Rolled for 60: what’s the problem?

Is there a link between Australia’s 60 all out and the poor governance strangling global cricket?

Test cricket is a vital sign of the game’s health. The 2015 Ashes Series has delivered four thrashings. Only twelve days of cricket have been played from a possible twenty. Both Cardiff and Lords were over inside four days and Edgbaston and Trent Bridge barely spluttered into day three.

No Australian side has been beaten in a Test Match inside two days since 1892. Australia lasted twenty minutes on day three at Nottingham. That demonstrates the gravity of what happened. Of course, Australia was knocked over before lunch and in 18 overs – the quickest first innings of a Test Match ever.

But it wasn’t an isolated event.

Australia’s 2015 Ashes collapses:

  • Australia lost 5/50 to finish their 1st innings at Cardiff. They went from 1/97 to 7/151 in the second innings.
  • They played well at Lords, made over 800 runs. But Smith and Rogers made 495 between them. Only one other Aussie (Warner) made it to fifty!
  • In Birmingham they were bundled out for 136. In the 2nd dig, six of the top seven batsmen made single figure scores. Warner’s 77 pushed them to 7/153 before lower order fifties from Starc and Nevill pushed them over 250.
  • 60 all out in record time at Trent Bridge preceded another 2nd innings collapse. This time it was 0/112 to 7/236, then all out for 253.

The responses

Perhaps the most alarming response came from Michael Clarke after the infamous 60. In the post-match press conference he said “I’ve always maintained that when the bowling gets better, you need to be more aggressive”.

Clarke’s on-field captaincy has been good. He’s been a world class batsman but this comment troubled me. Aggression isn’t the only way to fight back in difficult conditions, preserve your wicket during a collapse or resist a good spell. At 5/29, 30 minutes into day one of the fourth Test, Clarke went the aggression route. He tried to hit a wide ball for six over extra cover and snicked up to second. 6/29, goodbye Ashes.

Aussie fans were pretty angry and shocked but cricket’s establishment has virtually dismissed the collapse as a ‘one-off bad day’. They’ve referred to the victory at Lords and suggested that performance is evidence of Australia’s might. Hmmm, dubious.

Surely this series is finally a sign that the bigger issues affecting cricket have now leaked onto the field?

A decade of increasingly rampant administrative negligence and the dismissal of the Australian club cricket pyramid are now delivering what was always promised.

Big Bash versus the Sheffield Shield

Shunting the Sheffield Shield to periphery of the Australian summer to accommodate eight weeks of franchise 20/20 is damaging the game at the highest level. It also means that while Australia is playing home Tests all of its domestic players are attempting reverse sweeps and bowling darts with white balls. What if the Test side needs to call up a new player?

The Big Bash League may ignite commercial interest in the game, but it is destroying player development and eating away at First Class cricket. It’s happening everywhere and the effect is systematic. Down at club cricket level two day cricket is increasingly reduced to accommodate 35-50 over cricket. India’s First Class Ranji Trophy is gutted by the IPL, which in turn clashes with the traditional Test match summer in the Caribbean.

Cricket Froth has previously suggested that 20/20 does provide cricket with a unique opportunity.

But there is no conversion-of-interest strategy to capitalise on the ‘new audience’ attracted by T20.

Cricket should be converting at least 20% of the new interest generated by T20 into other forms of cricket. But cricket administrators are missing out and soon enough, the opportunity will be gone.

The monetary benefit generated by T20 appears to be siphoned off into private pockets too because there’s relative little done to promote and expand the game in associate countries.

Australia’s cricket establishment is also increasingly promoting a system that ignores the traditional club cricket pyramid, placing schools and academies of excellence at the sharp end of player development. Whichever player’s parents can afford the fees gets a fancy tracksuit for their son or daughter and away they go, presumably off to a lengthy career of cricket stardom. Not so.

Of course, Australia’s dire performances with the bat cannot only be blamed on T20.

The sense of occasion, the crowd, the pressure and excellent bowling play their part. Many have cited ‘conditions’ as an issue. But that argument links back to T20. Players are no longer toiling away in county cricket and acquiring the skills to adapt to different pitches and balls. They’re off playing in the IPL or the Caribbean crunch or simply having a rest after an Australian summer overloaded with short-form.

England does not escape this either. Let’s not forget that they were routed at Lords on a batsman friendly feather-bed for 103 in 37 overs. And bowler Stuart Broad top-scored with just 25.

It seems that tremendous performances like Sri Lanka’s massive fight-back against India last week are rarer than they were many years ago. The Galle Test Match proved just how brilliantly entertaining Test cricket can be. If only it were promoted so?

Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers’ final Test match

These two bow out of Test cricket this weekend. Clarke averages 49 from 114 matches and I hope he can make a big hundred to nudge that average back over 50. That’ll be a fitting end to a great career on the park and a divisive presence in the dressing room.

Chris Rogers has only played 24 Tests and averages 42. But his performances over the last two years have been excellent. He was the leading run scorer across the 10 Ashes Tests played in 2013 and 2013-14 and in this series he has shielded Australia from further embarrassment, by again leading the runs for Australia.

Where is the game going?

Everybody should watch the Four Corners investigation of cricket’s ‘big three’. India, Australia and England are choking the game and private interests and short-term gain have been prioritised. Altruism in cricket administration is dead.

Rediscovering the romance of Test Cricket: The Future

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