So Australia is down 1-0 in the Ashes and looking to shake up their squad, and desperately attempting to find the right blend to compete with England. Sound familiar? A few years ago, England was going through the same dilemma when the Aussie’s had Warne, McGrath etc in their pomp.
During those dark times, England was lambasted and ridiculed by the media, and Australia themselves, for chopping and changing their team so often. The argument was that if you pick the players you believe to be the best in the country, you should stick with them. The trouble with that theory, as the Aussies are discovering, is that you tend to lose a lot of test matches while these players gain experience.
What England was doing all through the '90s was specifically picking players to counter the Australian threat. Left-handed batsmen to counter Warne’s leg spin, left-armed bowlers to bamboozle their batsmen and a host of bits and pieces all-rounders, like Mark Ealham, Chris Lewis and the Hollioakes to name a few. Australia is now clearly doing the same, picking left-armed spinners to counter Pietersen and choosing bowlers who can bat a bit rather than the best bowlers to supplement their shaky batting lineup.
England discovered, after about 15 years of crushing and humiliating defeats, that the only way forward was to build a team for the future using the best players as a platform. England picked and stuck with players like Broad, Bell, Cook and Anderson who have all remained in the frame despite long spells of poor or inconsistent form. The team is now reaping the rewards of this brave long-term approach.
Australia now finds themselves in a similar position to that which England faced at the end of the 1980s when the greats of the English game—Botham, Gower, Gooch, Willis and Gatting—all came to the end of their careers. The fact this coincided with the emergence of a great batch of Australian cricketers didn’t help the situation. England then, as Australia now, had young players of talent and potential in the likes of Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Gough, Cork and Tufnell. Against any other team these players were usually a match, but against the Australians they fell short. Australia with Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson have the nucleus of a good side. However, they are a long way off the complete side of the '90s.
England, meanwhile, has been building a team for the last few years that, while not in the same class as the great Aussie side, has the potential to compete with the best that is around at the moment. Even coping with the loss of their top all-rounder, Flintoff, and probably their best captain since Mike Brearley in Michael Vaughan has proved a minor setback. It has not been often (in my lifetime at least) that an Englishman can say that the Australians could learn a thing or two from England, but right now I can—so I will.
Stick with Hauritz, Clarke, Johnson and Steve Smith and give them time to become the players they have the potential to be. Bringing back Warne is a step back and will prolong the process of ascension.