I still remember the days, not all that long ago, heading to Alan Border Field at Albion to see the Australian One Day International (ODI) cricket team in action when they occasionally played a practise match there before the international series began. On one of those occasions, mini autograph bat in hand, I wandered down to the fence where one of the players was standing at the fence, ready to field.
That player was Brett ‘Binga’ Lee, at that time a relatively new addition to the then extremely dominant Aussie team. Between deliveries Lee would wander to the fence, not a worry in the world and sign the bats, shirts, caps and balls of the thankful young fans of the team and its players.
That’s one of my first memories of a man that despite injuries has had a career better than most who have and will ever don the green and gold colours which today lean more toward the green side.
That stellar career today is over now, another injury closing the book on the international cricketing life of a great player and someone with a real interest in the fans.
Another memory was of that immense pace and aggressive delivery action which early on in his career saw him sending down missiles consistently near or above 150km/hr. Even in his more recent playing years he wasn’t that far off the 150km/hr mark. His speed put him at or near the fastest in the game in the early years of his career and up there with the quickest in the later years despite injury and an ageing body.
Selectors were so keen on the firebrand pace-man that they had wanted him to continue his career until the Twenty20 World Cup due to be held in Sri Lanka in just a few short months. This is testimony to the impact that the aggressive quick bowler has had on the game in Australia, that at 35 a fast bowler is still playing and still able to prove a vital part of the team fabric.
From 76 Test Matches, thanks largely to injury setbacks, Lee took a solid 310 scalps at an average of 30.81. In the ODI arena Brett Lee played a total of 221 matches, taking 380 wickets with an average of just 23.25.
In the test match domain ‘Binga’ bagged 10 five-wicket innings and almost as many (9) on the one day paddock.
For a tail-end batsman too he wasn’t exactly a slouch and was capable of some serious hits and stroke playing that would put some lesser top order players to shame. In tests Lee averaged 20.15, scoring five 50’s and a top score of 64. In ODI’s he managed three 50’s at an average of 17.00 with a best score of 59.
Brett Lee’s enduring success can be partly put down to realising that if he wanted to prolong his career as the fastest of the fast bowlers he would need to alter his delivery action from a high impact slinging action to a more controlled and balanced process, yet of course even with this altered technique injury still took its toll on his body.
Fear not, his final delivery in cricket was likely not the last one that cricket mad Australians saw him bowl over in England on our television screens, Brett Lee still has the intention to play on in the Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League and it would be brave selectors to deny him those opportunities.
Brett Lee will be missed by the Australian cricket team and the cricket watching public for his aggressive, attacking bowling which he tempered down a little to preserve his body and to allow for more control. His departure from the game will be a sad one for many, especially for those of us with such great childhood memories.
Overnight the Australian cricket team again went down to the English cricket team in the final match of the best of five one day series over in England where one match was a wash-out. The Australians, in suffering this defeat after a rain shortened match have now experienced their worst ever head-to-head one day series defeat, a terrible statistic for a country that could once put down the English cricket side with ease, be it in one day internationals (ODI) or test match cricket.
Australia lost this series to the England side while sitting at the top of the ODI world rankings with the team we fell to so comprehensively being placed fourth on the list of one day cricketing nations.
Australia did, as far as scores go and balls remaining go close in every single match of the four that were played.
We lost the first match by 15 runs after a full 50 overs after England scored what is these days a quite strong 272 with Australia batting out the full 50 overs in reply only to end up on 257 for the loss 0f 9 wickets.
In the 2nd match Australia scored a decent 251 runs off 50 overs, but England eclipsed that with 26 balls to spare.
The third match was abandoned without any play.
In the fourth Australia started very poorly but managed to reach a total of 200 in the end, giving Australia’s quite strong bowling line-up a decent target to bowl at after what could have easily been a much more devastating collapse of our batting line-up. Again we went close, with England only managing to reach the target of 201 with 13 balls in hand, a surprisingly close match given the poor target.
Then last night, in the final match of the ODI series, in a rain delayed match, Australia scored in 32 overs a reasonably respectable score of 145, reduced to 138 under the Duckworth-Lewis system. With 29 overs of batting because of rain, England reached the 138 run target with 11 balls to spare.
So Australia was close yes, it wasn’t exactly a comprehensive series whitewash in that respect, the team did manage to exert some form of control and did s0 with at times decent batting and reasonably solid bowling displays which just did not result in wickets.
The point is that we were very inconsistent and to lose every match, regardless of how close the team got should have never happened to a team that sees itself at the top of the world rankings and wants to continue to cement that place of dominance atop the world of cricket.
Australia in losing the series were overall too inconsistent with the bat, with the top order performing quite ordinarily and leaving it to the lower order for the most part to at least attempt to post a respectable total.
The Aussies also, over the entire four matches that were played, regardless of how close were were able to get through reasonably economic bowling, only managed to take 14 wickets over the series, that’s an average of just 3.5 wickets per match.
All this is not at all to reflect badly on the northern hemisphere side, they capitalised on the poor and inconsistent form of the Australian team managing to take advantage of our poor batting efforts in particular and break through for wickets and they also made the runs, even if it wasn’t through particularly vibrant and widespread shot-making. They at the least ground out each win.
So Australia will now need to sit down together as a team with management and discuss just what went wrong and how this can be remedied so that we can manage to stay ahead of the pack who are now biting at our heels hungry and well within reach of taking us off the mantle. A team review of the series has already been foreshadowed.
The positive purpose of a tour like the one just passed is that it allows us to identify deficiencies before the major Ashes series which ranks so high above just about any other form of the game outside of the World Cup for one day cricket. We certainly identified those deficiencies.
Firstly, we need to get back to batting basics. Our core batting line-up did not contribute the sorts of runs they have been well and truly capable of in the past.
We cannot say as a nation that we have a dearth of batting talent and that our domestic competition in all forms of the game is second rate, it is not. At times you could say we have too much talent and that makes selecting the best person for each position and then identifying a shadow player or two for each all the more difficult.
What our batsmen need to do is to get back into the nets before the summer and to work on the basic techniques in order to be able to withstand the strongest of bowling lineups that other cricketing nations can hurl at us.
Our batsmen above all else could learn to be more consistent with our top order all more than capable, some world-beating, some in the early stages of an international career, but all who have shown an ability to play with flair and aggression which was badly missed in England.
Our bowlers, while they did quite well, restricting England to a highest score during the series of 272 need to do more than be economical, particularly when our batters fail as they did during the four matches, though they cannot be consistently called upon to save a poor batting effort. Taking under 4 wickets a match is well below sub-par and cannot be tolerated. Some time in the nets bowling at wickets might be just the medicine needed for some of our bowlers who need to be more aggressive than at present.
The team perhaps also in light of the injuries received to our bowlers may need to look at a rotation system where we rely, particularly in the one day matches, on one or two key wicket-taking bowlers and then rotate the rest throughout matches. We can then let the others focus on longer game match fitness in our domestic competition so that they are test match ready.
It should disturb the cricketing fraternity greatly that we didn’t win a single match against the English and a period of looking inwardly at our game plan, players and structure of the team and the management of that time are all a vital part of a mix needed to ensure that we again find ourselves consistent enough to win matches and series’.
Ahead of Queenslanders going to the polls to vote out a long-term ALP state government tomorrow, it’s time to make some final predictions about the numbers that will begin to unfold beyond the 6pm closure of voting in this government-changing election. The most important aspect of the count to watch tomorrow will be who wins Ashgrove, whether it is Premier Campbell Newman or soon to be ALP backbencher Kate Jones. The size of the swing to the LNP will also be an important piece of data, with the swing required for the Opposition to take government being 4.6%. The total number of seats has also been much talked about with polls predicting the ALP could be reduced to as few as 12 if swings across the state were uniform. The highest profile scalp that the LNP claims in this certain election win also deserves a major focus as does the likely downfall of other Bligh Government ministers. The final major point of interest will be how Katter’s Australian Party performs in their first election.
ASHGROVE AND THE RACE FOR PREMIER
From the moment when Campbell Newman decided that he would run for the Premiership and the seat of Ashgrove from outside of the parliament the polls indicated that the would-be Premier was well ahead on a 2-party-preferred basis, cruising to a win at that point.
Then came smear and allegations against Mr Newman and his family over business dealings as the election campaign got closer, which intensified once the campaign proper began with a plethora of ads asking questions of the candidate for Ashgrove and the Premiership. This saw support crumble for the former army engineer and Lord Mayor of Brisbane into single digits and eventually, in recent weeks to a small lead for incumbent ALP MLA Kate Jones.
The Crime and Misconduct Committee (CMC), an anti-corruption body set up in the wake of the Bjelke-Petersen era investigated allegations on multiple occasions and on each it was found that there was no case to answer for Campbell Newman.
Not long after the final clearance by the CMC and once it became clear to all voters this week, that the LNP would certainly be heading to a sweeping victory, the polls bounced back, indicating this week, at the time with just days to go, that the Premier hopeful would likely win the seat and therefore become the Premier of an LNP Government.
The swing required to win the electorate of Ashgrove is 7.1% and this should be eclipsed with a swing around 8-9% seeming likely.
THE STATEWIDE SWING
Polls seem to indicate that the swing to the LNP in Queensland will be massive, up to around 10% statewide against the Australian Labor Party after such a lengthy term in office.
The LNP only requires a swing of 4.6% to take office and is certainly set to achieve that.
MY PICK: The LNP win will come with a swing of anywhere between 7%-10% and Labor will be decimated around Brisbane and the suburbs and will lose significant numbers from the regions.
NUMBER OF SEATS LABOR WILL BE LEFT WITH
There has been much commentary in recent days over how many seats the ALP will be left with after votes have been finalised by the Electoral Commission Queensland.
The results have been talked about in terms of sporting teams, whether it be a cricket team (11 plus a 12th man), a rugby league team (13 plus a bench of 4), a rugby union team (15 plus 7 reserves) or an AFL team (18 plus 4 reserves).
It is almost certain that the number of seats the ALP will be reduced to after the election will fall somewhere in this range.
MY PICK: Labor will be reduced to a rugby union team minus the bench players, that’s 15 MPs in a parliament of 89.
THE BIGGEST ELECTORAL SCALP
Other than the must watch seat of Ashgrove, which now looks certain to go to the LNP and incoming Premier Campbell Newman, the electorate of Mount Coot-tha will be a major focus as the current Bligh Government Treasurer, Andrew Fraser battles to hold onto his seat with a margin of 5.3%, just 0.7% above the swing needed for the LNP to take the reins of government.
On the polls it looks certain that the LNP will well and truly surpass the margin needed to form government in their own right, possibly more than doubling the swing of 4.6% required if the polls are near accurate. This means that the LNP candidate for the electorate, Saxon Rice will almost certainly beat the incumbent Mr Fraser.
This result would be absolutely disastrous for the ALP which look set to lose other ministers tomorrow and the last thing they need is to lose the Deputy Premier and Treasurer and youngest member of the Bligh Government and quite likely Bligh successor as Labor leader.
MY PICK: Saxon Rice but close, especially if the ALP vote does not collapse too much in the seat as the Greens traditionally poll very strongly in this seat and any preferences would flow to Mr Fraser.
THE FORTUNES OR MISFORTUNES OF KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY
As noted, this will be the first election for Katter’s Australian Party and its state leader and former LNP, Independent and Queensland Party MLA Aidan McLindon. This party was created by Bob Katter and included the Queensland Party which Mr McLindon started after leaving the LNP and giving up being an Independent member of parliament.
The party had high hopes for themselves, at first of taking government and then holding the balance of power, though we all knew that this was completely out of the question. Polls have continuously confirmed that the swing against the ALP was unlikely to convert into many, if any extra seats for the fledgling political party fielding candidates in 76 of the 89 seats (though they did hope to do so in all 89).
Dalrymple MLA and LNP defector Shane Knuth will probably hold onto his seat in the north of Queensland, becoming an electoral success story for Katter’s Australian Party. With a margin of 14.4% it would be a difficult gain for the LNP.
A member of the Katter family looks able to win the electorate of Mount Isa in the north west of the seat.That person is Robbie Katter, son of party founder Bob Katter who represents that electorate in the federal parliamentary seat of Kennedy.
The big battle for Katter’s Australian Party could be to hold onto the seat of Beaudesert with Aidan McLindon on a margin of 8.3% within the possible statewide swing range in a conservative seat (although the party that Aidan McLindon represents is heavily socially conservative).
The electorate of Nanango is a real possible gain for the new party with high-profile candidate Carl Rackemann in with a real chance upon the retirement of Independent MLA Dorothy Pratt. The margin at only 2.9% opens up the seat for a possible LNP gain for candidate Deb Frecklington.
MY PICKS: Aidan McClindon to lose Beaudesert. Robbie Katter to take the electorate of Mount Isa in a tough fight. Shane Knuth to hold Dalrymple. Deb Frecklington to beat Carl Rackemann in Nanango
Queenslanders are a day away from knowing the make-up of the parliament for the next 3 years and just how large a majority the LNP will be granted by voters across the state. It will certainly be a sweeping majority, with the LNP likely holding more than a 2/3 majority in the unicameral Queensland Parliament, with big ministerial scalps claimed in the process. The electoral hopes of Katter’s Australian Party will prove to be another big fizzer.
Today marks my first foray into the world of sports commentary and I do this on the back of comments from the former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh about the need for succession planning, particularly for the coming post Ponting years, saying that perhaps they should be upon us in the near future.
Steve Waugh makes these comments after a successful return to form this summer by Ricky Ponting, yet this should not distract from the fact that we urgently need a succession plan put in place, including blooding future stars in a better manner than the team does, while at times resting the more experienced players, or if the case merits, dropping them altogether like Waugh suggests.
If anything, the most prescient reason that we need a broad succession plan in place is the experience of losing McGrath, Warne and other experienced players all in one hit. Almost overnight, well, by the next series or so, it showed in cricket results beginning to suffer badly at the hands of teams that rarely troubled us in the past.
Dropping players without consultation might show decisiveness on the part of Cricket Australia but this would need to be backed up by a strong succession plan which has definite players in mind for each spot coming up for availability, who have been identified and properly inducted into senior cricket at an international level.
I have in mind other ways to achieve a succession plan that should benefit the team, rather than simply dropping a player toward the end of their career whether out of form or not. It should be about a transitioning rather than ending a career and starting a new one completely out of the blue.
One method is to work with players more intimately that are getting toward the end of their careers and asking them sincerely where they see themselves in say 1-3 years. This would involved ongoing and regular re-assessment of goals over time between team management and the players, effectively allowing the players more of a say in their futures in a consultative arrangement that should avoid leaving players feeling disenfranchised as may occur in the event of being dropped outright.
Crucial to any succession plan is for Cricket Australia to involve the list of contracted players and perhaps other players of promise regularly and closely in the senior Australian team environment. This should include inviting the list of players to be involved in as much training with the Australian team as possible whilst not impacting too much on game time in the domestic or overseas cricket competitions. It should also include more Australia A matches, including where possible touring an Australia A team more often overseas with the Australian XI.
Once replacements are found and involved in the team environment it is incumbent on Cricket Australia to show faith in new players for a prolonged period of time rather than to indulge in knee-jerk reactions and dump players struggling in their first few Tests. If players have had a proper induction to the high standard of cricket required this may not even be necessary.
A final bugbear of mine is selectors picking too many players for a first representative cap that may be only a few years from retirement, denying the career longevity of promising younger players that once existed for players such as Ponting and other greats before him. That’s not to say that young players consistently showing poor performance should be given too long a leash, they should not be granted that. There should be a good mix of youth and experience.
It’s not going to be easy, but there there you have it, Cricket Australia, my ideas for how to rebuild and then maintain our cricketing greatness that was all to easily lost when we messed up our response to the precipitous loss of Warne, McGrath et al. It really can be this simple and we ought to pay attention to the words of Steve Waugh overnight or ignore them at our sporting and therefore cultural peril.