Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Remembering the "A-Team", part 3

The Conclusion of our Special Feature on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the "A-Team's" Rebel Tour to apartheid-strewn South Africa.

For the record, I had rather a little too much fun working all this out.

To start with it was necessary to select the seventeen Rebel Tourists. What we did was to try and select the current players most resembling the 1985-87 tourists, based on his statistics up to that point, relative ages, reputations and playing styles. The ages don't tally up well because during that era players retired much earlier and as such a player at age 30 was much nearer the end of his career than a thirty-year old is today. Also matched, if possible, is their state of origin. As you'd expect, some comparisons proved easy, such as captain Hughes himself and the fast men while others weren't quite that simple.

In broad strokes, the touring party had to include:

- 7 players who played in Australia's most recent Test series (Australia in India),

- Australia's first-choice wicketkeeper, opening batsman and the two most damaging fast bowlers in the country, one out-and-out pace merchant and one who relies on the ball swinging,


- A few players who have played Test cricket but aren't currently around the team.

With these factors in minds, a direct comparison of the two teams could look a little like this:


Current Equivalent

Reason for Selection / Comparison

Kim Hughes (c)

Mike Hussey (c) (WA)

Down-on-luck-and-form former best batsman in country, with spirit of the game first in thoughts

Terry Alderman

Ben Hilfenhaus (TAS)

Possibly Australia's premier fast-bowler, definitely the most rhythmic and best swing bowler

John Dyson

Phil Jacques (NSW)

NSW Opening batsman discarded by national selectors after being unable to convince despite opportunities

Peter Faulkner

John Hastings (VIC)

All-rounder capable with both bat and ball but without a dominant skill-set

Mike Haysman

Adam Voges (WA)

Exciting talent but largely ignored by national selectors. Also bowls useful off-spin.

Tom Hogan

Jason Krezja (TAS)

Tweaker examined and then ignored by national team leaders, perhaps unfairly. Also a reasonable bat and good team man.

Rodney Hogg

Mitchell Johnson (WA)

Inconsistent national teamer, match-winner on his day. Probably closer to the end of careers than care to admit

Trevor Hohns

Xavier Doherty (TAS)

Effective spinner with only middling first-class stats.

John Maguire

Nathan Bracken (NSW)

Fast-medium bowler with limited future Australian opportunities after being effecctively discarded

Rod McCurdy

Clint McKay (VIC)

Victorian fast-medium bowler with One-Day International experience but earmarked "Not of Test quality"

Carl Rackemann

Shaun Tait (SA)

Fastest bowler in Australia, more of a one-day specialist

Steve Rixon

Brad Haddin (NSW)

Incumbent wicketkeeper, perhaps reaching the end of his tether

Greg Shipperd

George Bailey (TAS)

Tasweigian top-ender never receiving adequate respect for abilities

Steve Smith

David Warner (NSW)

Swashbuckling opening bat, clearly labelled "Never again for Test matches"

Mick Taylor

Michael Klinger (SA)

Batsman toiling in obscurity yet with a fantastic average and many runs

Graham Yallop

Brad Hodge (VIC)

Experienced batsman inexplicably unselectable for Australia despite double-century within last five Test innings

Kepler Wessels

Shane Watson (NSW)

Best opener in country with most productive years ahead of him.

Now, if you were to put this squad down on paper against an Australian team suddenly deprived of their services the comparison becomes more interesting. The starting line-ups would probably look like:


Rebel Tourists

Simon Katich

Shane Watson

Phil Hughes

Phil Jacques

Ricky Ponting

Brad Hodge

Michael Clarke

Adam Voges

Usman Khawaja

Mike Hussey (c)

Marcus North

Michael Klinger

Tim Paine

Brad Haddin

Peter Siddle

Mitchell Johnson

Peter George

Clint McKay

Nathan Hauritz

Xavier Doherty

Doug Bollinger

Ben Hilfenhaus

12th Ryan Harris

12th George Bailey

Now if the challenge was to select one of these two squads to win a five match series, it isn't an easy choice. As the first Ashes Test so aptly reminded us, it's much easier to compensate for a lack of class in a team's batsmen than to replace premier strike bowlers. Because of this, any lack of batsmanship potentially suffered by the Rebels could be overcome by their stronger attack. True to form, the "A-Team" suffered more from batting inconsistencies than bowling impotency so comparison is encouraging at this stage.

Over the short term, a rebel tour today would gut Australian cricket stocks and first-choice depth would be reduced to such levels that the rebuilding would need to match that overseen by Simpson & Border. Like in 1985 with McDermott, Gilbert and Chris Matthews, the first choice bowlers would be inexperienced and as such returns would be unlikely until their successors had wrested control of the bowling positions. It wasn't Matthews and Gilbert who took Australia into their Golden Age but Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid and McDermott, who were around the national team within a year of the Rebel Tour but had yet to make their mark. This suggests that rather than the Peters George and Siddle, their eventual replacements - potentially Starc, McDermott Jr. and Pattinson - may prove the next strong Australian attack.

Again mirroring the situation in 1985, the batsmanship remains notably unaffected. Obviously without the services of Hussey and Haddin Australia would have lost the First Test with nary a whimper, but recently evidence indicates they're both on borrowed time at Test level. As with the bowlers, it wasn't the batsmen drafted in immediately to replace their A-Team counterparts who succeeded and subsequently helped form Australia into a world power. The team beaten for the Ashes in 1985 included three re-treads and one Tasmanian keg-on-legs newbie. Those retreads didn't survive for even a year as they were pushed aside by the exuberance of Jones, Marsh, Moody and Steve Waugh.

Subtracting seventeen high-quality players from any country's First-Class competition sets almost an entire generation to one side and brings through their successors irregardless of readiness. In 1985 that meant farewell to almost everyone born between 1955 to 1962 and a welcome to those born after that date. For Australia today, we could kiss good-bye to almost all our cricketers born from 1985 to 1990; meaning three to four years of pain before those born after 1990 mature to the point of being able to represent their country adequately. The younger generation then learns "the hard way" creating further teething problems followed by the results of that hard maturation process. It isn't just Australia who followed this process: the England teams that toured South Africa also went through growing pains before their eventual maturation. The West Indies had enough talent in the early 1980s to compensate for the Rebel teams that visited the Cape, testament to the ultimate strength and depth of West Indian cricket during that era. Those teams also included several older players rather than ones mid-career.

Though it's extremely unlikely that we will see another Rebel Tour, it's not too far-fetched an idea that a rebel cricket league such as World Series Cricket, the ICL or the Stanford Series could rob a country of many of it's top guns creating a similar talent-drain. Should the IPL become a larger concept then it could also conceivably do so. New Zealand has suffered since several national players signed ICL contracts including their premier bowler Shane Bond. Those once invincible West Indies now effectively suffers from Free Agency as players choose dollars over country. Should Australia - or indeed any country - lose seventeen of their top-level players then suddenly a team is thrust from gradual replenishment into full-throttle rebuilding.

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