THE last time Australia lost six Tests in a row, it lost a captain with the fifth of those losses. That was Kim Hughes who wept openly at a press conference as he resigned.
He had led the team to three defeats in the Caribbean in 1984 and his team lost the first two Tests of the return series in Australia. The opposition was the mighty West Indies; Allan Border took over and suffered defeat in the third Test to complete the run of six losses. A draw broke that run of defeats, before Border led the team to victory in the final Test.
This time, after being brownwashed by India in a four-Test series and losing the first two Ashes Tests, Australia will not lose its captain. One must, however, question whether the players should shoulder all the blame for the hammerings they are taking.
The last good captain Australia had was Mark Taylor. He was a true leader and someone who could get the best out of a team, even if he was not performing at his best. He went through a prolonged form slump at one stage, but his leadership remained every bit as good.
Steve Waugh had a team that was far better than any other around the world and his captaincy was not a factor in the spate of wins that his team delivered. The same was true for Ricky Ponting for most of his career.
In the meantime, Cricket Australia had acquired new officials, management magicians who were more familiar with synergy and incentivisation, than the actual skills needed on the field. James Sutherland is a master at bizspeak but has led the organisation down a path which is unlikely to deliver the kind of talent that the national team so desperately needs.
The Sheffield Shield has been downgraded, and the emphasis is now on the Big Bash, a Twenty20 competition which is unlikely to teach anyone the skills needed for Test cricket.
After Ponting, Cricket Australia made a mistake in appointing Michael Clarke, a highly divisive figure, as captain. If there was no escaping from Clarke — who, since he hails from New South Wales, has the most powerful cricket lobby behind him — then his appointment should have been delayed for a few years until he was mature enough to handle the other players in the team.
Michael Hussey should have been made captain for two or three years and then Clarke would have been better placed to take the reins.
Appointing a foreigner as coach when there were more than one decent candidate to take the role, was also a mistake. Mickey Arthur was successful in taking South Africa to the top spot in Test cricket, and Cricket Australia assumed that the same formula would work for Australia.
There was no thought given to the circumstances under which Arthur worked in South Africa and the type of people he had to work with. After a 3-1 hammering by England in the Ashes in 2010-11, Sutherland was desperate to reverse the trend. Any winning coach would have got the job; Arthur had already worked with Western Australia so he could be paraded as a man with Australian experience.
Cricket Australia also ensured that it could be credited with “thinking outside the box”, that well-worn slogan of management magicians.
It has all, predictably, come to naught.
When four players were disciplined in India for not completing an assignment, one, Shane Watson, walked out on the team, using his wife’s delivery as an excuse. He should have been summarily sacked from the team for this – that is, if the management was serious about enforcing discipline.
Watson has been out leg-before 18 times in his last 20 innings which indicates that he has a few technical issues to sort out as well.
The cupboard is bare when it comes to players too because some have fallen victim to Clarke’s politics. Simon Katich was a good opener but was dropped because of Clarke. Usman Khawaja, the man who top-scored at Lord’s, has been kept on the sidelines because Clarke supports Phillip Hughes, who is nothing short of a joke when it comes to Test cricket.
When competence once again becomes the lone rule for picking the team, Australia will return to winning or at least being competitive. No one person, be it coach or captain or rank-and-file player, can effect that change. The culture has to change.