Y’know, we’ve written so much about how laughably bad Australia are that we’ve covered it from pretty much every angle. We’ve talked about their rubbish selection processes, their single minded approach to aggressive batting, their obsession with people called Mitchell, the plight of a Chairman of Selectors who never wanted the bloody job anyway, and why everything is really Lehmann’s fault. Except for those times when it’s Mitchell Marsh’s fault. You’d think that, by now, we’d have pretty much exhausted all possible avenues for talking about just how bad Australia are. But given their most recent collapse(s) we feel we really ought to give it another shot anyway. Because even if this article just repeats stuff we’ve said all before, it does need repeating. Because not only are Australia shit right now, this might be the shittest they have ever been.
There are three exceptional low points in just the last five years or so of Australian cricket: the 2010/11 Ashes, most of 2013 and now. And that’s overlooking that time they got bowled out for 47. Of those three periods the first was somewhat mitigated by the fact they were up against a pretty decent England team, the second by the fact they were in India, and nobody really expected them to do well anyway, although not to be as horrifically bad as they turned out. But this? This is against a decent South African team shorn of its two best players. Sure, South Africa may well prove to be a great team in time (Rabada and Bavuma look brilliant prospects), but at the moment they are just building. And yet they have consistently smashed Australia. It’s been the most lopsided contest since that loser Trump tried to take on the unconquerable might of Team Hillary.
The typical reaction is to claim all the players are shit and should be dumped. Darren Lehmann has done exactly that, claiming probably half the team will be binned before the next Test. An easy solution, but the wrong one. Sure, Mitchell Marsh is unquestionably rubbish. As is Callum Ferguson. But we have been writing about Australia being shit for years because they have been shit for years. Even when they were doing well, such as the 2013/4 Ashes, the batting was still consistently bobbins, and required Brad Haddin to bail it out time and time again. Blaming the players is pointless, because they’ve nearly all suffered the same fate. Even Chris Rogers, the man now supposed to try and help Australian batsmen adapt to difficult conditions, scored a duck when they were rolled in the first-innings at Trent Bridge.
Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to Sheffield Shield cricket knows there are no batsmen in it guaranteed to be capable of making the step up to international cricket. Sure, you could drop Burns and Voges and play Bancroft and Maddinson instead, but would they necessarily be any better? Probably not. It would just be a hunch call, another gut feel moment. None of these guys are a Haseeb Hameed, or a Quinton de Kock, who demanded selection on the back of a mountain of domestic runs. Shield cricket hasn’t produced a player like that for years, the last being Steven Peter Devereux Smith. This suggests, as others have pointed out, that the Australian domestic setup is inherently broken and has been for some time. Scheduling only a single round of First Class cricket before a Test series, and that with a pink ball, is just the most obvious manifestation of that.
This is why the easy reaction of blaming the players is the wrong one. What else are they supposed to do? Some, at least, like Voges, Bancroft and Jake Lehmann, head over to England to play more First Class cricket and try and further develop their game. Mitch Marsh said he would do the same after the last Ashes…..but then didn’t. But if players aren’t getting a proper preparation in their own domestic setup, which clearly they aren’t, then it’s no surprise when they then fail. Picking a bunch of different players instead may unearth the odd gem who hits the ground running, but it’s far more likely to just expose another bunch of players who are ill-prepared to meet the demands of Test cricket.
The solution? Rip the whole thing to pieces and start all over again. But even this is harder than it sounds. Cricket Australia hasn’t undermined Shield cricket because they are hateful bastards trying to destroy Australian cricket from within (well, Pat Howard might be); it’s because nobody cares about Shield cricket, and it doesn’t pay the bills. In a summer in which neither England or India are visiting Australian shores, they are forecasting a AU$68 million loss. Claiming they are just greedy is stupid as well, as that is money they can’t subsequently plow back into developing the grass-roots of the game, while the decision to keep the Big Bash on free-to-air shows that they are not always obsessed with just the bottom line.
Somehow they need to find a better balance, and so far they are failing at it. The one obvious point is that if the domestic setup is not developing well-rounded cricketers, having a national coach who simply backs players to play their natural game is a big no-no. Most Australian batsmen looked absolutely petrified at Hobart, which indicates that what the team needs is a mentor who will help shape developing cricketers into Test players. Justin Langer seems to be the obvious choice, with Jason Gillespie an equally good alternative. They could probably just hire both, and they’d likely work well together. Lehmann’s tenure has been a failure, and the team has gone backwards ever since the series against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014. If anyone should be blamed for the team’s current plight, it’s him, and frankly he ought to have fallen on his sword well before now.
All of which is something we’ve long argued before, but it seems Australian cricket has to fall a fair way further yet before change is made where it’s most needed: at the top. Instead they’ll first exhaust the usual options of calling up new players (whilst scapegoating some of the old ones) and bringing in the same old ex-players who will no doubt cheer everyone up by reminding them of just how shit they are compared to Australian teams of years past.