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