Sunday, December 01, 2002

Australia-England cricket has been one sided since Australia won the first of its current streak of eight successive series in 1989. However, with today's ludicrously comprehensive win over England, I think the situation is approaching farce. I, and the Australian sporting public, have continued to watch the matches until now because of the history of the rivalry (frequent games since 1877) and because there is something the Australian character finds deeply appealing about beating the English at cricket , given the types of people who run English cricket and who write about it in the Telegraph. (People of my age also remember Australia being badly beaten by the English in 1981 (especially), 1985 and 1986, and still feel some desire for revenge). There have been occasional suggestions that series against England be reduced from five matches to three, which is what Australia plays against most other opponents, but there has been no action on this due to their still being so much public interest in the matches. However, I think the three matches in the last month (all three of them absolute thrashings) and (for some reason) today in particular, is the point at which it all started to become a joke. Unless something dramatic happens, my interest in watching Australia play England is going to fall off.

Mike Coward, cricket correspondent in the Australian, was suggesting a week or two ago that the Australian Cricket Board was taking the high television ratings and gate receipts for granted, and that inevitably interest would be lost in Australia-England and that cricket in Australia would then suffer. The Australian Cricket Board was doing a bad job of promoting alternate rivalries to take the place of Australia-England in the future.

The ideal rivalry is surely Australia-India, given the enthusiasm Australians have for cricket. This should have been promoted more heavily, sure, but the issue does to some extent come back to results on the field. India has great batsmen and so-so bowlers, and Indian conditions are very different to everywhere else in the world. Indian teams are invincible in India, and are incapable of winning outside India. Until this is no longer the case, this rivalry is a relatively difficult one to promote. Certainly though it is getting there from the point of view of the players. Touring India used to be perceived as a chore, but now beating India in India is seen as a holy grail for the Australian players. Current captain Steve Waugh was saying just today that this is the one challenge he still has in the game, and another tour of India is the one thing he would like to undertake. Australia do not tour for 18 months, and it is pretty unlikely Waugh will still be playing then, but it is clearly still on his mind.

Update: There's a piece by Peter Roebuck in the SMH on whether Steve Waugh will be given the chance to continue past the end of this series. (A writer in the London Times (no link because of their subscription policy) wrote this morning that this series will be "Surely Waugh's last"). Waugh clearly needs a hundred, and preferably a big one, before the end of this series in order to hold his place. That said, Roebuck makes two good points. Firstly that Waugh is presently playing well enough that he would certainly hold his place if he were younger - he has made good but not spectacular contributions with the bad in three of his last four tests. If a batsman should be dropped on form, it is Darren Lehmann. Secondly, the dropping of another senior player (Mark Waugh) has actually upset the side a little. Australia's infield catching has been below par in this series. It might be worth waiting a little bit longer before upsetting the balance again. Bearing these facts in mind, and also the fact that Ponting is relatively inexperienced as captain, plus the fact that giving Ponting the additional pressure of the test captaincy might upset his (presently superb) batting, I think I would send Steve Waugh to the West Indies. It's a fairly tricky tour, and four years ago it was Steve Waugh's first tour as test captain, and he did not cope especially well. This assumes he can get a century in Melbourne or Sydney. Really he needs it in Melbourne, as if he is not going past the end of the series, the selectors might feel the urge to give him some warning so that he can announce that Sydney is his last test. He knows all this, and he has presumably spoken to the selectors so he knows more than I do. When he has been in these sorts of pressure filled positions in the past, he has always risen to them. We shall see if he does this time too.

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