UPI Editors Krishnadev Calamur and Martin Hutchinson look at the upcoming fixtures in the cricketing world.
Aussies powerful but aging
By Martin Hutchinson
The first test match of the five match series between England and Australia begins at Brisbane Nov. 7. Looking at the sides, the series looks likely to be a walkover for the Aussies, as have been most of the series since Mike Gatting's side eked out a slim victory in 1986-87. Yet age is catching up even on the Australians, so if England can hold it close early in the series, much might happen.
Australian selection has for so long been wedded to the idea of bringing young players on fast, that I had to check it to believe it: eight of the 11 picked for Brisbane (assuming Andy Bichel, himself 32, is 12th man) are 31 or more, and none have been Test players for less than three years. The average age of the side is 31 years and 1 month, 13 months older than the England side of last August, which I had already criticized for geriatric tendencies, and fully 6 years older than the young and very talented India side that England faced last summer. No Australian side, not even Ian Johnson's creaky 1956 squad, with Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller both on their last legs, has been as old as this one. It is a sobering thought.
The point was emphasized by the selection itself. Mark Waugh, a wonderful player with over 8,000 test runs, was finally dropped for lack of recent batting from; he was 37 years old like his brother Steve. However, his replacement was not some young hotshot who had been hammering at the door of the side but Darren Lehmann, 33 next February, who played the first of his five Test matches five years ago.
It must be said therefore: at some stage within the next 3-4 years, this Australian side is going to fall apart, and if new blood is not quickly brought in, will be in for a lean period, at least by Australian cricket standards. Like the England side against Australia in 1989, or further back, 1958-59, there will come a point at which the team suddenly fails to live up to its reputation. The 1989 side had Graham Gooch, David Gower, Gatting, Allan Lamb and Ian Botham, all with great reputations, but all except Gooch with their glory days behind them. The 1958-59 side had Jim Laker, Godfrey Evans and Trevor Bailey, all with towering reputations, all out of the England picture within a year (though Peter May and Colin Cowdrey were much younger, and Tom Graveney, dropped for 3 years after the tour, had yet to reach his superb maturity.)
However that is not to say that the pleasant sight (for an England supporter) of an Australian team falling apart will happen this winter. Indeed, so great are the Australian powers of regeneration that one can venture to guess that the next Australian team to visit England, in 2005, will be largely recast, so that England's chances of glory may disappear in the 2-½-year gap between series. Nevertheless, one can dream.
On paper at least, dreaming is about all one can do. The Australian side, apart from Lehmann, has six batsmen averaging within a whisker of 50 runs per innings, including the wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, who will presumably insert his batting average of 58.51 (for 2,282 runs in 34 Tests) at number 7. While not quite as spectacular as the Indian batting line-up, and considerably older, the Australian line-up is deeper and more experienced. Nevertheless, there is no Don Bradman; Steve Waugh may well reach 10,000 Test runs, joining the illustrious duo of Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border, but he will have done so in over 150 Tests, a triumph of persistence rather than dominance.
The Australian bowling is even more impressive. Shane Warne, at 33 still quite young for a spinner, has single-handedly been responsible for the revival of leg-spin bowling worldwide as a Test match attacking force -- the lack of a remotely equivalent spinner is probably England's greatest single weakness. With 477 Test wickets currently, he will probably not in this series seize the world record of 519, held by West Indies' Courtney Walsh -- though with Warne one can never be sure -- but seems destined to surpass it by far before he retires. He was selected as one of the five players of the 20th century by Wisden in 2000; that looked a bit ambitious then, but as Warne gets closer to the record without any sign of slowing down (and with a good 5 years ahead of him if he follows a normal spin bowler's career pattern) the selection is looking more and more appropriate.
Overshadowed by Warne on an individual basis, but almost equally dominant as a group, are Australia's fast bowlers. Glenn McGrath, the senior of them, is nearly 33, with 87 tests under his belt, so is close to the end of the line, but with 423 Test wickets it has been one hell of a career, and he may have a good year or two left yet. Jason Gillespie (whose fitness for Brisbane is questionable) and Brett Lee are both younger, 27 and 26, so Australia has youth where it matters most, in the fast bowling contingent. However Gillespie currently has 126 test wickets and Lee 89, so both are experienced at the international level.
England are somewhat outclassed in batting, though Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan are fully worthy to rank with the Australians, with lower batting averages largely because the Australians don't have to face the Australian bowling attack. They are less experienced in fast bowling (though the young duo of Simon Jones and Steve Harmison show promise, the senior pair of Darren Gough and Andy Caddick have between them only 19 more wickets than McGrath, who is between them in age.) They are incomparably outclassed in spin bowling. However they may - for the first time since Mike Brearley's tour of 1978-79 - be more mobile in the field.
It will not take a miracle for England to win, just a rapid onset of old age among a few key members of the Australian team. However, I wouldn't bet on it.
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West Indies' slow and painful decline
By Krishnadev Calamur
The West Indies Wednesday reached India's respectable 284 in the last ball of the first one-dayer between the two sides. So far, that has been the only positive development in a tour that has seen another nail being hammered into the coffin one of the world's great cricketing traditions.
The West Indies lost the three-test series 2-0. Its bowlers did not fire. Its batsman could not find their feet. What a fall.
The decline is paralleled by the rise of Steve Waugh's Australians, who having whipped Pakistan 3-0 in their test series, are being dubbed the world's greatest ever cricket team. Seriously, did no one ever see Clive Lloyd's West Indians play?
Viv Richards, arguably the greatest batsman ever, who now serves as chairman of the West Indian selectors, blames this tradition for the fall.
"We are just not functioning as a unit," he told an Indian news channel. "Because of this legacy, a lot of players have not been able to come to grips with it."
And what a legacy it was.
Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes opened. Followed by Richards, Lloyd and the irrepressible wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon. And perhaps the greatest fast bowling attack of all time -- Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, with Andy Roberts, Edine Baptiste, Colin Croft and later Courtney Walsh. Who can compete?
Waugh's Aussies are clinical. Lloyd's team had flair.
Several factors have been blamed for the team's decline.
"Pitches in the West Indies have deteriorated and so has the standard of fast bowlers," Lloyd said earlier this year.
Others have blamed a move away from the English tradition of cricket to a more aggressive push of American sports on television.
"American sports have certainly played their part in the sense that a lot of our youngsters are now playing soccer, which is not basically American, and they are playing a lot of basketball as well," Ian Bishop, one of the fastest West Indians, said in an interview to rediff.com Web site. "They watch a lot of American sports live because they get it on cable television.
"The lack of coaching and all sorts of others elements are also coming into play. "
The West Indian board's new cricket academy in Grenada, the first of its kind in the region, may solve some of the problems, but it won't solve the mental attitude many in the present team have.
Reports of squabbling and massive egos refuse to go away. There is nothing to suggest that this is a team. The West Indies seem to be composed of 11 players of varying talents -- some good and others ... well others not good enough to make it to most international club sides. But everyone acts like a superstar and the team suffers.
Lloyd's West Indies had an arrogant swagger, too, but they could deliver the results. The present team needs to get back to basics and the management needs to pick fresh players who are hungry for wins.
"When we played we hated to lose," former middle-order great Gus Logie told the Guardian. "Losing was not something we contemplated at all; we always felt whatever a team made we could (beat), whatever we made they shouldn't, and when we came into the team we came into a winning team.
"We knew what respect we got for being the best in the world, what it meant to our people at home in the West Indies. We felt proud to wear the maroon cap, very proud of each other and the team. And we respected each other and the team, which helps. Maybe some of that is lacking today."
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