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!!
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