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Cricket's day of reckoning is here

TEST cricket is in crisis in Australia. The team has not coped well with the loss of a generation of gifted champions led by Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. Since their retirement, Australia has crashed from first to fifth in the world Test rankings. The record-breaking era of dominance from 1995 to 2007, when Australia won 35 Test series and lost only five, is a receding memory. Australia has won only five of its past 11 series, and the insipid performance during last summer's ...

TEST cricket is in crisis in Australia. The team has not coped well with the loss of a generation of gifted champions led by Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. Since their retirement, Australia has crashed from first to fifth in the world Test rankings. The record-breaking era of dominance from 1995 to 2007, when Australia won 35 Test series and lost only five, is a receding memory. Australia has won only five of its past 11 series, and the insipid performance during last summer's Ashes matches provided stark evidence of the decline in quality at the elite level.

The game's governing body, Cricket Australia, is to be congratulated for commissioning a review to seek to find out what has gone wrong and what should be done about it. That review, headed by business leader Don Argus and informed by successful former captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, has laid bare structural and cultural problems that must be confronted if the Australian Test team is to retain the affection of future generations of fans and potential players.

The Argus report, released last Friday, finds Australia's basic cricket skills are lacking. Our batsman, it says, have lost the ability to occupy the crease for long periods, and technique against the swinging and spinning ball is inadequate. Our bowlers are unable to build pressure on opposing teams by adhering to an agreed plan for any extended period. Fielding, especially catching and "general athleticism", is also in marked decline, a commentary on the attitude and professionalism of the elite squad.

Perhaps more damning is the finding that modern Australian cricket is infected by a culture of indulged mediocrity. "Players can make a very comfortable living without necessarily achieving excellence," the report says. "Today's players are being paid substantially more in real terms than their counterparts in the dominant teams of recent times, despite far inferior results."

The Argus prescription is welcome. He calls for increased professionalism and accountability at the top of the sport. For the first time, the chairman of selectors will be a full-time job. Player payments will be more closely aligned to individual and team performances. And, in this age of lucrative Twenty20 franchise cricket, the pre-eminence of five-day Test cricket will be reaffirmed.

Any search for "the next Shane Warne" is doomed to disappoint he was unique. But the Argus report is a solid foundation for Australian cricket's quest for a Test team that can once again be the pride of this sports-loving nation.


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