Rolling out of bed the other morning after a leisurely Saturday lie in, I turned on the TV expecting to see a good couple of hours of cricket. Instead, BT Sport was screening a documentary about Pele. Checking the internet to see what had happened, I was shocked to find Australia had already been bowled out for 91 to lose the first Test to India by an innings and then some.
Leaving aside for a moment the arguments about doctored pitches and favourable home conditions, this is a shocking defeat for a side that a few weeks ago were being hailed as statistically the best side in Australian history.
The problem is that Pat Cummins’ Australia team have never truly been tested. Yes, they have an outstanding record of P14 W9 D4 L1 before this series but take a look at who they have played in that time. Pretty much any Australian side in history could have beaten England’ sorry tourists in 2021/22. A 1-0 series win in Pakistan sounds impressive, and Cummins’ men do deserve credit for their performances on that tour, but it fades when one considers that Pakistan have not won a single Test match at home since opposition sides started visiting the country again last year. Ben Stokes’ England achieved a 3-0 whitewash a few months after Australia’s visit as well.
A drawn series in Sri Lanka showed some of the frailties against spin that Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja so ruthlessly exposed again last week. As for the home Australian summer, surely the West Indian and South African tourists that the home side encountered must be the poorest ever to be sent down under by those two proud cricketing nations. Australia’s batsmen and bowlers have grown greedy on easy pickings, bloating their statistics against, at times, embarrassingly weak opposition.
The problem with this is that when they then come up against truly world-class opposition in hostile and challenging conditions they are simply unprepared for the battle. No tour in cricket at the moment is harder than a trip to India, with their array of world class players and, shall we say, “creative” pitch preparation. Australia will have to improve fast if they are to compete in a series that Steve Smith labelled bigger than the Ashes.
For Cummins’ men the problems extend beyond the pitch as well. This current Australian team have an image problem as well. For whatever reason the crowds are simply staying away. Even the T20 World Cup saw swathes of empty seats for the home team’s matches, while the recent Test summer has been played out, in part, to near empty stadiums.
The Australian media has put forward several reasons for this, the most significant one being the player power coup that ousted hugely popular head coach Justin Langer back in 2021. Langer had worked hard to restore the team’s reputation after Sandpapergate and yet was shocked not to be offered a long term extension to his contract after several players allegedly went behind his back to Cricket Australia to complain about his “intense” methods. For a figure widely beloved by the Australian public since his playing days to be treated in this way has left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans and, rightly or wrongly, has created an image of this current team as a thin skinned group who can’t take criticism.
There is also the feeling amongst many that the true story of Sandpapergate itself has yet to be revealed. Fast bowlers cherish the ball like a new-born baby, even an extra speck of dust on it would draw their attention. It seems almost inconceivable that a group of bowlers as experienced as Australia’s attack on that fateful day in Cape Town would have been completely unaware of what was being done to the ball. The idea that certain members of the team may have been sacrificed to the media to protect the rest of the group is so very un-Australian. It flies in the face of the Aussie ideal of sticking up for your mates no matter what.
Cummins himself is not universally popular either, which is a surprise considering in cricketing terms at least, he is one of Australia’s finest ever bowlers. He is perceived to have had the leading role in the ousting of Langer and, as part of the fast bowling group, is still sullied by the memory of Cape Town. He has also used his platform as Australian captain to campaign regularly about climate change, which sounds harmless enough but the public’s tolerance for political statements from sports people has certainly gone down in recent years. In Cummins case, it is also not helped by accusations of hypocrisy around his use of private jets and a gas-guzzling SUV. He has even been christened “Captain Carbon” and “Captain Woke” in some corners.
All of this has created a perfect storm in which much of the Australian public has not only fallen out of love with their men’s cricket team but also, and this is worse, lost interest in them. It is a shame that this incredibly talented group of Australian cricketers is not appreciated by their fans but perhaps they simply need to prove themselves on the field against the best and then the other issues will be forgotten.
A comeback victory in India looks improbable but it is worth remembering that India were bowled out for 36 in the first Test of their last tour of Australia and still came back to win the series so anything is possible. There is also still the chance of an all-time classic Ashes series this summer. Winning in England for the first time in 22 years might just be enough for Pat Cummins’ men to be considered a truly great Australian side rather than one which was just lucky enough to play against a lot of very poor opponents.
Unfortunately we live an an age where virtue signalling has become an integral part of international sport. Look at England’s footballers ludicrous rainbow campaign and taking of the knee which was widened from a purely racial thing inside the sport to a general one of social injustice. Chocolate teapot comes to mind as almost everyone is against social injustice anyway. Sport and politics don’t go well together, however inevitable it has become, as there’ll always be a strong element of hypocrisy attached. The idea of a Woke Aussie seems ludicrous to anyone brought up on a diet of the Chappels, Border and Waugh.
Not sure the Aussies have been a huge draw anywhere but England for some years now. Their win at all costs approach has never lent itself to empathy. Gamesmanship over sportsmanship has long been their mantra. Sure other countries indulge, but it’s not ingrained in the same way. That’s one of the main reasons we love to gloat on the rare occasions we beat them.
Certainly the increasing dominance of white ball franchise cricket has had its effect on batting technique. The moving ball and close fielders not being an issue there.
Still looking forward to the Ashes though, especially as the 1st test is on my home patch. Just a shame we don’t have a significant Aussie community over here to heighten the atmosphere.
There is a huge difference between being ‘against social injustice’ and actively working to rectify it (this is my professional field of employment so I know a wee it about it). You may not like campaigns such as taking the knee, which is fine, and you may not think that sport and political causes should not mix, but sport (and indeed other forms of mass entertainment) have huge potential when it comes to influencing social change, so we dismiss such acts at our peril IMHO.
I’m not disputing sport’s potential influence but it’s knee jerking to be seen to responding to every trend, ususally inspired by media pressure, rarely seems to result in significant progress. Sure there’s plenty of publicity surrounding it but it’s what goes on behind the scenes, where you get a few high profile examples but as far as the general public goes things stay pretty much as before. All we hear is what the media says and they always have an agenda to promote, so sportsmen become slaves to the propaganda. That’s why sport and politics should be kept on a long leash.
Rainbow armbands and taking the knee is hardly ‘every trend’……..
Apart from placating the media’s need to be seen at the forefront of these ‘campaigns’ for want of a better word, it’s difficult to see how they’ve affected anything.
Depends on whether the social change is positive or negative. At the moment the PC or Wike if you prefer brigade seem on intent in “protecting” society inside some sort of sterile bubble. From kids education to rewriting history the list you on….and on.
I think you significantly overstate the liking of the Australian public for Justin Langer. For every one who thought he was great my guess is there’d be at least one who was put off by the elite honesty type babble and who could see that he would become very annoying very quickly. There’d be others who would think that 4 years in the chair is generally about right for an international coach to do what they can do and that if they stay on longer they’re not adding much.
“campaign regularly about climate change, which sounds harmless enough”.
Climate change harmless? Look up its origins in the Club of Rome and the figure of Maurice Strong. Apart from transforming your diet, imprisoning you in a 15 minute city zone, putting your energy bill through the roof, serving as a prestect for future lockdowns and invasions….
Anyway, will the ECB be dialing up turning pitches for the summer? Not easy when the whole series has to be over before the scholl holidays and the 16.66 takes over!
Don’t tell me–the whole world’s ruled by a shadowy conspiracy that can only be circumvented by a good dose of of right-wing, “populist” government….
Every time he bangs on about something you make a snide remark. It’s like listening to two bores in a bar. Give us a break!
Every time he bangs on about something you make a sarky reply. It’s like listening to two bores in a bar. Give us a break
I must admit I enjoy Ian’s replies to Simon’s increasingly bizarre posts!