The Problems with Australian Cricket: Part 5

As shown in the previous entries in this series, there are some serious systemic problems facing Australian cricket, and no quick fix is going to solve them. Instead, the road to recovery will take time, short-term pain and investment in youth, both through promotion and development. The Sheffield Shield needs to become a competitive breeding ground for the Test side, allowing the best young players to be ready to take opportunities at a higher level. The pathways to the Shield also need improvement, with less involvement from the states and more cricket being played by developing players. The key to fixing this current rut, however, can be found in history.

The selectors took the first logical step in picking their team for the Adelaide Test, backing young players in Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson. This must continue, although Maddinson must prove that he is a better option at six than Travis Head if he is to proceed. Full of this fresh influence, the bowlers stepped up once again in the dead rubber, and the batsmen finally fired to grant Australia their first Test match win since February. This cannot be the expected level of performance from this young side. History has shown that rebuilds can only work with patience, and the selectors, the fans and the higher levels of Cricket Australia need to recognise this and stick to their guns, regardless of short-term results.

Victory: Matt Renshaw (front) and Peter Handscomb seal victory for Australia against South Africa in Adelaide.

Over the course of the upcoming Test matches against Pakistan, the selectors must find the side with the most potential, and find the batting line-up that best suits their need for a stable base in years to come. Then they need to back them to the hilt. Their most recent opponents, South Africa, provide a perfect example. They have turned over their side to replace legends of the game like Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, identifying a young replacement early on and sticking with them. Temba Bavuma and Dean Elgar are players who were promoted by this policy, and both have turned into excellent Test cricketers, while not as good as their predecessors. In the mid-1980s, Australia did the same thing, sparking a dominance which lasted for decades. In the midst of a crisis, Allan Border built his side around youth, with players like Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Ian Healy coming through the ranks in the next few years. The parallels to this situation are striking, although Border’s Australian team had just gone through the retirements of three of Australia’s greatest ever players (in the same match) and the sudden resignation of Kim Hughes as captain after a series of consecutive losses stretching back much further than the side of today.

The lessons to be learnt from this are twofold. Firstly, it shows that it works. It also provides a word of warning. This will take time. Young players do not just become world-class cricketers from their first game, and this batch of players needs time to develop. Against Pakistan, it is highly likely that they will play well. The Pakistanis are coming off a very poor series in New Zealand, and while the conditions there bear no comparison to those in Australia it never helps to come into a series with batsmen low on confidence and fielders who can’t hold a catch. The real test of the selectors commitment will not come following the Sydney Test: it will be India, where the young side will not stand a chance. They will lose the series to a strong, set, Indian side, with the best spinner in the world and the best batsman in the world leading the charge. India can pile on runs on their spin-friendly wickets, while rolling Australia with ease. It may seem negative, but Australia do not stand a chance.

Everyone needs to understand that this will work, and that once young players are backed and allowed to develop they will become better Test cricketers. They need to trust these players to come through, and have faith that their gamble will pay off. With the Ashes coming up next summer, against a very strong English side, there will be grumbles about selection if India, as expected, romp home to a series win. But once the selectors settle on a young side, there can be no going back. They have started on the long, winding and painful road to recovery. Only time will tell whether they can stay the path.

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