. During this period of rebuild what would be required is 1) Continuity in selection 2) support from the public and administrators 3) confidence and belief in your ability 4) trust with the team and support staff 5) Winning culture. None of what I have mentioned will happen overnight. Some of it is interdependent on each other. Aus will need to keep the faith and only then it will rise from the Ashes.Currently Eng looking overwhelming favourites to win this series 4 or 5-0. A draw is the best I can see Aus salvaging.

Posted by deepman on (July 25, 2013, 9:22 GMT)

Though there are similarities between Australia in '13 and England in the 90's , the major difference is in the extent of damage . Australia still manages to win at home but England lost quite regularly at home then.England in those days was beaten by all and sundry.I only hope that this is the trough that Australia have reached and they don't slide down further.I'm also confident that Australia will take far less time than England to get out of the rut ( The English took 15-20 years).

Posted by Thegimp on (July 25, 2013, 8:29 GMT)

@Nutcutlet, you hit it on the head. What they really need to do is select players of Test Match character and stick with them. It will only be after this drubbing that we get at the hands of England will we sort out who in amongst this group has it. A lot of fantastic cricketers have played Test Cricket but only a few who have had the character required to succeed.

Posted by LoungeChairCritic on (July 25, 2013, 7:41 GMT)

Ed, thanks for going easy on us. It is a lot easier to read your articles than it is to listen to know it all English commentators like Botham and Boycott. Being humble in victory is not something that comes easy to both Australian's and Englishmen. The real reason why we were so successful for so many years was largely due to Kerry Packer. He helped sell the dream to every Australian boy. In the early 198O's, every ozzi kid wanted a SS Jumbo or a Gray Nicholls single scoop. Even though they couldn't afford it, working class families made sure their son got a decent bat at xmas. Today the world is different. Opposition sports in Australia have lifted their game. In AFL states, primary school kids trade AFL cards like it is life and death. The challenge for Cricket Australia is to get back in the heads and minds or every Australian kid. As a proud Australian, I hope they succeed. Ed, with the rise of the EPL in the UK, I am sure you fully appreciate the challenge we face.

Posted by cric_wanderer on (July 25, 2013, 4:43 GMT)

No team can continue to dominate a sport for long time. There has to be a stop somewhere. You cannot just create gifted players. It depends on a lot many factors. They just lost 22 test matches (of 130) from 1996 to 2009. They cannot simply keep on winning. Just like the Windies before them. And now its England's turn. For all the humiliation they have suffered before. And for all other teams who kept on loosing against Aus, they can all have a smile now. It must be cyclic. Australia just cannot keep on winning.

Posted by   on (July 25, 2013, 1:45 GMT)

The other thing to look at is uf brad Haddin had of dived to his right and taken Joe Roots wicket and England at 4/33 would Australia have been able to escape? You make you're own luck and australias leaders have failed to recognise and grasp the chances to turn the game...

Posted by pestonji on (July 25, 2013, 0:00 GMT)

The comparison to England in the 90s is not appropriate. England's recent success has everything to do with the administration of the game rather than any miraculous genius players or managers. The path that Lord Maclaurin trail blazed is finally bearing fruit. This is after 20 plus years of ineptness on the part of England's cricket establishment. I hope England never goes back to those days. I dont know if the Aussie cricket set up is in such dire straits. Looks like they are going thru a transitional downturn which is inevitable in any sport. i am sure they will turn it around.

Posted by cindian on (July 24, 2013, 21:42 GMT)

The West Indies is still going through this problem-and there is still no relief in sight. India nearly went through this,but removing Veriender and Gambhir with the next good opening pair seems to have make the rest of the order find find its way. England over the past years has had good opening batsmen and seems to be finding more,which will make their future good. Aussie had Simon Katich and Ed,but did not want to make them permenant for test cricket( of course Clarke has a problem with Simon),so they went with the IPL mind set like Watson, Warner etc. WI forever will be defiecient because we do not any opening pairs not now-not in the future. Chris Gayle was forever bad as a Test opening batsman ( unless you play in Antigua) and never solidify any complimentary opening batsman,endless partners,Chris make you 20 to 30 quickly( IPL style) and then get out,the new opening patners never get settle and never survive. Aussie need to go back and find a suitable pair-start with Simon

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 18:48 GMT)

To be precise Australia is taking bit more time than it could have for transition. The point is not retirement of big names from the team, well that was going to happen sometime in the game. The point is that did CA had back up to overcome this frenetic changes. The selectors and the system is definitely to blame.But what if Aus comes up with an answer in next match, which is what England did to India during India tour, may be stars of CA would swagger. I believe this is test cricket and one good session can change not only the game but fortunes as well. What if cook wouldn`t have played that daunting test hundred in the test against India which changed the whole series and made India look bizarre. Aus definitely looks in a sorry state right now but cricket has always shown us that its not always what we look at now but its rather after the game.

Posted by Nampally on (July 24, 2013, 18:46 GMT)

I would replace "Despair, Confusion & panic" with Lack of "Plan & its Disciplined Execution".The Aussies lost their way in the Lords Test after they had England around 30 for 3 in both the innings. Also in the first innings England added about 70 odd runs thru' their bowlers. Did Clarke have a Plan to attack & push the success. to conclusion? No. They failed twice with clueless bowling which obviously lacked a plan of attack. Again when it came to the Australian batting, they had no clue how to push the initial advantage. Swann had some of his victims thru' rank bad balls. The middle order collapse was achieved again with lack of plan as to how to play disciplined Cricket to chase a certain total ahead of you. Thru' disciplined batting & executing it to a pre planned approach, they would have done a lot better job instead of throwing away their wkts. Clarke needs to focus on teaching his batsmen this mantra. He needs a planned approach while bowling, to push any collapse successfully.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 15:36 GMT)

@landl147 Australian batting might not be that good but Australia definitely have better fast bowlers coming through than England. chadd sayers and pat cummins will destroy England in ashes.

Posted by aarpee2 on (July 24, 2013, 15:33 GMT)

Nothing is permanent. What goes up will come down sooner or later in life,so also in sport. The real problem in test cricket is that most teams perform better on home conditions and vice versa. The all conquering Aussies under Taylor,Steve Waugh and Ponting always had their hands full winning in India. The test for test cricket will emerge when we play bilateral series in a new format,3 test series among the top 5 teams. One at home,the second test away and the third on neutral ground.This will really test the character,skill,talent and temperament of all the players and make any series interesting and meaningful between two teams-till then any judgement will remain questionable and not really test the true merit

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 15:32 GMT)

@landl47 Kerrigan, taylor, thakor, topley, overtan and mills all played for England lions against Australia a side and were destroyed 5-0 in odi's and 3-0 in fc games in Australia just 6 months ago. Australia have definitely got better young fast bowlers than England. Australia need to produce good young batsmen though.

Posted by 69denise on (July 24, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

India and England (and maybe South Africa? Not sure myself, sorry) still have competitive four day cricket competitions, I think that is the main reason they currently dominate test cricket. Aus, NZ, Pakistan have weak 3/4 day competitions, so have fallen behind in test cricket.

I think it's that simple. The only time NZ was really competitive in test cricket was when their team had several players who played county cricket in the 80's (Hadlee, Crowe, Wright, Howarth, Turner, Bracewell). Maybe Australia needs to adopt a policy of shipping the next generation of talent over to England to hone their skills in longer format cricket. Even paying them to forgoe 20/20 cricket and play full seasons of first class cricket?

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (July 24, 2013, 14:06 GMT)

@Humdingers- Beg to disagree , It's not Ponting's 'Fault' that he had all those all time superstars at a time such as to diminish from his captaincy. With a win record above any 1 who captained a test team and well out of reach matching it, the stats don't lie ,do they?

Posted by colc on (July 24, 2013, 13:53 GMT)

I think much of this is down to national characteristics. Australians pride themselves in self reliance, hard graft, and chutzpa, which, when allied to natural talent, is a pretty hard combination to beat. However, when the natural talent isn't there, confusion and self doubt arises. Perhaps the spirit of the "great outdoors" Australian has become an outmoded concept, and in trying to replace it with new age management speak, instead of just standing up and saying "we're just not good enough", they've fallen horribly between two stools. Too proud to adapt, too stubborn to change, too myopic to see the light. It might be a long road back for Australian cricket.

Posted by CricketHuddle on (July 24, 2013, 13:00 GMT)

Classic account of Australia's decline in World Cricket

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 12:51 GMT)

Well said! Great article which whilst lacking in great detail explains the general reasoning behind why Aus are in such a bad state at the moment. If only CA could read this and not tread down the path the article anticipates it will!

Posted by kishorekr on (July 24, 2013, 12:37 GMT)

@ Chris_Howard - What you say is also reflective of the cycle theory. Yes, this time around the Aus system has not produced suitable replacements for the departing greats. But then, how many times has this happened? Not often, surely. Do we therefore blame it for a one failure in two/three decades'? Also, what about the time it succeeded, e.g. in the nineties, as you mention? That should count, shouldn't it? Generally, it is a well known fact that lean periods in Aus cricket do not last long, unlike the WI experience. That surely speaks volumes for the Aus system. Current phenomenon is just a blip. I agree with @gregt123. Good players would surely emerge soon enough.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 11:56 GMT)

One question that must be asked is "do the Aussie players still have the same need/hunger to play Test cricket?". With all the money on on offer in the various 20/20 franchises, Test cricket seems more of an inconvenience to certain players than a priviledge. In years gone by, Test cricket provided the bulk of a players income, not anymore.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (July 24, 2013, 11:35 GMT)

@kishorekr said "No side could have hoped to smoothly tide over the exit of such greats as McGrath, Ponting, Hayden,Gilchrist, Warne,Hussey,Langer,Lee - all fairly synchronised!!"

And @Romanticstud said similar.

What about when Australia lost Border, Boon, Hughes, McDermott, Healy, Waughs, Taylor, Slater etc thru the '90s and early 2000s?

We replaced them with the guys you mention.

So why aren't we able to replace that lot with quality players too?

It's more than just cycles.

Posted by IntegralCoach on (July 24, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

There are 3 fundamental causes for Australia's predicament:

1. Hubris 2. Hubris 3. Hubris

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

You can always talk about the greats of game leaving but at the end of the day,it is the quality of people who replace them in the team which actually depends on the standard of dometic cricket; and that where Aussies are struggling.

Posted by DPhilB on (July 24, 2013, 9:33 GMT)

The funny thing about England in the 90's was that it was on paper at least a pretty good team. Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe and Hussein would walk into the current Australian team. A couple of them would get into the current England team. One or two of Caddick, Gough & Fraser similarly. Tuffers might even get the pick ahead of Monty if we were playing a second spinner. Nothing wrong with Russell or Croft either. So why did they underperform? I don't recall any hubris, nor the selectorial panic of the late 1980's. It would be interesting to hear the views of Atherton et al.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 9:28 GMT)

Wait a minute.

Let's not forget that Australia were probably 10-15 minutes away from winning the first test, after having lost the toss, when a critical partnership which *should* have been broken (Broad/Bell) saw England scrape to just enough runs to win a tense match.

When Australia had the Olympics in 2000 they were world champs in cricket, rugby, netball, league, you name it, they were great at it. Now the cupboard is bare.

I see England/Britain in the same position after having the 2012 Olympics, with a Wimbledon champ, Lions rugby, cricket, Tour de France... I'm sure there's a massive list of accomplishments.

Yeah Australia aren't what they used to be, who is? Everything changes.

Posted by bestbuddy on (July 24, 2013, 9:18 GMT)

I think if you want proof of the decline in batting standards one only has to look at those Aussies in first class cricket a few years ago vs the current crop. There is just one current player who averages 50+ in first class cricket, Rogers. If one goes back a decade, this list would include M Waugh, S Waugh, Bevan, Ponting, Lehman, Katich, Hayden, D Hussey, M Hussey, Law and Langer. This from a list that excludes Brad Hodge, Matthew Elliott, Blewett and Martin Love who all averaged more than anyone barring Rogers and Clarke in the current team (or in current sheffield shield cricket for that matter), and does not even include players like Damien Martyn, Phil Jacques, Adam Voges, Adam Gilchrist or Andrew Symonds. Clearly there has been a major decline in batting standards, be it because of poor pitches, lack of talent, lack of competitive cricket at all levels of all of the above

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 9:17 GMT)

The big problem with the England team of the 1990s was...well, it was never given the chance to function like a team. Think of a top England XI for the 1990s: Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, R. Smith, Thorpe, Hick, Russell, Tufnell, Fraser, Gough, Caddick. On paper that looks like a very decent side. However, how often was that side picked? How many of those players were discarded at the first sign of trouble? How many of them were ground down by country cricket leaving them unfit? The structure of the English game at the start of the decade led to chopping and changing, loss of morale and too many old fogeys rubbing it in that things were better in their day. Is the current structure of CA to blame or is the talent pool worse now than it's been before? In the future, what will cricket fans say was the best Australian XI of this decade and how often did they get to play together and grow as a competitive team under solid managerial leadership?

Posted by aus_trad on (July 24, 2013, 8:22 GMT)

Ed Smith draws a causal link between worrying signs he saw in Aus cricket 3 years ago and the current poor standard of the test team. The logic is dangerous, because it's almost impossible to refute, but not necessarily sound. If an engineer draws attention to cracks in the foundation in a building, and predicts that it will collapse, and it does, it is not safe to infer - necessarily - that the engineer was right (it might have collapsed for a different reason). I think Smith is about 25% right - there are certain things which are not being done correctly at grassroots level at the moment. The main reason for the decline, however, is that after an extremely strong era, it is almost inevitable that there will be a weaker one. It happened 30 years ago, and 30 years before that. The 75% reason is simply the natural cycles of strength and rebuilding. It's not that the next generation of great batsmen is not being properly nurtured: they just haven't come along yet. Give it 3-4 years!

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 8:04 GMT)

great article. but it's "titbits", not "tidbits". :-)

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

With all the criticism about Australia lets look at whom we are playing whilst we are having this disasterous period: (1) India in India - Aust has one once in last 40 years in India. Loosing 4-0 isnt surprising. (2) England in England - Eng are a top 3 team whom have spinning wickets, we have no quality spinners and batsmen that struggle against it. (3) SA in SA - The number 1 team in the world. We will be playing the TOP 3 TEAMS IN THE WORLD nearly every series over a 2 year period from Oct 2012 to May 2014. We need to give our players a chance to grow against other teams. What about home & away (4 tests) against NZ, Srilanka, Pakistan (if safe), Zimb & Bang (give our youngesters 100 / 10 fors) or even West Indies. We are on par with NZ, Srl, Pak & WI, we are not on par with TOP 3 TEAMS, we need to stop playing above our skill level and focus on lower ranked teams. Has anyone forgotten that these teams exist that we regularly out perform them??

Posted by kishorekr on (July 24, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

I think this is plain over-analysis. Yet I should say, it is a typical reaction in times of decline of a team from its lofty perch - remember the multiple such attempts made to explain the sudden and steep decline in WI cricket after their 1995 loss at home to Aus.

I feel decline in Aus cricket is a matter of a cycle that plays out in every walk of life - what goes up must come down sometime. It has happened before - to all sides. After dominating cricket for 1.5 decades Aus are going thru throes of rebuilding following retirement of their legendary stalwarts. How does that lead to faulting the Aus system - state and club cricket? Can we guarantee that English cricket, at near the top today (below only SA),that too largely at home, will remain there forever? When it does move down, would we promptly decry its system? No side could have hoped to smoothly tide over the exit of such greats as McGrath, Ponting, Hayden,Gilchrist, Warne,Hussey,Langer,Lee - all fairly synchronised!!

Posted by Wefinishthis on (July 24, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

It's really not that difficult to understand. The difference is that test cricket is mostly about the bowlers. England's batting lineup is every bit the equal of if not better than the clear no.1 South Africa - they reason SA beat England at home? Better bowling. When Steyn joined South Africa, they started winning tests and when Philander joined they became invincible. When McGrath/Warne retired, Australia started losing. When WI's great bowlers retired - same thing. None of this is co-incidence. They all still had great batmen after the bowler's retirements, but they were under pressure chasing many more runs and therefore failed more often. All Aus needs to come back is one more good accurate bowler like Marshall/Ambrose/Steyn/Philander/McGrath/Harris etc. Harris & Siddle have bowled really well so far - it's just because Pattinson and Agar leaked 100's of runs that we couldn't compete. Pick Bird, Harris, Siddle and Faulkner/O'Keefe and Australia will have a fighting chance.

Posted by Tysonlanka on (July 24, 2013, 7:07 GMT)

England is very good side, but i can't see world class performers like the Aussies had in the late 90's and 2000's... the good thing with England is all players in the team come in to play and they all do their it's and bit's and end up on the winning side. they really know how well to play in their conditions, when other world teams get beaten in their back yards in most occasions. Aus has a good side but cricket Austr should use their think tanks to be more patient when bringing new players without losing there senior players before the team is settle for International levels. This is ware they have gone wrong. Also the Senior Australian players should be more responsible and should not just retire when they pass 36 or 37, they are still good enough players to hold on to their places if they are committed. Sri Lankan fan.. i like to see some fight from the Aussi, the 1st Test was a great match, but now i don't see any spark from the rest of the series after their bad lost at Lords.

Posted by Herbet on (July 24, 2013, 6:27 GMT)

I think Australia have been caught out, partly of their own making, but more because of cultural change. The bit that is their own making is the complacency born of being so far superior to everyone else. Don't fix it if it aint broken and all that. The cultural bit has happened everywhere, kids don't play out as much as they used to, other sports compete for supremacy and their are 1000 TV channels to watch. Not to mention 2020 of course! England have slightly got round this by being able to fall back on their old public (private) schools where old fashioned sports are still played, with excellent facilities and coaching. How many young batsmen in particular in and around the England team went to Millfield or Harrow Schools for example?! Lots. Without these, and a few returning South Africans, we would be in about the same situation as Australia.

Posted by landl47 on (July 24, 2013, 6:12 GMT)

#John Verdal: where do you get the idea that England don't have other young players coming through? Taylor, Thakor and Ballance have better FC averages than anyone except Clarke in Australia's test side. Simon Kerrigan, who just took 12 wickets in a match at Old Trafford, is a spinner who would walk into the Aus side. Tymal Mills and Jamie Overton are faster than anything Aus has got and that includes Cummins. Topley is a 6' 7" left-arm seamer. Stokes and Woakes are all-rounders. Ben Foakes is a W/K batsman. Alex Lees has played 12 FC innings and got 3 centuries already, including a 275*. These players are all 24 or less and in case you've forgotten, Root is 22, Bairstow 23 and Finn 24.

I hope Aus is developing some good young players, though even there you've missed the best young batsmen- Burns and Maddinson- and half of those you've named are 26 or older (Fawad is 31). But if you think Eng is short on young talent, you're dreaming.

Posted by cammo82 on (July 24, 2013, 6:11 GMT)

Australia is a massive country with a small population we were extremely lucky to have some of the all time greats in one generation. Its not just cricket that's suffered in the last years its most our sporting codes.Just look at the last Olympics. The rise of AFL which has our country's most athletic. Internally we are going incredible strong but on the world stage we are starting to suffer. Our standard of living now is extremely comfortable with young people more drawn to electronic entertainment than in the past.

Posted by Humdingers on (July 24, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

Precisely why Ponting can never lay claim to be a great captain (or player for that matter). He played in an era where the team was full of some of the best players the game has seen. We are seeing already the impact this is having on Michael Clarke and his own batting. Australia need to first come to grips they are in trouble. All the public comments on how well the team is getting along etc., is not going to do any good.

Posted by India_boy on (July 24, 2013, 4:51 GMT)

I dont understand why people are talking about how good or bad England is. The article is clearly about the apparent decline in the performance of what we once called the Powerhouse of Cricket, a consequence of falling standards and changing cricketing traditions in that country. It's not about England at all. India also beat them at the start of the year and now Pak or even SL can beat them albeit in their own backyards,like India did. But yes, Aus at their worst are still better than a lot of countries. For example, beating Eng in Eng was a routine for many countries, but none of the above mentioned teams, with the exception of SA, can beat Aus in Aus. I hope Aus get their ruthlessness and swagger back, we miss them, and at the risk of being branded a traitor, I consider Punter as a better batsman than SRT. @TATTUs....Eng cudn't beat Pak/WI while Aus today can because, admittedly, Pak/WI of 90s were atleast 20 times better than what they are now. cricinfo please publish

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 4:28 GMT)

This is what scrutinizing means,take out every bit & piece see what went wrong. Marvellous article, sheer joy to read.But I would like to give my sincere view. Ashes is not a mere test match played some where in Mumbai,Colombo or Dhaka Total texture,attitude is different,crowd is different,pitches are different .You see now-Cook,Root,Bell,Trot non of these players are actively participating in IPL.So they score runs in real test cricket.Sadly Australia couldn't find anybody except Clark who can answer the swinging ball,too much for one man.AUSTRALIA PLS IF YOU WANT TO CONTINUE ASHES, STOP YOUR YOUNG BATTERS PLAYING IPL 20-20 CRICKET IN FLAT PITCHES.20-20 will not harm if play in swinging wickets.This is the reason why all sub continent teams play miserably in swinging wickets.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 4:22 GMT)

TATTUs I think NZ would beat Aussie at the moment, NZ has got a good bunch of swing pace bowlers and it's proven Aussie can't bat against swing. NZ's batting isn't flash but with Ryder, Taylor & McCullum you've got experience and ability to take it awya for the opposition and Kane Williamson is a young, very promsiing batsman who can dig in for the fight.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 4:09 GMT)

Four possible explanations for the lamentable state of Australian Cricket:(1)Nowhere near enough grassroots development; (2) The lack of specialised early coaching in the basics,Bat, Bowl, Field. (3) Too much cricket,in all its variations, particularly those versions that appeal to the lowest common denominator in taste. (4) The composition of the current EXECUTIVE OF Cricket Australia:Surely it's time we were shed of at the very least, Sutherland and Inverarity, both outstanding failures by any reasonable yardstick.

Posted by TATTUs on (July 24, 2013, 3:46 GMT)

Dont be so quick and swift to compare this Australia with England of the 90s and thus implying 80s belong to England 90s to Australia noughties even and 10s to England again. That would be ridiculous. Australia dominated and dominated humongous 86 to 2007. England of the 90s were as pathetic as it gets. They couldnt beat even Zimbabwe. But Australia of today can compete and beat teams like Pakistan Sri Lanka and New Zealand and West Indies. England of the 90s struggled to beat teams.

Posted by   on (July 24, 2013, 2:55 GMT)

England are not as good as they think they are. England rely too heavily on Anderson and swann. the rest of the bowlers are average. their batting is very good. cook, trott, pietersen, bell and prior are quality. root looks like a quality young player but England don't have other young players coming through. on the other hand Australia have struggled due to the retirement of ponting and hussey and also the inconsistency of batsmen like hughes, Watson and cowan. I expect the likes of doolan, marsh, warner, cummins, sayers, fawad ahmed who will be world beaters in few years time.

Comments have now been closed for this article

Email Feedback Print

    Still plenty of ifs for Butt

Rob Steen: Salman Butt insists players should refrain from "wrongdoing" but that shouldn't gain him back the trust of those he duped

Outside the Grace Gate

Shot Selection: You think MCC members have it easy when it comes to watching a Test at Lord's? Think again

Drowned out by the hype machine

Sharda Ugra: A lot has gone wrong with the Indian T20 league but as its seventh season begins, everything will be brushed everything aside like nothing is amiss

    Notes from a Dutch adventure

Netherlands coach Anton Roux looks back on their incredible wins in the World T20, late-night bonding, and pizza intake

A measure for batting and bowling effectiveness in T20

Kartikeya Date: Strike rates and economy rates do not quite tell the whole story. Here's a new standard

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

Attention on Yuvraj, Gambhir in IPL 2014

ESPNcricinfo picks five players for whom this IPL is of bigger significance

Stars greeted by Colombo revelry

Thousands flocked the streets and the airport to get a glimpse of their heroes in what was probably the grandest public occasion since the end of the war eased bomb-blast fears

India: cricket's Brazil

It's difficult to beat a huge talent base exposed to good facilities, and possessed of a long history of competing as a nation

Fifty for the pantheon

What if you had to narrow all of cricket greatness down to 50 names?

News | Features Last 7 days