There is no other place to start than Michael Clarke. He has had a tough series, and there was talk that he had no other option but to retire after that. But I wouldn’t say that he had no other option. A lot of people have been in the same situation he has been in, and they have not retired. Instead, they have insisted that they can come back, and some of them fought back to good form and contributed. Some haven’t. It’s important to keep in mind that the decision was right for Clarke. He has to make that decision, and he has to decide what he wants to do. If he thinks this is the right decision for him and the rest of the team, then that is all that matters.
Moving on to the series as such, there is no doubt that it showed up a lot of cracks in this Australia side. That is, a lot of cracks in their side overseas, like many other teams. Many touring sides have been outperformed just like Australia – in fact, England, when they went to Australia, got beaten 5-0 last year. Australia have ensured they won’t lose 5-0, but they still have been outperformed. You look around the entire world, and a lot of teams are like that. They do very well at home and are pretty ordinary when they leave home.
It’s a matter of whether they’re a good team or a great team. Great teams can win home and away, and good teams will win at home. It’s as simple as that. I don’t personally see much wrong with that, to be honest. It comes down to how people classify them. Teams should only be qualified as ‘great’ only if they can perform all over the world, and can excel everywhere. If they don’t, they’re not a great team, and that’s fine.
I don’t think the boards should actively try and do something about making it even, you don’t need to say: “okay, we have to find a way of making sure teams can do well overseas”. On the contrary, talk to the individuals, the players who are actually playing and performing, and see what necessary adjustments should be done for them to be successful when they leave their homes. There is nothing wrong with people failing away from home as far as world cricket is concerned. I don’t think they should try and make an adjustment. If you can, you can. If you’re not good enough, you’re just not good enough.
Having said that, when you go to some countries, the pitches are prepared in such a way that they are highly in favour of the home team. And I’m talking about even going to some parts of the subcontinent, in India, for instance, where you find – not necessarily now, but quite a few years ago – pitches that turn from day one. It didn’t matter who was touring India, because they knew they had great spinners, and they would be brought into the game from day one.
In England, they changed the nature of the pitches altogether, because they recognised that without seaming pitches, they had no chance of beating Australia. As I said before, I don’t see it as a major factor when you say teams are better at home than overseas, but if you want to have consistent pitches in countries, then you have got to adapt the principle that Ricky Ponting suggested – get rid of the toss.
All you need is for the visiting team to look at the pitch and decide what they will do. Then you will always get consistent pitches, because if it’s too heavily favoured in one way or the other, then the visiting team can take advantage with their decision. That way you’ll get consistent pitches, but that doesn’t mean all of sudden touring sides will start winning away from home. They’ll get a better chance of winning, but at the same time, they’ll have to play well to win away from home, because you can’t change overhead conditions. The ball will still swing in England, and you’ll still need good technique to play there. But the pitches won’t be that heavily favoured to the home bowlers.
Speaking of bowlers, it’s Australia’s bowling department that didn’t perform, and that’s what went wrong for them – their bowlers did not perform anywhere near as well as they would have liked. Mitchell Starc, who came to England with a great reputation, bowled well occasionally, but didn’t look the Starc that everyone was expecting, till late in the Trent Bridge Test. As I said in my previous article, some of the bowlers have had some short spells where they have bowled well, but they’ve not been consistent with that. And that’s what they needed to do.
On the face of it, most would contend that it’s the Australian batsmen who failed them. Look at the paltry scores they put on the board on so many occasions. But the pitches, especially the last two pitches that they played on, were bowler friendly. Very bowler friendly. The England bowlers performed well on them, the Australian bowlers did not. It’s the bowling department that let Australia down, although it could be seen easily that the Australian batsmen could not cope with the conditions. However, it’s their bowlers who are supposedly just as good, or better, than the English bowlers, and they needed to deal with the English conditions and adapt to them. Each time we see batsmen come to England, and struggle when the ball moves around, we hear the usual comment: “They can’t play the moving ball.”
It’s a fallacy that the visitors, whether they are the Australians or the Indians or the West Indians, can’t bat in the swinging conditions, or can’t bat when the ball is moving around. All batsmen struggle. If England were to bat against bowlers bowling well on those conditions, they would struggle as well. For example, when Starc got it right, Joe Root, who had already scored a hundred, struggled against him. If the Australian bowlers had bowled on the surfaces as well as the English, we would have had even shorter Test matches.
Australia headed in to the series with a lot of wins under their belt, and they seemed unbeatable, but that was a misconception. They won the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean anything, that’s a separate situation altogether, it’s a different form of cricket – Sri Lanka weren’t considered world beaters when they won the World Cup. Australia then beat West Indies in the West Indies, but that wasn’t very difficult either. Their whitewash in the previous Ashes was also considered to be a marker, but again, it was in familiar conditions, and it takes us right back to the point I was making before – a lot of teams are very good at home. This England team looks invincible now. But I am absolutely sure that if they were to go to Australia tomorrow for the last Test in Perth, they would lose.
Going forward, Australia will need to rebuild. They are going to lose quite a few players who are in their 30s, just like eight or ten years ago when the likes of Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist called time on their careers. Australia will have to now do the same thing again. Back then, they rebuilt their team, and got them to a level where they could beat the rest of the world again. They just have to go through the same process again. A lot of teams have had to do that. As a matter of fact, Australia have been a lot better at it than some of the teams of the recent past because they took a shorter period of time to get back to the top after losing all those players. A lot of teams haven’t been able to do that. It is not a disaster. All teams have to go through this phase, they have to replenish their cricketers.
As far as England are concerned, the impression is that they have turned a corner, but you can’t be sure, because, again, they had home conditions in their favour. They just played West Indies in the West Indies and lost there – that was just a couple of months before they played New Zealand and then the Ashes. If that same West Indies team were to come to England and play right now, they would not even draw a Test, forget win one.
Having said that, England are playing a much better brand of cricket now. They’re going out there and being very positive with their cricket, instead of all the negativity and the attritional cricket I got accustomed to seeing in the past. They’re playing a better brand of cricket, which hopefully they will stick with when they travel next. Let us see how they fare when they go to the United Arab Emirates and play Pakistan on pitches that will not be as friendly to their bowlers. As their new coach Trevor Bayliss said, they may have papered over some cracks, but there is still a lot of work to do.