Yesterday’s fifth day of the third and final test between Australia and South Africa tells us a thing or two about the state of world cricket. It also provides a useful yardstick for comparison with the current NZ team.
First, on the cricket. The state of Australian cricket is not quite as bad as some commentators have made it out to be. Yes it’s true that Australian teams of the last 15 years probably would have put the Jaapies away more quickly and efficiently than was done yesterday, but let’s not forget that you’ve essentially got a completely brand new bowling attack. Any player, even future greats, requires time to find their feet in international cricket. Having said that, there does appear to be one major difference between the current team, and those of the past. Spin.
While the pace attack deserves credit (and time), I have seen nothing since Warne’s retirement to suggest that another even passable spinner exists in Australian cricket. This despite a decade of Warne’s influence on young cricketers in Australia (what the fuck has the ACB been doing?). Without one, Australia will indeed struggle to be the force they once were. However, it should not be forgeten that Australia could easily have won both the first two tests (only one or two sessions of good/bad cricket separated the teams) and thus swept the series three zip.
Second, on Smith. Although not as unpredictable as your Channel 9 (“Can you imagine the human drama if Smith comes out to bat?”) commentary team would have you believe, Smith’s display was all guts. His emergence from the dressing room and his walk to the middle as the SCG (“Have you ever seen a fairer bunch of cricket fans?”!!!) crowd stood and applauded was as dramatic a moment as any you’re likely to see on a cricket field. I don’t know if stories about him not being able to hold the toothbrush were true, but his facial expressions every time he hit the ball made it clear he was in a whole lot of pain. As much as a I hate to say it, Smith is one tough mother.
And finally, on NZ. Watching Smith made me think about how our boys would react in a situation like that. While it’s probably unfair to make comparisons, I feel it’s my right as a devoted NZ cricket fan to at least note my observations. It seems to me that either a number of our guys are particularly injury-prone, or there is a culture within the team that you don’t play unless you’re absolutely 100%. Without wanting to name names (Styris, Oram, Bond) our guys seem soft, as Criag MacMillan noted recently.
To me, watching Smith (who went into the test with an elbow problem which would probably have had one of our guys out of the series) accentuated the physical and mental weakness that seems to have characterised our team (the test side in particular) for the last decade. As Australian icon Chopper Reid would say, perhaps we just need to harden the fuck up.
– Tim Bogle