AFTER the boom, the bust. And after the bust, the struggle for recovery. A few years ago the economies of the Western world experienced a crash after years of plenty and are now on a long hard road back to respectability. Similarly, Australia's cricketers dominated the game for the best part of two decades, then crashed, and are now experiencing what Brett Lee described this week as a "transitional phase";. By that he means they're transitioning from bad to worse. What he didn't mention is that this process is being aided by erratic selectors and a lack of first-rate talent coming through the domestic game.
Their former glories are well known. A record string of victories in Tests and World Cups made Steve Waugh's side [much more than Ricky Ponting's] one of the greatest ever. In the 1990s they won 54 Tests, lost 25, and drew 29. In the following decade they won 79, lost 18, and drew 18. Since the start of last year, however, they have won six, lost six, and drawn one.
It's argued that the 2005 Ashes loss to England was the turning point, though that obviates the fact that for 18 months after that they were still dominant. It is true, however, that the 2005 series exposed crucial failings and marked the peak of many very distinguished careers.
Richie Benaud said that captaincy is 90 per cent luck, and Waugh was blessed with uncommonly talented players. They are now gone. The curiosity is not how hard it's proving to replace them but what a palaver the Australian selectors are making of grooming potential successors. That is because the selectors are a funny bunch.
Andrew Hilditch may be coming to the end of his term as chief selector and, from Australia's point of view, that end cannot come soon enough. He has failed to gel with Greg Chappell and former Somerset captain Jamie Cox [Merv Hughes was sadly sacked], and made some baffling decisions.
Simon Katich was sacked despite being in decent nick. He called his sacking "absolutely ridiculous";, a judgement Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson concurred with. Indeed, Katich's opening partnership with Watson was the only functioning part of Australia's batting line-up. Cameron White, David Hussey and Brad Hodge were dropped without being given a proper chance.
Hilditch said he wanted to test young blood, as part of a long build-up to the 2015 World Cup, but now he's stuffed the current side playing one-day matches against Sri Lanka with golden oldies. Ponting hit 90 not out and Michael Clarke 58 not out yesterday as they went 2-0 up in the series.
The selectors' crime is twofold: not just inexplicable decisions such as the Katich dumping, but inconsistency and bizarre pronouncements with all the instability that engenders. This is especially damaging just now because few of the emerging players seem destined for greatness.
Aaron Finch, Callum Ferguson, David Warner and Shaun Marsh are capable but not exhilarating batsman. James Pattinson - brother of Darren who was plucked from obscurity to play one Test for England - John Hastings, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland are all promising bowlers, and 18-year-old Patrick Cummins could end up as quick as Shaun Tait or Brett Lee. In the spin department, off-spinner Nathan Lyon looks a better bet than Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer or Nathan Hauritz.
But evidence of star quality is not yet forthcoming from any one of these, and Australia's fans, who are used to a conveyor belt of great players, are getting a little impatient. Now more than ever they need selectors capable of thinking clearly, and with the character to nurture young talent at the highest level. At the very least that means dumping the eccentric Hilditch, and restoring former chief selector Trevor Hohns, currently wasting away at Queensland.
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