17 June 2013

Opinion: Where do we go from here? Australia's leadership issue

As Australia lost possession of the Champions Trophy and exited the tournament before the semi-finals for the first time since 2000, it also highlighted something worrying amidst some internal dramas dating back to the Indian tour in March.

Michael Clarke was ruled out of the Champions Trophy campaign due to a degenerate back condition he has. He also missed the 2009 edition of this tournament and, for the first time in his career, missed a Test match. The match he missed was the final Test of the forgettable Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but something major was noticeable. The lack of leadership in the Australian camp is obvious. 

- If you missed the Ashes squad analysis article, you can read it via this link.
- Who is in the battle to open the batting for Australia in the Ashes? Read it now to find out!
- What conditions can be expected at the Ashes venues? Look into the analysis.

- Our 2013 Champions Trophy squad and the SWOT analysis? Catch up on it via this link.

Last night I watched a show on Fox Sports. It was an hour long feature with Clarke in an exclusive interview with Eddie McGuire, which also took an up close and personal look into a day in the life of Clarke prior to a big series. I have never doubted how hard an Australian sportsman works and have witnessed the Australian Cricket team train in the most challenging of circumstances. Lead by Ricky Ponting – although no longer the captain at the time - the players worked like dogs and systematically ensured each player was doing their part but there was a strong, pure sense of support.

On his own Clarke is highly motivated, positive and focused on his duties as a professional sportsman. He is a good captain and is the best man for the job with all the qualities needed. His application to the game can never be questioned and this feature on him made this apparent, especially with the steps he takes to ensure his body is strong and in the best possible shape. This is now more important than ever due to an injury he has kept at bay for the better part of his career, but now it’s becoming a challenge to overcome series in, series out.

Clarke has tried to be a leader on a mission to make his own legacy, stamp his own authority while also attempting to find a balance between his style and what he was exposed to when he was a member of the greatest Australian team of the modern era. It is proving to be even more difficult and this is becoming clear with the lack of leadership personalities coming through the current crop of players.

I have always written objectively and constructively where possible. I respect our players and have always avoided “trash talking” or being overly-critical, especially if it may be seen as a personal criticism of a player’s character. If you couldn’t say it to the person, don’t say it at all, or in this case write it. However, for this article I will be coming through perhaps as less reserved than previous years, always backing our team through thick and thin.

George Bailey’s attitude is refreshing. In Clarke’s absence he was seen as the best option. Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting have departed, while Brad Haddin is now a Test specialist for what’s left of his career. The option is limited to Bailey who is now an experienced leader of the Tasmanian Tigers. He seems a happy-go-lucky chap, who has a smile or a grin on his face most of the time, but he also seems handicapped in his efforts with a side that has a long way to go to find a sense of unity on the playing field to establish a winning culture. His grin during the Champions Trophy seemed to be more of a mask to hide the embarrassment and possible frustration at the side’s lack of venom.

Bailey is a suitable ODI leader, but who backs Clarke for Tests? ©PA Sport
Despite criticism he has taken for not being a specialist limited over’s player, it would seem his average and consistency begs to differ. Besides being the best suited player to lead in Clarke’s absence, he’s also proving to be one of the few batsmen to show consistency and aggression with the bat in hand. This just adds proof that while he may not be the long term solution, he is at least showing leadership credibility and maintaining his form.

I just mentioned Bailey isn’t a long term solution. Who will be the next guy then? It’s always the million dollar question and foresight is a difficult thing in the game of cricket.

Michael Clarke is, in my opinion, not going to be playing cricket for much longer.

Sure, he may be 32 years of age, but his back is flaring up more than ever and cricket schedules are not becoming easier to manage. He is the leader of the Test and ODI squad and a replacement to take the weight off his shoulders isn’t becoming a clear vision at this point.

Clarke has also made mention that he will most probably not play into his late thirties as most players have been able to do so, not just because of the three degenerative discs in his back, but also a change of opinion. He’s a married man, a family man, and has the entrepreneur drive in him, probably enhanced through his relationship with James Packer. He has a future beyond the game and this game carries enough pressures.

In an interview he gave last year, Clarke stated the following:

"Unfortunately degeneration, it can't improve, so it's about now managing my condition.
"I'd love to see this team have success, achieve everything it wants to achieve. And then I think that is time for me to give the reins to somebody else and go and start the other side of life I guess - get involved in some sort of business and have a family and do all the things that are special to me and I still want to do when my cricket career is over."

Perhaps a miracle performance from his Test squad may see back to back Ashes victories leave one final task – to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. In the exclusive interview with Eddie McGuire, at the end of the interview when asked what is left for Clarke he pointed these three objectives out. To me, that would indicate that come 2015 Clarke will be calling it a day. He will be 34 years of age.

By this stage we may have seen younger emerging players such as; Joe Burns, Nic Maddinson, Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar and Chadd Sayers become centered within their career progression and potential leadership abilities. Our current crop of players may have found success to find an unsourced sense of inspiration to become leaders in the Australian Cricket landscape. It is a big dream at the moment, but I’d like to believe Michael Clarke can do something to reel in a group of leaders, just as Shane Warne did so when he earmarked Clarke as something special for the game.

Leading up to Steve Waugh’s retirement, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne were all potential leaders to take over. Amongst them were strong minded individuals who could have also chiselled those characters into larger than life players. In fact, this is what happened. Besides being a group of unbelievable cricketers, they also had a bond on the field to tap into each other’s skills with deep insight and a surreal self-belief in any situation. It was a winning culture, groomed through leadership.

This year’s back-to-back Ashes series is quite possibly going to be one of the most important chapters for Australian Cricket looking ahead. A winning culture creates winning personalities, but to get there is another battle many sides just don’t achieve. Victory and self-belief is in the Australian sporting culture, so no excuses should be made up that these players don’t have it if this culture still exists.

This is an optimistic appeal, but in the present sense it’s a tunnel with little light. In my Ashes preview I maintained that we can most definitely win back the Ashes urn, and still do. My doubt however is regarding leadership.

David Warner was backed by Michael Clarke as a competitive bloke with definite leadership qualities. Unluckily, or possibly fortunately, Warner has cracked under pressure for a place in the Test side and a series of poor decision making dating back a few months now has put his leadership future under serious question. He could turn it around like Ricky Ponting did, but that’s speculation. In the present, he is not looking like a leader of the Australian team, especially with his inconsistent performances in all forms of the game at the elite level.

Clarke (left) with David Warner, who is losing grip to be a leader © Getty Images

The problem with the Warner incident in England is that several players were alongside him, out at an early hour and in a situation with the opposition that leaders like Allan Border or Steve Waugh would have been nauseated by. Clarke strongly opposed the situation and when I read his opinion over the matter I felt for him. He’s leading a side in a challenging enough time for our team and now has to deal with players not only finding themselves in questionable circumstances but also not ticking the leadership and responsibility boxes next to their names – despite Clarke believing at the same time that Australian Cricket is in a fantastic place. It also just puts a dent into Clarke's efforts to be the best captain possible with players behaving this way in a professional setting.

Phillip Hughes is battling for consistency four years following his Test debut series in South Africa. Despite Clarke’s admiration for Hughes, I have had three encounters with Hughes that gave me the impression he is anything but a leader based on his public profile. Sometimes a player has a personality that screams “leadership” or there is a sixth sense that they could be the next leader. Hughes doesn’t have this and while it is my opinion, I feel strongly about this.

Ed Cowan is pushing his case with dedication to his game and he’s also taken the initiative to work hard in the County circuit to ensure he is ready for the Ashes to take guard against the new ball. This is something I respect and wish to see him flourish this series in the absence of Simon Katich. Cowan has definitely pushed his case to be a leader but he has come across as being a “teacher’s pet”, or as some may say in a cheekier way, a “brown noser”. His close relationship with his media mates gives him leverage and is a fairly smart tactic. Keep the journalists and media opinion makers close to you! Cowan isn’t the long term solution and even if he is to get an opportunity following consistent performances.

Shane Watson is at the same career stage with Clarke and has many more battles regarding his body. Having stepped down from the vice-captaincy role after the horrid Indian tour, it’s a closed door for Watson to lead Australia. His personal game requires so much attention and focus that this burden would be too much to handle.

Bowlers rarely get considered for captaincy roles. Daniel Vettori of New Zealand is a rare candidate in this regard and learnt from Stephen Fleming, one of the best of the modern game.

Peter Siddle has so much heart and passion for this game. It is a reason that makes him so hard to leave out of a starting XI. How good is his cricketing mind? I am not certain but I am not sure he’d be the captaincy material to do what Clarke does. Of all the bowlers he is the best pick.

Matthew Wade has been boosted by Clarke as a young man with a strong personality. Despite being the second keeper of choice for the Ashes, he understood the reasoning and has an objective now. He needs to become a better wicket-keeper and has the opportunity to hone in on his leadership qualities. Is he the best solution though and a realistic one to take over from Clarke? He’s had an inconsistent entrance into the elite level. Then again, who is being consistent?

George Bailey is the only player that comes to mind with regards to consistency. It is a worrying sign looking ahead. It is also a big reason why Chris Rogers was called into our Ashes squad.

Tim Paine was being groomed with leadership duties, having also lead Australia A. He still has a way to go with his return after a finger injury kept him out for the majority of last season.

Callum Ferguson struck me as a player who could have been groomed into a Michael Bevan/ Michael Hussey player of sorts with a capacity to become a senior in the side. He has become a bit of an outcast though for selection, much to my mixed feelings of disappointment and anger as a result.

Michael Klinger has lead South Australia, won the State Player of the Year award twice at the Allan Border Medal Awards, but never received the opportunity to represent Australia. His time is far gone despite doing a good job in the County circuit. Cameron White was even in the waiting seat with his leadership of Victoria, but sadly inconsistency has been an issue with him (a recurring theme of our current setup) and he’s far from top of the picking list regarding Sheffield Shield performances.

For a short while I thought Victorian batsman Michael Hill may have been a future prospect after leading the Australian u19 Squad a few years back. He has recently started to show class with Victoria. He’s got a bit of work to still do in order to get onto the radar with the selectors.

So, where do we go from here in terms of leadership?

Fortunately Michael Clarke should be ready for the Ashes. Not only is he a leader but he’s also our best batsman. He’s our most consistent performer in both Test and ODI cricket and has so many achievements to his name that come the day he walks away from the game he will be an accomplished cricket, having also been a member of the greatest Australian side.

Given this we are fortunate. We also have a good Ashes squad and the sooner the off-field dramas of recent months and the Champions Trophy exit get put behind us the better it will be for all in the Australian Cricket family.

However, the question of leadership is tough as leaders are generally naturally born but there’s always going to be grooming. Who is that natural born leader in our ranks that hasn’t been identified?

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


1 comment:

livescore said...

Yes i think it is good move and there is no doubt that Australian's domestic cricket is introducing great players back to back because of their best policies in domestic cricket.