Monday, December 06, 2010

The next Kim Hughes?

This, I suspect, is something of a hostage to fortune.
The point is this: that Australia, however feeble its stock of cricketers, no matter how bad things get – and things right now are pretty darn unambiguously shabby – will never plumb the pathetic and humiliating lows that the woebegone English sides of 1989 to 2003 did. It won’t happen. Not in the friendly, lucky country. Not here.
Christian Ryan, whose excellent book on Kim Hughes shows that he does at least remember the last time Australian cricket plumbed similar depths, probably just means that the good old Aussie larrikin tendency will keep them from being the lowest ranked team in cricket (as England briefly were in 1999).  Well he’s probably right, although it’s not exactly the hardest hurdle to clear.  But he might just be underestimating the risk that Australia will follow England’s basic trajectory over that period – basically average, with one or two good players occasionally pushing the side over the top.
Look at the problem they’re in: the current series, poorly as it’s going for them, is actually understating the extent of their problems.  OK, we know that their bowling attack is now thoroughly mediocre.  A roster of Harris, Bollinger, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, and Johnson contains three third seamers, one second-string quick (Harris, when he’s not injured) and one mysterious quantity who veers from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Since we’re doing mid-90s England comparisons, how does a line-up of Gough, Mullaly, Caddick, Cork and Malcolm compare?  If you were Australia, would you swap?  Let’s not even go into the spinners, other than to note that their ninth choice, Xavier Doherty, looks like he’d be out of his depth in a good club match.
But we know their bowling’s a problem.  What should be really worrying is their batting.  Mike Hussey has held it together so far in this series, Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich did the job in India.  All are 35 and over.  In a year or so (or possible even at the end of this series) Australia are going to have to replace half their batting – and on the evidence of the new blood on display in the Australia A game, there isn’t exactly a stream of qualified replacements.  If there were, do you really think Marcus North would still be playing?  And when they go, Australia really have no choice but to give the captain's stripes to Michael Clarke.
Settled sides carry with them a momentum.  Replacements can be made gradually, settling newcomers into a winning side.  But that can tip over into a side that becomes too settled, where the next in line go rotten on the tree.  Where the most obvious batting replacement is David Hussey – 33 years old. When that happens, and a generation retires together, it can take a decade or more to recover.  It happened to the West Indies in the early 90s, and they have still not recovered.  I wonder if Clarke, another gloriously talented golden boy of Australian cricket, will prove as lachrymose on the way out?

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