Overworked Aussies' imperfect match

The creed of Rampaging Roy Slaven and Dr H. G. Nelson has one basic tenet: too much sport is barely enough. In those long hot summers of Australian childhood three, four or five decades ago, it would have been regarded as heresy should anyone have suggested that there could be too much cricket.

The plight of the Australian team currently touring India suggests, however, that the unthinkable has now become a reality. The commercial necessity to play many pointless matches has taken the sting from our fast bowlers and might even have devalued the privilege of wearing the 'baggy green'.

Captain Ricky Ponting has been quick to deny any talk of a falling out with chief 'quick' Brett Lee. Apparently, there was a moment in the recent test when Lee believed he should have been thrown the ball, but really, that is a given for any quick. Fast bowlers are traditionally a volatile breed. Most have a temperament ready to erupt should things not go their way.

They are after all, strike bowlers used in explosive bursts and thrive on confrontation and intimidation. A few exceptional fast bowlers have been mild mannered and unflappable, but most have had quick tempers even towards their own team-mates.

Fast bowlers put such energy and self-belief into their bowling that they expect a wicket with every ball. Unless physically exhausted, this attitude makes them reluctant to accept that anyone else should ever be thrown the ball, except to hold up the other end, and some probably think they should bowl from both ends if the laws permitted.

The handling of the pace attack might well be the real test of captaincy skills. Spinners have always had a great say in the setting of their fields, but captains tend to think they know best when the quicks are on. It is reasonable that the skipper should want to stamp his or her authority on the game in that first over when the pitch is at its greenest, the ball its reddest and the creams their whitest. The relationship between captain and fast bowler adds to the air of anticipation and keeps everyone alert.

Occasionally the tension can become negative. There was an alleged incident between Allan Border and Craig McDermott when the dour skipper reminded the red-headed speedster just who captained the Australian side, and there was talk of someone having to pack his bags if he did not like it.

Although originally a Sydneysider, Border had become a proud Queenslander. So, his difference with McDermott could have been aggravated by their being Sunshine State team-mates.

Border recalled that his Queensland pride might actually have threatened the life of Victorian Dean Jones. Jones made a very brave double century in India despite being physically ill and extremely dehydrated. When Jones suggested that perhaps he should retire hurt, Border told him that perhaps he should — perhaps he should get out of the way so that he could get someone tough, like another Queenslander, out into the middle.

Jones batted on and, as a result, needed to be hospitalised when he eventually left the ground.

No observer would wish physical illness on any cricketer, and it does seem as though the 2008 tour is being spared the dietary trauma which has befallen so many Australian tourists in South Asia. Unfortunately the cricketers may now be showing signs of psychological problems that can be even more difficult to overcome.

The likes of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and even the incredibly strong and stable Stuart Clark must be threatened constantly with mental tiredness. The promising Shaun Tait seems to have succumbed temporarily, but it is difficult to see signs that administrators have learnt from his experience. Today, cricketers must play not only test matches but also one day internationals and more recently, even shorter games.

It is not the players who desire such an intensive schedule and few fans could follow all forms of the game. Clearly, the program is being driven by those who value the relationship between players and fans most: those who profit from the creation of a pool of stars who are instantly recognisable and constantly available.

These entrepreneurs are only slightly disconcerted when a star burns out, because they have the power to create others in their place. The players, and especially the fast bowlers, are devalued as never before.

Cricket is a mind game. The psychological condition of any individual in a team affects the whole 11. The Indian cricketers talk Australia up, suggesting we will bounce back even stronger. At the same time, they will work hard to ensure that the recovery is delayed.

Indian conditions have always disadvantaged Australian quicks, but teams have coped with strong batting, fielding and slow bowling. In 2008 however, the conditions have revealed the true plight of our quicks.

With so much cricket being played, too little value is placed on test matches and too little thought given to the best means of winning them. Let's hope that Ricky Ponting is being paid handsomely because he has been placed into an impossible position.

Tony SmithTony Smith was a fanatical cricketer from age 10 to 40. He has represented Parramatta District in the Telegraph Shield and Coonabarabran in the Far West cricket Council Competition. Tony's highest score was 138 not out, best bowling effort was 9 for 16, and most catches in an innings was four. Tony holds a PhD in political science.

Topic tags: tony smith, ricky ponting, brett lee, test cricket, allan border, craig mcdermott, dean jones



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