In 2013, after a catastrophic tour of India, it seemed as if Australian cricket was at its lowest ebb. There were widespread cultural problems, and the team was coming of a tour of India in which they failed to come close to beating their opponents. From that point on, and certainly during a home Ashes whitewash of England, it looked like the team had turned a corner. A couple of months later, they won in South Africa and were recognised as the best Test team in the world. But were they?
In fact, the selectors and all involved in Australian cricket chose the wrong path after the humiliating drubbing suffered in India. Instead of trying for a long-term solution to the problems, they came up with a quick fix which has only made things worse three years down the track. A closer look at that Ashes team, which went through the series unchanged, shows an ageing group of players who came up against an awful English team and smashed them. They had a good team, as shown by their victory over South Africa months later, but most of the players in that side are now retired. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle formed an ageing attack which soon broke apart, and five members of the top seven in that series are also gone from the Test arena.Embed from Getty Images
Crisis: Australian players congregate during South Africa’s innings in Hobart.
In this way, the serendipity of the summer of 2013-14, in which Australia came up against and promptly savaged a weak opponent and surged to number one, did more long-term harm than good. The success of the Rogers experiment (the selection of older players to provide stability) also led to issues, with the selectors choosing older players like Adam Voges over younger options. While it was noble to select players who had been overlooked for too long, like Rogers and Voges (although why Michael Klinger was not included as part of this policy is still baffling) it did nothing for the long term health of the game in Australia. The search for overnight success, which was made official to the point of being placed in contracts, has gone on for far too long, and the achievement of that success has allowed the selectors to overlook the collapses which still plagued the winning Ashes side of 2013-14 (although back then Brad Haddin was always there to save the day) and the fast rising average age of the team.
The selection of Callum Ferguson for the Hobart Test, a 31-year-old who was not necessarily kicking the door down, was yet another chapter in this prioritisation of experience over youth. Ferguson was not even the best batsman in South Australia at the time of his selection. In fact, he was chosen over a teammate who is 22, scores more runs, is the captain of the Redbacks, has played ODI cricket for Australia and can bowl part time off-spin. That man, Travis Head, would have been an ideal selection if the selectors wanted to add a young star to the side, a player with the potential to be a middle order stalwart in years to come. They didn’t, making the same mistake once again.
Efforts of 85 and 161 in Hobart have cut Australian cricket to its very core, exposing all the issues that the win-now attitude has created. There is no longer any youth in the Australian set-up, and with current stars such as David Warner edging closer and closer towards retirement, the selectors need to start working on a team which will stand the test of time. Those at the head of Australian cricket seem to have finally recognised that quick fixes are no longer the answer. The question is whether they will still think that in a few months’ time, when the curtains will be drawn on a tour of India which, based on recent history, is not likely to succeed.
Next time: Where are all the young players? How the youth system has not come through.