Posted by: nestaquin | December 31, 2010

The Inquest Part 1: Hubris and Hindsight

With the Ashes done and dusted it’s time to begin the inquest, and while Toots’ sojourn to an alternative Ashes universe briefly assuaged the grief of this reality, truth is, at the international level Australian cricket is in a deep abyss with no simple solutions to arrest the fall.

To rub it in MTV is playing a fabulous live concert while I write. Coincidentally, the show was recorded at Wembley in the year 1986, the last time the BaggyGreen were defeated by the MCC at home. While Fat Bottom Girls rocked and the epic Bohemian Rhapsody falsetto tightened the scrotum, the iconic We Are the Champions just hurt. Enduring Freddie and 100,000 of his compatriots sing the chorus with all their hearts only heightened the agony of witnessing Australia surrender so meekly.

In regards to the inquest, the difficult decision is where to begin. The administrators, selectors, coaching staff and players all share responsibility and consequently should be held accountable. Time will tell if they are, however, Ponting will likely be the preferred scapegoat.

On the surface that seems fair for he is the captain and he hasn’t scored consistently or heavily for some time now. His stubborn, egotistic refusal to drop down the order has weakened the team dynamic and made the selectors’ task considerably more difficult. Broken finger or not, Ponting’s Test career appears finished leaving him stranded on 99 wins from his 152 matches.

With Ponting put out to pasture a new captain will need anointing and despite reservations about his character and form Michael Clarke will get the job for the dead rubber in Sydney and probably beyond.

Australian cricket has made a huge investment in Pup yet he doesn’t have the confidence of Greg Chappell who is now the most powerful selector at the table. Privately, I’ve heard Chappell compare Clarke to Kim Hughes and what Greg has to say about his former captain after reintegration from Packer’s circus is probably true, entirely disrespectful and mostly unprintable.

So we’ve just begun the inquest and already we can see that the top echelon of Australian cricket is mired in confusion. The men in power have had five years to groom Ponting’s successor and yet they are still uncertain about Clarke’s credentials. Perhaps, it is as much Pup’s fault as the administrators, yet it is difficult to understand why the blokes at Jolimint never considered a Plan B.

At the time of Ponting’s ascension there were several candidates for the job including Steve Waugh’s exemplary deputy Adam Gilchrist. Shane Warne was also in the mix and although speculation is pointless I wonder what state Australian cricket would be in if Warne had been the given the captaincy. Would he still be playing? Would the national team be in better shape? Would he have been sacked because of his questionable choices away from the field? We’ll never know but one thing is certain; it would have been very entertaining!

The decision to assign the vice-captaincy to Clarke after Gilchrist’s retirement appeared a sound and logical decision. Clarke was the best young bat in the team, he would benefit from Ponting’s tutelage and the experience gained would ensure that Australia’s reign at the top of world cricket would continue without interruption. The argument seemed strong and it certainly looked good on paper, however, hindsight, that most unforgiving and fertile of insights, now paints a very different picture.

By appointing Clarke prematurely he became a protected player, the golden boy, and unfortunately he believed much of his own press. Many were hopeful that the grief endured and the responsibility needed during his father’s terminal struggle with cancer would make a man of him but unfortunately, and understandably, that was not to be.

Instead, Clarke has burned bridges, fallen out with good mates and lovers while giving Ponting little to no assistance. He was responsible for Andrew Symonds sudden retirement by delivering an ultimatum to the coach and selectors after a heated argument with the big Queenslander, he upset many team-mates, most notably Simon Katich, by preferring the company of his girlfriend rather than observing team ritual and all the while his batting has deteriorated to the point where he has only scored beyond 20 once in his last dozen innings.

Nobody could have predicted that Clarke would become such a divisive character a few years back but Australian cricket is reaping what was sowed. Never again should any player be guaranteed the captaincy. Rather than grooming one player, perhaps every player with tactical ability should be included in a leadership group where they are taught about man management, media, cricket history, strategy and responsibility.

If this path was taken it’s conceivable that Pup wouldn’t be tossing the coin in Sydney because if he wasn’t the Chosen One his place in the team would be under serious pressure.

Sadly, at present, I think Clarke’s tenure as captain will be turbulent, relatively brief and largely unsuccessful. It won’t be entirely his fault it’s just that Australian cricket hasn’t hit bottom. Unfortunately, there is more pain to come. With no settled top order, a flaky middle, no recognised spinner and a bowling pack that is consistently inaccurate the tour of Sri Lanka in the winter will be ugly.

It would appear that this inquest is going to be exhaustive as the team, coaches and selectorial decisions will all need to be examined. Fortunately, for the first time in months I’m free to contribute at 99.94 so I guess the inquest will be in instalments over the first few weeks of 2011.

Next: The Top Order

Happy New Year!!

Follow Nesta on Twitter @nestaquin and if you haven’t already, become a fan at our much neglected soon to be resurrected Facebook page.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Well I’m already looking forward to the next instalment!

    Perhaps it all came a bit easily to Pup, so the off-field distractions occupied too big a space, lacking the perspective that comes from deep concentration required to perform on the field. I agree completely with building a group of leaders from whom one is chosen as Primus Inter Pares.

    99 wins eh? That’s a helluva record.

  2. Well written. Wish you were actually contracted by ACB to consult on this.
    Mistake to think that Ponting is not needed. Shockingly, Ian Chappell is trying to push Ponting out. I have a suspicion. When Greg C’was trying to ease Sachin out, Ian C’wrote the famous mirror article in Cricinfo. Now, when Greg C’is aussie selector, he is trying to media-trial Ponting out. Do the brothers work with agenda and help each other implement their agenda?
    Agree that pup will be another kim hughes. I wont be surprised if he ends up the same way – with unaustralian tears in public.

    I guess Ponting will do well in the worldcup and when SL tour is planned, will take over the captaincy with public sentiment undergoing massive change after the succesful world cup campaign. Meanwhile, pup will screw up the sydney test, bat miserably and remind australia that they are better off under Ponting.
    I guess this temporary move is for the ultimate good of Aussie. Ponting has alreasy played Hughes. He will also be the new AB as history repeats itself. You read it here first :)

  3. Why do when great cricketing powers fail, they always fall so hard? It’s a mystery.

  4. I wasn’t familiar with Clarke’s previous transgressions against team-mates and team spirit – and given his back trouble I was inclined to cut him some slack. However, I can accept I’m wrong about that.

    Still, as an England supporter, I feel bound to point out that sometimes a “troublemaker” is actually trying to improve things. Many people now, as we watch the success of the two Andys compare KP unfavourably to Strauss, but without KP’s will to improve the coaching situation we’d still have Peter Moores and likely be in Toot’s alternative universe.

    More importantly, putting aside Cricket Australia’s bad decision making, which players have put their hands up for the captaincy? Some advice from a supporter who has seen the dark side – and England lived a lot of dark side – captains largely make the difference between respectability and big success, only a very few (Nasser Hussain?) actually impact on the difference between decline and respectability. It’s a lot more about the structural stuff – player pool, academy and selectorial decisions…

    • Yes Metatone – I do feel captains need bowlers to set a platform on which they can build. And bowlers are fragile plants that need a lot of nurturing (Jimmy and Broad for example).

      • I’ve banged on about this recently on the G Sportblogs, but the book Pommies has a great analysis point about the years of Australian domination of England: bowler injury figures (i.e. do you start a player with a niggle) consistently show that Aus kept a fit attack and England were forever playing half-fit bowlers (presumably because of a lack of depth.) It seems the shoe is on the other foot now. England are not great because Swann and Anderson are not Warne and McGrath – but Australia are clearly in trouble because they started the series playing bowlers coming almost straight back off injury. That’s the sign of the structure out of kilter…

        • Yes Metatone – Peter George looked very ordinary and raw in India. In fact, the one youngish bowler who has looked good in the last couple of years is Krejza who seems as isolated as Hauritz.

          • Punter is a fine judge of batsmen but I wonder if he is the same with bowlers. I think/hope Krejza will be back. A good Sydney lad.

  5. “Broken finger or not, Ponting’s Test career appears finished leaving him stranded on 99 wins from his 152 matches.”
    As Tooting said, that’s an extraordinary record. Almost as good as 99.94. What a treasure he has been for Australia.

    I agree with your concern about the current lack of strategic vision, but I think you like most are too harsh on Clarke. Admittedly I don’t follow every little bit of news about cricket and I’ve never met the guy but I have trouble believing all the bad press he gets.

    For example:

    “His stubborn, egotistic refusal to drop down the order has weakened the team dynamic and made the selectors task considerably more difficult.”

    Maybe, but that’s the thing about stubborn bastards, they remain that way whether the stubbornness is perceived as courageous or egotistical. Typically, even today, he’s refusing to lower his sights.

    “Instead, Clarke has burned bridges, fallen out with good mates: Who, Katich? Are you critical because he had a disagreement? Who doesn’t, it’s a sign of determination.

    “and lovers: Never broken up with a partner Nesta? Was Clarke required to remain in that relationship to form the perfect picture of a successful captain?

    “while giving Ponting little to no assistance. Not sure I agree. He’s done OK with the one day captaincy. My impression in one day and tests is that he participates as an apprentice, quite appropriately.

    “He was responsible for Andrew Symonds sudden retirement by delivering an ultimatum to the coach and selectors after a heated argument with the big Queenslander,: If that’s true, then excellent, he showed true leadership, in calling out a disruptive underperformer who, unfortunately for us, wasn’t cut out for the team. His retirement wasn’t sudden, the storm has been brewing a long time and action was needed. If Clarke was the catalyst then good for him. I’d love to have Symonds in the team but it wasn’t to be.

    “he upset many team-mates, most notably Simon Katich, by preferring the company of his girlfriend rather than observing team ritual: Not sure about this. He had an argument with a team mate, no big deal. I read he hung around the dressing room for some time, and if he then decided to go home to his girfriend instead of opening his 6th tinny, it’s not a crime.

    “and all the while his batting has deteriorated to the point where he has only scored beyond 20 once in his last dozen innings: Guilty as charged. He better get his shit together or he’ll be dropped. But we know he has genuine talent and he has credit in the bank.

    I suspect the people involved are alot more grounded than the tripe we read in the press, and I suspect Clarke will probably in the long run be a good candidate and will serve Australia well.

    Anyway, much as Tooting’s alternative universe was seductive, I don’t think we need to long for it too much. An English team not much more than competent and efficient is only 2-1 up against an Australian team performing way under its potential. England have just not made too many mistakes, and waited for Australia to, not the stuff of greatness is it? Trott depresses me beyond words. Aus did pretty well in India recently, India! the graveyard of Australian teams. They’re not as hopeless as the press makes out.

    • Fred – you were doing well until that last par! Trott reminds me of David Boon – surely he only depressed opponents? England are less than great, but more than competent.

      • I’m a Trott fan. I found it embarrassing when the English media got on his case over summer. Thoughtless fools.

        I thought he’d take up occupation at the crease all Ashes and we’d never get him out, so overall, I think our bowlers have done well against him!

        He doesn’t get bored and he doesn’t give his wicket away impatiently. He’s better than competent when it comes to test cricket.

    • Bravo Fred. A lot of the points you made have crossed my mind. Things are never quite as bad or as good as they seem. As Symonds has shown subsequently he was alas never for a long term career with Australia. And that whole Katich / Bingle / Team song furore was nothing but hot air. Do teams really need to hang out on the piss for hours after a game nowadays? He’s been in poor form recently but post 2005 until Bingle breakup he’s probably been our best bat.

      • Down to details – Kat on Usman http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/sport/stylish-usman-khawaja-has-technique-time-and-subcontinental-spice/story-e6frg7mf-1225978981321

        • Sorry that went in the wrong spot!

          On Clarke – l have mixed feelings. l do think the SCG thing was blown up (11pm ffs you should be able to go see your partner!). Most worrying to me is his batting over the last 12 months when it had looked like he had really arrived as a senior player.

          And thus l worry about where his head is at – in India he barely looked like he was there. Perhaps his back has been troubling him but l really do wonder if he is in the right head space to assume the mantle. And it is too important a role to be treated as a spur even if it proves to be one.

  6. Top stuff mate. Can’t wait for the next one.

    Athers wrote an insightful piece about captaincy when KP was given the job, and I think it has relevance for the Pup situation. He looked over a few captaincy resignations and said that he feared that the KP captaincy would end in tears, but then, he said, it almost always does.

    Same with Punter really. Leaving on a low point doesn’t diminish his achievements. It’s extremely rare for a sportsman to go out on a high. If he waits for that then he’ll be captain for years to come!

  7. Oops I messed up the paragraphs a bit, the comment about being a stubborn bastard was in reference to, Ponting not Clarke.

    Anyway the same point applies to both of them, they’re not as dire as the general press makes out. In fact, Ponting is the greatest Australian cricketer of my lifetime, yet all the media can say is that he lost the Ashes three times. Idiots. That’s why I reads blogs like this instead.

    Pete, there’s that famous quote from Lehman about how they used to put beer’s on ice after a game, and now they put the players on ice. Things have changed. If Clarke makes a few runs and wins a few matches as captain I’m sure he’ll suddenly become loved. And the media will all be saying how they always knew he had it in him.

    Tooting, Lolly, I won’t deny England deserved to retain the Ashes, but for God’s sake don’t ask me to show any appreciation for Trott. I don’t watch cricket for such grimness. Different nations have blessed the game with batsmen like Ponting, Clarke, Sehwag, Tendulkar, deVilliers, Lara, and that Bangladeshi dynamo whos name I have embarrassedly forgotten. And England gives us Trott. As a number three.
    Having England in ascendance is not something to look forward to, but if it’s going to be, I’d rather Bell was beautifully skewering us than a South African trained import was grinding us.
    (and no I’m not buying into that racist thing about ethnicity, I just prefer that countries field players who are genuinely products of their system, as Symonds was for Australia, rather than KP or Trott, who were products of SA).

    • Fred, I’d rather watch Trott than Cook.

      Cook for me is the epitome of tedium. He has an excellent temperament and will bore for years to come while accumulating. I wish some of our youngsters had half his ability to not get bored at the crease.

  8. While there has rightly been pressure on most of the players, for real improvements to happen, changes have to start at the top (sorry for sounding like a politician!)….and i’m not talking about the captaincy…..the coach and selectors have to be held accountable too…Hilditch and co wrecked the already fragile confidence of the team, by their hapless selection policies, and I don’t see why Nielsen should remain as coach if he has not brought about any major change in the way the team plays. You can pick and drop any number of players, but Australia will not start winning unless they revamp their domestic set-up and make grassroot changes….

  9. Thanks everyone. Some very thoughtful and wise stuff.

    Personally, I sincerely hope that Pup is a success. Don’t think he will be because the job at the moment is very, very tough, there are problems aplenty with no discernible solutions and his cricket has been without vigour.

    The selectors are confused (Boonie probably thought Greg was buying him a pot when Beer was selected) and they keep burning blokes which is never good. If a bloke plays Shield cricket he should be in the mix and judged on his performance not his personality.

    Still, Khawaja is an excellent selection but I do worry that, injury aside, the same team smashed and humiliated in Melbourne will be fronting up again in Sydney.

    At the moment I’m torn between present and future. If Australia win, and they probably will considering the Ashes is over, nothing will change. However, if they cop another flogging then CA’s hand will be forced.

    The selection panel will be renewed hopefully with SWaugh at the table and the coaching staff will be finally held accountable. In my opinion the best coach in the country is Tim Coyle from Tasmania who has turned the least prosperous State team into a powerful unit in all forms of the game. Admittedly, I am a little biased but Tim is an outstanding bloke with a brilliant cricketing brain. He certainly coached considerably better than Mickey Arthur last night at the WACA.

    Nielsen, is a yes man, a corporate lackey and he should have been shown the door a couple of years ago. Being best mates with James Sutherland certainly has its advantages.

    I’d love to see Ponting batting at six. He could play his shots without fear and I believe he could extend his career by doing so.

    Clarke won’t be a bad skipper but he’ll need to pull his head in and score some runs when it counts to prove his worth.

    And Fred, you’ll be horrified to discover that Trott is ranked three behind Sangakarra and Tendulkar and in front of Sehwag and Kallis in the top five of the ICC rankings.

    • Nesta, horrified doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about that.

    • Nesta, that’s really unfair on Arthur. He’s got the Warriors with their suicidal tendencies and the inability of their batsmen to ever remember which format they are playing.

      Imagine having a team with Luke Pomersbach, Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh in it.

      That deserves some sympathy I think.

      • I only mentioned him because before the game he was saying WA didn’t need a spinner and Tassie were in error playing two.

        Doherty and Krezja bowled 8 overs for 4/46. Also, I believe that out of all the talent in the world Mickey chose Saj Mahmood who was at his comical best the other night. 3 overs for 41 and a duck. I guess he fits in well over west!

        • They deserve a raspberry for even considering Mahmood, I’ll give you that.

          I won’t blame Arthur though, he doesn’t select or buy in the players… I hope.

  10. Can’t stand what l hear from Nielsen. l don;t think its arrogance so much as small-minded defensiveness which is equally unhelpful. Is it true his contract was recently extended again? Pay him out and show him the door.

    Without getting into a Darren Berry style foaming rant about White and Hodge (Dussey is incredibly unlucky though) what about a Vic Coach Nesta? Learnt his trade down your way so we could share the spoils? Or SWaugh to straighten everybody out, albeit doesn’t have the professional coaching experience.

    So pleased to see Khawaja play. Be nice to have a thread where we can play out our angst against the Baggy Blues/Greens but you got to hand it to them, they continue to produce class cricketers. Given Hauritz should have been playing all series as well.

    Happy New Year all. l’m off for a very rare sojourn out of the desert into the craphole that is Alice Springs in search of a much-needed beer – need to make sure this year will finally end! Hope you all have a great and safe 2011.

    • Have a good time mate and a happy and peaceful 2011 to all at Yuendumu.

      I was going to mention Greg Shipperd who has international experience and much success but decided to leave the coaching discussion for Part 5 of the Inquest.

      Should be interesting in the Alice on New Years Eve. Good luck with that!!

      • Be laying very low! 600km round trip just for the closest quiet beer….Alice as well as being surrounded by beautiful country is a weird and often shocking melange, sadly cursed with alcohol and violence – tourists, bureaucrats, different town mobs, different remote community mobs, mining mob, pastoralists, hippies etc etc many of whom are nowhere near on the same page or even library….

        • I spent some time in Alice. Can’t remember exactly when but I do recall sitting in a big air-conditioned pub with a camp ground out back and watching a very young Brian Lara bat for about three days before getting run out for 277 at the SCG.

          I was driving to Darwin but refused to leave until Lara was dismissed much to the dismay of my then current girlfriend. It shaved two days off our trip to Komodo, Flores and Timor and a few bucks in rescheduling but as far as I was concerned it was worth it.

          Upon return I found a new girl that understood the importance of cricketing genius and 4 kids later I reckon it was a wise choice. So, in a roundabout way, and I’ve never realised it before now but Brian Lara has had a major impact on my life!

          • God l loved Lara!!!!!!!

            • Me too!

              • Glamour.

                Never seen another batsmen of this generation with as much as him.

              • Lou – re batting Glamour, VVS Laxman.

  11. Japal and Nesta – that’s lovely stuff to read on a grim, grey London morning. Safe travelling Japal.

    Fred – KP is nothing but a product of KP, indeed a product of “KPness”, which is a strange, still indefinable thing. Trott has a career strike rate that is equal to Hussey’s and within two runs of Shane Watson’s, so he’s no blocker. I take your point about his being a product of the SA youth system, but he has played 122 First Class matches for Warwickshire and England A teams, so he is a product of county cricket too.

    On a personal level, and as the father of two kids born and educated in England but living two – three months each year in Sweden (the country on their passports) I do find it very easy to accept that a person has elements of both parents’ nationalities. I find it less acceptable to move to a country, live their for four years, and then assume its nationality for sporting purposes (eg Allan Lamb or, I think, Kepler Wessels). All England’s players have good qualification to play for England in both a legalistic and moral sense. As, of course, does the young man Khawaja.

  12. Even as a Victorian, I’ve the view that Clarke will do better than expected as captain, but I think it’s advantageous for him to start from such a low base. Once Hussey and Katich and Ponting are moved on, there will be no one left playing who can honestly say they truly remember Australian Cricket pre 1992. Growing up watching your team get flogged does seem to inspire more than being spoilt with superstars.

    If I was to get rid of anyone, it would be the trinity of Sutherland, Hildich and Nielsen, however this may lead to far too much Greg Chappell for anyone’s tastes. The Indian comments on Cricinfo re: Greg C, still make me laugh, but maybe in 12 months time I’ll be joining them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: