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John Passant

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December 2010
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Ashes to ashes

The Australian victory [over Pakistan in January 2010 – JP] will reinforce the conservatism of the captain and only prepares the way for major defeats when Australia meets a stronger foe like South Africa or India or even England. Australian cricket is heading Howard-like to its 2007 election.

I wrote those prophetic words almost exactly a year ago in an article called Cricket and conservatism. The nationalists, jingoists and reactionaries condemned me for the piece because it challenged notions of Australian superiority. It dared to suggest Australia’s cricket team was too old and too conservative and drew comparisons with the do-nothing conservatism of Bob Menzies, relying on the strength of the economy, a strength he did not contribute to.

The problems of Australian cricket were obvious to me then, especially early in that game when Pakistan rolled Australia for 127 and had a sizeable lead, only to throw it away with woeful batting and fielding – including four dropped wicketkeeper catches. In light of later developments the win may also have been tainted.

Whatever the truth about those suspicions the victory then merely hid the decline of Australian cricket from the full view of day. Unfortunately there is no Wikileaks of cricket. But the defeat today has exposed the failed strategy of the ruling cricket elite.

As I wrote then, there are decades, said Lenin, when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.

Cricket can be a bit like that. Indeed, the defeat today in Melbourne was a Wikileaks like experience. It was the day that exposed the truth.

There are systemic problems with Australian cricket hidden by decades of success, just as there are systemic problems with Australian capitalism hidden by the current boom. 

Our team is old. Ponting and Hussey are 36 and the average age is over 30. For too long Australian cricket relied on its heroes – Warne, McGrath, the Waughs, Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting and Hussey – to produce win after win.

Yet the way of the flesh is death – or in cricketing parlance low scores and the inability to take wickets. Late capitalism has shown itself sclerotic and crisis ridden. So too is Australian cricket.

For the Australian bourgeoisie the idea of adequately funding the training of the next generation of workers is anathema, much as it is to our neoliberal cricket administrators.

The commodification of cricket began early last century. But its takeover by big business began in the 1970s with Packer’s World Series competition.

The players began to receive rewards that took them out of the working class as a group. Cricket administrators received huge amounts of money from television stations. Only some of that went back to the grass roots.

One consequence of the increased rewards for elite players is that they wait longer to retire.  As Ricky Ponting shows, sometimes they wait too long. But it is not easy to give up earning millions of dollars a year. Age however inexorably destroys cricketing skills and in Ponting’s case he has put that degeneration on display by staying one season too long.

All good managers look to the present and the future. It may be that the current crop of youngsters is just not good enough.

My suspicion is that the whole identification, development and blooding system is flawed and depends too much on the idea that our ageing former superstars will continue past their use by dates. It is ever thus in our undemocratic society where those in unelected positions of power cling to them by right rather than reason.

The time has come for generational change. Let’s be audacious and skip a generation. Drop all the over 30 year olds. Bypass Clarke and Johnson. Give the bat and ball to our young early 20 something year old cricketers.

And spend much much more of the money Cricket Australia gets from Channel 9 for the telecasts on junior cricket. Even that won’t enough because cricket now is just a business, a siphon of surplus value for certain elements of the ruling class. 

It is time for a revolution in cricket in Australia. Let’s grab our game back from the exploiters. The grass roots should rise up and take over its running in the interests of every kid and adult playing, watching or otherwise participating in local cricket.



Comment from Scoremore
Time December 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I hope the selectors don’t listen to the arm chair idiots and start scapegoating players that have contributed much to Australian cricket over the years to be replaced by foetuses having only played a couple of first class matches that England will destroy. (tell me how Doherty, Hughes and Smith have gone in this series?)

Comment from John
Time December 29, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I think it is a case of rebuilding and knowing when to rebuild. Hanging on to people beyond their prime is a mistake. I made the same point a year ago and got howled down. Now the chickens have come home to roost. Let’s blood the young uns and accept the idea of building for the future rather than relying on the past.

Comment from Walter
Time December 30, 2010 at 10:22 am

John, I agree with your thesis, but I would suggest that almost all sporting teams (Man United excepted) go through cycles of strength and weakness – just like political parties.

England simply have a better team. India have the most talented team in the world, but it took them a while to find the two fast bowlers (Sharma and Khan) to get them there.

Our problem is about wrong selections. Watson is a number 6, not an opener. Mitch only plays properly every second game. Ponting has never been an astute captain, he just had Warne, McGrath et al to keep the side winning.

I’d opt for a transition side – Marsh and Katich to open, then Kawaja, Ponting, Ferguson/Huessey, Waston and Haddin as captain. This Smith kid might be ok, who knows? Hauritz at least takes a few wickets, but if Beer can spin, then blood him. Fast bowlers are the problem. So maybe go for that new left armer Faulkner from Tasmania or one of the new NSW bowlers.