Thursday, August 6, 2015

60 All Out

There are two possible responses to another display of batting ineptitude such as we saw last night.
One is to open a second, third and possibly even a fourth bottle of red.
Not that I'm endorsing binge drinking. It's just that a two-, three- or even four bottle hangover would reduce the sufferer to semi-hibernation and shut down the thought processes.
That way you avoid further consideration of matters that have dominated the thoughts as I've gone on the morning walk for the past couple of weeks.
The only reason they haven't been set out in writing is that I have Other Things That Need To Be Done.
Which is why a monstrous hangover was never going to be part of the agenda.
All out for 60 is another manifestation of the three interlinked issues that have plagued Australian cricket for a while now.
One is the misguided belief that our best eleven is our best eleven is our best eleven. No mention of the phrases under these conditions or on a wicket like this one.
The second is our batsmen's inability to adapt their techniques to changing conditions and differing formats, despite admissions someone hasn't played enough red (or white) ball cricket recently.
Give 'em time, and she'll be apples because our best eleven is our best eleven is our best eleven.
And don't call them batters. Batter is something you put on fish.
Mind you, there is something decidedly fishy about the front foot movement and the dangling bat.
The third is our reluctance to bite the bullet and make the tough decisions. And I'm not just talking about Brad Haddin.
On current considerations, the only members of the batting order who can feel reasonably secure in their positions are Warner, Johnson and Lyon. Everyone else comes with a significant question mark.
Looking at the side from the previous Test:
We already know Chris Rogers is on the verge of retiring.
Smith is not a Three in English conditions when the ball is seaming and swinging. He may not be a Three at all.
Clarke needs runs.
Voges was a short term fix to a temporary issue who hasn't delivered, despite the century on debut.
And Mitch Marsh is not a Six. He could bat Seven, with Nevil at Six.
Nevil is the heir apparent who has done enough to hold his spot, but will have to put up with the Fair Go for Haddin crowd.
Mitchell Johnson is approaching all-rounder status, and the tail is the tail. It's not a bad tail if Lyon has to bat Eleven with Johnson at Eight.
The logical change for this test was the one they made.
But then they didn't go far enough.
Shaun Marsh should have gone into Three. He's an obvious replacement for Rogers when he retires. Not the obvious replacement, but a definite candidate.
For the last three innings, Three has been a virtual opener. Scorelines of 1-7, 1-17 and 1-4 speak for themselves. In every case Smith, supposedly one of the world's top batsmen, has been the next to go at 2-18, 2-62 and 2-10. In that 62 Warner was on 37.
I'm not saying things would have been any better with March there, but they might have been different.
As it was, Warner, Marsh, Voges and Clarke go in quick succession and at 6-39 Hughesy decides against that second bottle and elects the other option.
Which was to turn off the TV.
And it'll be staying off. I've already spent a valuable forty-five minutes nutting this out.
With Other Things That Need To Be Done, having missed much of the last domestic season, since I won't be in a position to watch the forthcoming tour in October, I don't have a great deal (else) to say.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Controversy? What controversy?

Rogers won’t last forever, Clarke’s back won’t go away, and there are still question marks over Watson, Smith and Bailey, though Smith may have done enough to be relatively safe.

That’s what I said, or rather wrote yesterday.

Actually I’ve been saying it for a while, and announcements over the last twenty-four hours have clarified matters slightly.

The big one in that department is the Test squad for South Africa, which removes a question mark, with the Alan Border Medal and announcement of the T20 side clarifying matters around the fringes.

I didn’t find the Test squad surprising, and when it came to the top gong at the AB Medal it was always a question of which way the votes have gone.

Personally, I would have tipped Haddin, but when asked for a selection yesterday over the dinner table I hedged my bets by nominating Haddin as my choice, Clarke as most likely and Johnson as a big show. Johnson comes as no surprise given the voting side of things.

Neither, for that matter, does Jordan Silk taking out the Young Player or Emerging Talent award. I took note of the name when he came on as a substitute in the Hobart Test last season. Kerry O’Keefe was commentating and rated him as the best fielder in the country, which was a rather big call for a fringe player in the Tasmanian Shield squad, but he got a guernsey shortly thereafter and scored runs in the Shield final.

So maybe it wasn't just O’Keefe’s Bluebag bias operating at the time. He’s just outside the top ten run scorers in the Shield this year (421 at an average of 35.08 and a strike rate of 44.12) and opens the batting.

You might care to pencil in the name beside the current Test squad with a question mark after possible replacement for Rogers.

Shield Player of the Year went to Cameron White, which might bring cries of why isn’t he in the Test side from the other side of the Murray. He was probably glanced at, but very briefly.

Four reasons why:

Age, Role, Vacancy and Best Suited As.

You might look at other players on the circuit around the same age (30, but I thought he was older than that) who are being touted as some chance and wonder why that’s a factor, but then we come to Role and Vacancy.

Middle order bat. Four, Five or Six? Clarke at Four, Smith at Five, Question mark at Six. He has been known to bowl occasional leg spin. As a matter of fact, that’s where I reckoned his future lay. Middle order bat who bowls the occasional leggie. We’ve got one of those in Smith. Do we need a second?

And then there’s Best Suited As, which seems to be where he is at the moment. Senior player for Victoria, batting Four or Five, getting a bowl when Fawad Ahmed’s not in the side. He’s the sort of bloke you want around on the edges to sort out the up and coming bowlers, but you never know, a vacancy might emerge.

And, somewhere down the track there may be a vacancy for Bailey, whose Limited Overs Player of the Year came the same day as his axing from the Test squad.

In his case Best Suited as looks to be captaining the T20 side and playing ODIs and captaining when Clarke gets a rest. He’s got a T20 World Cup coming up, there was a question mark over his spot in the Test lineup, he hadn’t done very well against England, and, actually, he might be better off not going to South Africa to deal with Philander, Steyn and Morkel.

Detailed scrutiny there could have consigned him to the also rans for good.

As it is, he’s got the World T20, the possibility that Clarke may not be there for the next ODI World Cup, and the chance to make a case with a mountain of Shield runs while others are, quite possibly, being tried and failing.

But he’ll need big runs and a vacancy.

Which, of course, brings us to the Test squad, where eleven out of fourteen were certainties.

Since the only question marks were Three and Six, and Watson was always going to be on the plane. Marsh and Doolan offer a couple of options.

First, we assume that Watson is fit and playing. He can bat Three, with Doolan at Six. Ideal spot to blood a new player and move him up the order a little further down the track if he survives.

Alternatively, Marsh (or Doolan, but probably Marsh) at Three, Watson at Six.

If he’s not fit, Marsh at Three, and Doolan at Six with just the four bowlers (three quicks and Lyon, with part timers rolling the arm over a bit more than they would have).

Alternatively Marsh or Doolan at Three, Haddin at Six, Faulkner at Seven. On that basis, it’s probably Marsh at Three.

As far as the bowling is concerned, you look at the Watto factors as above, go in with Johnson, Harris and Siddle if fit, with Lyon to clean up South African bats who probably don’t rate him after the draw in Adelaide.

No Watto or non-bowling Watto at Three opens the possibility of using Faulkner at Seven as the extra bowler.

The only possible controversy as far as I can see comes with Pattinson and Bird ahead of the rest of the pack for the spare bowler spots, remembering that Coulter-Nile lives in Perth, just across the Indian Ocean with regular flights in that direction. There are other potential replacements (if needed) who aren’t that much further away.

Pattinson and Bird are both coming back off injury. Their progress can be monitored, and if there’s remedial or strengthening work required as part of their recovery that can be watched as well.

They’re probably not going to be doing that much bowling unless one of the other three break down.

Meanwhile, without having to bowl to a handy South African order  the other contenders have a chance to advance their case when the Shield resumes, knowing that two of their potential rivals are probably spending the couple of Tests sitting on the sidelines.

So, really, not very controversial at all.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Of Comebacks and Turnarounds

There was a spell there in the middle overs of yesterday’s ODI in Sydney where, momentarily, the words we’re back and a phrase along the lines of remarkable turnaround sprang to mind.

It must have been somewhere around the half way mark in the England innings, just after Clarke had pulled in a rather impressive catch to snare Stokes. Earlier, we’d had a side on throw from Warner to dismiss Bell. Combine the two and a promising start by what should still be a pretty good England lineup didn’t look quite so challenging.

Cook had been dismissed in the ninth over, with the score on 50, Bell went in the fourteenth to make it 2-70, but that was still around five an over, with the prospect of a target somewhere around 270 to 300.

Which would have been challenging.

And in the wake of that catch from Clarke, there was a definite buzz around the Australian side.

As there should be.

By that stage on 3-81 the run rate was down towards four an over, and hadn’t lifted that much when Balance, Bopara and Morgan went. Still around four and a half. Rather handy. The tail got a few more than they should have, but 243 ended up looking a lot better (and a lot less challenging) than something around the 280 mark.

Chasing down 244 in forty overs was a pretty good effort as well, which brings me back to the first paragraph and momentarily, the words we’re back and a phrase along the lines of remarkable turnaround sprang to mind.

Well, maybe we are, and it definitely has been.

Further thought and a lengthy analysis on this morning’s walk had me wondering why we were ever away. After all, if we weren’t away, how did we manage to come back?

And when it comes to the remarkable turnaround, perhaps the remarkable thing is how far we’d slipped from what should be the standard as far as Australian cricket teams are concerned.

There’s been a fair buzz around the Australian side this summer, and while the prospect of 13-0 against the Old Enemy across three forms of the game should keep it there, pause for a moment and consider that of the eleven on the paddock yesterday, Warner, Clarke and Haddin were the only three who’d started on Day One at The Gabba.

That side went through unchanged and undefeated, and was never going to move into the limited overs stuff without a slight reshuffle, which brings us back to the vexed issue of rotation and policies associated with it.

Clarke, Haddin and Warner won’t be playing in Perth on Friday, and Watson’s missing as well, but Johnson comes back, Wade takes the gloves and Bailey fills in for Clarke as captain. Should still be a handy side, with Finch, Shaun Marsh, Maxwell, Christian. Pattinson, Faulkner, Coulter-Nile and Doherty rounding out the eleven.

Handy, but possibly not the side you’d take into a World Cup Final, assuming we get that far.

But that’s the point. We can’t have the same eleven playing every game regardless of the format and the opposition.

And, if you look back to the Rotation Policy Controversy, the key issue was the number of bowlers who were out injured, on their way back from injury or at risk of succumbing to injury.

Twelve months ago, that was a problem.

Now, with Harris and Siddle being held over for Test duties, Johnson rested ahead of a return in Perth, Faulkner, Pattinson and Coulter-Nile playing, Bollinger and Cutting on the fringes and Cummins on the way back you would have to say the fast bowling stocks are looking pretty good.

Add Starc, who’s also on the way back, and they look even better.

We’re starting to get to the situation where we’ve got a pool of up to two dozen players who could play for Australia in one of the three forms.

Look at the batting, on the other hand, and things aren’t quite so rosy. Throw our batting in against Philander, Steyn and Morkel and things may well look downright dodgy.

Then again, with that array of quickies, each of them looking to maintain their position or push their way up the pecking order, we might just start to get some decent form lines around the next generation of batsmen and see which of the old hands are approaching their use by dates.

Rogers won’t last forever, Clarke’s back won’t go away, and there are still question marks over Watson, Smith and Bailey, though Smith may have done enough to be relatively safe.

But if you want to see a truly remarkable turnaround, let’s see the next incarnation of the current Test line-up defend the Urn over there, and then complete the Three-peat on home soil without Rogers, Clarke, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle and Harris, none of whom you’d be expecting to see in the side in four years’ time.

Clarke, of course, might go down as a maybe, but he may also be gone tomorrow if something drastic happens to the degenerating vertebrae.

So, Back? Possibly, but there’s a way to go before you can be sure.

Remarkable turnaround? Perhaps. But there’s a transition that will need to be managed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Recipe for Disaster, Let's Hope They Try It...

From time to time you run across something that you can’t let pass without comment, and this time it’s the downright risible suggestion put by former England Rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward in The Daily Mail in an article wonderfully titled The power must be with Flower, not Downton, the selectors or anyone else.

You might remember Sir Clive. He was the coaching genius who won a Rugby World Cup thanks to the golden boot of Jonny Wilkinson and a game plan that seemed to be based around using the rest of the team to generate the opportunities for Jonny to exercise it.

From what I could see that meant using the forward pack to gain penalties in the scrum and at the breakdown and leaving Jonny to do the rest. But I digress…

Actually, Woodward does get one thing right when he says the 5-0 scoreline serves as a sharp reminder of how quickly things can unravel at the highest level of elite sport.

He then goes on to pooh-pooh the role of selection committees and, believe it or not, the captain of the side in picking the team and suggest that selection be left to Flower.

Actually, I hope they do. It’d probably put English cricket back a good ten years while they come to the conclusion that Flower was the wrong man for the job, and then appoint another technocrat to the same head honcho el supremo position.

Woodward, of course, comes from a background where the notion might work, and cites Rugby and Soccer as sports where an all-powerful coach or manager is the way to go.

In those sports, and in Rugby League, that might work. Select a side to go to a World Cup in any of the three codes, or to undertake an old style international tour with a number of tour games interspersed with the Test matches, and you’ll pick a group of thirty to thirty-six players.

That figure more or less equates to a team (your first XI, XIII or XV), a full team of reserves and a bench full of spare players. Take an England Rugby side on a tour of Australia with a couple of Tests, and games against every state and a couple of country teams and you probably need around three dozen players on tour.

And in that environment your coaching supremo can watch what’s going on and select his team. He’s got everyone in one place, and he’s got the State and upcountry games as well as the training paddock to sort out his Test side, with at least two candidates for every spot.

Cricket doesn’t quite work like that.

Even on an old-style Ashes tour, England or Australia only sent a squad of around seventeen players. That was your likely Test side, plus a reserve keeper and a spin bowler, two spare bats and two spare quicks.

In the bullet points at the top of the article, Woodward delivers these three zingers:

• Andy Flower must be allowed to make the key decisions

• At the moment, too many decisions are being made by committee

• Alastair Cook should ignore advice to talk to ex-captains and be himself

And, just for the sake of throwing in a voice from within the England camp, let’s cite Matt Prior: England lacked respect for Alastair Cook and Andy Flower (), where he takes aim at a lack of professionalism by England's players and a loss of respect for their captain and coach.

Read down that article, and you find Prior talking about the importance of a professional attitude and Little things like wearing the right kit, turning up to meetings on time, not five minutes late.

Or, Hughesy suggests without any hint of a tongue in cheek, not handing in your homework.

According to Woodward, too many decisions are being made by committee, but when it comes to cricket selections it’s hard to see how you avoid that.

Cricket coaches at the top level aren’t given large squads to work with. Nor are they ever likely to be.

And unless you’ve got all your top level talent assembled in what amounts to an ongoing training camp I don’t see how you can get away from a selection committee because, in the Australian context, we’ve tended to have a member of the selection panel at every important game.

With every Sheffield Shield game as an important game and the possibility that you’ll have three of them running at the same time as a Test match you’ll want to have four blokes watching…

In England, on the other hand, where you’ve got around eighteen county sides, you mightn’t be able to have someone watching every game, but you’d have trusted observers who you’d trust to deliver an accurate assessment.

How does the Test coach, who is supervising the preparation of his squad, going to get around and assess the credentials of the up and coming players out there? He can’t do that all by himself.

Or maybe he can, using trusted confidants who don’t have official status.

And as for suggestions that Cook should ignore advice to talk to blokes who’ve done his job before, that’s downright laughable.

Cook probably wasn’t the former England Under-19 Stuart Law was referring to when he talked about the bloke who didn’t need to talk to an old-timer in the bar at the Essex County Ground. He did score 214 against the 2005 Australian side, but that was well after Law and Essex parted company.

The important point Law was making was that you can pick up a lot by talking to people who’ve been there and done that, and it’s best done over a jar or two in a free-ranging conversation. You dismiss some things as irrelevant, of course, but there’ll be stuff you’ll find interesting, some of which you’ll file away for future reference.

And former captains, who are used to making assessments of opposition players just might be able to offer the odd insight, even if it’s a half-formed notion along the lines of You know, I always suspected…

But the biggest joke about the Woodward article is the assumption that Flower is the right man for the job in the first place.

I suspect he isn’t, and I’d suggest that Prior’s comments indicate an England camp moving towards the sort of territory Australia found themselves in leading up to the homework affair.

In that sort of circumstance,  the answer is not to give the current coaching supremo even more power…

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Out of the Ashes

Having stated I have scant interest in the England team and coaching setup, the following may seem a tad hypocritical, with more than a dash of gloating involved, but after the Homework Affair and the demise of Mickey Arthur I’m interested to see how these things pan out and want to keep something as a handy aide-memoir with accompanying hyperlinks to save me from having to go looking for vaguely-remembered snippets somewhere down the track.

Assuming, of course, they’re still there.

There has, of course, been the predictable flood of condemnation, in varying tones scattered across the spectrum from irate through scathing towards embarrassed, with lashings of it’d never have happened in my day from commentators safe in the knowledge that it didn’t.

This one, from The Guardian would appear to be a representative sample:
UK Ashes press round-up: England 'emasculated' by Australian juggernaut: Alastair Cook's side were humiliated over five brutal Tests, and British sport writers blamed poor batting and a rampant Mitchell Johnson .

Martin Crowe on the difference between the two sides here: Hard run-makers revive Australia.

Predictably, there’s the regulation adjustment and search for a share of the spotlight from one of the players with a big question mark over the intersection of place and role in the team (how much does he bowl and where does he bat?) in The Ashes: Shane Watson credits own stance with turnaround in team culture, but the headline’s slightly misleading. The key there is the change wrought with remarkable speed by Darren Lehmann.

There’s a similar piece here: Lehmann made playing for Australia fun again - Watson

There’s an intriguing version of events around the change of coach here: Australia's Ashes turning point.

If Watson’s right, and I’m not suggesting he isn’t, this brings additional pressure to bear on England coach Andy Flower, and it’s his future that has me intrigued. You get headlines like
Andy Flower to stay on as England coach but warns of more pain and Flower determined to correct mistakes although we also have Andy Flower may quit as England team director if Kevin Pietersen plays on, and on Cricinfo, Pietersen future under scrutiny, which contains a rather telling little suggestion from Michael Vaughan, a former England captain, that Pietersen should become vice-captain deliberately to break down a culture of "yes men" that has grown up around the England set-up.

That might, in turn, throw some light on this little gem I found on Cricinfo (England's road to hell), which may be fact, fiction or one of four flavours of a synthesis of the two I’ll refer to as faction.

It might be largely factual, leavened by a smidgen of fiction.

Alternatively, it could be fiction, built on a factual basis.

And there are two possible aspects of a house divided that could fuel either or both of the above, a leaking of detail that might not be entirely factual to an outsider, or a story designed to promote the dissident faction in a divided dressing room. Intriguing.

There’s a toeing the party line narrative from within the England camp at Pain can drive us to new heights while Back to the days of boom and bust: England's chief executive David Collier has guaranteed Andy Flower a job until 2015 - and the debrief on England's Ashes humiliation has not begun. Can that be right? published on the eve of the final massacre raises some serious issues that will need to be addressed if England are looking to reverse their fortunes.

And as the stories continue to emerge I'll continue to aggregate the content for future reference. Stay tunes.






Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let the Bloodletting Begin, I'll be Watching From Afar

There’ll be a few sore heads around the Australian Cricket camp this morning, and quite rightly so, but as those involved attack the Berocca and other vital sources of Vitamin B it's important that we don’t get carried away.

Five-nil is all very nice, but the prospect of South Africa looms on the horizon, and with just under a week until the start of the ODI series against the Old Enemy there’s a chance to inflict a bit more damage to an outfit that has to be getting very close to the ropes.

That’s a task that needs to be approached with caution, but needs to be approached.

There’s a chance to push a few more of their senior players over the edge into retirement, and the chance to inflict a few psychological scars on the up and comers. That last bit doesn’t need to be anything too fancy, just straightforward hard cricket, played without giving an inch.

Do that well enough and you might get them to the point where the old hands start thinking the kitchen’s getting a little too hot for their liking, the newcomers start doubting whether they can really cut it at this level and any internal ructions among the camp turn into outright hostility.

And, once it’s done, you might just be heading to South Africa with a sort of steely resolve to stare down the aggro that’ll be headed in your direction by an intimidating pace attack, a tong batting line up and highly partisan crowds.

England, of course, will be homeward bound around then, needing to sort out where they’re headed, and developments on that front will be worth watching.

One of the best things about delivering a serious trouncing is watching the aftermath because you need to be reminded what not to do when it’s your turn on the treadmill.

There’ll be an inquiry of some sort, and you can see the start of the navel-gazing in this article (Well-prepared England well beaten: Andy Flower has been the best coach England have had but the environment he created has led to 5-0). Interesting, and well worth a read.

It’s not that long ago that Australia was in the same boat, though the series that led to the inquiry  was 3-1 rather than 5-0. That last Ashes series down under gave us the Argus Report, John Inverarity, Mickey Arthur, Mike Howard and Michael Clarke as captain and selector to replace Andrew Hilditch, Tim Neilsen, nobody and Ricky Ponting.

And with the replacements in place it took a while to shake things out and create a workable modus operandi.

Hopefully, when the England hierarchy starts the analysis the outcome will be equally muddled. That’ll make the urn easier to defend while we, hopefully, continue to Keep It Simple and Make It Fun.

That, I think, is the secret to recent success. We got the selection right, played it hard and made the team environment an enjoyable place to be.

Let’s pause and look at those matters a little more closely.

The first thing we got right, IMHO, was the appointment of a full time National Selector. Andrew Hilditch had been trying to run a law practice and select Australian teams, and you can’t do both.

The first thing we got wrong was the combination around the selection table. That’s not to say that there’s never a place for a captain on the selection panel, but Clarke wasn’t the right man to sit on that panel at that point in time.

The second thing we got wrong probably the interaction between those at the supervisory level once the team was selected, and between supervisors and the players once the selected team assembled.

It’s just over twelve months since we were agonising over a rotation policy that seemed to be the outcome of an inability to deliver a fast bowling attack that didn’t have someone breaking down. It seems no one had the common sense to sit down with the players, explain what was happening and why it was necessary and spell out that the formula wasn’t open to negotiation.

I may have it wrong, but if the logic involves a statistical probability of breaking down in the next match if you bowl more than x number of overs in this one you need to assure the players you’re not doing things that’ll push them into the at risk category and you also need to deliver a strong message about not commenting on, or being guarded in your comments about, selection matters.

That’s not to suggest there’s no room for someone doing Pat Howard’s job, managing international workloads and monitoring the interactions between state and national teams. There are a number of stakeholders involved, and you probably need someone to make sure that one crowd’s self-interest doesn’t undermine the greater good of everyone else.

There was a touch of that last point in the post-match radio discussion when the subject of Pat Cummins (Australia’s highest paid university student) came up. He’d just made a score in Perth club cricket, and there was some speculation he was about to be included in the Scorchers’ line up.  The kid’s still in the at risk age group, coming back off serious injury, and needs to be brought back gradually rather than rushed into the limelight for short term advantage in a competition that may be irrelevant.

Cummins may be the genuinely quick quickie we’ll need when Johnson slows down. End of story. He’s on his way back, doing something constructive along the way, and if he’s also coming along as a batsman that’ll probably come in handy as well.

And, of course, the Argus Report gave us Mickey Arthur, which as it turns out wasn’t the smartest move.

That’s not saying it wasn’t a move that needed to be made, but it didn’t turn out right.

The big point here is that you need the right people at the top of things, and those people aren’t necessarily the ones with the best on paper credentials. They’re possibly not the ones with the perceived best track record either.

At this point,  we’re hovering on the edge of familiar territory as we approach what The Actor and I refer to as the Potassium Counters.

I spent a fair bit of time hovering around the Primary School representative scene, and I’ve seen more than one or two Level Three Accredited Coaches I’d be reluctant to put in charge of an Under 11 team. Level Three supposedly qualifies you to coach an international side, but having the piece of paper doesn’t necessarily mean you can coach.

Conversely, the lack of the piece of paper doesn’t mean you can’t.

The Actor, with a grandson who had the right build to be a shot-putter, trained the kid to national age championships, and I was in the vicinity one Friday night when he collared a young bloke who knew a little about the shot and had  a demonstration of some basic dos and don’ts in a quiet corner of the QB pub.

That was never going to be enough, and he went on to put himself through the process of gaining national accreditation to help the kid along the way, and ensure that someone else didn’t step in and stuff things up for him.

And, in the process, he ran across people whose perceived role was to monitor the athlete’s potassium intake, or some other seemingly insignificant matter. There’s a tendency for organisations like teams and national sporting bodies to set up extensive support structures, and there’s a large number of people with impressive paper qualifications looking for a job.

The employment of Potassium Counters and the need to give them something to do is more than likely, the origin of the Homework Affair, which marked the beginning of Mickey Arthur’s demise. He had been, of course, a rather successful coach at international level, but one could mount a pretty strong case to suggest the proverbial Blind Freddie could have coached the Proteas at that stage of things.

So I’ll be watching reports coming out of England as the navel-gazing begins, and while I’m waiting that article linked to earlier is well worth a careful read.

Not that I’m going to opine on the England process, you understand. There’s plenty to keep me busy worrying about where we’re headed…

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Looking Beyond the Possible Five-Nil...

Looking at the possibility of a five-nil whitewash there’ll undoubtedly be people sitting back and muttering things about wishing things were more competitive.

Which, of course, is balderdash, unless you’re an England supporter.

Five-nil is the score line that, in some cases, suggests that there probably aren’t too many things that could have been done much better. It means you’ve probably got most things right, but the important question involves where we go from here.

Taking our prompt from this article (Australia eye unforeseen clean sweep) there are a couple of points that need to be emphasised.

Brydon Coverdale (for mine, one of the best cricket writers going around) nails things pretty well towards the bottom of the piece when he offers the following Stats and trivia:

Should Australia win in Sydney it will complete their third 5-0 Ashes clean sweep, after 1920-21 and 2006-07

From which, one would suggest that if the whitewash does fall into place, rather than wishing things were more competitive, you should enjoy it. It doesn’t happen very often.

If Australia name an unchanged side it will be the first time they have ever used the same XI throughout a five-Test series

Which is interesting on two counts. First, it suggests that we’ve got our strongest side on the paddock, and have managed to keep it there without issues involving injury or loss of form. That’s remarkable in its own way, but also suggests we don’t have players on the fringe of

Test selection sticking their hands up. There are still question marks over much of the batting order, and there’s no one in the top six who looks to have cemented a place in the long term.

Warner and Rogers look like a reasonable opening combination, though Rogers isn’t going to be there next time England tours here. He may well be missing when we head across to defend the urn.

Watson remains a question mark at Three, and the question of whether, and how much, he bowls remains.

Clarke is only there until his back goes and isn’t going to be able to play every Test of every series in the meantime. That doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere soon, but every Test and every series could be his last.

Smith needs to become more consistent, and Bailey needs to translate limited over success into long form consistency, and probably needs to do it very quickly.

Haddin has is no more than a medium-term prospect with the gloves, and Wade has slipped down the pecking order.

This fast bowling trio is only going to last as long as it takes for one of them to break down.

Ironically, that means the best long-term prospect in this eleven is possibly Nathan Lyon, who is coming along very nicely.

In the event of a draw or an Australian win, Australia will jump from fifth to third on the ICC Test rankings and England would drop from third to fourth. An England win would leave England third and Australia would move up from fifth to fourth

And this one, folks, is the one that matters.

Win this Test and we still have to overcome India and South Africa, and we’ll need to do it home and away. We’ve got a huge reality test coming up next month with three Tests in South Africa.

A glance at the Future Series/ Tournaments page on Cricinfo shows nothing on the Test front before the next Australian summer and World Cups in both short forms this year (T20) and next (ODI).

So, in some ways, we’ve got a bit of time to catch our breath and take a look around.

As far as the short forms go, we’ve got five ODIs, a PM’s XI game and three T20s against England before that T20 World Cup, and the rest of the Big Bash to keep us amused in the interim.

We should be looking to make the semi-finals in that T20 World Cup. After that everything is pretty much in the hands of the cricketing gods.

We should be competitive in the 50 over version as well, and should be looking to make the final there.

But the key issue, as it always will be, involves getting to #1 in the Test rankings and, once we have, staying there.

That means, for mine, getting to the point where we’ve got our strongest side on the park, with adequate cover for each position and allowances for differing playing conditions.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the position England currently find themselves in, it’s the need to have a reasonably strong squad with adequate and reasonably experienced reserves.

Using this eleven as the basis for that squad, we want two backup openers, someone who could slot into Three or Four, someone for Five or six, cover for the ‘keeper, three backup quicks with a couple of roles covered between then, a reserve offie, a potential leggie (bearing in mind that it might be Smith) and a left arm tweaker other than Clarke.

Do a head count out of that lot and you’re looking at a group of around twenty, drawn from six Shield squads, which would number somewhere between twenty and thirty players. Say one hundred and twenty regular first class players, and that’s one in six playing, on the verge of playing, or with an outside chance of playing, for Australia.

One in six, or thereabouts.

So, if we’re looking to go on from here, hit the top of the rankings and stay there, we need to ensure that the Shield is the strongest competition we can organise. It has to be hard fought, and it needs to be played on surfaces that aren’t too far removed from Test cricket.

Shield cricket should have batsmen amassing substantial scores against bowlers who are looking to insert themselves in the pecking order when it comes to Australian selection. They need to be doing that on wickets that offer pace and bounce on Day One, flatten out on Days Two and Three and start to take turn on Day Four.

We should be taking a serious look at playing Shield games over five days.

Ironically, one thing that will make that possible is a continuation of this season’s major innovation, playing the interstate one-day series in a block in one capital city. It doesn’t always have to be Sydney, and it probably doesn’t actually need to be a capital city, but the notion of the interstate one-daters as a pre-season comp has definite merit and is worth persisting with.

It serves as a warm-up for the Shield, which runs nicely into the Test series, and since we’re going to be burdened with a Big Bash into the foreseeable future, at least it slots nicely in towards the limited overs side of the international calendar.

And, as far as the emerging players are concerned, we need the up and coming quicks to be working on their batting through that time when their bowling workloads are being strictly managed.

We need to have all batsmen working on being able to bowl something reasonably well. Doesn’t have to be particularly flash, just an ability to land something reasonable on a fairly consistent basis, hopefully with a variation thrown in.

Every player in every squad under the age of twenty-five should also be working towards gaining professional, academic or tradesman qualifications so that they have definite prospects for life after cricket. These things should be a conscious effort on the part of the various State bodies as a way on ensuring the talent isn’t being drawn away by the football codes, which can offer bigger money at an earlier stage in the athlete’s career.

And, whatever we do, when all that starts to sound a little bit too close to routine and mundane, and we’re tempted to do something fancy, we need to give ourselves a pinch, and adopt a constant mantra of Keep it simple, stupid.

Oh, and nothing resembling a thirty-eight page document outlining the dietary requirements, thank you very much.