The Fellows of February

It has been a truly remarkable summer for the ever-expanding army of marketing wunderkinds that seem to have stormed into occupation of the entire top floor of CA’s Jollimont headquarters.

The results of course are there for all to see with over one million people pouring through the gates to watch the dismantling of the hapless English tourists, a doubling of BBL attendances combined with a four-fold increase in ratings, and of course the rivers of gold that now flow down the stairwells courtesy of the bumper new TV rights deal and sponsorship bounty.

Now none of this could occur without the creative input of the ponytailed geniuses who masterminded such events as the spin-off of CA Digital Media, #AskBoof, #bullshit, the World’s Greatest Dress Up Party, lycra-clad trampolinists, and of course the piece de resistance, the giant mobile corporate edifice of the KFC Skybox where original recipe and VB reigned supreme.

But, with the end of the Australian summer at hand, and a brief hiatus until the baggy green tackle the Proteas in far away South Africa, the thorny question of just how to maintain the momentum now rears its ugly head.

Fans fear not because the team have been hard at work over the Christmas period to plan for such an eventuality and I can exclusively reveal that, in addition to the launch of the @ShaneRWatson twitter character, the team are proud to announce, and sell to you, the Fellows of February calendar.

That’s right, a calendar, available exclusively by retweets of CA Digital Media click-bait material !

Concerned that, amidst the blizzard of social media and promotions focussing on social frivolity rather than on-field happenings, CA may be losing core supporters the creative types started work on executing the plan in conjunction with none other than the Frank Drebin of selectors, the urbane John Inverarity.

Artfully conceived, the plan targeted the selection of 28 players to represent Australia in the international arena, with each earning the privilege of appearing as a daily pin-up accompanied by one of CA’s 19 commercial partners and 4 broadcasters, with the remaining spots available for a negotiable fee.

Having skilfully accomplished this wondrous feat of planning and talent management last month you can now grab your ‘exclusive’ and highly prized memento of a golden summer – just head to CA Digital Media and use the special hashtag #ILoveILoveACalendarBoy.

Until next time … that is stumps.

Requiem for a Dream – Australian Cricket on the Second Anniversary of the Argus Review

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the much anticipated Argus Review of Australian cricket.

Written in the aftermath of successive Ashes defeats, both at home and away, it was heralded as a roadmap back to success for the national team in light of:

  • the Test team only winning 5 of its last 11 series, the majority of which came against lower ranked sides;
  • the ICC Test ranking of the team slipping from first to fifth;
  • the failure of the top 6 batsmen to consistently perform;
  • substandard bowling returns against leading teams with few bowlers beating a benchmark of 30 runs per wicket; and
  • the elimination of the ODI team in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup, the worst result since 1992.[i]

The panel identified several factors as central to this decline, namely:

  • poor performances by leading players;
  • poor basic skills of the players;
  • confusing selections;
  • inadequate succession planning;
  • format and scheduling of pathway competitions;
  • a need to retain experienced players in Grade cricket;
  • poor team culture; and
  • a lack of structural accountability for such issues and team performance in general[ii]

Two years on it is clear that, at least for now, the review has been an abject failure with the majority of key indicators and causes showing little by way of improvement:

  • the Test team is currently ranked fourth on the ICC Rankings and will fall to fifth should they be defeated at The Oval;
  • Australia have won 4 of 8 series , none against a higher ranked opponent at the time, while winning 12 of 28 Tests and losing 10;
  • the Test team have not tasted victory in its past 8 Tests, including 7 defeats;
  • only 5 of the 11 batsmen used average greater than 35 during this period;
  • the batting unit has failed to reach 250 in 13 separate completed innings;
  • the team is now on its third coach in less than 3 years;
  • the captain has withdrawn from his role as selector, recognising that, as was obvious at the time, such responsibility ran counter to his role in maintaining sustainable and trusting relationships with his players;
  • the ODI team were eliminated without winning a match at the Champions Trophy tournament and have won just 21 of 43 matches; and
  • 49 different players have represented Australia across all 3 formats of the game, including 30 in Tests.

In many ways the past two years remind me of the cult indie movie Requiem for a Dream where a motley collection of flawed and lonely characters fall into various forms of addiction which lead to them being imprisoned in a world of delusion and reckless desperation that is subsequently overtaken by their harsh reality.

Certainly there can be little doubt of the bleak reality currently facing Australian cricket, with a pervading stench of inevitable defeat hovering around it reminiscent of the dire days of the mid-1980s.

What follows is an attempt to break down some of the commonly held theories in an attempt to find discover who or what is to blame and whether there is any way to fix these matters.

Selection & Rotation

In the two years since the Argus Review, Australia have used 30 players in 28 Tests, a number higher than  all other full member nations (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh from the analysis).

A number of commentators have argued that this selection merry-go-round has been a significant factor behind Australia’s decline. However, an examination of results for all nations over this two year period does not show a strong correlation between selection consistency and success:

Nation Tests Played Players Used Loss % Ave Changes Per Test
New Zealand

20

26

55.00%

0.79

Sri Lanka

21

25

42.86%

0.70

Australia

28

30

35.71%

0.70

India

17

25

35.29%

0.88

West Indies

17

23

35.29%

0.75

England

24

21

29.17%

0.43

Pakistan

15

23

26.67%

0.86

South Africa

19

19

10.53%

0.44

Table 1 – Correlation between Team Success & Number of Players Used [iii]

Perhaps more interesting are the statistics before and after Australia’s epic draw against South Africa in Adelaide just 9 short months ago:

Performance   Category

Pre   Adelaide Nov 2012

Post   Adelaide Nov 2012

Matches

16

12

Wins

9

3

Losses

2

8

Draws

5

1

Batting – ave/wkt

36.76

30.30

Bowling – ave/wkt

27.08

33.93

Centuries scored

22

5

5WI taken

11

9

Sub 200 batting totals

3

4

200-250 batting totals

1

5

Table 2 – Comparison of Team Performance Indicators Pre & Post Adelaide Test Nov 2012[iv]

Coming into the Perth Test match Australia were just a solitary victory away from claiming the ICC number one Test Ranking and had enjoyed the better of both the earlier drawn contests. Amazingly, in Ricky Ponting’s final Test, and with the prospect of far easier assignments ahead against Sri Lanka, Australia’s selectors chose an entirely different seam bowling attack from the previous Test and were rewarded by South Africa romping to a comprehensive victory.

It was the first significant manifestation of the infamous ‘informed player management’ policy and marked a significant departure in building a strong team performance culture.

Indeed it would not be too harsh to say that it was the day that Australia went to a gun fight and forgot to bring any bullets.

Since that watershed moment the team’s performance both on and off the field has gone into freefall barring a brief respite at home against the hopelessly outgunned Sri Lankans. The happenings at Perth sent a message that performance was not the sole criteria for selection – indeed excellence could be rewarded by a match on the sideline, while no performance of note was needed to force one’s way into the line up.

If you think this is too strong a critique consider for a moment the following examples.

Mitchell Starc captured five wickets in the second innings at Hobart against Sri Lanka only to be rewarded by having a childhood dream of playing in a Boxing Day Test ripped away under the spurious guise ‘injury prevention’. Nathan Lyon also captured career best figures of 7/94 against India in the final Test of that disastrous tour only to miss selection for Australia’s next two Tests in favour of a young man with just 10 FC matches to his credit.

Then there is the astonishing case of Rob Quiney who, despite his moderate Shield performances that summer, was selected to bat at number 3 against the might of the South Africans. Although he made perhaps the greatest 9 on debut in the history of the game, he was passed over for the better credentialed Phil Hughes for the Tests against the Sri Lankans. It emerged later that he was used as a crash test dummy  to insulate Hughes’ fragile confidence and technique from Steyn and co with the hope of parachuting him into a successful third coming as a Test batsman.

The stunning coup de grace came with the unfathomable selections of Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty for the tour of India despite their lowly FC bowling records. Even more astonishingly they were actually preferred over the incumbent Nathan Lyon for a Test, despite his generally solid record and recent performances.

Is it any wonder then that the past nine months, in which Australia have added nine new players via the selection chocolate wheel, have seen a series of careworn and undisciplined performances on the field, particularly among the batsmen, and increasingly scandalous happenings off it?

A once successful culture has been broken and it will take time and steadfast resolve to fix it.

Thankfully Darren Lehmann has started talking a language and walking a talk in recent Tests that all players and supporters can understand, which is that runs and wickets are the only currency that matters, and that opportunities when granted must be taken.

The 4 P’s – Participation, Player Talent, Pitches and Pathways

Ed Smith, a far better writer than your humble correspondent, wrote of suggesting prior to the 2010/11 Ashes series that:

“the pillars of Australian excellence – club cricket, state cricket, and a hard-bitten unified cricketing culture that ran through their game at all levels – had crumbled. One firm push and the citadel might fall.”[v]

Russell Marks adopted a similar line in a recent Cricinfo piece examining the structural reasons behind Michael Clarke being the only world class batsman Australia has produced who was born after 1980.

At the heart of his theory is a belief that the pathways of Australian cricket, with their emphasis on early talent identification in age teams and bunches of players marching as one through these development groups, has created a soft underbelly and sense of entitlement that has been detrimental to maintaining high standards in FC and Test cricket.[vi]

Using as a reference point the 100 players selected in Australian U19 squads for the biennial World Cup tournament since 2000, let’s examine the success rate in turning these talented youngsters into hardened Test and FC cricketers:

U19 World Cup Player Conversion Rates

Chart 1 – Historical Conversion Rates of U19 World Cup Players to International & FC Cricket [vii]

Overall 20% of this group has played Test cricket, however with each passing year the conversion rate to International and FC cricket is declining.

It is not just a natural lag factor. Given that historically most of these players will make their FC debut within two years of this event, the following chart demonstrates declining quality as measured by an annualised average number of matches per player (across the total population):

Annualised FC & International Appearance by U19 Reps

Chart 2 – Annualised International & FC Appearances for U19 World Cup Representatives by year of Representation[viii]

A full list of representatives and statistics appears here (Australian U19 World Cup Teams Analysis).

The declining standard of players emerging from established pathways is also impacting on the overall quality of FC cricket in Australia, especially when coupled with a spectacular own-goal by CA’s administrators in creating the Futures League in 2009.

For the uninitiated, The Futures League was created to replace the old 2nd XI state format. Driven largely by a belief that the current structure was inhibiting the development and pathways for talented 19 to 23 year olds, it introduced shortened 3 day matches with a maximum of 96 overs for each first innings and 48 overs for each second innings.

Following the Argus Review and the negative opinions expressed during its consultation process[ix], Cricket Australia made significant changes to the format of the competition in 2011 by reverting to a four day format, removing the overs restrictions, and increasing the number of players aged over 23 from three to six.

Nonetheless, as former FC players Dirk Nannes and Theo Doropoulos have argued in recent articles, with vocal support from many current players on Twitter, the damage was, and continues to be done.

The creation of the Futures League has caused a significant deterioration in the standard of the Sheffield Shield as preparation for Test cricket by creating an artificial experience gap as younger players are expected to develop in a cosseted microcosm bearing little resemblance to the furnace of FC and International cricket without the hardened wisdom of senior players or dog-eat-dog competition for their place.[x]

All you proof you need is found in the dramatic deterioration in key performance metrics across the Sheffield Shield since the introduction of the Futures League in the 2009/10 season:

Shield Stats

Chart 3 – Key Sheffield Shield Performance Metrics by Season[xi]

It is all very well to identify talented youngsters and create pathways for their coaching and development, however history demonstrates that the greatest success comes when this is coupled with rigorous competition for places at every level.

CA should start the long road back to rebuilding the cricketing fabric and culture by immediately scrapping the Futures League and reverting back to a genuine 2nd XI competition where performances in Grade cricket dictate selection rather than a spurious quota system that the evidence shows has little impact in assisting the truly talented and determined find their way to the top echelons of the sport.

Pathways remain important however, especially as overall senior participation remains an issue for the game and its future success.

Recent CA Annual Reports [xii] loudly proclaim the success of their participation programmes, supported by their annual Census that demonstrate a growth in participation from 436,325 in 2002/03 to 880,291 participants in 2011/12.

They are impressive numbers but beneath the surface lies more sobering news for the future, at least for the senior men’s team, because the data shows that much of this growth is inflated by the inclusion of indoor cricket competitions, coupled with significant increases in the number of women and junior players.

No doubt this is welcome news for the suits and accountants at CA who trumpet such figures as barometers of success and tools in negotiating media rights and sponsorships via such insights as cricket participants are 8X more likely to attend a cricket match, and 4X more likely to watch a cricket match on television.[xiii]

However, analysis of the participation data over the past four years suggests that although great commercial success might be likely as a result, there is a gap between increased junior participation, fuelled by successful modified formats and timings, and declining senior and club numbers.

2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12
Type of Participation
Total Participants 604933 804100 850155 880291
Total Outdoor 604933 651871 662364 682109
Male 532348 564284 560019 560485
Female 72585 87587 102345 121624
11 a side club comps 309080 326813 317309 304085
Modified club comps 8434 10723 7608 9451
11 a side school comps 131511 133434 121174 106048
Modified school comps 85551 83545 88993 99196
in2CRICKET 70357 97356 127279 163329
Cricket clubs 4085 4010 3990 3820
Club & school teams 39151 41403 39441 38700
Indoor cricket N/A 152229 187791 198182
Senior N/A 113399 128771 136549
13 to 18 N/A 8954 26839 38445
5 to 12 N/A 8019 32181 23188

Table 3 – Cricket Participation Rates 2008 to 2012[xiv]

While CA have made excellent progress in boosting junior numbers these programmes will take some years to reach fruition and will require careful management because only by translating to senior participation can they ever viewed a success in pure cricketing, rather than commercial terms.

Before closing this examination of the 4P’s it is worth examining the role and impact of pitches on the decline in FC performance metrics. As Chart 3 above demonstrates, there has been only a marginal increase in draws in the Sheffield Shield over the past 3 years, so perhaps a generic condemnation of the standard of FC pitches is a little too simplistic cause of the decline.

Although they might not be greatly impacting the number of results in Sheffield Shield cricket, most would agree that pitches in Australia are changing in their character. Gone is the traditional pace and bounce of Perth, and the renowned turn of Adelaide and Sydney. Perhaps this is an unintended outcome of the amount of AFL played at major venues which allow reduced time for pitch preparation and lead to a greater preponderance of ‘drop-in’ wickets, as well as increased use of Grade standard pitches, especially in NSW.

As a result perhaps the performances of Cape Town and in India could be seen through the prism of younger players having little exposure to even moderately similar conditions at home.

It might perhaps be beneficial for CA to consider increasing the number of purpose-designed cricket venues, especially during the early months of the season to allow proper time to prepare more characteristic wickets at the major venues.

Accountability

At the end of the day it is inescapable, based on the empirical and anecdotal evidence, that Australian cricket has been in decline for many years and that the early results following the Argus Review sadly show no signs of this being reversed in the near future.

Some of the causes could have been avoided with better and more forward-thinking management, and indeed some were entirely self-inflicted as a result of decisions made by the CEO and the Board. Surprisingly few have yet called into question and demanded accountability from the CEO who has presided throughout the period and made many of the decisions or recommendations for change.

James Sutherland has done brilliantly in growing the game’s finances, both for its development and to better reward the players. Revenue from continuing operations (including gates, media rights and sponsors) has grown to $260m, cash reserves to fund future initiatives are growing, and junior participation is increasing strongly. The new domestic broadcast rights deal signed this year will add a further $43m per annum to this pot.

Yet, as Ricky Ponting simply states:

“… we must remember that the success of this business will be measured by the success of the national team.”[xv]

Surely should the unthinkable occur and Australia fail to regain the Ashes at home, the time must come for James Sutherland to resign, or be forced aside, from the post he has held since July 2001.

It would also provide an opportune moment to review the role and performance of Pat Howard as High Performance Manager. As the man in charge of the coach, captain, Chairman of the NSP, and Centre of Excellence Manager, he wields significant influence, and while some issues pre-date his tenure the recent examples of poor team behaviour, insipid performance, reported fractures within the team environment and culture have occurred on his watch.

One of the cornerstones of the Argus Report was the need for clear objectives and performance metrics for people to be held to account against. On any objective measure, Howard should be nervously anticipating a day of reckoning that must surely come and which might actually result in a well qualified cricket person such as Belinda Clark to assume his role.

Of course such apocalyptic measures will mean that Australia has lost the Ashes again. I desperately hope that this horror does not eventuate however given  the side  has not recorded a single International victory in any format since February, there is a very real prospect that by Sydney in 2014 Australia will not have tasted victory in 31 successive matches against full member nations.

In the movie that gives rise to the title of this piece, Requiem for a Dream, each character at the end of the movie curls into the foetal position and imagines their dream coming true. The movie ends with their successful selves reuniting on a television studio floor to the cheers of the crowd under the bright stage lights.

Unfortunately their reality was wretchedly different, much the same as our post-Argus present.

Anyway, happy second anniversary to you Don and your esteemed panel.

Until next time that is stumps.


[i] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) p. 6

[ii] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) pp. 8, 29

[iii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[iv] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[v] Ed Smith – “Australia : hubris, despair, panic” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/654535.html

[vi] Russell Marks – “What Ails the Clarke Generation?” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/thestands/content/story/654727.html

[vii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries and articles

[viii] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries and articles

[ix] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) p. 28

[x] Australian Team Performance Review Summary Report (aka The Argus Review) pp. 28,29; Dirk Nannes – “The Experience Gap” – http://www.alloutcricket.com/blogs/comment/nannes-the-experience-gap ; Theo Doropoulos – http://theodrop.tumblr.com/

[xi] Data sourced from various Cricinfo statistics queries

[xii] CA Annual Reports 2010-2012

[xiii] Australian Cricket Roadshow – slide 20 (contained in 2011/12 CA Annual Report)

[xiv] National Cricket Census 2011/12 pp. 7-10; www.cricket.com.au/useful-links/australian-cricket-census

[xv] Daniel Brettig – “Ponting attacks CA’s BBL hype” – http://www.espncricinfo.com/the-ashes-2013/content/story/654537.html

Those Were The Days – Farewelling an Old Friend in Australia’s Battle for Cricket Media Rights

In 1968 Mary Hopkins famously sang “those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end”.

It’s a timeless song and one that seems so apt today amidst media reports today suggesting Channel 9’s 33 year hold over the broadcasting of Australian cricket is becoming increasingly tenuous in the face of a contractual dispute with Cricket Australia and a strong bid from a rival network to wrest the rights away from their spiritual home.

For those of my vintage, since our early formative years, the sights and sounds of the summer have been inexorably linked to the sights and sounds of Richie, Bill, Chappelli and the late Tony Greig, their innovations such as the Weather Wall, Stump Cam, Classic Catches, and of course Richie’s range of sartorial jackets.

To imagine a summer without them, and the new faces interwoven into the coverage, could scarcely have been contemplated just a few short months ago, but it now appears that we may soon be introduced to a whole new series of friends on the 10 Network, in addition to a greatly expanded number of matches on free to air television.

Feels strange doesn’t it ? But, it seems almost inevitable that we should prepare for the loss of our dear and faithful cricketing companion if we can believe the financial offers reported.

Presently Channel 9 pays $45m annually for the contractual rights to broadcast all international cricket in Australia, including Tests, One Day Internationals, and T20 Internationals – allowing for inflation over the 7 year period of the present contract, this amounts to $52m in today’s dollars.

Supplementing this, on a recently updated deal, Fox Sports (Australia) currently pays $12m annually for the rights to all domestic competitions in Australia which includes the Ryobi Cup, Big Bash League and Sheffield Shield final.

So, adjusted for inflation, the present value of the rights is somewhere in the region of $64m annually, which over the 5 year term sought by CA, equates to $320m.

Network 10 has emerged as the main bidder in competition to Channel 9 after it recently finalised a period of exclusive negotiation with CA. Initial media reports suggested that their bid was in the region of $70m annually and would include both international AND domestic cricket in Australia, representing a 22% improvement on the current arrangement, with additional benefit of expanding the viewing audience for the BBL and domestic cricket, consistent with one of CA’s stated corporate objectives.

However, the Australian Financial Review is now reporting that the Network 10 bid is actually a $100m annual deal with additional contra contributions of $50m. If this report can be believed it would mark an extraordinary commercial outcome for CA and the game in general, representing a near doubling of annual broadcast rights revenue.

Network 10 has the cash but few viewers, where conversely Channel 9 enjoy vastly superior ratings but a far inferior financial position. As an all-inclusive bid, Network 10’s offer is a clever move, given that the existing domestic rights holder, Fox Sports (Australia), and Channel 9 are refusing to include coverage of the Ryobi Cup and Shield final, although both have submitted bids to televise the BBL. It is also an offer that the financially beleaguered Channel 9 may struggle to match, having recently been forced to enter into a complex series of arrangements with creditors and private equity partners to secure the debt-laden network’s future, in addition to paying a significant premium to retain the rights to rugby league coverage.

Under the terms of the current contract Channel 9 has first and last rights providing that they can match the ‘comparable’ offer of any rival bidder. The definition of ‘comparable’ is being hotly disputed by both Channel 9 and CA and reports have emerged today that the matter will be decided in a court action brought by CA after talks between the parties failed to resolve the impasse.

Channel 9 will argue that their first and last rights under the existing contract pertain ONLY to international matches, and that coverage of domestic cricket is covered under separate agreements. This will have the effect of muddying the waters around exactly what Network 10 has actually bid for these matches and no doubt reduce the annual figure Channel 9 would need to pay to match it and thereby retain the rights.

In such a scenario it is unlikely that they would be able to be the highest bidder for the BBL rights and Network 10 would emerge as the likely victor given its need for ratings and CA’s strategy of gaining both an improved financial return and viewing audience for the BBL.

CA will likely argue that it is their right to countenance all encompassing bids and that Channel 9 retains a first and last rights option to such a bid. If their action is successful, it will pose a very great financial strain on the incumbent, one which their balance sheet and financial shareholders might not be willing to take on regardless of their burden of history.

Clearly there is a lot at stake over coming weeks and ultimately the outcome of the court action will play a pivotal role in the end result, but for now these are clearly troubling times for the incumbent whose hold on the rights is surely more tenuous than at any time during its history.

The nation will be watching proceedings closely but given all of this it might finally be time to sadly farewell some dear old friends.

Until next time …. that is stumps.

A Tribute to Australian Test Cricket’s ANZACS

I will be out of the country on Thursday, but like all Australians my thoughts will turn in some way to the sacrifices made by our servicemen in wars across more than a century in defence of our nation and the principles of freedom and democracy.

Over 136 years of Test cricket, 433 players have had the distinction of wearing the ‘baggy green’. This piece is about a very small number of these men, in fact just 16, who served their country on active overseas service during war. Some returned to, or commenced their cricketing careers, some did not play Test cricket again, and some tragically did not return home at all.

For a young and emerging nation, still very much part of the British Empire, thousands of young Australians enthusiastically enlisted for active duty in the ‘Great War’, serving with distinction in all theatres of war, from the murderous Gallipoli peninsula, to the sodden vermin-infested trenches of France and Belgium, in blazing heat and bitter frost and in everything in between.

The era saw a certain glory in war and sacrifice, although attitudes changed and became more weary as the conflict dragged inexorably on, and the news of the deaths of sons, brothers, fathers and uncles came with increasingly regularity.

As a nation Australia saw an opportunity to prove its mettle and surely few nations sacrificed as much or as willingly as this embryonic little nation, thousands of miles and many months removed from the battlegrounds, a nation of almost 5,000,000 people who somehow saw almost 10% of its entire population enlist, and half of whom were either killed in battle, wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

Our sportsmen, and in particular our cricketers, were not immune from the conflict or the enthusiasm to participate, and nor were they immune to the horrors of it.

Albert “Tibby” Cotter was one of the finest bowlers of the ‘Golden Age’ of cricket, playing in 21 Tests between 1904 and 1912. He had stopped playing Test cricket at the time due to disputes over management and selection of the team, but he was still a fit man at the age of 31.

Taken by the patriotic fervour of the age, “Tibby”, despite his limited ability, enlisted in the 1st Australian Light Horse in April 1915 in something of a coup for recruitment spruikers who could point to the example of a famous sportsman to encourage others to make a similar commitment.

He set sail soon after and saw active duty during the latter stages of the Gallipoli campaign. Following the ‘tactical’ withdrawal, he then transferred to the 12th Light Horse where he received an official commendation for courage under fire during the second battle of Gaza.

Tragically Albert Cotter was shot dead at close range some months later when, on 31 October 1917, he was carrying out his duties as a stretcher-bearer as part of a group that had captured Beersheba. He was the only Australian Test cricketer killed in WWI and shortly before heading to the front that day it is rumoured a rolled his arm over to deliver an item to someone and with eerie premonition proclaimed that it would probably be the last ball he bowled as he had a bad feeling about what was to come.

Slightly more fortunate was Bert Oldfield, a man who famously played in 54 Tests as a wicket keeper between 1920 and 1937, a number of Tests that exceeded the number of any other Australian during that period.

However, this record very nearly did not happen as Oldfield suffered extremely serious wounds and almost died at Polygon Wood in 1918 when buried for some time under rubble following a bombardment of his mission. Oldfield recovered, with the aid of a steel plate in his head, famously struck during the Bodyline series, to enjoy a marvellous career as well as serve his nation again during active service in WWII rising to the rank of major.

For some the ‘Great War’ saw an interruption to careers that had started to blossom during the ‘Golden Age’, most notably for Charles Kelleway and Charlie Macartney.

I can find little information about the service record of Charles Kelleway who played for his country in 26 Tests between 1910 and 1928 as a sound top-order batsman. What is known is that he ended the War with the rank of captain and served in the Middle East, and that he was the captain of the Services cricket team formed immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

Macartney on the other hands was regarded as one of Australia’s finest early players and was a player much admired and watched by Bradman for his inventiveness and stroke play. He enlisted in the AIF in January 1916 and was posted to the western front, arriving in France in July 1917 where he served with the 3rd Division Artillery and where he was recognised with a Meritorious Service Medal for gallantry and reached the rank of corporal.

Macartney is unusual in that he is one of the few players to have played either side of a war to have become a better player after the hostilities. Overall he played 35 Tests between 1907 and 1926 but transformed himself from a middling all-rounder prior to the conflict, to one of the great batsmen of his age.

Herbert Collins enlisted in the 1st AIF in 1915 as part of the reinforcements for the Australian Light Horse Brigade, serving in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns before seeing action on the western front where he would cart ammunition to artillery units at the front.

After the War, “Herbie” went on to play 19 Tests between 1921 and 1926, captaining his country on 11 occasions. He was a highly regarded batsman who scored 4 centuries at an average of 45.06 as well as a highly gifted rugby league player as part of the Eastern Suburbs 1911 premiership team.

Our final player to have served in the ‘Great War’ is Dr Roy Park who served as a medic and captain from July 1917 with the Australian Army Medical Corps. Prior to the War, Park was a very fine VFL footballer with University, Footscray and Melbourne, who switched his focus to cricket upon his return. He only played the one Test for his country, unfortunately recording a first ball duck and a solitary over of spin to show for it, but interestingly was the father-in-law of Ian Johnson who went on to captain Australia.

Like his father-in-law, Johnson also served during war, enlisting in the RAAF in March 1941 and seeing action as a Flight Lieutenant in the Pacific with the No 22 Squadron .

Following his return home, Johnson went on to play 45 Tests for his county as an off-spin bowler and took 109 wickets. He enjoyed the great honour of captaining his country between 1953 and 1956, before retiring after leading his side to consecutive Ashes defeats.

The man he replaced, Lindsay Hassett, also saw active service with the 2nd AIF in the Middle East and New Guinea. Prior to the war he had just commenced his international career and, as its only capped player, he was given the honour of leading the Australian Services team in the Victory Tests, a series that heralded the arrival of a very special talent in the form of Keith Miller.

Hassett went on to play 43 Tests in which he scored 10 centuries at a very fine average of 46.46. He captained Australia for 4 years until forfeiting the Ashes in 1953 for the first time since 1934, as well as famously being vice captain of Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles, one of the finest teams ever assembled.

Many of that team had seen active service  during WWII and for Bill Brown it marked the end of his career in reality. Brown was one of our more loved Test players in his 22 Tests and was a formidable opening batsman prior to the outbreak of hostilities averaging just under 50. However, after serving with the RAAF in New Guinea and the Philippines, he returned a shadow of his former self, and lost his spot to the pairing of Sid Barnes and Arthur Morris.

Morris had also served in the Pacific from 1943 as a private in the AIF, primarily in the transport corps in New Guinea and he went on to be named as a member of the Australian Team of the Century as he compiled 3,533 runs at 46.48 across 46 Tests between 1946 and 1955, including 12 centuries and famously outscoring Bradman in the Tests of the Invincibles tour.

Doug Ring and Colin McCool played only a small role in the overall triumph of the Invincibles – in fact McCool only played in the tour matches, however both were talented players who might have played more often in a different era.

Both served with distinction during WWII, with McCool stationed for 4 years in New Guinea with No 33 RAAF Squadron and rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and Ring also seeing action in New Guinea with an anti-aircraft regiment.

The Invincibles tour also brought together one of Australia’s finest ever opening bowling combinations in Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, two men who will always be a part of the discussions on our greatest team, and two men who had survived the horrors of war.

Lindwall was a prodigious talent, equally adept at rugby league where he played for the famous St George club and was the competition’s leading scorer, who showed remarkable determination to serve. Initially rejected from enlisting in the RAAF due to an exemption for employees of the company he worked for, Lindwall quit his job and  joined the army where he served in an anti-aircraft and fortress unit based at Port Moresby, came under fire while arriving, and contracted malaria.

All that aside, Lindwall also famously used his down time to perfect his run-up between two palm trees. He obviously managed this well, taking 228 wickets at 23.03 in 61 Tests to become one of our greats.

His partner in crime was the handsome, dashing Keith Miller who announced himself on the Victory Tour of England.

Miller, who was also a very fine VFL footballer for St Kilda, served with the RAAF in Europe where he flew bombing missions over enemy lines, before debuting as a Test player. Miller bowled with extreme pace and was a hard-hitting batsman who compiled a tremendous record over 55 Tests to become Australia’s greatest all-rounder, and one of the greatest of all time.

Surely his experiences in battle, held aloft in a potential tin coffin, tempered his approach to the game and to life itself – a rebellious, carousing, entertaining approach that placed the love of the contest as the primary reason to play rather than victory itself, after all as he famously said “pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, cricket is not”.

It is a point worth remembering either as a player or member of the crowd, especially considering the sacrifices of “Tibby” Cotter and Ross Gregory, a prodigiously talented young man who debuted for Victoria prior to leaving school and played 2 Tests at the age of 21, who was sadly killed in action in his aircraft over what is now Bangladesh.

I apologise for anyone that I may not have mentioned – it would be a genuine oversight and please let me know about them.

But finally, whether you are at the dawn service, watching the march, playing two-up at the pub or RSL, or doing something else, please take a moment to think about and acknowledge our servicemen and women – you may know or be related to some personally, and you certainly know of a few more now and a contribution they made that is far broader than cricket.

So when Anzac Day rolls around on Thursday raise a glass and give them a toast. I know I will be, and until next time …. that is stumps.

The Forgotten Men – A New Deal in Australian Cricket’s Great Depression

A great pall has been cast over a once great cricket nation the likes of which have not been seen since those despairing and parlous times of the mid-1980’s. Indeed it might be termed another ‘Great Depression” at least in the sense of hopelessness that has invaded the very soul of many a fan.

History can be a great teacher, and seeking inspiration, I read a little about how US President Franklin D Roosevelt dealt with such challenging circumstances in the 1930’s. In particular I was reminded of his famous ‘The Forgotten Man’ speech of 1932, and in it I found a number of phrases that could apply to the circumstances Australian cricket face today, so much so that I can almost imagine them coming from the mouth of Allan Border.

Accordingly I have taken a little journalistic licence and come up with AB’s State of the Union Address, selected highlights of which are ‘quoted’ below.

“[28] years ago my public duty called me to an active part in a great national emergency, [rebuilding the Australian cricket team] … In my calm judgement, [we] face today a more grave emergency than in [1985].

It is said that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because he forgot his infantry – he staked too much upon the more spectacular but less substantial cavalry. The present [NSP] provides close parallel. It has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our [cricket] army.

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten … that put their faith once more in the forgotten man [atop the Shield pyramid] … It is high time to get back to fundamentals. It is high time to admit with courage that we are in the midst of an emergency at least equal to that of war. Let us mobilise to meet it.”

These words, from so many years ago, seem to tap into a way of thinking once so prevalent in our cricketing ethos, namely that years of hard graft and consistency of results in our premier domestic competition were a prerequisite to attaining a childhood dream of a precious baggy green.

So today I set off on a quest to find those “forgotten men” based on performances over the past three Shield seasons, and to perhaps offer some alternative solutions for Australian cricket moving forward.

Luke Butterworth (Tasmania)

Perhaps there is no more forgotten cricketer in Australia than this unassuming fast-medium all-rounder from Hobart.

Since his debut in 2007, Butterworth has played 61 FC matches taking 205 wickets, including eight 5WI, at 23.55 with an excellent strike rate (51.4) and economy rate (2.74). He has also handily added two centuries and nine 50s while amassing 2,319 runs at 27.28 batting anywhere between 6 and 9 in the order.

Crucially he has scored many of these runs in big games and in three Shield finals he has scored 66 and 106 in 2007, 88 in 2011, and then 86 and 17 in this year’s decider. This, combined with his bowling in all of these victories, shows terrific temperament and fight and a sense of rising to the occasion which is needed in Test cricket.

However, most importantly of all, he is one of only three players (the others being James Faulkner and Michael Hogan) to feature in the top 10 wicket takers for the Shield competition for each of the last three seasons. Indeed no player has taken more than Butterworth’s 121 wickets at 20.22 over the past three years at the excellent strike rate of 48.4 and economy rate of 2.49.

Butterworth is getting better as a player and his useful swing and accurate seam bowling, combined with handy batting and sound temperament, mean he should be anything but forgotten. Indeed, he may be a great metaphor for the malaise affecting our cricket in that his outstanding and consistent performances have rated him barely a mention as a possible Australian player.

Rob Quiney (Victoria)

Some might say he is best forgotten given his performances against the South Africans last summer, but in many respects the selectors got his initial selection right.

Rob Quiney had been in and out of the Victorian team for quite some time and had been at best a modest performer prior to a breakthrough season in 2010/11, indeed his overall FC record of 3,445 from 60 matches at an average of 36.26 is certainly unremarkable to say the least.

But, and here is the kicker, over the past three seasons Rob Quiney has scored more Shield runs AND at a better average than any player recently brought into the team or discussed as a candidate with 1,957 runs at 45.51 with 5 centuries.

Prior to his selection last summer, in the previous 2 seasons Quiney had finished as the second highest run scorer in both years and his total of 1,662 runs at 51.94 during this time was more than anyone else. So yes he was worthy of a call up and it might be said that he deserved a more extended opportunity to show his talents against the Sri Lankans rather than being a crash test dummy for Phil Hughes against the mighty South African pace attack. In fact prior to his debut it is arguable that Quiney had a better and more consistent case than Cowan for inclusion, and steady Eddie is hardly setting the world on fire since selection.

James Faulkner (Tasmania)

Well he is probably not forgotten given his elevation to the pyjama cricket ranks this summer, but James Faulkner absolutely deserves mention as a serious Test candidate, not just for his fiesty approach, but mostly due to his bloody terrific FC record.

In each of the past three seasons he has finished as one of the ten leading Shield wicket takers and his total of 114 during this period has come at the wonderful average of 21.16 and the even more impressive strike rate of 42.2.

Oh, and the guy can bat a bit as can be seen by his performance in the Shield final and overall record of 1,252 runs at 29.11. How he was considered a lesser all-rounder than Henriques or Maxwell for the recent Indian debacle is beyond me.

Mark Cosgrove (Tasmania)

Certainly Mark looks like he might enjoy a little too much of the sponsors product (for those slower on the uptake I mean VB and KFC) to fit in with the metrosexuals Watto, Patto and Clarkey, vegan Siddle, and even studious Ed, however only one player has scored more the big man’s 1,937 runs at 43.04 in Shield cricket over the past three seasons.

With three centuries and twelve 50s, Cosgrove has appeared in the top ten run scorers in two of the past three Shield seasons, a feat only matched by five other players (NO player has appeared in the top ten run scorers for all three summers). In fact his numbers are quite comparable with two young tyros in Phil Hughes (1,558 runs at 43.27 with four centuries) and the invisible tourist Usman Khawaja (1,311 at 43.70 with three centuries).

An experienced player with 120 FC matches to his credit, Cosgrove could surprise if given an opportunity. Perhaps the fact he is not often mentioned in dispatches could be another example of the “cavalryman” being preferred to the “infantryman”.

Chris Rogers (Victoria)

Perhaps not exactly forgotten, but there is only one player still available for Australian selection (unbelievably it is David Hussey) with a better FC average than this redoubtable and vastly experienced opening batsman who has scored 18,962 runs at 49.90 in a FC career that includes 58 centuries across a 14 year career spanning some 231 matches.

During the past three seasons, Rogers has featured in the top ten Shield run scorers for the past two seasons, scoring 1,741 runs at 41.45 with six centuries. What makes Rogers such a remarkable case is not only his even better FC record in English conditions, but the fact that even at the ripe old age of 35, his season Shield average has improved every year of the past three and has occupied a higer position on the run scoring charts each year.

In a war does age really matter, or do you need your best fit men to take up the battle ? Surely we are not so flush with talent that a man such as Chris Rogers could not be a pivotal part of the discussion re our cricketing future over the next few years ?

Australian Spin Bowling

Truly the forgotten men – do they even exist ? It hardly comes as a surprise that we are unable to find a reliable partner for Nathan Lyon and resort to project players and those who have a certain ‘X factor’, given that no spinner has taken more than 26 wickets in a Shield season over the past three years, and that was Michael Beer, an honest journeyman at best (O’Keefe has taken 55 wickets in that time with 24 this season being his best effort).

I am not sure whether this is a statement on the quality of spinners, their lack of opportunity and selection,pitch bias, or something else entirely, but the reality is that no one has truly earned a right to selection so for the moment they will remain the forgotten men.

And then there are a couple of other players who might be best termed as the great pretenders, players who have been mentioned in dispatches but whose cases for inclusion are not really supported by the evidence.

First cab off the rank is Alex Doolan from Tasmania. Supposedly a wonder child Doolan has a modest FC average of 37.92 with just 5 centuries. This is remarkably consistent with his record over the past three Shield seasons where he has amassed 1,684 runs at 37.42 with just 2 centuries. Indeed his return of 715 runs at 42.05 marks his best season in the last three, hardly the mark of a Test player yet.

Then there is young Joe Burns from Queensland. Over the past three seasons he has scored 1,649 runs at 40.21 with five centuries which is acceptable, however in each season his average has gone backwards with last season’s 587 runs at 32.61, not the form of a Test aspirant.

Make no mistake these are desperate times fo Australian cricket and we face a prolonged war for The Ashes and the climb to reaching number one in the world again.

To succeed we will very likely need to call upon our infantry, the forgotten men of Shield cricket.

Until next time … that is stumps.