A warning call for Australia

AUSTRALIA'S easy defeat by Sri Lanka should be the warning call they so urgently need. It is amazing how history so often repeats itself.

After losing to Sri Lanka in the final of the World Cup in Lahore in 1996 Australia decided to change the tactics which had given them the proud record of a 65 per cent win ratio for the previous 10 years.

Very quickly they went into a decline that saw their win ratio down to 45 per cent.

It was only just before the 1999 World Cup that they took stock of their results and added a couple of solid players. And after a slow start to that tournament they regrouped and went on to win it, playing good old sensible cricket with commonsense.

It certainly has not been a once bitten twice shy attitude with the Aussies, for immediately after they won in 1999 they began once again to try and reinvent the one-day wheel.

All out attack has been the loudly proclaimed option from the Aussie camp and while they have had some success in the last 12 months the wheels have been decidedly wobbly.

They failed to qualify for the finals in the World Series tournament against South Africa and New Zealand after thrashing them in the Test series and now they have been humbled by Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy after having won the vital toss on a very dusty, dry wicket.

Their tactics were suicidal. While Matthew Hayden got away to a blazing start he played too many shots which were just not on.

The shots he and Adam Gilchrist were out to in the first overs of spin and without even a thought of what the spinners might do were arrogant to the extreme.

Most of the other batsmen's dismissals were just as bad.

Australia has been the dominating nation in world cricket for many years because they have played controlled cricket and stayed within their capabilities.

In one-day cricket I believe they are exceeding their limits. Their frantic shot-making is more often than not pre-determined, and must lead to trouble. While the wickets are flat and the bowling not particularly good you can get away with it, but when they are not then you are looking for trouble.

It is my belief that the Australian selectors must look at the batting, for there are far too many strokemakers and not enough solid batsmen who can steady the ship and bat through the innings when things get tough.

While Michael Bevan has won the reputation as the best finisher in the game in one-day cricket, he has struggled at the higher, number 5 position, where bowlers who now can bowl one bouncer an over have been peppering him with short deliveries.

I have been concerned for some time about the pre-occupation of resting players for the future. Burnout is the 'in' phrase these days. If you ask if it has gone too far, I would say, 'Yes, Yes, Yes'.

All players have said that they want to be full-time professional performers. This is a noble and enjoyable desire but one that also carries responsibility and commitment.

If a player wants to be a full-time, well-paid cricketer he must be prepared to play at his best all the time. I don't think it is reasonable to rest players just because you might extend their careers. That is not what professional sport is all about. You want them to perform at their peak on call.

I wonder frequently also with Australian players reaching, shall I say a mature age, whether the concern for the future is affecting planning for the present.

It is very noticeable that the Australian teams practice the skills of the game far less. In fact it has been suggested to me that they are only working at a rate of 70 to 75 per cent on what used to be the norm.

While they still take some wonderful catches, they are also dropping far more than they did.

In addition, the errors percentage on their ground fielding has rocketed. The only remedy for this is to put in the hard yards on the practice field.

Inevitably, the first thing that suffers in great teams in decline is the fielding. When players get older they don't have the desire to put in the same hard work that led to their success.

This decline is also bad for youngsters who will quickly follow the lead of their seniors!

I was very surprised that the Australian team took a three-day break for a rest in the Maldives.

It was obvious that the wicket for the semi-final would be dry and spinning. Australia are not particularly good against this type of attack and would have benefited greatly from time in the nets. Particularly, as the players provided as practice bowlers by the Sri Lanka officials were the best I have ever seen. Many of them were spinners who could easily hold down a spot in first class cricket and even the Test arena.