Wednesday, January 19, 2011

End of Empire

I realise that I am tardy with my eulogy for the Australian cricket team as every other journalist and fellow with an opinion have long since given out their obituaries. I refrained from doing so as I wanted to see what aftermath there would be to the ruin. The recriminations have been underwhelming though and immediate attention has flurried onto limited overs cricket without, as yet, sufficient redress given for what was an unacceptable failure. I would like to discuss this at some length as well as several other matters of pressing importance. While drafting this I have found that both Peter Roebuck and Gideon Haigh have written excellent pieces on the subject and would refer readers to them for a far more comprehensive view on the subject.

A COMPLAINT AGAINST THE AUSTRALIAN CRICKET ADMINISTRATION
The major fault and reason for Australia's disgrace lies in selection- both with the decisions made during the series, and more fundamentally, the lack of foresight and planning which has characterised selection these past several years. This Ashes series has been the focus of selectors for the last 18 months though actions would seem to suggest otherwise. Foremost among their mistakes is the mockery of picking a spinner this summer. This, their gravest offence, has recieved comparatively little notice overshadowed by the failure of any of the pacemen to be consistenly effective. Further there was little turn in the pitches and, to judge by Graeme Swann's fairly moderate performance, spin played only a small part in the series. This does not excuse the error though. Nathan Hauritz had been endorsed as Australia's default spinner. To drop him over a bad series in India is ludicrous. If there is any creedence to the conjecture that Ponting had a role in his dismissal after a personal fallout with the spinner then that is disgraceful. Hauritz was adequate for the job and his sacking is inexplicable. Doherty was never a realistic option. Beer was decent enough comparatively but has as yet not developed to an international level.

Fast bowling is a problem for Australia and it is difficult to fault the selectors on the point. I do have some gripes over the never fully explained shunning of Stuart Clark though.

OUR PREVIOUS ASHES HERO LET OUT TO PREMATURE PASTURE

Much as I like him, Marcus North should have been replaced a long time previous to this summer with the same ruthless efficency which marked Steven Finn's dropping. I do not doubt that there is potential to Steven Smith but at a time when dependability was required he was the wrong choice. His ungainly and unorthodox technique did nothing to inspire confidence and I do not think he is yet capable of being the player who Australia are trying to make him. Phillip Hughes, though a more aesthetically pleasing batsman, was also an errant recall. Certainly not both of these gentlemen should have been selected at that moment.

Selection is the easiest point for the uninformed outsider to take umbrage with. Presumably there are a host of other problems within the team and structure. The manner in which all and sundry have scrambled and squirmed to shirk blame suggests so. In seperate interviews I have heard Ricky Ponting, Tim Nielsen, Andrew Hilditch, and even Justin Langer, carry forth on very similar lines. Namely they more or less say, "Yes, there are deep problems within Australian cricket and stiff changes need to be made, even to the core of operations. I, however, am part of the solution not the problem and need to be retained as I will be a pivotal figure in leading Australian cricket out from this malaise." I wish I had kept the newspaper clippings where I saw this statement made in different guises again and again so I could quote verbatim. We can look at other silly comments made though, such as this one from Andrew Hilditch,
"...nobody could be more disappointed than the national selection panel. We picked what we thought was a squad capable of winning the Ashes and it wasn't capable of winning the Ashes, so that is disappointing."
It simply does not wash. Hilditch seems to be attempting to shift the blame onto the squad, or perhaps fate, rather than assuming responsibility for what were the wrong decisions. Indeed he almost solicits sympathy. The fact is though I do feel some degree of pity for Hilditch wracking wildly in desperation. There is no such similar condolence for James Sutherland. Rather than face the actual circumstances of the Melbourne Test he arbitrarily heaped the blame upon Michael Clarke and Phillip Hughes for attending a charity breakfast on Boxing Day. Sutherland claimed,
"That was a supreme error of judgment on their part. The players decided that of their own will... As a professional footballer, you would never do that."
That is of no consequence whatsoever. Its picking a mote from the eye of another while ignoring the beam hanging out of your own socket. In the same breath Sutherland turned upon Hilditch,
"Andrew's comments … were unfortunate, and I think what he was trying to say was the selectors had tried their hardest. Everyone involved needs to take responsibility for what was a very disappointing performance."
What a bitter smack of hypocrisy lies in his words.

THE SITUATION
Let us not forget events. It was humiliating. Adelaide could be explained as a great victory for England but at Melbourne and Sydney Australia were ground into sausage meat. That which has always seemed an impossibilty to anyone of my generation has occurred and our nation is no more. I do not know how far deeper we can sink but surely it must have been similarly impossible 25 years ago to ever imagine that the West Indies could sink to their present ragtag state.

Getting to grips with mutability is a rum old thing. I find change of that sort on a personal level utterly terrifying. For it to happen to Australian cricket, something perenially secure, is to have a vast surreal gulf open before one's feet. For me the greatest work on the subject is LVI from Tennyson's In Memoriam. Writing for all Victorians, the poet broached the most monstrous of all realisations of impermanence, that mankind and the world as we know it will eventually fade away,
'So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quaried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go
This same giddy tow relates to Australian cricket which Tennyson devotes to beloved mankind, doomed to,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match'd with him.
However I cannot believe that the situtation is utterly hopeless. Despite Ponting pointing to a slumped level of first class cricket in the nation and calling for an overhaul of the entire administrative stucture, I still believe that Australia has a rich domestic level and is a healthy cricket environment. Unlike the Carribean which has faced encroaching Americanisation, devestating the sport, ciricket will maintain interest in Australia and continue to be strong.

Further if the right decisions are made a very good team can be fielded. We do not have those same magnificent seams which have benefited us the past two decades and even were the best available squad to play it is questionable that they could combat this ascendant English side. At least though they could justify the everpresent defence heard from anyone questioned, "We tried our best." Tony Hayward attempted a similar approach for BP over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and was greeted by the jeers of a US Congressional Hearing. Why cricket administrators believe it a valid argument is beyond me.

We have no great spectre to fear but we must accept that for at least the present future cricket will be a struggle and we will lose a deal of it. Truly though this is healthy. It is an exciting time for international cricket and the World Cup stands to be the first bounty of the period. Not in recent memory have the stakes been so equal and what is to follow should be thrilling. While India, South Africa, and England are clearly superior teams both Australia and Sri Lanka are of a very high standard, Pakistan have somehow managed to recover enough to be a sometimes formidable side and the West Indies still shows promise, particularly with young Darren Bravo bringing a fresh wind to the side. I am certainly optimistic.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE
There is a long six months until Australia tour Sri Lanka. In the interim there is the remainder of the domestic season and a World Cup before serious thought can be given to that touring party. Such being the case there is little point to expostulating my idle thoughts on the team but I would still make good claim for Michael Clarke as captain. While his batting has not yet improved and his unorthodox field settings have not as yet proved their worth, his leadership gives a fresh and optimistic air to the team. There is merit to Ponting returning to the team as a senior player and it would be wonderful to see him successful in such a role so as to be remembered as a great batsman rather than a failed captain. Should this occur though he must not be reinstated as leader and must learn to distance himself from such proceedings and not complicate matters.

The Australian cricket system is to be given a thorough review and one hopes it will be of the astringent, unsentimental type rather than some inconclusive prodding. It fills me with the greatest faith that there is talk of Ric Charlesworth heading the inquiry. I would think that many readers are unaware of the staggering achievements of Charlesworth, a renaissance man native to Western Australia. A doctor by profession, Charlesworth was a member of the great Western Australian squad of the 1970's. This was the state's first gush of consistent success in a team consisting of other great men of standing in this state as John Inverarity and Ian Brayshaw, and players such as Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Tony Mann, Graham McKenzie, Craig Serjeant, and Bob Massie. While Charlesworth holds the unassuming first class average of 30.22 one imagines that had he channelled all of his energies into cricket it would have been far higher. Among his other pursuits he was involved in the Australian Men's Field Hockey team being a member of five Olympic squads, two of which he captained. Charlesworth is also Steve Smith's predecessor as Labor member for the federal seat of Perth serving three terms. Throughout the 90's he served as coach to the Australian women's hockey team in their blaze of success and most recently has been appointed coach of the men's team. I would particularly like to get a hold of his book, Shakespeare the Coach. Charlesworth is known for his judicious, uncomprimising, and unbiased character, austere where required. Such capable a gentleman as he is required to mete justice in these circumstances of ours.

A GREAT MAN WHO HAS ENJOYED A CAREER OF ACHIEVEMENT AND INTEGRITY

Speaking of the well rounded man, did you realise reader that Usman Khawaja is a qualified pilot?

Andrew Hilditch's contract expires after the World Cup and with 15 years in the role, the majority of which have been hugely successful, it would be a prudent time for him to leave. As with everyone else in the situation he has made it clear he has no intention of doing so though making this one of the first tussles to be sorted. Incidentally Hilditch is Bob Simpson's son-in-law. I wonder if this may be the same daughter who provoked such controversy with Tim Zoehrer. Tim Nielsen's contract was due to expire with the Ashes but he was awarded a premature three year renewal prior to the summer. As for James Sutherland and those in other roles it will be seen if anyone goes to the guillotine. It promises to be a fascinating study.

OTHER MATTERS OF IMPORTANCE
Devoted reader's might remember my reluctance to discuss the spot and match fixing allegations surrounding the Pakistani players Mohammed Amir, Salman Butt, and Mohammed Asif. At that time I found the thought utterly abhorrent and too horrendous to be countenanced. Hearings have been taking place these past months in Doha, Qatar. A finding was due to be given at the beginning of January but the verdict has been deferred until February the 5th. It would seem almost certain that wrong doing has taken place though to what extent it will be proved we shall see. I have heard some talk of Amir facing the weakest case. Amir is the most talented and exciting player of the trio and it is his downfall which is the most painful. I find myself then willing him on to exoneration even though there may be guilt upon him. I think this is wrong of me though.

IT ENGENDERS DIFFICULT FEELINGS

We have what promises to be a fine year of cricket ahead of us and I look forward to it greatly. Trumper would like to take the opportunity to wish its readers a Happy New Year and hope that all of us may enjoy it to the fullest. Incidentally CricInfo were kind enough to put up another Fan Following report of mine which can be found here. Thank you for reading.

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