For the cricket lover the remainder of 2013 promises a feast of cricket, the highlight undoubtedly being the two forthcoming ‘Ashes’ series between the two greatest rivals in the bat and ball game, England and Australia. Already English pundits are talking-up a double series win for England, the current possessor of the valued urn. The general view seems to be that Australian cricket – especially after the recent, somewhat humiliating, series in India, is in a mess.
One media commentator, a reputable English cricketer of the previous generation, who now plays exciting games with words rather than with a bat and ball, suggests that Australian batsmen have become ‘frail in thinking and flabby in technique’ – rather ironic seeing that he himself has the rather unenviable nick-name of ‘Beefy’! Australian pace bowlers, he considers, show ‘considerable promise but physical fallibility’. Spin bowlers from down-under don’t rate even a mention – understandable when viewed dispassionately.
The fall from grace in recent years of the Australian team – from being arguably the greatest national cricket team ever assembled (certainly for Australia) to the present sorry state, has been, in the commentator’s view, astounding. There would be very few supporters of Australian cricket who would argue against the foregoing. This writer, sad to state, certainly would not.
However, the media man takes the argument a step or two further when he criticizes the Australian selectors for currently considering overseas-born players. He singles out a Pakistani leg-spinner, Fawad Ahmed, who is seeking asylum in Australia. Whilst playing Sheffield Shield cricket for Victoria (my home state), Ahmed has attracted the kind of rave notices not heard since that other great Victorian, the incomparable Shane Warne, strutted his stuff at the MCG (and every other cricket ground on which he played).
Mention is also made of the former Sri Lankan, Ashton Agar, a tall spin-bowler and batsman currently attracting attention for his performances for Western Australia. The journalist seems reasonably respectable, perhaps even slightly intimidated, with the current crop of Australian seam and fast bowlers – a list that would include, Pattinson, Starc, Cummings, Siddle, Harris and Bird – to name but a few.
Nevertheless, and returning to the poverty of the Australian batting, the commentator is, and not without good reason, bitingly critical. Apart from Michael Clarke – the Aussie captain who has been one of the top international batsmen in recent years, the writer considers that, amongst the up-and-coming Australian batting contingent, only Usman Khawaja rates much of a mention. He was born in Pakistan and came to Australia as a boy. His batting skills were honed in Australian cricket with the New South Wales state team.
So, overseas-born players are starting to figure prominently in the minds of the Australian selectors. For our media commentator this seems a retrograde step and a pointer to the failure of such institutions as Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Brisbane.
To indicate how low have become the depths to which he feels Australian cricket has sunk, the commentator mentions the appointment within Australian cricket of that one-time accumulator of huge runs on the twenty-two yard strip, Graeme Hick. It seems that Hick has been co-opted to teach Australian cricketers how to bat. To add to the ignominy, Hick is a Zimbabwean-born, naturalized Englishman who has played 65 Test matches and 120 One Day Internationals for his adopted country!
Whilst acknowledging some of the truths of this article, the implied criticism of Australian cricket now turning to overseas-born players (albeit now permanent residents in Australia) to bolster its international stocks, made me ask the question of how, over the not inconsiderable number of years of maintaining a personal interest in and the playing of cricket, English cricket has absorbed and often heavily relied on overseas-born or non-English players. Such historical names as the Nawab of Pataudi, D’Oliveira, Denness, Greig, Lewis, Jones, Smith, Lamb, Butcher, Small and Caddick, as well as current players in Pieterson, Trott and Morgan are but a few that come to mind.
There are, of course, many, many more who have played cricket for England but who have called the Indian sub-continent, the West Indies, southern Africa and Australasia, as well as Scotland, Wales and Ireland, ‘home’!
Numbers of these cricketers had and still have important roles with, and were outstandingly successful in, the English cricket team. Some of them courted controversy, and still do! The Zimbabwean-born Graeme Hick came to England on a cricketing scholarship. He scored a massive total of 178 centuries and 342 fifties in his first class career but, somewhat enigmatically, never really established himself as an England international, nor, surprisingly for such a successful batsman and run machine, particularly endeared himself to English cricket’s public and pundits.
Therefore, it seems to be more than a trifle disingenuous when a former highly successful English international cricketer, who is now a well-regarded media pundit, critically questions Australian cricketing authorities for considering and selecting overseas-born players to play for their adopted country. After all, like England and the rest of the United Kingdom, Australia is very much a multi-cultural nation which, again like the UK, is starting to reap the benefits of cultivating overseas-born talent in a wide variety of sports. Why not also in cricket? Especially so if it means that the famous Ashes Urn once again resides down-under for an extended period!
Notwithstanding any of the above, what really will be something for which to look forward is when numbers of the Koori peoples (indigenous Australians) start representing their country cricket – as they are doing so successfully in such sports as track and field athletics, both rugby codes and Australian Rules football.
In the meantime, and with the afore-mentioned English cricket commentator in mind, isn’t there a saying somewhere that refers to ‘those who live in glass houses….’?