Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Australia: The Way Forward

There can be no doubt now that Australia's period of world dominance is over. Having lost their first series on home turf in nearly two decades, to one of their traditional rivals (and some might say whipping boys) South Africa, following its loss to India abroad, Australia's seemingly endless period of victory after victory, with barely a loss to be seen, has ended. Finding itself down 2-0, with one more test Australia needs to not lose in order to save its number 1 world ranking, the result brings to the forefront a boring and tired side, and changes that selectors must make in order to give Australia any chance of coming back.

The only thing stopping one from saying that Australia is not the best cricketing country in the world anymore is the selectors' obvious mistakes. They persisted with an out of form Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds, and even picked the latter through injury which ruled the all rounder out of bowling his medium pacers, and hampered him in the field. Their unresponsiveness to the problem of Australia's pace attack is also worrying. From their pathetic performance in failing to bowl South Africa out for less than 400 in the second innings, the selectors' only change was to replace one mediocre off spinner with another (Jason Krejza out for Nathan Hauritz).

Meanwhile in domestic cricket, the top 3 runs scorers for the Sheffield Shield are all currently or have been opening the batting, with Michael Klinger on 900+ runs already after half a season, the ever consistent Chris Rogers still scoring runs for what must be the 5th season in a row, and 19 year old excitement machine Phil Hughes doing magnificently in a poor NSW side. All 3 are capable of replacing Hayden, so one wonders why the selectors have not only left him in the side for the 3rd test, but even went as far as to say that they didn't expect him to retire, rather they felt he could play a role in the future. Furthermore, the selectors' continual recycling of Andrew Symonds can only be interpreted as either incompetence or a need to please sponsors putting Symonds' mug on their products in regular ads during the cricket. Symonds' selection after a handful of games in domestic cricket for Queensland, of which he failed to score a single 50 and had an average only a bowler would be proud of, was wrong enough in itself, but his continual waste of chances and the selectors' failure to respond is just as bad. Even injured ahead of the Boxing Day test, the selectors left out an in form Shane Watson for Symonds.

On the bright side, selectors have brought in a new face to the team, with Symonds finally unable to take his spot, in comes Victorian Andrew McDonald, a genuine all rounder who averages 46 with the bat and 24 with the ball this season. McDonald, at 27, has been named in extended World Cup and Champions Trophy squads, but his selection is almost as surprising and sudden as it is deserved. A key part of Victoria's undefeated season this year, it is pleasing to see selectors finally select an inform 'youngster' rather than recycling older players.

Another key inclusion to the squad is Doug Bollinger, who was unlucky to play no cricket on Australia's tour of India despite being in the squad throughout, who will battle with Ben Hilfenhaus for the spot vacated by Brett Lee's injury. One hopes that the selectors will persist with one of the two swing specialists ahead of Lee, whose recent form has been poor, pace down and penetration almost nonexistent. Meanwhile there are other options too, such as the inform Dirk Nannes, whose breakthrough county season for Middlesex has been followed up with him the leading wicket taker for the Shield, despite missing one match through injury, and being taken out of the attack by umpires for an entire innings after bowling three consecutive full tosses (two of which were beamers). Nannes is almost a slower Jeff Thomson or even Shaun Tait, reckless and unafraid to hurt batsmen, but also picking up wickets. Nannes even knocked out batsman David Bandy with a lethal bouncer just last week.

Australia's key to success from here on lies with its selections. Australian selectors can no longer afford the luxury of giving veterans 'just one more chance' to perform. If Australia does not respond accordingly, it will find itself blown out of the water, and perhaps even lose the Ashes in 2009. A new year dawns, and with it a new era of cricket. Can Australia survive atop the world rankings? Only time, and selectors, will tell.


Tim said...

Great piece...the excess selectorial loyalty and 'closed shop' must resonate with England supporters. But whilst I agree Hayden and Symonds must go, the bowling deficiences do seem rather more difficult to rectify.

Dean Sherr said...

There's talent there, it won't be easy but it's time to start working towards a long term goal, which right now should be the Ashes.

Bollinger and Hilfenhaus are both swing bowlers so at least one of them has to be in the side when we go to England, to utilise those conditions properly.

By then Siddle will be good enough to play our main raw pace strike bowler, then you have Clark back from injury to hold down one end, making Hauritz's role less important, and Johnson of course doing his job finding the breakthroughs.

It won't be easy or instant, but it's workable and Australia have to start now. What better time to bring in Chris Rogers or Phil Hughes than now? Hayden is 37, if he does recover now who's to say he'll cope in England? He was poor enough last time, by then he'll nearly be 38, even if he does get some form now who says it will last?

Tim said...

I look at Hayden and I really see a batsman who's had it. I sort-of thought the same about him before the 5th Test in 05 - but I feel it even more strongly now. if he comes back again it will be a phemenonal effort.

Dean - I seem to have lost your email address. I was just wondering whether you'd be interested in doing an Australia Ashes ladder in the same format as my English one? It'd be fascinating to compare the two lists.

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