Never one to edge onto the back foot and defend, Simon Katich has once again taken a huge stride down the wicket and let loose. His erstwhile captain Michael Clarke has come in for most treatment but to me the stoush is not about the personalities concerned but more of the processes at play within Cricket Australia. Katich claims he wasn’t told of his axing which in this day and age when the methods of communication electronic and otherwise are profligate seems strange. With so many avenues available perhaps it was more a lack of will? For whatever reason those concerned shied away from uncomfortable confrontation. But it’s not just cricket as time and time again we hear that such and such didn’t say or didn’t call. Flying back from Sydney a few years back I bumped into one well known athlete who by my reckoning should at that very moment have been on a plane with his national team mates. He’d been dropped and when I dug deeper he intimated he hadn’t been told why, indeed he hadn’t been spoken to at all! Just left out in the cold. Sport is all too often held up as state of the art, cutting edge and compared to the very best business practice. Many times it fails to live up to these expectations. For all the management gurus and their modern ways the system failed at the basic level. It beggars belief really – everybody not just stellar sportspeople deserve a phone call, a face to face chat or even an email (I draw the line at at tweet) when conflict arises or tough decisions need to be made. It has nothing to do with management practice and everything to do with respect and common decency.
Where does the buck stop…
Amid the furore surrounding the much awaited handing down of the Argus Report, one person has escaped the hairy eyeball of the former BHP chief. I haven’t read the report in full (I will do that bit of homework soon I promise) but there seems little doubt it will rank alongside Stewart and Crawford (a couple of times) as seminal sporting exposes that, if implemented will see Australian cricket once again flourish from top to bottom. Such reports, hard though they are hasten change and heighten competitiveness quickly. And they work – it took a similar one (the Schofield Report) to propel England to it’s present incumbency at number one Test playing nation. Front and centre for Argus were the selectors and coach. Hilditch, sallow of cheek and with the undertaker’s demeanour had been a dead man walking and Greg Chappell was entirely miscast as developer rather than expert. Like expecting him to open the bowling when he was one of Australia’s greatest batsmen. Tim Nielsen, affable and popular is a living embodiment of the Peter Principle where people rise to their level of incompetence. He will return from Sri Lanka jobless. Others have been singled out of course however no one seems to bring up Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland’s name. He is after all the head honcho who has presided over all those mentioned, overseen Australia’s decline to fifth best Test nation and seen the once healthy participation numbers of Australia’s national game drop. It is he who permitted the bloated contract system to become focussed on pay rather than performance and it is he who allowed the lines of communication to break down. Perhaps his Board are awaiting the governance report due imminently before turning the harsh glare on Sutherland, perhaps not? Whilst Argus, and his phalanx of former skippers have done a magnificent job in bringing many issues to the fore, it is the implementation of the recommendations that will dictate Australian cricket’s future. A potent batting order will be required for the job but it remains to be seen whether Sutherland should have the © next to his name?
Katich Demolishes Attack
All is not well in Jolimont Street, the home of Cricket Australia – a well struck cover drive across the road from cricket’s spiritual home, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There have been rumblings and grumblings for some time, well before the most recent Australian summer when the home side succumbed in the Ashes to a far superior English team. Much conjecture has focused on structural and administrative issues with a review by a phalanx of former players and business elite in process. Most stakeholder invective has been reserved for selection, the selection panel and the hapless head of said panel, Andrew Hildtich. But the proverbial hit the fan on Tuesday when the 25 recipients of CA central contracts were announced. Few were content with the team selected, none more so than NSW Blues skipper and Test opener Simon Katich. ‘Kato’ as he is affectionately known was overlooked for the largesse and saw his test career disappear in a single press release. Katich fumed but he is not some intemperate rookie full of bad manners and little sense. He considered his options as if weighing forward or backward defence. He chose the former and cut loose with a withering attack on what had been served up. In this age of insipid press shows, full of mouthed platitudes and falsity his front foot demolition was something to behold. He was as passionate and proud as you’d expect from a man who has played anything for Australia and stressed that the loss of the money that accompanies the lucrative contract wasn’t the issue. You know what? I believe him. Unreservedly. He desperately wants to keep wearing his baggy green on that first Test morning, he wants to be an integral part of the inevitable revival of his sport on the world stage and he wants more than anything to score runs for his country. It’s what he does. But all that has been taken away from him by the selection panel and a four minute phone call. His reasoning is sound – he’s scored more runs than everybody bar the profligate Alistair Cook in the past three summers and just because his career is past tea-time doesn’t warrant him being consigned to State cricket alone. Many will agree with the sentiment expressed but many more will love Katich for one of the finest innings of his life last Friday.
In the words of the late, lamented Big Kev ‘I’m excited’! The cold war is over and battle can commence. I’ve cleared the decks for Thursday and whilst I won’t be at the Gabba for the first ball of the Ashes series, I will be happily esconsced in front of the widescreen with a steaming mug of strong tea and an iced vovo to signify my dual allegiance! England have prepared well, remarkably well. As a team they seem strangely as one, they are tight and happy and have barely put a foot wrong. Their touring performances have been strong – batsmen have scored runs aplenty and to a man, bowlers have taken wickets. Australia on the other hand have hardly set the world alight. They returned from India chastened and individual performances since have been sporadic at best. Selectorial arguments are simmering and normally vocal supporters are pessimistic. The glass is now half empty. The playing field is as level as a billiard table and this could be the best series on Australian soil for many a summer. For all this something is missing. It’s the looming presence of uber superstars. The game changers, the turning pointers. Quite simply there aren’t any. On either side. There can be little argument that both teams are choc a bloc full of supremely talented athletes who, on their day can inflict cruel damage on a hapless opposition. But where are the conniving, conjuring Warnes of the world? Where’s a Gilly to crush the flickering hopes of a nation with some deft clubbing. And what about the dominating, harbinger of doom shadow of Glenn McGrath? England are similarly bereft. Ok they have KP but he has never developed to become the skin headed, bovver boy required to crush the Australians underfoot. No Freddy Flintoff to galvanise and inspire and only Beefy’s dulcet tones in the commentary box. The series will flip flop on the big moments – those defining times when the innings, the match and the series can turn. Australia haven’t made the most of these over the last few seasons and they must if they are to triumph. It’s a tough ask to win in Australia but I think the Poms have sufficient mettle to redress many years of history. 3-1 England.