July 28, 2013

'The worst batting side to leave Australia's shores'

It's a tag that has been used for previous inexperienced squads as well, but given the state of the Sheffield Shield, this time it might just stick

Before departing for this disastrous tour of England, the current Australian side was compared to the 1972 and 1989 teams. Let's get it straight, the only thing the three teams have in common is they were all lambasted by the English media as "the worst to leave Australian shores".

In 1972 and 1989, Australia had a number of good young players in the team, with a few more waiting in the wings. In 1972 we didn't know just how good Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh were going to be, but there was never any doubt they were Test class. They confirmed their status in no uncertain terms - with Lillee taking 31 wickets, Chappell scoring two crucial centuries, and Marsh gathering 23 victims in the series.

The current side's inconsistencies are often excused on the basis of inexperience. The 1972 Australian side that triumphed at Lord's boasted two debutants, and seven of the 11 players had between them played a total of 18 Tests. That side went on to level the series 2-2 at The Oval, against what was then regarded the best team in world cricket.

The 1972 Australian team then went on to become the best side around. The core of the touring party was complemented by a number of other good young players who had performed well at Sheffield Shield level.

In 1989, Allan Border's team sprung a surprise on a struggling England side and won the series 4-0. Once again, this team had a core of good young players in Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ian Healy, who were aided and abetted by some vastly experienced senior players. The core of this team carried all before them, once again with the addition of other talented players who had succeeded at the Shield level.

And therein lies the crucial difference between those two sides and Michael Clarke's team. When players of the earlier eras performed well at the Shield level you could be fairly certain they would make a successful transition to Test cricket. In the 1960s, Garry Sobers, then the best player in the game, described the Shield competition as "the toughest cricket I've played outside Test matches".

When Australia were beating everyone in the late '90s and early 2000s, people told me it was the coaches and the academies that made the team strong. "Bollocks," was my response. "It's the same as when Don Bradman's 1948 Invincibles were so good. It's the system that produces the outstanding players."

That system was a far cry from the current Shield competition, which is virtually bereft of Test players and runs a distant second in importance to the glitzy BBL. Not only can't Clarke rely on any strong recruits waiting at home for the next tilt against England, he's already handicapped by an order containing some marginal Test batsmen.

There are complaints about the current Test batsmen not showing patience and being wayward in their shot selection. Patience and shot selection result from a player being sure of his technique. When he's comfortable, a player can ride out a storm of good bowling for an hour or so and then cash in later in the innings. Batsmen who aren't certain of their survival instincts tend to panic and play indisciplined shots.

Far too many members of Clarke's team are batting mainly for survival. Any batsman who isn't looking to score at every opportunity will stunt his footwork and limit the chances of success. Clarke is saddled with the flawed products of a once great system that has been allowed to decay.

And it's not as if the administrators weren't warned. More than a decade ago a former player told the administrators there was trouble looming: "A lot of the Sheffield Shield competition is club cricket in drag," he told them. These thoughts were echoed by at least one other former international. The board's response brought to mind the words written by Don McLean in his hit song "Vincent": "They would not listen/ They did not know how/ Perhaps they'll listen now."

And perhaps, after numerous tries, the English media has finally got it right. This could well be the worst batting side to ever leave Australia's shores.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on July 31, 2013, 11:30 GMT

    Ian - Looking at rear-view mirrors won't help Australia: There are blind spots! The present cricket mess is due to multiple factors. The one consequential factor - Ian's blind spot - is the absence of a core nucleus of senior players: notably Ponting, Hussey & Katich. As Adam Gilchrist says: "a lot of Australia's batting trouble started when Simon Katich was relieved of his position". Ricky was axed from ODIs with a phone call. Michael feared he'd be dropped. So they went prematurely, leaving a hollowed "inexperienced squad"! CA diligently executed Chappelli's half-baked theory of "use-by dates" for "ageing stars"! OMG! Recall Ian's "Mirror, Mirror on the wall" dictum to Tendulkar to retire in 2007? Ever the prognosticator, Ian declared "Harmeet Singh & Unmukt Chand ready for internationals" after WC U-19! Thankfully India doesn't listen: they managed the transition well, IPL & all, under MS Dhoni (an Ian unfavourite)! But how did he miss Ashton Agar under his radar? A blind spot, Ian?

  • Martin on July 30, 2013, 22:48 GMT

    @ticktac (July 29, 2013, 14:04 GMT) Rubbish. The Don played half of his cricket in the dry and heat of Australia and in England he played on uncovered sticky dog wet pitches. The man was a genius and a gentleman. And as for your claim that Australia have only been great in the last decade or so and the rest of the time were "average" - well - you have just shown how much you know about cricket if you think that.

  • Ben on July 30, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    CricketingStargazer, yes, I do mean the West Indies that Australia beat 5-1 in 1975/76, but, if you read Andy Roberts' contribution on this website some time ago, the result masked some awful umpiring by the Australian officials. Have a look at the number of lbws awarded against each side. Clive Lloyd's blueprint for the team that went on to beat the world was actually conceived nearly a year earlier when playing India in the Caribbean. The visitors chased down a score of over 400 to win the Port-of-Spain Test, and from thereon he decided to focus on developing an attack based purely on pace, which he felt would have won that game had it been available to him.

  • Mark on July 29, 2013, 22:24 GMT

    Top article from Ian Chappell. He has great knowledge of the game.

  • Mark on July 29, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    @salazar Actually, that is what I said about Clarke. On Khawaja, you are right. My bad.

    The bottom line is that Australia are selecting players with records that would not have even got them into the "A" side a few years ago.

  • Ken on July 29, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    Iain Chappell 's insightful comments illustrates why Cricket Australia ignores the opinions and experience of the broader cricket community at its peril. As an organisation CA seems to suffer from collective low self esteem in that anybody with a long term association with cricket is automatically considered less capable than an "expert" recruited from outside. Since the now infamous Argus Report cricket in increasingly dominated by various carpetbaggers and snake oil merchants in all aspects of administration , sports "science" and promotion of the game with obvious results. If some good can come from this debacle it will be that cricket community will regain some confidence in their own abilities and judgement and take back control of the game.

  • Rahul on July 29, 2013, 18:56 GMT

    @Balaji well said mate, we do have class acts and as you mentioned Agar, Khawaja and Smith are future class players for us, add to that list Maddinson, Burns, Pattinson, Starc and we will have a dominating team within 5 years, some may call me too optimistic but lets wait and see.

  • Peter on July 29, 2013, 17:49 GMT


    Actually only Clarke averages over 40. Khawaja averages 30.09 and is like all the other batsman, lucky to be playing, because anyone with that average wouldn't have got near the side 10 yrs ago.

    The aussie bowlers are their strength, if they could find a decent spinner they might be able to make a contest of it despite the batsmen being so poor

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Finally, Ian Chappell comes out of his shell and admits that this Australian team is the worst of all time. I agree with him on a number of things, which is surprising to me itself. Yes, the Aussies of the 1972 and 1989 series all had very good and talented youngsters who would eventually improve to lead Australia into the next decade as world beaters. However, this current team doesn't really have anyone who have the skills or talent to dominate the world for years. Perhaps we can point to Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, and young Ashton Agar as potential class acts for the future. But, unless they all consistently contribute, it will be hard to know who the next generation of Australian cricketers are that are going to put Australia back at the top of test cricket.

  • Mark on July 29, 2013, 15:22 GMT

    @ben.p You mean the West Indies side that Australia beat 5-1? It was that humiliation that gave Clive Lloyd the model for his great side of the late-70s and early '80s.