Friday, January 7, 2011

Target 2014

Whether Australia's 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Old Enemy doesn't really matter even though the gut feeling is that Australia's best side hasn't ever been as outplayed as convincingly as they were during this series. The Australia defeated yesterday was comprehensively outgunned and more disturbingly, out-thought.

According to Greg Baum of The Age, this was Australian cricket at it's deepest depths, it's perihelion, so heads must roll. Fair enough - but which ones? When examining the players who didn't perform - Hilfenhaus, Johnson, Hughes and Ponting chief among them - there aren't adequate candidates awaiting in first class cricket to replace them. There's undoubtedly the talent but it's either too young or too old to be considered ripe for representing their country.

The objective now must be to qualify for the inaugural Test World Championship mooted for 2014. It's only three years away and therefore it must be at the forefront of Cricket Australia's planning - to fail to qualify would be an embarrassment on a par with Canada failing to qualify for an Ice-Hockey tournament or New Zealand being eliminated in the first round of the Rugby World Cup. Only the four best Test-playing nations will be entered into that competition and it's now nearly impossible to argue that Australia form part of that quartet.

But all is not lost. To think back, four years ago England were humiliated to a similar extent by an Australian team no longer great but simply very good. Of the current Ashes tourists, seven played in the 2007 debacle. Once the correct path for regrowth is established for a nation, the regreening of their playing stocks can occur relatively quickly, especially with the amount of cricket currently played. In the next two years there are nineteen Tests against everyone from Bangladesh to South Africa and the "New Enemy" India, enough for youngsters to establish themselves and develop their own techniques coping mechanisms.

Of the seven Englishmen who returned to the antipodes this year, the only trundlers were James Anderson and Monty Panesar and Monty didn't play a match. It's the bowling stocks which needed refreshment and that's a situation with which Australia can readily identify. Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson must have exhausted the selectors patience by now and with Ryan Harris willing, though physically unable to be relied upon, the search for new-ball bowlers must begin in earnest, bowlers who can put the ball in threatening areas time and again. All of Peter George, Josh Hazelwood and James Pattinson have the talent and both Clarke and Ponting have shown they are serviceable leaders of fast men. There is hope for Michael Beer as the spinner designate and the sooner he is flown to India to learn from the great Indian spinners, the healthier Australian cricket will be.

More troubling is the lack of application displayed by the Australian batsman this series. Every single player got out with ill-advised shots and to a lack of patience. With questions still remaining over Shane Watson's position at opener and the longevity of Ponting and Hussey, their replacements must be young and given time to grow into their roles rather than shoehorned into position and told to perform. The focus isn't now crushing Bangladesh or beating Sri Lanka in 2011, it is ensuring that each player elevated to national player experiences the game in all conditions against the very best players the world has to offer. If a player - especially a batsman - has a future as a Test cricketer there is a good argument that they shouldn't be bothering with Twenty20. If T20s aren't played then enough space can be created in a player's schedule which could be used to hone their Test game further.

If Australia misses a Test World Championship in three years' time, the sport risks irrelevancy in the entire Pacific region. New Zealand hasn't been anywhere near the right path since several of their stars defected to the rebel ICL and Australia's slide into sub-mediocrity has been slow and painful. Change is needed, though not necessarily in personnel but in approach.

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