Australia revival 'will take time' - Howard
Australian cricket faces years of difficult times ahead until the nation's domestic competitions can again be relied upon to provide effective preparation for young batsmen and spin bowlers. This grim view was not shied away from by Cricket Australia's team performance manager, Pat Howard, as he sifted through the wreckage of the 347-run defeat at Lord's, which has left many wondering how such a result could be possible two years after the Argus review highlighted many of the problems on display.
In a frank discussion of what appears a dire medium-term forecast for the national team, Howard defended his decision to sack the former coach, Mickey Arthur, and replace him with Darren Lehmann a mere two weeks before the start of the Investec Ashes series. He also agreed with an emotional James Pattinson's assessment that the lack of rest afforded the bowlers by an inept first-innings batting display at Lord's had contributed to his back stress fracture.
But the major conclusion Howard was prepared to draw from Lord's was that problems in the Australian game will take years to remedy, requiring even stronger alignment between the states and CA to strengthen the club and Sheffield Shield competitions that have been left in disrepair while Twenty20 dollars have been chased with far more vigour than adequate grounding for Test match cricketers.
"When Australia and Australia A play over the same weekend and the highest scores were Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques getting 60s and 70s [in Zimbabwe], our ability to bat a long time needs to improve," Howard said. "We need to work with the states to enforce that message around batting for a long time and batting with patience. Making sure Sheffield Shield cricket goes into the fourth day so we start getting footmarks, we start getting spinners bowling more in the Shield so they get used to that as well.
"There's a big process there to get right, and it's going to take time. I definitely need to work with the states to get this to a point where the Shield prepares players for Tests even better. We would love lots more people scoring big hundreds at home. Only two people got three hundreds in Shield cricket last year, Ricky Ponting and Chris Rogers. One of them is here and one you know plenty about, so the system has got to help provide that."
A minor victory for CA's high-performance regime in their battle with the marketing and programming side of the governing body's Melbourne office is a change to the 2013-14 summer, which will see the domestic limited-overs competition played as a whole early in the season, before a run of six consecutive Shield matches leading up to the final two Tests of the summer. The Big Bash League then takes hold until mid-February.
"I am happy about the fact it is not going Shield, one-dayer, Shield, one-dayer - there are six games of red-ball cricket in a row at the start of the season," Howard said. "No interruptions, no trying to hit it over the top, people are going to have to be patient and spinners will get some time to get wickets. I am hoping we will reinforce over that period the discipline of red-ball cricket. It's an opportunity for the coaches to drill in those messages."
On the matter of Arthur, Howard said he did not retreat for one moment from the call to install Lehmann, on a basis the South African has described as "totally unfair".
"When you sit there and look and have conversations, and there were plenty of articles written about what was right and what was wrong, you knew there was something that needed to be dealt with," Howard said. "It was dealt with and you make decisions not just for one week or two weeks but you make them for a period and who's going to best galvanise the side. I don't want to go into that particularly, but who was going to get the best out of this group, that was a simple decision.
"Obviously there is a legal issue going. I can't comment on that. But it's never nice when you get moved on. It's happened to lots of people. It's never nice. On the ground it's not affecting the players. They've moved on, gone on and feel galvanised with this group. Even though there are two Tests we lost, was one close, the other we didn't play well enough, clearly … I don't move away. It was the right decision."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here