We have watched Graeme Smith’s men take a nine wicket victory in Melbourne to secure a 2-0 lead and first series win in Australia—and the home team helped them all the way.
I must first heap considerable praise on South African cricket. I wish to take nothing away from their achievements, not only in this series but in the last two years. They deserve to take the ranking of No. 1 cricketing nation with an all but predictable victory in Sydney.
But, Australia has made terrible gaffes now and in recent months, and they now look set to pay the heftiest of prices now and in the immediate future.
Fundamental errors have been made by Australia:
· Never identifying the next tier of Australian players when they were in their golden age. Shane Warne was bowling for the Baggy green for over a decade, why were understudies never appointed or trained? Furthermore, he is still in Australia. Why is he not holding a position within the coaching team? Granted, many players who have retired are in theory once in a generation players. But, were real succession plans in place?
· Allowing out of form players to continue. Trevor Hohns would never be as graceful as Andrew Hilditch has been On current form, only Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting, and Mitchell Johnson are guaranteed their spots. Will Matthew Hayden play in the Ashes? He has continued to fail and as such, is placing immense pressure on the batting order; players such as Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh were not given such gravitas, so why is Hayden?
· Letting players take the team injured. Andrew Symonds saw a specialist prior to the Boxing Day test and warned that surgery was likely. Why did he play? Since when did a team like Australia rely on players who could not field or bowl, but was selected “for his batting"?
· Giving faith to players despite not performing at the honoured selection table—state cricket. Andrew Symonds was in horrible form for Queensland after the “gone fishing” incident and was let back into the team on reputation alone. Why was not a performing and in form Shane Watson selected?
· Re-appointing a coach of a losing team.That clearly is not playing well tactically and down on confidence; two necessary attributes that the coach must instill. Tim Nielson must shoulder even more responsibility than Ponting, as at least the latter scores runs.
Even the past greats of Australia are divided. It was fascinating to hear Ian Healy and Ian Chappell give their team selections for the third test in Sydney.
Healy, for some incredulous reason, believes that stability is the key and that Hayden should be given another chance.
Hayden has been given such chances. Some suggest that Hayden should stay in the team for the sake of the new players. But, are there still not senior players such as Ponting and Michael Clarke to make new players “feel at home”.
Certainly, the failures of Hayden are putting pressure not only on the settled Australia batting order; but also the bowlers who are not have the totals to defend that Australian bowlers are used to.
Chappell believes that the axe should fall and that in a dead rubber, new players should be brought in. I and countless others will no doubt agree completely.
Brett Lee is injured, and this gives other fast bowlers the opportunity to prove their worth, for Lee has not been shouldering the menace required of a team’s strike bowler.
But, Hayden and Lee are not the only players not performing. Even Michael Hussey, almost mockingly now called Mr Cricket, has been out of form in a year that has seen his once Bradman-like average drop by over 20 runs.
Send him back to domestic cricket, for there are high performing batsmen in Australia who deserve the chance on the international stage.
Irrespective, whatever is done now will at best only stop the rot, but the damage has now been done. The ruthlessness of Australia over the years was not only present in their on-field play, but also in the selection rooms, breeding grounds, and tactical nous.
All of this seems to have been deserted. Long have Australia been the innovator of the game; but this is deserting the once great team, and someone in the corridors of power, will need to make some very hard decisions soon.