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Tough love time for pampered players

John Townsend

Laurie Sawle would be turning in his grave.

Rod Marsh too.

John Inverarity, Trevor Hohns and Andrew Hilditch are still with us but it would not be a great stretch to think that Australian teams selected on their watch would be notable for a greater commitment to recent form and balance.

George Bailey is the newest chairman of Australia’s selectors, and a man of substantial character and rigour, but the sight of the former Tasmanian captain cracking jokes on the bench as Australia made an early exit from the T20 World Cup was jarring.

It is impossible to imagine Sawle or Inverarity, both scrupulous individuals who understood the value of maintaining distance from players they might have to drop, fraternising in such a fashion.

Bailey’s performance and demeanour provide just a taste of the questions that have arisen over Australian cricket this summer.

Whether it was the inept World Cup display, the remarkable admissions by Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell that the players were tired and fatigued on the eve of the tournament, or Test captain Pat Cummins saying he did not want to promote a major sponson on the grounds of his environmental conscience, despite his obvious willingness to compromise that conscience in other lucrative areas of his career, it has not been a great start to the season.

The player-led move to unseat coach Justin Langer left many people uncomfortable at the time but it is now appearing to be cricket’s worst self-inflicted injury since the ball-tampering debacle that ushered him into the job.

Questions continue to arise over new coach Andrew McDonald, who, like Bailey, is a person of considerable substance but is also struggling to impose standards on players who have grown increasingly comfortable with their power to hire and fire.

The questions include the willingness to retain Finch when he was battling to hit the ball off the square and Cummins’ apparent immunity from selection scrutiny.

An astute friend harrumphing at length in a long and lively email exchange after Australia were sent packing had this pointed comment about Finch: “When the aim is to score 10 an over off the first six overs, he goes, block, miss, single to square leg. Three balls left for Warner and co to hit at least two boundaries. He’s been very poor for a good two years.”

What has McDonald done with his former Victorian team-mate? Zilch.

And that is not the only responsibility ducked by a coach assured by the security of a four-year contract.

On the day that Australia’s defence of the World Cup evaporated in a welter of poor preparation, selection and performance, it was not McDonald who fronted the media to explain what went wrong but his deputy Dan Vettori.

That is Vettori, the champion New Zealand spinner, for whom the emphasis should be on New Zealand.

On Australia’s worst day of the summer, and one that had been coming for months, it was a Kiwi who went out to discuss his adopted country’s plight.

Not since ball-tamperers Steve Smith and Cam Bancroft tried to snow the media in Cape Town in 2018 has Australia put such an inappropriate face on a failed operation.

Australian cricket’s approach over many decades has been to follow a hard-edged leader – whether captain or coach – with a much softer and gentler option.

Langer was always going to be replaced by a more palatable and friendlier coach but having got their way, the Australian players seem to have lost their bearings.

Maybe it is time for some tough love?

IMAGE: The Australian


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