Like an irritable teenager, the Australian public has recently been rudely awakened to the fact that their Test team really isn’t very good, and have immediately started throwing a tantrum. The most obvious scapegoats are the management team, Mickey Arthur and Pat Howard in particular. Will they get the boot for the humiliation in India? It’s hard to say, but probably not. Largely because despite this somewhat significant setback the head honchos at Cricket Australia still believe in their ability to complete the ‘project’: reclaiming Test cricket’s number one spot. But surely such abjectly miserable performances must lead to changes being made, right? Root and branch and all that stuff? Well, er, you see the thing is that…umm. Actually this could take a bit of explaining.
When the Australian domestic season began last September we stated that its main point of interest was the opportunities present owing to the rubbish state of all the Australian national teams. Many months later Australia are in an even worse position across all three formats (remember how a few months ago they were one Test victory away from the number one ranking? Bit hard to believe now). But have any players emerged in the interim to turn things around? Well no, not really. Aside from Steven Peter Devereux Smith of course. But aside from him this Australian summer of cricket has been an unmitigated disaster.
In the last Steve Smith Report we touched on the atrocious state of Australia’s batting stocks, and since then the Sheffield Shield Final, between Tasmania and Queensland, has failed to provide any consolation. Attention was focused on two players in particular, Joe Burns and Alex Doolan, both of whom are held in high regard and considered Test prospects. Both failed when it mattered most; Doolan mustering totals of 6 and 26, and Burns 6 and 32. The main highlight of the Final was Jordan Silk’s second consecutive First-class century, and Ryan Harris’s blistering spell in Tasmania’s second innings, where he reduced them to 15/5. Given Harris bowled 40 overs in Tasmania’s first innings and lived to tell the tale, he is now suddenly a shoe-in for the Ashes squad.
But that doesn’t answer the most pressing question, that of who is going to force the criminally underachieving David Warner, Shane Watson et al out of the Test team? Well, nobody. There just isn’t anybody out there that the selectors could genuinely expect to improve things. Yes they could turn to a player like Chris Rodgers or David Hussey, or even take a punt on one of the above, and be pretty confident that they would be selecting better cricketers than Warner or Watson. But would that necessarily mean they would be better options for the Ashes? Given their lack of Test experience (Rodgers is the only one to have played a Test match, and that was back in the early 50’s) it’s impossible to say. Unless someone makes a brilliant start to the county season such that they simply cannot be ignored (and, yes, this means Rob Quiney could still possibly make a return), nobody has performed well enough to demand selection. Except perhaps Rogers, but even then Australia has about five openers in their squad already, so that seems a bit unlikely.
The same names always crop up in discussions like this, players like Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, and Cameron White. Their proponents are usually those critics of Australian cricket, like, say, Shane Warne, who rarely bother actually watching Australian domestic cricket. Essentially the same critics who said Steve Smith’s selection in the Test team made no sense. Or pick Nathan Coulter-Nile in every possible Australian squad. All these critics are using to back up their arguments are a set of frankly underwhelming First-class averages. Right now the demand for change is such that it might seem a good option to switch an underperforming Test batsmen for an underwhelming Shield one. Well, it probably makes a lot of sense to the English bowlers at least.
No doubt players like Warner and Watson need a kick up the arse and there are currently about 20 million Australians who would gladly volunteer to give them one. Even someone like Ed Cowan, despite all of his protests to the contrary, has been a massive, massive disappointment (a Test average of 32.9 after 30 innings can’t be described in any other way). But the sad fact is that nobody is doing enough to force the selectors to look elsewhere. Throwing a bunch of new names into the mix just because a large proportion of the public has suddenly realised that Channel Nine have been lying to them about the Australian team all along would be a farcical response.
So what does this all mean then? Well firstly that Australia are just a bit shit. But in a Test environment where aside from South Africa everyone is just a bit shit, that’s no real handicap. Secondly, getting back to the top of the heap in Test cricket is going to take a lot longer than first anticipated, so the team’s management are going to have to get used to taking the long term view, and the Australian public are going to have to suck it up and accept that there are going to be more reverses in future, although probably not on the scale of that experienced in India.
Most of all, though, it means the players actually have to start becoming more accountable and start at least giving the appearance of giving a shit. Which means actually valuing your wicket and not running down the pitch and getting stumped because it all looks a bit too difficult and you couldn’t be bothered trying to build an innings. Getting flogged in India is one thing; even the best teams struggle in Indian conditions and expectations before the tour were pretty low in any case. But getting flogged in the Ashes is another thing altogether, and a scenario that (quite rightly) nobody is prepared to tolerate. Which ultimately means that players like Warner and Watson need to perform in England. Because if they don’t they sure won’t be playing in the return series.
Predicted Ashes touring squad
Michael Clarke, David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson, Steven Peter Devereux Smith, Brad Haddin, Matt Wade, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, Fawad Ahmed
Reserves/Bodyguard detail for Devereux
Usman Khawaja, Stephen O’Keefe, James Faulkner