To rather crudely paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of the demise of Australian Cricket may be exaggerated. In the last two test matches we have been badly beaten, with the Hobart test being particularly embarrassing, but is the sudden grim prognosis (no one was saying much about it a fortnight ago) a bit premature?
I will argue it could be.
Admittedly it isn’t just two tests, when we are coming off a losing series in Sri Lanka as well, but our poor performance in Asia is actually not uncommon. We have actually struggled on the subcontinent in many a recent year and our indifferent away form seems to be largely forgotten when summer comes around. So I am not going to get swept up in the record losing streak hyperbole. We were beaten in Sri Lanka and it wouldn’t have counted for anything if we hadn’t come out and been beaten so badly in the first two tests of this series.
On the other hand the comprehensive manner of our losses against South Africa must be taken into account. While it is not the first home series we have lost in recent years (in fact the Proteas have won the last three in Australia) the manner of the defeats is not something we are accustomed to on home soil.
I have commented that I wish we cared less about the fate of our cricket team and more about the fate of refugees in indefinite (and probably unlawful) detention on our behalf, but I’m going to stick to talking about cricket today. There has been no shortage of theories of how to fix Australian cricket, but I am not ready to even agree with the premise that it needs fixing. It could actually be argued that the Australian bowlers have bowled reasonably well for the most part, too. It has largely been the batsmen unable to score enough runs or even stay in long enough to make the team competitive. But cricket is a game of split second decisions, with a miniscule margin for error and a fair bit of luck involved. It would have taken a surprisingly small amount of things to go slightly different for things to drastically change the game. Let’s also consider that in a team sport you only need a few players going through a patch of bad form or a run of bad luck to make your team far worse than it is. We also need to pay respect to the South Africans, especially their bowlers who have been extremely impressive.
Perhaps if we had a settled batting line up that boasted a genuine superstar in every position, we would have fared better against such quality bowling, but we don’t. Nor do any current national teams. We may have become a bit spoilt in recent times, but is it realistic to think players like Ponting, Waugh and Gilchrist run off an assembly line? With the apparent exception of the All Blacks, national sporting teams from all sports and nations have their ‘golden generations’ followed by those who have the difficult task of living up to the public’s expectations after their champions have gone.
Maybe this does represent the start of our long fall from grace. Certainly the trajectory doesn’t look good at this point and there appear to be a couple of glaring issues and a lack of certainty around who even are our best players. But maybe we should take a few more matches before declaring a crisis. Things might look quite different after the home series against Pakistan.
As a final comment, can I also add I am no tragic optimist about our cricketers. In my view, as a product, cricket is over-hyped (especially through the appalling coverage of Channel 9) and overfunded. This post isn't written out of any sense of denial or inability to accept the likelihood of a longer period of mediocrity. I just felt these points needed to be made because I find it a little unedifying and capricious seeing commentators and armchair experts lining up to kick the team and end players’ careers so soon after lauding them in the lead up to the season.