Australian cricket doomed if we don’t back the young
Lawrie Sawle is the most unrecognised contributor to the Australian cricket supremacy of the last two decades.
A West Australian school teacher and administrator, Sawle became Australian cricket’s chairman of selectors in late 1984. Earlier that year the Sydney Cricket Ground Test played host to the retirements of the three giants of the national team, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh.
Soon Australia was being beaten by everyone. The captain resigned in tears. A majority of the first Test team chosen by Sawle’s selection panel had already signed secret agreements to rat on Australian cricket and tour apartheid South Africa.
When Australian cricket reached its nadir, Sawle insisted on planning for the long term. He repudiated previous ad hoc selection policy.
In those dark years Sawle and his fellow selectors promoted young men they identified as possessing not only ability, but the desire and determination to be part of new captain Allan Border’s side for the long term – 23 year old David Boon, 19 year old Craig McDermott, 20 year old Stephen Waugh.
Sawle led the restructuring of youth cricket. He closely followed under-19 cricket, identifying the Waugh twins, Ian Healy and Mark Taylor at under-19 carnivals.
Success was a long time coming. Border’s captaincy record on the eve of the 1989 Ashes tour was one series victory from ten. But eventually, when the young cricketers identified by Sawle matured, they formed the core of the most successful national team in the history of the game.
From the Caribbean series of 1995, when Mark Taylor’s side captured the Frank Worrell Trophy, to the final Ashes Test of 2006/07, Australia won an astonishing 95 of 140 Tests, drawing 21 and losing 24.
In a rerun of 1984, Sydney’s New Year Test of 2007 was the scene for the farewell party for another Big Three of Australian cricket, Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Between mid 2006 and the first week of 2009 eight members of the all conquering Australian sides of the 1990s and 2000s finished their Test careers. Among the eight were three genuine greats in Warne, McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. The other five - Jason Gillespie, Damien Martyn, Langer, Stuart MacGill and Matthew Hayden - were very good to excellent Test cricketers.
Between them these eight men compiled 31,659 runs, captured 1740 wickets and effected 859 catches and stumpings over 755 Test appearances.
The man who has attended more Test matches than any other human being, Richie Benaud, chose Gilchrist and Warne in his greatest ever eleven, alongside only two other Australians, Bradman and Lillee.
As in the mid-eighties, Australian cricket is rebuilding its national team. Now, as then, it will take time. Only one giant remains, Ponting.
Since the 2007 Sydney Test Australia has won eleven of 23 Test matches, drawing five and losing seven. Two series have been lost, against India away and South Africa at home.
It stands to reason that results will be patchy, as newcomers either find their feet or fall away.
The new entrants to the side are being tested as they never have been before. That is why the game is called Test cricket. Test cricket thoroughly examines the skills, technique and character of its participants.
In his brief career Phillip Hughes has scored hundreds at Sheffield Shield and county level, and for his country in South Africa. He is comfortably the finest Australian batsman of his generation. Yet his technique leaves him vulnerable to high quality fast bowling directed at his body. He is currently being tested by the ferocity of Andrew Flintoff, the finest current exponent of intimidatory fast bowling in world cricket.
A constellation of young batting talent burst on to the Australian scene in the early nineties. Most of them arrived via Sawle’s elite youth pathways. Each of Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Gilchrist, Slater, Bevan, Elliott, Blewett and Lehmann were born in 1970 or 1971.
Each one of these nine was posting big Sheffield Shield scores, regularly, by the early 1990s. Each one of these nine was building a case for national selection by his early twenties. Each one of these nine eventually became a valued member of a champion Australian Test team.
Today there is one batsman in Australian cricket aged in his early twenties, posting big Sheffield Shield scores, regularly. Not nine. One.
Nowadays too many thirty-something cricketers who will never play for the national team hold down spots in state sides. Australian cricket needs Phillip Hughes to succeed at Test level.
Mitchell Johnson came to Test cricket having bowled less deliveries, at all levels of cricket, than any Australian opening bowler since Peter Garrett’s great grandfather Tom took the new ball at the age of 18 in 1877.
Johnson is still learning his craft. He was lethal in Durban, woeful at Lord’s. Lillee, who knows a fast bowler when he sees one, called the teenage Johnson a once in a generation fast bowler.
More is at stake than this Ashes series. Australia must build a team for the next decade.
Michael Clarke will lead the side, sooner rather than later. Hughes, Johnson and Siddle will be part of it. Others must be found.
Lawrie Sawle rejected short termism. Australia must back its best young cricketers.
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