Australia are now like 1990s England 

On July 26th the Australian cricket team started a Test series in Sri Lanka as the number one Test team in the world – at least according to the ICC rankings. Since then they have been whitewashed 3-0 in Sri Lanka, whitewashed 5-0 in an ODI series in South Africa and have lost the first two Tests at home to a South Africa team whose best batsman AB de Villiers is out injured and whose best bowler Dale Steyn disappeared from the series on its second day. The defeat in Hobart was pathetic – Australia were bowled out for 85 and 161 and they lost in two and a bit days playing time. Only David Warner, captain Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood looked Test quality. 

Watching this current Australian team reminded me of the dumpster fire that was England in the 1990s when failure was expected by England cricket fans and the team supplied it. Here are the ways in my opinion that the Australian cricket team resembles England in the 1990s.

Batting collapses. England in the 1990s were notorious for batting collapses. The nadir was probably 1994 when they were bowled out for less than 100 three times – for 46 by West Indies in Port-of-Spain, 99 by South Africa at Lords, and 92 by Australia at Melbourne. The current Australia team have been bowled out for 88 against Pakistan at Headingley in 2010, 98 by England in Melbourne also in 2010, 47 (after being 21 for nine) by South Africa at Cape Town in 2011, 60 by England at Trent Bridge in last year’s Ashes, and 85 by South Africa in their most recent Test. In fact in their last three Tests they have lost all ten wickets for less than 100 runs in an innings. 

Injured bowlers. England in the 1990s had good fast bowlers – Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser, Darren Gough, Dominic Cork and Andrew Caddick for instance – but they were never all fit at the same time. The current Australia team has Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood. Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle but again they are never all fit – in fact Cummins has only played one Test five years ago because he is always injured. 

Picking all rounders who are not good enough. Between the Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff eras England kept picking players who both batted and bowled but we’re not Test class in either discipline – Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani and Adam Hollioake being the best examples. Today’s Australia team has picked players like Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques and Glenn Maxwell who can bat and bowl but can do neither to Test standard. If Australia recall Maxwell for the next Test they are making a dreadful mistake. If you don’t have an all rounder of Test class don’t pick one. South Africa have learnt this in the post Jacques Kallis era so should Australia. 

Not making their minds up about players. England in the 1990s kept dropping and recalling the same players the two best examples being Mark Ramprakash and current Australia batting coach Graeme Hick. Again Australia keep dropping and recalling players like Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja. They should make up their minds. If they are good enough persevere with them. If not drop them for good. 

An over reliance on old players. England in the 1990s kept recalling veteran players even when they were past their best – Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and John Emburey being the best examples. One amazing statistic will show how much Australia has relied on old players. Of the Australian XI who whitewashed England in the 2013-14 Ashes only four have played a part in the current South Africa series. Six of that XI have retired from Test cricket and that is a series that finished less than three years ago! In contrast of the England XI that played in the fifth Test of that series six are on the current tour of India yet England were the team that lost that series 5-0. You would think more Australians than Englishmen would be still playing but its the other way around. Australia have kept going for short term options like Adam Voges -who averages 162.28 against West Indies and New Zealand and only 20.52 against good teams like England, Sri Lanka and South Africa. 

It’s as if the countries have swapped roles. In the 1990s Australia picked young players like Ricky Ponting, Michael Slater and Damian Martyn while England picked veterans. Former Australia captain Ian Chappell was able to reply to an MCC member who asked him “How come you Australians always produce good young batsmen?” by saying “We play them.” But now it is England who pick their young batting talent as the participation of Hassem Hameed and Ben Duckett on the current India tour shows while it is Australia who pick old players like Voges and 31 year old debutant Callum Ferguson. 

I think it is clear that Australia are now England in the 1990s. For that to change Australia need to go back to basics. Australia historically have always given youth a chance. They need to go back to that. There is hope for Australia. Cricket can change suddenly. They need only look at their current opponents for an example of this. As recently as January this year South Africa were bowled out for 83 by England in Johannesburg lost the series and were totally humiliated. South African cricket was in crisis. Now they have won a series in Australia with a Test to spare. And two of the main contributors to this success have been Quinton de Kock (age 23) and Kagiso Rabada (age 21). Both proving that good things can happen if you give youth its head. And this is something Australia have to do. The “make do and mend” policy of picking old players has failed and must go. It cannot get any worse than Hobart. And take it from me you do NOT want to be like England in the 1990s….

England are in danger of a humiliating spinwash 

The England Test cricket team will end 2016 the same way they started it – in a tough away series against the world’s number one Test team. But unlike their famous 2-1 win against South Africa back in January the chances of England winning their five Test series in India which starts on Wednesday are very slim and they are in serious danger of suffering a humiliating 5-0 series defeat.

England’s warm up in Bangladesh did not go well. Before this tour England had won eight out of eight against Test cricket’s minnows. But they only won the first Test by 22 runs because of a mixture of the heroics of Ben Stokes and Bangladesh “bottling it” under pressure. In the second Test England needing 273 to win collapsed from 100-0 to a pathetic 164 all out to lose by an embarrassing 108 runs. The batting was clueless against Bangladesh’s spinners while England’s four spinners Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Barry and Zafar Ansari bowled far too many bad balls and struggled to contain the Bangladeshi batsmen.

And in India they will face far better players than they did in Bangladesh. India’s spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja are far superior to their Bangladeshi counterparts who humiliated England and their seam bowlers are far superior. While Bangladesh collapsed from 171-1 to 220 all out in the Second Test India’s batsmen will not be so obliging. All in all England face a daunting task.

To show how daunting the task is since England’s 2-1 win in India back in 2012, four non subcontinental teams have toured India – Australia and West Indies (both 2013), South Africa (2015) and New Zealand (September/October this year). They have played a combined thirteen Tests in India between them losing twelve and drawing one. Australia, West Indies and New Zealand lost all their Tests in India and but for rain in Bangalore South Africa would very probably lost all their Tests as well. Between them in 25 innings Australia, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand could muster only two totals of over 300 and only one century was scored – despite batsmen of the calibre of Michael Clarke. David Warner, Steve Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Kane Williamson being in the visiting teams. All four struggled against India’s spinners especially Ashwin who took a total of 99 wickets in those thirteen Tests. It is clear that England’s task is daunting. 

But why is batting in India so tough? Former England captain Tony Lewis (who captained an England tour to India in 1972-73) has the answer. He said this (in “The Innings of My Life” by Jack Bannister (pages 144- 145)).

“It doesn’t take much for Indian spinners to dominate and, once they are on top, they never let go. It makes for exciting cricket of a type we never see in England. Each time the ball does something, the bowlers and fielders get more wound up -as do the crowd to whom every ball is life and death. Batsmen can hardly hear themselves think – communication with your partner has to be at close quarters – and it seems as though the pair of you haven’t got a friend in the world. 

You lose wickets in clusters, so you are never safe, and the dressing room is always teetering on the edge of a combined nervous breakdown. For instance, in our second innings at Eden Gardens, we went from 17 for four to 114 for five, and then 138 for nine. In Madras we lost our first five wickets for 98, but then got to 242, and in the second innings we were 30 for three, 97 for four, 152 for six and 159 all out. It is an emotional rollercoaster you can laugh at when you have retired, but it is so easy for players to become demoralised when it is happening”. 

Apart from the fact that the crowds for Tests in India are nowhere near as big as in 1972-73, everything Lewis said about batting in India is as true now as it was in 1972-73 (apart from neutral umpires and the Decision Review System (DRS) – which India have finally accepted). It is especially tough to start an innings in India with world class spinners a sharply turning ball and fielders round the bat. So if an English batsman gets to say 50 in India he must go on to at least 100 or even 150 as once a wicket falls the Indian spinners can go “Bang bang bang” and take two, three or four wickets very quickly. As the two batsmen most capable of producing innings of 150+ this puts huge pressure on captain Alistair Cook and Joe Root. But Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also have world class batsmen and they failed in India. Can Cook and Root do better? They have to. Also England’s spinners must improve. Spinners should put pressure on batsmen by bowling maidens but England’s spinners bowled a lot of garbage in Bangladesh and if they do the same in India Virat Kholi and company will feast on the easy pickings.

Is there any hope for England? Only in the past. In 1976-77, 1984-85, and 2012 England were in terrible form before they went to India. But on all three occasions England won famous victories – 3-1 in 1976-77, and 2-1 – after losing the first Test – in both 1984-8 5 and 2012. But in 1976-77 England had a world class spinner in Derek Underwood and in 2012 they had two – Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. The Indians were hoist by their own petard. In 1984-85 the Indian team were divided among themselves. 

None of this applies today. England’s spinners – as was painfully obvious in Bangladesh – are poor. And Kohli leads a strong, confident rampant Indian team who aim to win all thirteen home Tests this winter (they already have beaten New Zealand 3-0, and after England play one Test against Bangladesh and four against Australia). Frankly this is as pessimistic as I’ve felt about an England Test series since the 2002-3 Ashes – which I thought they would lose 5-0 and if Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had stayed fit they probably would have lost 5-0 instead of 4-1. Frankly considering England’s form in Bangladesh and the dominating performances of India at home I fear it will take a miracle – or rain – for England to avoid a humiliating 5-0 spinwash.