Cricket Australia, you done stuffed up. Once upon a time, you had a thriving domestic limited overs competition. Sure, it wasn’t especially glamorous but it was high quality and attracted decent crowds. Now, look what you have ended up with. A ridiculously truncated tournament shoved to the very beginning of the season and played on marginal grounds. Quality has nosedived as it is treated as a warmup for the season proper, and it’s further diluted by the inclusion of a Cricket Australia XI largely made up of cast-offs and rejects. All public interest has evaporated and commercial television support has now disappeared. Is it any surprise the national ODI team is now utter shite?
It’s probably drawing too long a bow to lay all the blame for Australia’s ODI woes at the feet of the domestic tournament. But it is as good a place to start as any. The tournament is now so woefully out of season that performances in it have no bearing whatsoever on the national squad. This is a position we argued back in October, where we pointed out that its highest run scorers and wicket takers were seldom considered for national selection. Instead, you see the likes of Chris Lynn parachuted in.
This is a mile removed from the glorious days of yore, when the Mercantile Mutual, and then the ING, Cup was played in-season, starting mid-October and ending in mid-February. Maybe the problem is that they don’t have banks sponsoring domestic cricket anymore. Now the tournament, whatever it’s called, starts late September and ends in October. What international players might be available can only play at the very end of the tournament, if at all.
None of this is news, of course. The Australian ODI team has been lurching along without much direction for a while, but it’s only recently it has descended into full-blown crisis. The recall of Cameron White was the sign the shit had hit the fan. White is a good limited overs player who has performed excellently domestically for years. But if Australia had been winning he would never have been considered for a recall. Instead, the selectors would have turned to a young prospect. Like they did with Travis Head. Or Sam Heazlett…in other circumstances the selectors would have directly gone for Nic Maddinson over someone like White.
That they turned instead to White indicates the previous approach patently wasn’t working and they needed to turn to proven performers instead. But White had been barely playing for Victoria in the Shield, and of course his limited overs form was months behind him. It was a desperate move undertaken by a selection panel that didn’t have a lot of good choices to pick from.
Compare this to Australian limited overs cricket in its heyday, when it could easily fill two teams, both of international standard. Now it can barely fill one. The only option is turning to Big Bash players and hoping they can translate that form to 50 over games. It doesn’t always work. Additionally, most limited-overs tours are treated as of secondary importance. Hence half the team returning home from India ahead of the Ashes with highly predictable ‘injuries requiring rest’.
Most fans would support the Test team, particularly in an Ashes year, being given precedence over ODI cricket. But it’s possible to do both. Stupid money-making tours on the eve of home Test series are never going to be taken seriously. Nor are pit stop ODI itineraries. Like the series in South Africa, undertaken with a makeshift team, that they managed to lose 5-0. All of this has been excused under the argument that Australia is ‘rebuilding’ after the last World Cup. But that was three years ago now. Instead, it’s obvious that there is just a complete lack of direction.
With the World Cup now about a year away, there is no time for balanced solutions. Reinstating the domestic limited overs cup as it once was is now impossible. The Big Bash not only takes precedence but is set to expand enormously from next year. Solutions, therefore, have to be of a rather more drastic nature. Undertaken with a sledgehammer preferably.
Firstly, we’d dump Lehmann and replace him with either Jason Gillespie or Justin Langer. Whichever one wants the gig. Specialist ODI coaches haven’t tended to work well in the past (see Giles, Ashley) but it’s clear the current setup just ain’t working. Plus both are champing at the bit for more international experience. Especially Langer, who is just dying to get into a good scrap with England again.
We’d also consider the blasphemous move of removing the captaincy from Stephen Peter Devereux Smith and giving it to Warner. This is probably the first piece of implied Devereux criticism that has ever been seen on these hallowed pages, but its clear things need to be rejigged. Devereux is a good ODI captain, but a change in direction might help. It might also help his batting jump up a notch. Clearly, not the most well thought out of plans, but Australia is already well within the clutching at straws stage.
They also might want to reconsider the makeup of the team and in particular the raft of all-rounders in the middle order. Dumping one of Marsh or Stoinis would let them pick another specialist, either a batsman or bowler depending on conditions. Having both feels like a luxury the team can’t afford. They might want to reconsider a selection policy that is excluding Usman Khawaja and – dead rubber asisde – Glenn Maxwell. They might want to decide what to do about Nathan Lyon. They might want to decide who their first choice ‘keeper is; Paine or Carey. And they might want to make up their mind over whether their frontline attack can balance duties between Test and limited overs cricket.
In short, there is a hell of a lot of things to figure out within a very short space of time. Australia often tends to find itself behind the pack between World Cups but has shown a remarkable tendency to catch up quickly. Which is why it’s won five of the bloody things. England, meanwhile, is showing laudable commitment to the practice of peaking early. So Australia still has time. But rather than further fine-tuning, a swift boot up the arse is required. And another directed at Pat Howard, or whichever prick thought the current domestic 50 overs setup was a good idea, wouldn’t go astray.