The secret of Australian success

Robert “Crash” Craddock writes about Shane Warne’s list, and about Warne’s animosity towards Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist.

But underneath it all there is a fascinating, essentially untold story about how two superstars of the modern game somehow managed to survive and thrive year after year in the same side despite a fallout which left each man cold.

Waugh will never expand on the details because he could not be bothered starting a bushfire from which no one could win.

Warne’s definition of Gilchrist as “still a batsman-keeper rather than the other way around” is not flattering (even given Gilchrist’s freakish batting skills) and one which Gilchrist would not enjoy.

You can call Gilchrist a madhouse slogger and he will laugh along with you but dismissiveness of his keeping skills hurts him because he sees himself as a keeper first.

…..In a perverse sort of way, Warne’s modest rating of Steve Waugh and Gilchrist gives us a hint of why Australian teams have been so successful over the past decade – they simply put the personal stuff to one side and go out and play for the team.

It sounds easy to do but it has been beyond many fragmented England, West Indian, Indian and Pakistan teams of the same era.

Warne and Waugh might not have been each other’s cup of tea but you would never have known it on the field.

The ability of Australia’s players to put their personal stuff to one side and play for the team is undoubtedly a big part of Australia’s success. I don’t know, but I suspect that New Zealand are also good at doing this, which is why they are able to punch above their weight in international cricket.

Goodbye Gnome

Justin Langer made it a hat-trick of retirements this week, with the most low-key of announcements. He’s the most low-key of players too, who is uber-passionate on the field, but not particularly noticable away from it.

His career has been an interesting exercise in constant reinvention. He started out as a middle order batsman against the likes of Curtly Ambrose. The 1992 West Indians claimed he was afraid and bowlers have been targeting ever since. They often hit him, too. South African’s Makhaya Ntini conked him so hard in the Johannesburg Test that he doesn’t remember it, which was a pity as it was his 100′th.

But for me the serious reinvention was in 1999/2000. He shared that famous partnership with Adam Gilchrist, in which Langer scored a century in his usual dogged style. That innings came at a time when his place in the side was under serious question, and it was only Steve Waugh’s faith in him that kept him going.

But between Waugh’s faith, and Gilchrist’s example, Langer was able to turn himself from an ugly duckling to a.. well, not so ugly duckling. I think swan would be pushing it. But he could be a mighty fast scoring duck. By the end of that 1999/2000 summer, Langer was able to score hundreds at a run a ball in the fourth innings.

And that was before he reinvented himself into half of an amazingly successful opening partnership with Matthew Hayden. That partnership has declined somewhat, for the strange reason that although they are still very effective batsmen, their successes have not conincided recently.

So I’ll miss the Brown-Nosed Gnome, a harsh nickname given to him by critics who disliked his adulation of Steve Waugh. He was a rough diamond, a real hardcase who could dish it out and take it in good measure. He was a man who took playing for Australia seriously, and never lost sight of how good it is to represent your country.

Now that’s Test cricket!

Right then, that’s the sort of cricket I want to see.

Tough, hard as nails, no mucking about, just getting in down and dirty.

Before we have any complaints that England ‘batted slow’, I just want to point out that it used to be always like this. Steve Waugh’s first day as captain was in the West Indies and Australia crawled to be 6 for 174 at stumps on Day 1. Off the full 90 overs. Of course, you don’t want to rush when you are facing Walsh and Ambrose.

And Australia went on to win that game by a mile.

No, today’s play was classic cricket, at its best. The Adelaide Oval was packed, the pitch was perfect, so it was just head to head between batsmen and bowlers. And a lot of what we saw in Brisbane flowed through to this game. England can bat well enough, but they just let themselves down with poor concentration. Strauss, Cook and Bell all gave their wickets away, after playing themselves in. These guys just have to kick themselves, because they’ll never get a better place to bat.

Not that it was that easy out there, because Australia did bowl well. Clark was the pick of the bowlers, even though he was confused as to why he didn’t bowl more. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely surprised myself- Clark was bowling beautiful lines and all, but you want to be bowling Lee in conditions like this. Lee bowled plenty of rubbish between his best bowling, and that is actually more likely to get you a wicket

That’s how Bell got himself out.

Even though England have had a strong day, as an Australian I’m not too worried yet. Once both sides have had a bat, it will be easier to tell who is placed the best. Australia’s batsmen are good at concentrating as well, and if England back themselves to score 450, Australia’s game-plan will be to first get something like that themselves, then, if possible, to build a first innings lead and try to erase the worry of a fourth innings chase.

But having said that, it has been a very good day for England and they will sleep well tonight.

Scorecard 

England fight back, and some thoughts on coaches

To the audible relief of South Australian cricket administrators, England provided some much needed resistance on day four, and saved them the prospect of half-empty stands for the Second Test starting on Friday.

England were set an insane target, worked out by Ricky Ponting on the formula of multiplying my overdraft times the speed of light, or some such nonsense, and let his bowlers loose, while retiring to the massage table. He would have dined well as England lost two early wickets, and with Cook playing a range of loose shots, promise of more to come.

However, Pieterson and Collingwood provided stout resistance and some fiery entertainment for another large crowd, stated as being 37,000.

Yet England will surely lose, and they deserve to lose- while there was some magnificent batsmanship today, there was also some shameful episodes. Strauss, Cook, Collingwood, Flintoff and Pieterson were all guilty of some dreadful shot selection at various points in the day, treating an Ashes Test as little more then a knockabout in the park.

Pieterson’s innings was an instructive example. There was some lovely drives, all through the V, yet there were also some grotesque cross-bat swipes. None of these have cost him his wicket (as yet), but what happens if rain comes about three PM tomorrow and England have been bowled out at 2.35?

If England had batted with a slightly more applied approach, they might well have been three wickets down tonight, not five. That’s a big difference.

****

What do readers think about Andrew Flintoff’s dismissal? Shane Warne gave him an ugly serve on his way, and Justin Langer was smiling in delight even before he took the catch; the arrogance of it will grate on English sensibilities.

But it is an arrogance reflective of an Australian team that knows the value of their wickets, and the absolute folly of Flintoff’s shot. I don’t recall Ricky Ponting playing such an agricultural heave during his defensive masterpiece at Old Trafford last year. Duncan Fletcher may or may not remind his charges of that innings between now and the morning.

****

Speaking of coaches, I came across this article on my web-meanderings this evening, asking about the worth of overseas coaches. Given the kvetching about Duncan Fletcher that I’ve read in British media outlets the last few days, I wondered about the role of the coach.

It seems to me that for a coach to be a benefit, rather then a hindrance, there needs to be an absolute understanding between the coach and his captain. In many first class teams, it seems to be the increasing trend that the coach is the top banana and the captain merely his on-field lieutenant, rather in the way a football manager operates. That may work, but there does need to be a clear line driven, and both sides working in tandem.

It’s never been the Australian way. Would you fancy being the coach telling Steve Waugh how he was to arrange his batting order? John Buchanan always knew his place in Waugh’s order of things.

I’m not sure about the inner workings of England’s team, but Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher certainly were working on the same wavelength. It may well be that the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew Flintoff isn’t quite so attune.

We’ve come a long way from ‘mental disintegration’.

Steve Waugh would be horrified:

John Buchanan believes his Ashes opponents have improved as a team unit since Andrew Flintoff’s injury-enforced absence. Buchanan has been impressed with the way England’s players have not sat back and looked to their stars to perform in consecutive Test wins over Pakistan.

“I think what we have seen from them is a gradual build-up in terms of the way they’re playing, their teamwork, and responsibility being shared around the team, which I think has been a real plus for them,” Buchanan said in The Age. “It hasn’t been a case of turning to Freddie Flintoff all the time to take a wicket or turning to [Steve] Harmison or [Kevin] Pietersen to deliver something. They’ve actually had the ability to share it around … the likes of Cook, Bell, Panesar and now [Chris] Read’s come in.”

This is probably all actually true. But Waugh would never have tolerated Buchanan saying such things if he had been in charge.
I’ve not been able to watch this latest England season, so I can not really comment on what has been going on. I have a vague feeling that this latest England side could be said to be rather greater then the sum of its parts, which is a good sign for England.

But like Steve Waugh, I was just about choking on my wheaties reading what Buchanan had to say.

Second day at Lord’s

Terrific day for England, and a really superb innings from Paul Collingwood. Ian Bell’s was a mixed affair; clearly he was intent on upping the scoring rate as wickets fell, but he simply isn’t able to. That’s not to say he isn’t a fine batsman, an elegant strokeplayer and the most technically perfect batsman England has had for a while. He’s just old school; a 1990s stodger in a post-modern world of speed and aggression.

Collingwood’s innings was remarkable. I heard one of the commentators compare him, loosely, to Steve Waugh – and actually, he had a point. There is something of the ungainly, dogmatic determination of Waugh in Collingwood; a refusal to be beaten, and to score runs however they come. He is arguably the most important name on the sheet for the plane to Brisbane for the stability he offers, and he also happens to be the best England fielder since, well, ever. His catch at third slip today was breathtaking.

Good stuff from England, then, although they’ve had their fair share of luck.

Steve Waugh in reality show shocker

Good grief. Steve Waugh gets himself involved in the most bizarre events.

Steve Waugh, one of the most successful captains of Australia will now support Indian cricket by launching a talent hunt to find the next Indian Cricket Superstar.

This concept is slated to be delivered as a Reality Show on Indian Television, a first of its kind in Indian cricket. The show will kick off in November this year, post the ICC Champions Trophy leading up to the ICC Cricket World Cup, 2007 in the West Indies.

This show will offer the opportunity of a lifetime to young cricket players across the nation, from the smallest village to the largest cities in India, a release issued here today stated.

It could only happen in India.

Maybe Waugh’s got a point

Steve Waugh, not short of a word or too, last week said Australia lost the Ashes because they were far too nice and charitable to England and that they’d lost their aura. That as maybe, but frankly he’s missed the point.

Or has he? Marcus Trescothick, interviewed by Mark Nicholas, started a sentence with “Ah mate look.” Now, the more observant among you will know these three words, in varying order, smack of the Antipodeans. You can play state cricket in Australia for a decade; you can even be given the scared baggy green cap. But not until you use those three words in an interview are you truly accepted as having arrived as an Australian cricketer. “Ahh look mate” – “Ahh, listen mate” – “Look mate ahh” – “Mate look ah” – “mate ah look”.

Or maybe Marcus has been living in Australia during his exile…

Steve hasn’t lost his snark


Steve Waugh’s in London today, and he was doing a book signing down Canary Wharf ( I think you might have missed it now though.) With all that, he’s been in demand with the press over there wanting his views on the various cricket issues of the day, and also with an eye ahead towards the Ashes.

He’s always worth a read, and he hasn’t lost his trademark aggression. Sometimes it is almost too much, as in this BBC story.

In their 2-1 defeat in England last year, Waugh said: “I thought from the sidelines perhaps they were a little bit too friendly.

“They were using England players’ nicknames in the press and that was something that hadn’t been done before.

“They may have become too familiar to England and lost a bit of mystique.”

…..

“When I first played West Indies we didn’t know much about them, they kept pretty much to themselves and that gave you self doubts on the field,” he explained.

“As you get to know players more you become less intimidated by them.”

Waugh, who is currently in England promoting his autobiography, admitted England had followed the lead set by his teams in being aggressive on and off the field.

“There’s no doubt they followed the blueprint of what we were about. They were very positive in their media talk and pretty aggressive on the field,” he continued.

Hmm.

I actually liked that the two teams liked each other. Crusty old diehards like Waugh might fire up at the thought of bloodied combat unto death, etc, but I rather like the notion of two teams fighting hard and then having a beer together at the end of the day. As to the notion that doing so removes the mystique, the most sociable of Australians is The Great Man, Shane Warne, who drank pots of pints, and took pots of English wickets.

Just because you know and like the guy doesn’t mean you can play him any better.

Howard feeds his addiction

Ah, John Howard. Rarely does a week go by, seemingly, in which “cricket” isn’t uttered by the self-confessed addict. And yesterday it was revealed he spent AUD$90,000 during his time in London last year to go to the cricket. Now, Australian readers will grab the Corridor shaped voodoo doll when I say this, but sod it: it must be brilliant to have a PM that loves cricket.

John Howard and Steve Waugh

Ours – for all his good points – doesn’t like the game. Ha! Actually, he does like it, but the New Labour dictatorship, brewed in 1997 and currently resting in a Tuppawear container in Gordon Brown’s apartment above Number 10, decided football was far too cool to ignore. And so it was that our Tony chose the “beautiful” game over the five-day drinkathon, otherwise known as cricket.

I thought I’d mentioned this before, that Tony was a closet-cricket fan, but alas couldn’t find it.

Anyway, have a look at Johnnie Howard’s expenses:

JOHN Howard and his entourage spent more than $90,000 on accommodation and meals in a four-night stay at one of London’s most exclusive hotels.

The visit last July, which included two visits to Lord’s for the Ashes Test cricket series, was part of a 10-day trip in which the Prime Minister visited his fellow Iraq war leaders, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the US President, George W.Bush.Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show the trip cost taxpayers $613,947.57, or $61,314 a day.