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Sunday December 26 2010

By lunch on the first day of the fourth test at the MCG, Australia had already lost vital wickets, and also those of Hughes and Ponting.

I slept through the beginning and only awoke and searched out R5LiveSportX (my subconscious wanted to know what the score was) as they were discussing the wicket of Hughes, and right after that Ponting got out.  Big news: Watson was already out.  And then, just before lunch and just before a shower began, Hussey was out caught behind off Jimmy A.

After England went one up at Adelaide and before the previous test at Perth that Australia won by an innings, I was a lone voice of sanity telling England fans to calm down and stop assuming that Australia was now a failed state.  Now everyone will be wallowing hysterically in sanity, pointing out that Australia were four down by lunch on the first day at Perth and still won that one by several thousand runs.  Now, everyone will be saying that England should not be counting their chickens and that four swallows do not make a test match morning.

Yes they do.  Let me go out on a limb here and say that England have made a very good start.

LATER:

. . . W . . | . . . . W . | . W

Australia 77-8.  I told you it was a good start by England.

LATER: Australia 98 all out.

LATER: I just want to have this here as a souvenir:

image

It’s a slice from one of the set of photos at the bottom of this page.

The point being that good moments for your team in this series have a habit of being extreme, but fleeting.  I don’t believe this has stopped.  Ponting double century in the second innings anyone?

Cruel comment of the day: http://twitter.com/Pearcesport/status/18873252357087232

“Only attendance record in danger of being broken today is of how many Australians can squeeze through exit at one time”

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 26 December 2010

Australia: 66-5.
England: 66-0.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 26 December 2010

WOW. I’m much further than you along that limb. A first innings lead (without loss?) on day one. England now 4 to 1 ON. I’m might be about to fall out of this tree.

Posted by Tony Hewson on 26 December 2010

Australia 98 all out.
England 98-0.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 26 December 2010

WTF?

Posted by Michael Jennings on 26 December 2010

So, do we now resume explaining why Australia is a failed state?  Or do we hang on to our sanity?

I go with caution.  It is unlikely that Australia will now save this game, but it is not impossible.  The pitch is now much more benign, and the weather forecast is good.  England may pile up a huge score now, but so may Australia.

For me, Tremlett is the big weapon for England.  He looks like someone who could take wickets throughout this match.  And the next one.  So, England now heavy favourites to win this game, and favourites to not lose the last one.

But, if Australia do escape from the debacle of this first day at the MCG, then it will feel like a huge win.  Then, in the final game, anything is possible.

Besides which, as all that has happened so far proves, even if Australia do lose this game by an avalanche, they could still win the final game.

I say, hold the post mortems on Australia until it’s all over.  At which point they just might not be necessary.  Suppose it ended 2-2.  That would hardly be a humiliation.

And they might yet win 2-1.  Stranger things have happened.  Like: Australia 98, England 157-0 after a day.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 26 December 2010

Australia’s top order has not had a big score all series and, apart from Hussey, never looked like getting one.

It’s clear that Australia’s “cricketing excellence academy” doesn’t work: there are no eager replacements who are better than England’s understudies.

Australia might square the series, but only by managing to do what they tried yesterday: prepare a dodgy wicket and win the toss. And hope their batsmen don’t freeze.

The Ashes are not staying in Australia, for the first time since the 1980s. Despite England suffering injuries to several bowlers and despite the overcautious policy of refusing to pick five bowlers.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 26 December 2010

Then, in the final game, anything is possible.

The weather bureau is predicting torrential rain, however.

There is no chance Australia will get back into it from here.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 26 December 2010

Antoine: In 1984 and 1985, the Australian cricket team was terrible. So bad that we lost to New Zealand. The people in power in Australian cricket then - people who had been put in charge by Kerry Packer after Australian cricket had surrendered to him in 1979 - decided that new things had to be thought, and the team had to be run in a more professional way. The Academy was one thing that came out of that, and the Australian team quite controversially appointed a manager for the first time. (Australians don’t hold sporting managers in high regard. When (say) the English rugby team wins the World Cup and the manager is the man knighted, we shake our heads in bafflement. That’s like knighting the janitor. A few years later, an Australian manager resigned because he couldn’t support his family on the £20,000 a year or so they were paying him. The one time there was a dispute between the manager and the captain, there was no question about what would happen; the manager was sacked. The manager is a little better paid and held in slightly higher regard now, but there are still discussions in Australian cricket about whether the Australian team should have a manager).

My point, though, is that it wasn’t the academy that was the point. The point was that new blood was appointed throughout the system, and people were given a remit to change things and get the team right. The academy was important because its creation was one of the changes and one of the ways in which people were given the authority to change things.

These days, though, the academy is so totally part of the system that it is not an avenue for anything to change, but part of how things stay the same. Australian cricket is full of well paid fatcats for whom acknowledging that something might be wrong would mean they would have to leave the gravy train and be replaced by someone else.

It will be interesting to see if something finally happens after this series. I have been saying it should for years.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 26 December 2010

The Academy became a fixation of English cricket commentators and embodied everything that was wrong in England (i.e. not having one) and everything that was right about Australia.

It became part of the political debate about sport, education and the role of the state.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 26 December 2010

I recall reading or hearing on a cricket broadcase a decade ago about how the tourist office and taxi drivers in Adelaide had encountered a new phenomenon: visitors to the city who wanted to see “The Cricket Academy”. They expected to see a nice building with cricket pitches and nets and other facilities, with a sign out the front saying “Australian Institute of Sport: Cricket Academy”, or some such. Of course, there was nothing to see: the cricket academy used rented and borrowed facilities around the city, mainly at one of the universities if I recall correctly.

I do not know if this has changed, in truth. If, on the other hand, there is now a nice building surrounded with fancy facilities that belong to the cricket academy, then we are probably close to finding the cause of the decline of the Australian cricket team.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 27 December 2010

Hmmmm.

“In 2004 it was relocated to the Allan Border Field in Brisbane and renamed the Commonwealth Bank Centre for Excellence (CBCOE)”

Sounds bad.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 27 December 2010

Another Edifice Complex disaster?  I didn’t see that coming.

Can anyone find a picture of this new Edifice?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 27 December 2010

Here it is: http://cricket.com.au/coe_redevelopment

Looks like the bank bailed out.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 28 December 2010

Of the “notable graduates” mentioned in the Wikipedia entry, only Ponting and Katich are in the current Test team. Does this mean the list is out of date or the Academy is not delivering?

Eitherway, not exactly indicative of a healthy, dynamic organisation.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 28 December 2010

Do we know when this new edifice was constructed?

According to Wikipedia it was “relocated” in 2004.  That’s about when things started to go seriously wrong, yes?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 28 December 2010

"seriously wrong” is hard to quantify.

Test results continue to be good, except against India (away) and England (away) and then no worse than 2-0.

The damage is the number of good quality players since 2004, and that’s where the failure lies.

My suspicion is that academies don’t work: they start by finding a couple of good prospects that would have made it anyway. Then they get funded. Then they spend funds trying to replicate what was probably luck. The funds dry up as another gimmick takes precedence. Then the government subsidizes the whole thing as an “education scheme” (i.e. taking young people off unemployment registers).

PS: how come “brown59” comes up as the confirmation code? Did Gordon Brown open the new building?

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 28 December 2010

Australia have always had difficulty against India away. They have lost every series in India since 1970 except for winning one series in 2004. (If you believe in the “It’s all Ponting’s fault” theory, one can point out that this win was under the captaincy of Adam Gilchrist, as Ponting was injured. Australia have lost two series in India under Ponting since). On the other hand, India have never won a series in Australia.

South Africa manage to get better results in India than Australia do, even when they are getting worse results elsewhere.

I think Australia were at their highest point from about 2000-2004. They were simply unbelievably good. I think there has been a clear decline since the Ashes series in 2005. Australia were still a pretty good side until about two years ago: their results have been very ordinary since, however. I think the suggestion that the rot was starting to set in behind the scenes from about 2004 is fair enough though. That there was an absence of good players coming through seems clear enough.

Rod Marsh was put in charge of the academy in the late 1980s. It wasn’t the academy itself as much as that Rod Marsh was in charge of it that was a good thing. Marsh was out of a job because he had been sacked as a commentator by Kerry Packer after he stated on the record that one day cricket bored him to tears, incidentally. He was rehired by channel nine after leaving the academy. Once again, the back on the gravy train thing.

I also recall a few years ago how Allan Border was required to resign as an Australian selector over a silly sponsorship dispute. (His personal beer sponsor was a different brewer than the official beer sponsor of the Australian team). Once again, there is a sense of the gravy train being more important than actual cricket.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 28 December 2010

Yes. Rod Marsh as a talent spotter and coach sounds like a good explanation for qualities that were attributed to a building.

PS: Walked21 is the confirmation code. Very cricket!

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 29 December 2010

For the record, England won by an innings and 157.  And for the first time since 2005, England won a test match against Australia without Graeme Swann bowling the final wicket-taking ball.  He personally congratulated Bresnan on doing that this time.  “So fitting” blah blah.  But I wonder, was Swann sneakily drawing attention to the fact that he had done this the previous three times?

Personally, I’m not that impressed by England “retaining the Ashes”, and for me, there is still, if not everything, then still a lot to play for.  If Australia manage to level it at Sidney, that would seriously spoil it, in my eyes.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 29 December 2010

Come on Brian: get some enjoyment out of it. You were somewhat younger than I am now when England last retained the Ashes. Yes, it is much nicer to win the series than draw it, but England likely will win the series.

My confirmation cose is lost54, by the way.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 29 December 2010

I agree that defeat at Sydney could spoil it. I also did not much enjoy the national rejoicing this morning for what is in effect not losing the Ashes.
Even Radio Three paid a tribute this morning to the England team in the form of some mournful piece which just happened to have been composed by someone who’s name means cricket in Italian.
Bet that got Belly, Swannee and Cookie nodding in grateful appreciation when the news reached them.

Posted by Tony Hewson on 29 December 2010

It’s equivalent of marching back from Moscow with one’s army mostly intact, on the sixth attempt.

I call it victory.

You want them to surrender too!

PS: “act23”.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 30 December 2010

Winning the series would undoubtedly be nicevfor England, but at this point it makes littlevdifference for the Australians. It is horrible defaeat either way

Posted by Michael Jennings on 30 December 2010

So, Michael, as I said to you at dinner last night, 2-2 would piss off everybody.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 31 December 2010
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