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Are the Aussies at last becoming fallible?

I had all kinds of plans of Things To Do over the weekend, but instead I spent my time following the news, with growing disbelief, of Australia losing two cricket matches, yesterday against England which was a bit of a surprise, and on Saturday against Bangladesh which was a cricket earthquake. The Aussies will probably pull themselves together by the time the test matches come around, because they are, after all, the Aussies, the best cricket team in the world. But they have now lost four games in a row, which is quite a hiccup by their standards. They lost the twenty over thrash against England last Monday, heavily, and then they lost to Somerset in a fifty-over warm-up game. And now they have lost these two games. As you can imagine, the British media are having a fine old wallow. The general opinion is that Assie captain Ricky Ponting, who won both the tosses of the weekend, made a mistake in batting first against Bangladesh. Yesterday, he did it again against England, in a game where England would have put Australia in first. On days like these, the bowlers get whatever help they will from the conditions right at the start, while it is still a bit muggy. Later, bright sunshine makes it much better for the batters. There was a touch here of “we are going to get this right if it kills us”, instead of “let us do what will get us the win”, a win they are starting to need rather badly. Worse, this decision suggested that most insidious form of sporting arrogance, which goes: “you fellows have to do everything right to win, but we are so great that we do not have to do everything right to win. The regular rules do not apply to us. We can bat first when we should bat second. We can hook bouncers just over long leg. We can go out the night before and get pissed. We do not have to get our feat to the pitch of the ball. We do not have to warm up when we bowl. We just have to show up. And still win.” Wrong. Great sportsman must have that vital dose of humility, which says that they only got great by doing everything right, and that to stay great they must continue to do everything right. But then again, maybe Ponting just wanted to practice batting first, and then defending dodgy totals.

Supporters of Australia will of course say that without Kevin Pietersen, England’s new South-Africa-born wonder batsman, England would have lost, and that is true. Pietersen scored 91 not out in 65 balls to wrap it up with 3 wickets (too close for comfort) and 15 balls (an eternity in one day cricket) to spare, and was the Man of the Match despite Steve Harmison earlier taking 5 or 33. But that brings me to my second feeling about this summer’s proceedings, which is for the first time in a long time, England may just have the edge in star quality over the Aussies. If the likes of Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, and now this extraordinary Pietersen character (“genius” was the word Vaughan used to describe his innings today), give of their very best during the forthcoming Ashes games, but if Australia’s star bowlers Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath turn out to be a bit past their admittedly stellar best, then England have a real chance. Mike Atherton, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, says that the Aussies are not what they were. He of all people knows all about what the Aussies were when they were what they were.

But, there is still Shane Warne. Glenn McGrath is very, very good, the best quick bowler of his time. Warne has been – still is? – something else again. Warne makes any bowling attack he is in twice as good. He bowls lots and lots of really good balls, including a few that are devastatingly good, and yet combines that with bowling hardly any bad balls, and certainly not the one bad ball every two overs or so that your average leg spinner will serve up. Against a Warneless bowling attack, the batsmen can reckon on times when they can cruise along and make some relatively easy runs without too much pressure, and prepare themselves for when the pressure resumes, with the next new ball say. But against a side with Warne in it, the pressure on batsmen is continuous. The quick bowlers can exhaust themselves in turn at the other end, while Warne just bowls and bowls. The only other bowling attack like this in cricket history was when the West Indians had about five ultra-fast bowlers taking it in turns. Recently Warne was voted, I think by some Australians, the greatest bowler of all time. (It may even have been the greatest cricketer.) This shocked me at the time, but thinking about it some more, I realised that this was right. If you were picking your all-time team, taking turns against another bloke picking his, school playground style, which bowler would you pick first, both to have him in your side and to deny him to the other side? Warne. Whenever, during the last few years, Warne did not play against England for some reason, England tended to do quite well. When Warne played, they crumpled, again and again.

Warne recently gave up playing one-day international cricket, and from now on will only play in five day test matches. He is now turning his arm over for Hampshire, and he took no part in this recent string of Aussie defeats. When he joins the Aussie party, he will undoubtedly try to raise his game and if he does he will duly transform the Aussie bowling. If that happens, Australia will go right back to being solid favourites, with all the other players suddenly playing better than before.

England’s unknown quantity is Steve Harmison. Harmison has it in him to win the series on his own, the way Frank Tyson once did in Australia half a century ago. Today, for example, Harmison took three wickets in one over, and they were not any old three wickets. They were: the extremely dangerous Gilchrist, then Ponting (first ball) and Martyn (second ball). The next over he bagged Hayden (a phenomenal catch by Collingwood), and towards the end he bowled Mike Hussey with a slower ball, thus putting a damper on the final few overs of the Australian innings. Only the exceptional batting of Pietersen at the end denied Harmison the Man of the Match award. Perhaps more significantly, the radio commentators were saying that when Harmison was bowling, with slips and gullies, it was more like a test match than a limited overs game. This was his first game against Australia this summer. He did nothing during the recent tour of South Africa. But he apparently suffers from homesickness, and now he is at home. He has, incidentally, been taking lots of county wickets.

On day one of the test series, it could be Australia 350 for 2 and all this will be forgotten. Or not, in the sense that I – or perhaps Michael Jennings – will be linking back to this posting and saying either oh dear or heh.

In other sporting news, Sir Clive Woodward’s Lions finally look like they might beat the All Blacks, but I still tip the locals to win. Why? Because this is not the World Cup.

Tim Henman is ever less likely to win Wimbledon the older he gets. That starts today. We will probably all be rooting for her.

And how about this for a F1 asco?

Football, meanwhile, is a game of two halves, and at the end Germany wins.

32 comments to Are the Aussies at last becoming fallible?

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Brian Micklethwait informed us:

    Tim Henman is ever less likely to win Wimbledon the older he gets. That starts tomorrow. We will probably all be rooting for [Maria Sharapova].

    Speak for yourself. I’ll be rooting for the gorgeous tennis of Justine Hénin-Hardenne not the hit-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can-and-hope-it-stays-in tennis of the skanky shrieker.

  • England have three stars but Australia have five- Hayden, Ponting, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath. Martyn and Langer would be stars in any other team, and Clarke could be one by the end of the summer. Once the Tests arrive, I think Australia’s extra batting firepower will tell in the end.

    But England certainly have improved, they have been most impressive so far. But I ask you, based on yesterday’s game- which side can play better?

  • Australia do clearly stack up better on a player by player basis on paper, but to me it looks that the England team have a far better attitude than the Australians do and are presently better led and better managed. Australia need a change of coach – someone who will force them to concentrate on the basics of the game like fielding and running between the wickets – and the selection of Ponting as captain is now looking like it may have been a mistake.

    But there is still a month before the tests, and there is time for Australia to regroup. And Warne will come into the side, and he will certainly provide some on field leadership in addition to his obvious skills with the ball. So as an Australian there are still things to take heart from.

    But it is indeed a dreadful start to the tour.

  • sean morris

    Yes I still think the Aussie have enough in the tank, but the difference I think you will see this Ashes, is one team whos best days are behind it, and another whos best days are in front of it.

  • Update this morning: I posted this posting in the small hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, and a lot of todays got left in which should have been changed to “yesterday”, which I have now done, I hope. Sorry for any confusion.

  • Scott: Which side can play better than they did yesterday? They both can. That’s why this summer is so very enticing.

  • Re the star quality of Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting, I suspect that without Warne and McGrath they would have not been quite so stellar. After all, they did/do not have to contend with Warne and McGrath, the way everyone else does/has. Take out Warne and McGrath, and that basic confidence Australia have had for the last decade or more, that they can dig themselves out of any hole they’re in in about a day, goes.

    I have similar views about the allegedly stellar West Indian batting of the seventies and eighties. It was those Fast Bowlers What Did It. When those supposedly stellar West Indian batsmen came up against their own genuinely stellar bowlers, in their domestic games, they were, I believe, the same terrified shambles that everyone else was against them.

    I’m not saying that Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting can’t bat, just that they aren’t quite as brilliant as they have seemed. Likewise, Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughan and the rest of them would bat better if England had a couple of world class bowlers of their own. They now have, maybe, one.

  • Besides which, as I didn’t mention in my posting, everything yesterday could be said to have hinged on an agonisingly close run out decision, which would have done for Pietersen when he was on about 35. A superb direct hit from Ponting. Nothing wrong with the decision. They used the technology just as they should. It was just very, very close.

  • pommygranate

    For all those who need to refresh their singing voices..
    (Barmy Army)

    For example,
    Shane Warne is an Aussie
    He wears a baggy cap
    He wears a Nike earing
    He is an Aussie twat
    He’s got his little flipper
    He’s got his box of tricks
    But when he bowls at Hickey
    He hits him for a six

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I’m not a cricket fan, however I have noticed the rather unfortunate English tendency of pumping up their sporting chances (be it cricket, soccer, rugby, tennis etc) in the media; “this time we’re gunna win, this time we’re going to go all the way, this time we’re looking good”, you get the idea. Of course, sooner or later England’s bound to win something (rugby world cup, for example) and all those people peddling the “this time” lines will be vindicated. Trouble is, 99% of the time they’re quite, quite wrong.

  • pommygranate

    Insufferable,

    It’s called patriotism

  • James

    Rope-a-dope.
    They suckered us into playing Robin Smith in ’93 when Warne held back the flipper and a few other deliveries. I wouldn’t put it past them to do the same thing this summer.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    pommygranate – no, it’s called delusion.

  • Sides that have a great bowling attack are usually pretty handy with the bat as well. Brian argues that Australians do not have to face McGrath, Warne and co, just as West Indies batsmen never had to face Garner, Marshall, and co…

    Well, actually they do/did, and on a very regular basis. When you are facing great bowlers in the nets every day, then it should make a difference out in the middle. I could imagine that England’s batsmen have improved out of sight by having to face Harmison and Flintoff in the nets on a regular basis.

  • pommygranate

    Patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it.
    G.B. Shaw

    of course its delusional

  • I’m not really into sports but I am pleased to see the English team doing well. However I could not help laughing at these comments by Blithering Bunny’s about English sports fans. He is an Australian living in England:

    Australians are often accused of being chippy, but one thing I’ve noticed from my extensive sojourns in the Mother Country is how incredibly chippy English sports fans are, especially in regard to soccer and very especially in regard to the Australian cricket team. The merest hint that Australia are not doing so well and they start prancing around in front of me like pantomine dames, even though I’ve never so much as mentioned sport to them. They carry on crowing and gloating like they’re some ancient demon who I’ve accidentally summoned back to life by reading aloud some magic words in an old book. “Fool! You fool! You have summoned from the deep the ancient powers of the dread Bothgattlambwillis! This land will return to its full glory and the convicts will wither in the face of our relentless onslaughts”.

  • You call it patriotism or delusion, I call it an opportunity to part some limey from his money.

  • Pete_London

    suffering:

    I’m not a cricket fan, however I have noticed the rather unfortunate English tendency of pumping up their sporting chances (be it cricket, soccer, rugby, tennis etc) in the media …

    So how many papers would you sell with your doom and gloom headlines?

    Doomed we tell you! Doomed!

    It’s about whipping up excitement amongst people who naturally look forward to great sporting contests and want their own to do well.

    And do tell me please which nation doesn’t indulge in a bout of tub thumping. The Jocks don’t count. Argentina 1978 was such a fiasco, such a national embarrassment, it’s no wonder they don’t their drums anymore.

  • Jack Maturin

    Australia think they’re pretending to be fallible to sink England with a Warne-based sucker punch, but it’s all going to go horribly wrong.

    England will win the first two tests. Then Ponting will make Gillespie have a reverse-Samson-style haircut, and then Australia will win the next two tests. It’ll all come down to the final fling, but England will win because just like the rugby side, Australia have let their dominance become arrogance, which is now leading to unretrievable complacency.

    England will win back the Ashes, this summer; I can feel it in my water. Though I fear the rebound effect will spur Australia to get the Ashes back again at the first time of asking. (Unless England can persuade a few more South Africans to come over to help us out! :-)

    Go Pietersen, m’n Jungen, gaan! ;-)

    (BTW, love those Sky adverts with Botham, Gower, and Warne. Patrick O’Brian eat your heart out!)

  • I'm suffering for my art

    of course its delusional

    Yes, and it makes the Poms look quite silly, to boot.

    So how many papers would you sell with your doom and gloom headlines?

    I’m not advocating doom and gloom; I do believe sections of the British press have a wide detachment from sporting reality. I really wonder why they do it. Buildup-buildup-buildup…bathos. Time and time again. You’d think they’d learn their lesson.

    There are many appalling traits in elements of the Australian media, however you don’t get the English-style constant overestimation of elite sporting prowess that is hyped up every time England’s going into a World Cup of some kind.

    I call it an opportunity to part some limey from his money.

    Haha, yes! One reason why Australians roll their eyes at the mention of English elite sport is because the Poms are always hyping themselves up – talking up their chances – and more often than not, underdelivering. I don’t see this happening anywhere else in the English-speaking world. It’s a peculiarly English trait.

    A lot of people accuse the Australian cricket team of being arrogant. What have they done to earn this tag, apart from being irritatingly dominant?

  • I'm suffering for my art

    And Pommygranate:

    You know the Barmy Army’s running out of bullets when all they can think of to chant is “3.5 dollars to the pound”. I witnessed it with my own eyes when the English team was in Perth a couple of years ago.

  • pommygranate

    Insufferable
    Sure, their songs could do with a makeover, but no Pommy tourist will ever tire of singing “we came here in backpack, you in ball and chain,..” or the uplifting “God Save Your Gracious Queen”

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Insufferable

    The wit of the man!

    no Pommy tourist will ever tire of singing “we came here in backpack, you in ball and chain,..”

    Well, maybe the ignorant ones won’t.

    or the uplifting “God Save Your Gracious Queen”

    We’re working on that one, too.

  • The Last Toryboy

    Not that I really follow sport, but I do remember the despicable antics of the Australians when they lost the rugby.

    The Aussies are sore losers in a way the British are not.

  • Pete_London

    The Last Toryboy

    Oh what a hoot that was. The sight of John Howard, his face like thunder, virtually throwing the medals at the England team. Hi-bloody-larious.

    I sent a gloating, yet good-natured, email to about 30 Aussies, “Hello losers, I’m enjoying some Aussie whine made from some rather sour grapes” etc.

    Boy can they not take it! Reply after reply full of bitter remarks. I learnt a lesson – you can have a beer and a laugh with’em when they’re on top but they are sore, immature losers.

  • I don’t remember any of that Howard stuff. What I do remember is how very decent and intelligent and sporting the Aussie captain George Gregan was about losing (the Rugby World Cup I mean), only minutes after what must have been one of the biggest disappointments of his life.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Toryboy, Pete_London :

    Oh come on. So an Aussie rabble acts like a bunch of twats when their team loses. Now your knuckle-dragging English sports fan wouldn’t ever stoop to such a level, would they.

    Incidentally, I found a great many English rugby fans to be exceedingly poor, ungracious winners. Still, I suppose an English fan has to wring as much enjoyment out of these exceedingly rare occasions as they possibly can.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Hrm. I think I exceeded myself with that above post. Oops.

    On reflection, however, you may be right, Pete_London. The thing is, your average boneheaded, immature Australian sports fan (of the type found the world over – yes, in England too), isn’t particularly used to losing. And they certainly don’t like being beaten by a country with whom a long history of rivalry is shared – England. So you, as an Englishman, can have a beer with said Aussie sports fan when their team has won, and because they’re used to their team winning and you’re used to your team losing, you’ll both be pretty cool about the whole thing.

    When there’s a win by the traditional loser, though, the new loser and winner both become insufferable because they’re not familiar with their new position and thus over-react.

  • NickL

    To tell you the truth, I find the Poms to be much worse at winning than any Aussies I know at losing. The ugly gloating at seeing the giant stumble.

    Whereas the Bangladeshi kids I’ve been teaching were real eye-openers. They were great winners, so excited at a win against the unbeatables but no put downs, no insults for the Aussies.

    It’s the pommy kids and the

    There’s a lesson there somewhere.

  • NickL

    Whoops. Left off the end of the paragraph there.

    Please read “… pommy kids and their parents who can’t resist putting the boot in.”

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I should add that the above quote was not a gloat about how Australians are so good at professional sport. These last few years have been the golden age of Australian professional sport, and it will come to an end. I expect Australian losers will become more gracious when they start to lose more often, and English winners will become more humble when they start to win more often.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    NickL: I have found Indians – and I suppose that covers the other nations occupying the subcontinent such as Bangladesh – to be fervent cricket fans, whether they win or lose. Obviously they like to win, but they’re still incredibly enthusiastic when they lose. I was an Australian in Bombay (coincidentally; wasn’t there for the game) when the Aussies handed out a good lashing to the Indians. What was the reaction from the Indian in the street? Not sullen resentment. Not violence or taunting. Unbridled enthusiasm for the match and respect for the victors, who they readily conceded were a fine cricket team. No wonder the Australian team loves touring India. I have no doubt that within a few years the Indians will field a world-beating cricket team.