Steven Smith said former South African skipper Graeme Smith didn’t know what he was talking about when he said Australian cricket is in turmoil as he is an outsider. But when results are so shocking, it doesn’t take a genius to see something is seriously wrong Down Under.
And that is despite being led by a captain in Smith, who is in control of his own game and holds the respect of the squad.
The Aussies have been in free-fall for a couple of seasons. They have been whitewashed in Tests in Sri Lanka and against Pakistan in the UAE, and were crushed 5-0 by South Africa in their recent ODI series.
In the last two years, the Aussies have won 12 Tests and lost seven. Out of those 12 wins, four came against the West Indies. In the ODIs, the record is better – 33 wins and 15 defeats. But if we look at the past 12 months, the gap closes to 14 wins and 11 defeats.
The most astonishing aspect about Australia’s cricket is the way they have crumbled under pressure. Losing 3-0 in Tests in Sri Lanka this year and surrendering 5-0 to the Proteas in ODIs show that once things start to go bad, there is no stopping it.
We must remember this Australian team was at its peak fairly recently. They defeated England 5-0 in the Ashes at home in 2014 and won the World Cup last year. Yes, there have been a few major retirements in Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson but the core of the side is intact and the results can’t be attributed to just the absence of a couple of names.
It can’t be a matter of technique or adverse conditions, because the Aussies were blanked on familiar pitches in South Africa and were then bowled out for 85 at home by a Proteas attack missing Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. It’s a much deeper malaise which Graeme rightly pointed out.
Firstly, the rotation policy adopted to keep the players fresh resulted in a situation where the Australians travelled to South Africa for the ODIs without frontline pacemen Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and the replacements were nowhere near as good enough.
While the Proteas too don’t have two main pacers at the moment, they have quality back up and therefore are not feeling the pinch.
In the batting department, outside of captain Smith and opener David Warner, nobody inspires confidence or puts any fear in the mind of opposition bowlers. What this has done is somehow devalued a spot in the Australian team, where just about anybody is being given a shot with fingers crossed.
The situation will come to the fore next year as well as the Australian board has decided to play a T20 match against Sri Lanka in Adelaide one day before their first Test in India, which is scheduled to begin on February 23. That means there will be two completely different set of squads representing Australia and there is no way both will be of the highest possible quality.
If there is a feeling the value associated with representing Australia has diminished, it will only be reinforced. The Aussies had a golden chance to build on the success of their World Cup campaign last year. But they have taken their foot off the pedal and not plugged the gaps, especially in batting which has led to a second total below 100 in Tests in a year and a half.
They should have realised the ageing Chris Rogers and struggling Michael Clarke weren’t going to be around much longer. Whoever the incumbents were must have been earmarked and given a long run. That they decided to give Adam Voges a Test debut at the age of 36 in June last year is a proof of lack of planning over the past few seasons.
Just think about some retired Australian players who had to fight tooth and nail just to make it to the team a decade or so back. They were high-quality cricketers who couldn’t find a permanent spot in the side because there were some outstanding cricketers delivering on a regular basis.
Darren Lehmann and Mike Hussey had to struggle for a decade to make the cut, Michael Bevan barely got a look in when it came to Tests, pacers like Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz had to wait for the main bowlers to be injured while Stuart MacGill was forced to fight for a spot with Shane Warne.
How times have changed.