During the presentation ceremony after the second Test of the 2013 Ashes, which Australia had lost by 347 runs, Michael Clarke said he thought Australia could still win the Ashes. And all the fans still there laughed at him. During the press conference afterwards he repeated the belief, and all the gathered journalists laughed at him too. Andrew Strauss has, by declaring that England won’t pick their best team and will instead be concentrating on the medium to long term, effectively admitted that England can’t win the 2015 Ashes. And everyone in Australia is laughing at him.
On the surface there isn’t much difference between the ECB and Cricket Australia, in that neither is democratic in the slightest. The ‘Warnifesto’ period of a few years ago was utterly hilarious because not only has Warne been proven wrong in pretty much every single one of his poorly worded assertions, none of them mattered a damn anyway, since as long as CA chairman Wally Edwards thought James Sutherland was doing a good job, then Warnie could take his opinions and stick them. Which we fervently hope he did.
The main difference between the ECB and CA, as far as we can tell, is that CA mostly manage to remember that no amount of management bullshit can cover for having a poorly performing Test team. Not that they are perfect in this regard, and famously before the 2010/11 Ashes they lost the plot entirely. But mostly they seem to remember that if the Australian Test team isn’t performing, then all the forward planning in the world won’t amount to anything, as people will simply stop bothering to watch them.
In this sense Australia are almost fortunate for the famed ‘fickleness’ of their supporters. English journalists, in particular, love to denigrate Australian support for this perceived failing, but if their fans weren’t so demanding there is the possibility that CA would descend to the same level of self-serving hubris that defines the ECB today. And even when CA do get things spectacularly wrong, like they did with the Simon Katich episode, they at least manage to back the right horse doing so.
The ECB, by comparison, seemingly couldn’t give a shit about winning Test matches. It would be nice, we suppose, in that it would make those awful journalists with their nasty questions go away, but even that doesn’t seem like such a problem anymore, not now that most cricket journalists seem to be on the ECB payroll. Some could barely even be bothered trying to even hide the fact. So instead the ECB are happily selling a story of ‘planning for the medium to long term’, and ignoring the fact that such an approach utterly dismisses the present. You know, like looming Test series against New Zealand and Australia. Stuff like that.
Strauss is trying to sell English fans a pup. Put up with some suffering now in the hope that it’ll all pay off in 2019 or 2020. Except there is nothing to indicate that things will improve in time. Succession planning has been proven time and time again to be utter rubbish. Australia knew for years that McGrath, Warne et al would have to retire one day, and knew from bitter experience what happened the last time they were in a similar situation in the mid 80’s when Chappell, Marsh and Lillee all retired, and yet they still stuffed things up. England knew Graeme Swann’s elbow would stop working eventually, but did they plan effectively for it? Hell no. 18 months later they still don’t have a proper replacement sorted. So there is nothing to say Strauss will be able to effectively replace Anderson when he eventually retires. And an English team without Anderson is not really worth thinking about.
The ECB is trying to argue that it is making the necessary ‘hard’ decisions to guarantee the future of English cricket. But this isn’t the hard decision, it’s the easy decision. The hard decision would be to, like CA, give the keys to one of their most adamant critics, and give him all the freedom he needed to get the Test team winning again. We don’t yet know who England will pick as their new head coach, but they certainly won’t be given the sort of freedom Lehmann was. Because the ECB don’t think they are in the wrong. Instead there have been misunderstandings and breakdowns of communications, hence Strauss’s new position. CA can at least admit when they get things wrong. The ECB seem to have taken a leaf out of the Pope’s book and declared themselves infallible.
As far as Australian fans are concerned, the removal of KP is the best news they could possibly hear. He is still the only player England have, other than Anderson in full flight, who actually worries them. Without him, England are just so much worse. The ECB, or even those fans who agree with them, can spin the decision however they like, but that’s the crux of the matter. Australia might not have won the 2013 Ashes from 2-0 down, but by trying to win it, and arguably matching their hosts over the next three Tests, they laid the platform for their success later that year. Because losing is a habit, and you can only really successfully rebuild a winning side, not a losing one. The ECB have seemingly concluded that they would rather feather their own beds and protect their own than similarly throw everything they have at the Ashes. They are happy to lose in the short term, and sell people promises that things will be better in the long term.
KP may divide opinion like nobody else, but the way he has been treated has led to one consensus at least; no cricket fans deserve to put up with the ECB’s shit.