Australian cricket’s rebuilding phase

England have played good cricket to win the Ashes. They came well-prepared both technically and mentally, and as a result, were able to play good cricket. Defeat, without doubt, is a very painful pill to swallow, but as a motivator or instigator towards improvement, the pain felt in not succeeding has few parallels.

There is no doubt in my mind that Australia will use these circumstances as a god-given chance to take a long, hard look at the way things are being done, as indeed they should. Self-introspection is the key here, and Australia need to go through that phase if they are to reach the heady heights of the past.

As always happens in such situations, there have been calls for wholesale changes. Sacking of coaches, players and administrators can be done, but that would not be a solution to the problem. As was written by Justin Langer in his column, there is no denying the fact that, as in 2006, when England came up against an extremely well-prepared, focused and strong team, this time Australia came up against a team which was well-prepared, hungry for success and had players who have begun establishing themselves as very good players. Australia would do well to learn from how England conducted their rebuilding phase. Benchmarking themselves against a system that was able to perform so successfully the task of rebuilding the team, and a team that seemed to possess many of the qualities that lead to success, would not, in any way, constitute a loss of face for Australia. Analyzing the English system and copying, with appropriate modifications, any elements that might serve the cause of Australian cricket would be a prudent thing to do.

There is no short-cut to success. A team does not become the number one team in the world overnight. It takes months and years of careful planning, backroom efforts, proper training and mental conditioning to reach such a stage. Improvement would certainly happen if conducive conditions are put in place, but it would be slow. And that is the way it should be.

Calls to radically overhaul the system by sacking senior players who, in the eyes of critics, are past their prime, is short-sighted. Ricky Ponting has proved himself, beyond a shadow of doubt, to be one of the greatest players of our times. Age, contrary to what is claimed by some, is not the prime factor behind success or failure. The hunger for improvement, dedication and commitment to perform to the best of one’s ability matter incredibly more. On this count, it is not difficult for a neutral observer to see that Ponting still has what it takes to perform as well as he has in the past. Michael Clarke’s decision to retire from T20 cricket in order to focus on 50-over and Test matches, and his reiteration of Test cricket being the ultimate stage for him, should serve to silence critics doubting the commitment of senior players. Talk to Hussey or Haddin or Ponting or Clarke, and a dispassionate observer would realize that there is no reason for doubting their motivation and that Australia is fortunate to have such players around at a time when such individuals are needed, in order to provide stability and leadership during this phase of transition.

A system that has served Australian cricket wonderfully well for so long cannot suddenly be unceremoniously discarded. But, having said that, if things stay in inertia and there is no one to ensure that the levels of excellence are being constantly maintained, then over a period of time even the best and most formidable of systems will gradually decay. The ones who have been assigned the task to rebuilding the system need to look at where improvements could be made in domestic cricket. A strong domestic structure would over a long-term be a invaluable investment (and the success of Australian cricket teams over the years bears testimony to this fact).

It might be tempting to ignore this defeat as a mere blip or, to go to the other extreme, radically overhaul the entire system. But neither of these would serve the cause of Australian cricket. A careful and considered rebuilding phase needs to take place, and if proper steps are taken, there is no reason why Australia can’t return as a formidable force.

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