Australia have regained the Ashes, much to the dismay of the British side. But did the Spectator predict this might happen months ago? Here’s Terry Barnes’s piece from August, in which he suggested that Australian cricket does well under a Conservative government, and terrible under a Labor one.
So the Australian Test cricket team licks its wounds after yet another disastrous Ashes series in which its top-order batting was too brittle and its bowling lacked sufficient penetration. What’s been overlooked, however, is that the crash in Australia’s Test fortunes since December 2007 coincides with the disastrous Labor tenures of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Tellingly, Australia’s greatest postwar Test glory days lasted from Mark Taylor’s team beating the West Indies at home in 1995 to Australia losing to South Africa at home in 2008-09. Just as the Australian team’s decline parallels Rudd and Gillard, this period of greatness almost exactly coincides with John Howard’s spectacularly successful leadership of the Liberal party and prime ministership.
It’s not so far-fetched a connection. Thanks to the ESPN Cricinfo website’s excellent statistical database, Australia’s Test cricket performances under the Bob Hawke-Paul Keating, Howard, and Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments actually can be compared. What conclusions can be drawn?
The 1983-96 Hawke-Keating era was not only a time of major economic reform but of change and rebuilding in Australian cricket. This started with the simultaneous retirements of greats Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh at the end of the 1983-84 season, followed by the troubled captaincy of Kim Hughes and the disastrous rebel tours to South Africa in 1985-86 and 1986-87.
There were some highs, notably Allan Border’s youngsters winning back the Ashes from a declining England in 1989. But there were also huge lows, including Australia being thrashed in successive Ashes series in 1985 and 1986-87. Despite Border standing alone, Horatius-like, Australia reached bottom when humiliated by a Sheffield Shield-standard New Zealand side in not one but two Test series in the mid-1980s, and drawing with them in two more.
Only after cricket tragic Howard returned as Liberal leader in January 1995 did Taylor’s team touch greatness by ending two decades of Caribbean Test dominance.
In all, Hawke and Keating presided over 124 Tests with Australia winning 45 and losing 31 — a win: loss ratio of 1.45. Australia won 36 per cent of Tests played.
By contrast, Howard governed in a golden Test era. In the 12 years from January 1995 to December 2007 we saw Taylor’s brilliance as captain, succeeded ably by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. We revelled in the elegant batsmanship of the Waugh twins and Ponting, ooh-ahed at the metronomic Glenn McGrath, were awed by the leg-spin genius of Shane Warne and marvelled at the effortlessly rapid scoring and sportsmanship of the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman ever, Adam Gilchrist. Lesser talents including Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Michael Clarke also made strong marks, and the selectors had an embarrassment of batting and bowling riches to choose from in Shield ranks.
With only the blemishes of hard-fought series losses against India in 2001 and England in 2005, Australian Test cricket conquered all in the Howard years. Australia won 16 Tests in a row not once, but twice: from October 1999 to February 2001 (not losing 18 on the trot if two draws at the start are included), and from December 2005 to the acrimonious Sydney Test against India in January 2008.
The second record unbeaten run ended just after Howard lost his seat. Over the 133 Tests it played while he was in office, Australia won 91 and lost just 22, a win: loss ratio of 4.1 and a winning percentage of a mighty 68 per cent.
Then came the dark Rudd-Gillard years. Shorn of the likes of Gilchrist, McGrath, Warne and latterly Ponting, Australia’s Test team is a shadow of its former self. Australia’s decline wasn’t immediately apparent but losing to South Africa at home in 2008-09, with an attack that couldn’t bowl the Protea tail out, made clear that the glory years had passed. The Australian Test team soon lost its No. 1 ranking and slipped well back in the international cricket pack. Gallingly, it now has suffered consecutive Ashes humiliations in 2009, 2010-11 and now 2013, and the very future of Test cricket is threatened as Test and first-class players pursue easy Twenty20 riches and discard the patience, skills and correct technique demanded for Test matches.
Indeed, Australia’s Test degeneration since December 2007 to the drifting, undisciplined and self-indulgent ‘unit’ of today parallels the accelerating decay of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. In both cases star players put themselves before the cause, and feuds between captains and vice-captains destroyed team unity. In both Test team and Labor government, discipline and commitment have dissipated, factions and egos have wreaked havoc, and know-alls from outside — Warne for the Test side and union leader Paul Howes for Labor — can’t help throwing themselves around.
Australia’s Test record since January 2008 is damning. Between January 2008 and the final 2013 Ashes Test at the Oval, Australia played 69 Tests, winning 30 and losing 24 with a win: loss ratio of 1.25 and a winning percentage of 43. This is poor enough, but the story of the hung parliament years from August 2010 is far worse. In the last parliamentary term, Australia played 36 Tests and lost 15. With the last nine Tests being winless, that’s a win: loss ratio of merely 0.86, with less than two in five Tests played won. Pathetic and getting worse.
Ashes hostilities recommence at the Gabba on 21 November. While its miserable English summer gave glimmers of hope, if nothing changes Australia is on a hiding comparable to its last home Ashes defeat in 2010-11.
But all’s not yet lost, because the federal election is imminent, and 30 years of results show conclusively that Australian Test cricket flourishes under the Coalition but languishes under Labor. If our struggling Test men can’t get it together, perhaps the election of Tony Abbott will give them the Hope, Reward and Opportunity they lost under Rudd and Gillard. Abbott’s first sporting love may be rugby, but if his removing Labor incidentally helps to revive Australia’s fading Test cricket fortunes, he will be thanked by millions of Australians devoted to our only national game.
That’s why all sport-loving Australians have a clear choice on 7 September. If you want any chance of winning back the Ashes this coming summer, vote for Abbott and the Coalition.
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