What went wrong with Australian cricket

The simple fact is that Australia are now paying for mistakes made by selectors four or five years ago, which failed to utilise the talent available © Getty Images

The indomitable Australian cricket team of the late nineties and noughties has gone on a downward spiral over the last five-six years, especially after the retirement of stalwarts such as Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne. Adrian Meredith tries to figure out what went wrong and what could have been.
Many theories have been postulated as to why Australian batting has gone downhill.

  1. The Australian pitches are more suited to bowlers than batsmen — That explains lower averages, but why do they stink against other countries in other conditions? If they are used to difficult conditions, surely, it would make them better).
  2. Many great players retired around 2007 or so — Sure, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, and more recently Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey retired, but Brad Hodge, David Hussey and Chris Rogers didn’t. They just weren’t picked.
  3. Twenty20 cricket and IPL means that players get more money from the shortest form of cricket, making them stink at Test cricket — Then, why are Australia’s fast bowlers so good? And why is it only affecting Australia? South Africa, India and West Indies play more T20 cricket than Australia does, and probably Pakistan too. So, why aren’t they hurting as much?

The reality is that none of these theories are true. The reality is something else.

Selectors have occasionally picked duds over the years. There are numerous examples of hunches plucked from obscurity, doing horribly in their one and only Test and never seen or heard of again. There are also examples of players with great First-Class records who were given extended runs in the Test side, but just kept on failing. However, in the last few years, it has been a lot worse than that.
Marcus North played 21 Tests from 2009-2010 and, yet, averaged just 35.48 as a batsman. That is hardly a surprise, though, given his First-Class average of just 40.87. In that time, he was keeping out three players who averaged over 50 in Hodge, David Hussey and Rogers.
Shaun Marsh played seven Tests in 2011-12, averaging just 27.36, though this is hardly surprising given his First-Class average of just 35.77. Scarily, in spite of averaging just 19 this season, he was widely expected to come back for the Ashes!
Peter Forrest played 15 ODIs in 2012, averaging just 26.28 at a strike-rate of just 65.59, and he was actually expected to play Tests too! Thank goodness he didn’t! In First-Class cricket, he averages just 31.36.
Phillip Hughes has now played 24 Tests from 2009-13, and has averaged just 33.00. He started his career well until being found out, initially by English swing bowler Steve Harmison. In spite of averaging 17 against England and 19 in England, he is en route to the Ashes, where he may well play in every match.
Now, consider that, instead of those four players, they had picked Hodge, David Hussey and Rogers.
In 2009, after North started failing badly, they could have replaced him with Hodge. At most, North should have played four Tests. Give the other 17 to Hodge, who was prolific during that time, averaging over 70 in First-Class cricket. While it is never a guarantee that it would translate into Test form, the reality is that it probably would have. Australia would have had a great middle-order batsman.
In 2011-12, rather than having the hunch of Shaun Marsh, Australia could have gone in with the reliable David Hussey. Hussey was then a stalwart in both ODIs and T20s and, while his First-Class form wasn’t quite as good as at its peak, it was still pretty darn amazing. The selectors said he was too old, but at 32 he wasn’t that old, and was still younger than his brother Michael, who was in the team. The decision to play Marsh was purely because he had age on his side.
In 2009, after Hughes dramatically fell to pieces, rather than giving him three more chances, they could have given the long-suffering Rogers a go. Rogers was only 31 at the time and was at the peak of his form, averaging 80 that season, much better than Hughes at his peak. And the difference was that Rogers had had eight previous seasons of averaging 40-plus, rather than just one good season for Hughes. Fair enough, giving Hughes a go, but once he was dumped, he shouldn’t have been brought back without showing improvement.
There are so many other options that they could have tried instead of Peter Forrest.

What went wrong with Australian cricket

David Hussey (left) and Chris Rogers were two of the many talents that were wasted by the Australian selectors © Getty Images

So, consider that instead of those four really terrible choices above, they had gone in with three players with proven amazing records; then, consider the situation Australia would be in now:
Hodge would have played a good 70 Tests by now and probably would have averaged in the 50s in that time. With his involvement alone, Australia probably wouldn’t have lost their No 1 title, or, if they did, they would have been in much better shape.
David Hussey would be up around 30 or 40 Tests and, at a bare minimum, would have averaged in the high 30s-low 40s; he could have even been in the 50s. And he bowled too. The Hussey brothers would have reminded everyone of Steve and Mark Waugh, only that David Hussey is the only one that bowls.
Rogers would have been a rock at the top of the order, though his injury in 2010-11 would have meant that Australia would have scrambled for other options, uncovering David Warner and giving Shane Watson a try at opening the innings. Knowing that Rogers was coming back, they would have tried to impress, improving their own performances. By now, Rogers would have played 50-60 Tests and averaging at least 40-plus if not in the 50s.
Australia would now have a solid batting line-up that may look something like this:

David Warner, Chris Rogers, Brad Hodge, Michael Clarke, David Hussey, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade and the bowlers.

Rather than having just Clarke averaging over 40, all of them would be. Australia would, potentially, have three spinning part-timers in Hodge, Clarke and David Hussey, giving them the freedom to play four pace bowlers.

Now, I know what people will say — But these guys are all 35-plus, so how does that help?

It helps because, in that side, young guys like Warner and Watson would most likely improve to keep up with the others. Ponting wouldn’t have been given such an extended run when he was out of form if they had these guys to turn to. Michael Hussey‘s retirement would have paved the way for Warner to break through in to the team, rather than the latter already being settled there. 

The simple fact is that Australia are now paying for mistakes made by selectors four or five years ago, which failed to utilise the talent available and, hence, ruined things for batsmen coming through. With every other batsman in the team averaging 50-plus, a batsman that would otherwise struggle to average 35 may well step up to 40, 45 or even 50.

And that, in a nutshell, is what has happened to Australian cricket.

The inclusion of Rogers for the Ashes is encouraging, but not good enough. Short of Hughes miraculously fixing up the holes in his technique and Haddin amazingly figuring out how to keep wickets for the first time in his career, Australia are two players short of their best side there. But at least the inclusion of Rogers gives some hope for the future.

(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)