Sport

An un­likely leader has the dif­fi­cult task of get­ting back to win­ning ways while chang­ing the team’s cul­ture.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Paul Thomas

Aus­tralian cricket’s un­likely leader has the dif­fi­cult task of get­ting back to win­ning ways while chang­ing the team’s cul­ture.

Astrik­ing as­pect of the ball tam­per­ing scan­dal that en­gulfed Aus­tralian cricket ear­lier this year (Sport, April 7 & 21) was the sheer glee it caused wher­ever the game is played. Given that for decades their men’s team have rev­elled in an ap­proach that could be gen­er­ously sum­marised as “we’re here to win, not to make friends”, the Aus­tralian cricket com­mu­nity shouldn’t have ex­pected sym­pa­thy. That they were shocked by the una­nim­ity and in­ten­sity of the schaden­freude – and the dis­gust of the wider Aus­tralian com­mu­nity – was ev­i­dent in the sever­ity of the pun­ish­ments dished out to cap­tain Steve

Smith, vice-cap­tain David Warner and rookie fall-guy Cameron Ban­croft by Cricket Aus­tralia.

Eight months on, the Aus­tralian team are in such dis­ar­ray that even the most ar­dent gloaters – and Ki­wis would be strong con­tenders for that ti­tle – may be start­ing to won­der how much schaden­freude is too much.

On Jan­uary 8, at the Syd­ney Cricket Ground, a de­flat­ingly one-sided Ashes series con­cluded as it had be­gun. With the Marsh broth­ers, Shaun and Mitchell, scor­ing cen­turies, the Aussies rat­tled up 649 for 7 de­clared and went on to win by an in­nings and 123 runs.

The Aussies then toured South Africa. With the series locked at a test apiece, the scan­dal erupted with vol­canic force dur­ing the third test in Cape Town. Need­ing 430 to win, Aus­tralia were dis­missed for 107 in their sec­ond in­nings with only Warner and Ban­croft pass­ing 20. Send­ing the guilty trio pack­ing didn’t mirac­u­lously re­pair their morale: Aus­tralia lost the fourth test by 492 runs.

The next as­sign­ment was a one-day (ODI) series in Eng­land, which was lost 5-0. Eng­land won the third with 13 overs to spare and by the oth­er­worldly ODI mar­gin of 242 runs. Af­ter hang­ing tough to draw the first

test of their just-con­cluded series against Pak­istan in the UAE, the Aussies lost the sec­ond by 373 runs.

Since the scan­dal broke, Aus­tralia have suf­fered their sec­ond and fourth heav­i­est de­feats in a test match his­tory stretch­ing back to 1877. With­out Smith and Warner, still ranked in the top five test bats­men in ab­sen­tia, their bat­ting has been woe­ful: in their eight in­nings against Pak­istan, the Marsh broth­ers scored a com­bined tally of 44 runs, only the sec­ond in­stance in 100 years of two Aus­tralians in the top six of the bat­ting or­der av­er­ag­ing fewer than 8 in a series.

Aus­tralia are now ranked fifth in test cricket and sixth in ODIs.

New Zealand are fourth and third re­spec­tively.

New cap­tain Tim Paine, whose ca­reer was pe­ter­ing out be­fore he was un­ex­pect­edly re­stored to the test team last sum­mer af­ter a seven-year hia­tus, has the thank­less task of lead­ing a de­moralised and in­ex­pe­ri­enced crew de­prived of their best play­ers and big­gest per­son­al­i­ties. As if that weren’t enough, he has the – some would say con­tra­dic­tory – mis­sion of pre­sid­ing over a 180-de­gree cul­ture change while get­ting the team back to win­ning ways.

This sum­mer, Aus­tralia have a home series against In­dia, the No 1 test team. Paine shouldn’t ex­pect any char­ity from his op­po­site num­ber. “In­scrutable” isn’t a word you’d ap­ply to Virat Kohli: he makes his opin­ions clear, hence we’re aware that his opin­ion of the Sun­burnt Coun­try’s crick­et­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives is low, if not sub­ter­ranean.

It re­mains to be seen if, or when, the rest of the crick­et­ing world will tire of see­ing Aus­tralia hu­mil­i­ated, but a more per­ti­nent ques­tion is: when will Aus­tralian cricket tire of be­ing docile losers and re­vert to type?

His­tory of­fers some guid­ance. In 1977, hav­ing en­coun­tered a brick wall in his at­tempts to per­suade the Aus­tralian Cricket Board (ACB) to award TV rights to his Chan­nel Nine net­work, ty­coon Kerry Packer cre­ated a ri­val game – World Series Cricket – in­volv­ing vir­tu­ally all of Aus­tralia’s best cricketers plus many lead­ing play­ers from other coun­tries. Af­ter a sec­ond if not third-string Aus­tralian team lost the 1978/79 home Ashes series 1-5 – and to the con­ster­na­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil and Eng­land Cricket Board, who’d pro­vided moral and fi­nan­cial sup­port through­out the sport­ing civil war – the ACB ca­pit­u­lated to Packer.

In case you’re won­der­ing, Smith and Warner’s ban ex­pires on March 28, 2019.

It re­mains to be seen if, or when, the rest of the crick­et­ing world will tire of see­ing Aus­tralia hu­mil­i­ated.

Aus­tralia suf­fered their fourth-heav­i­est de­feat in the re­cent sec­ond test match against Pak­istan.

Tim Paine, left, must re­build with­out banned stars Steve Smith, farleft, and David Warner.

SPORT by Paul Thomas

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