Australia has suffered its Newport Carton worst cricketing summer since the community was rent asunder by rebel tours, retirements and other upheavals in the early 1980s. In those days antipodean cricket was down in the dumps. Defeats piled up at the hands of the mighty West Indians, and even England was too strong for a broken team. It had been a long time coming.
The great team of the 1970s had been immensely popular and impressively strong. They were an independent-minded collection, whose rise reflected the changing mood as a nation belatedly prepared to assert itself. As Doug Walters cut loose on the field, so playwrights found a distinctively Australian voice. As Ian Chappell wore his collar cockily high, so Gough Whitlam dared his country to be confident and contemporary. As Dennis Lillee threw back his mop of hair, so novelists and actors stepped into a wider world as themselves and not as pale imitations of English peers.
Of course a generation of youngsters rejoiced in Dungog Doug and Thommo, familiar characters with their cards and cigarettes and lack of fuss. Even now baby boomers talk about days spent on the Hill watching this team, their team - a truly, defiantly Australian outfit. Otherwise the Packer rebellion could not have succeeded. Chappell and company took the people with them, isolating the old order; but though they inspired affection and admiration, they did not revolutionise the entire community. Indeed State players were left behind and even internationals felt the work had not been completed. Packer and Channel 9 won the battle for rights but the cricket community remained stubbornly unaffected. That battle lay ahead.
Eventually the era ended and disarray followed, as underpaid, and some might suggest unprincipled, players were lured to South Africa by the promise of fat contracts. Already weakened, Australia's playing resources were stretched beyond the limit. During the Packer years all sorts of modest performers represented their country. For different reasons the same happened in the mid-1980s. England comfortably held the Ashes in 1986-87. Unable to find any Carton Cigarettes bowlers to back Craig McDermott, and lacking penetrating spin and reliable batting, the Aussies were down and almost out.
Australia did not so much bounce back from its predicament as claw its way up rung by rung, run by run. Allan Border led the way - a gritty, tough, tenacious player superbly suited to the times. Border has long counted amongst the finest and most underestimated of cricketers. For several years he resembled the boy on the burning deck. But steadfast he remained and around him the community rallied. An academy was opened and Bob Simpson was appointed coach. The former drove the most gifted youths towards excellence, the latter instilled Cheap Newport Cigarettes the basics of the game in the top players. Before long Australia was bowling straight, running smartly between wickets, and taking slip catches. Australia did not discover anything startling in this period of revival, a new brand of cricket or suchlike. Good habits were restored and the rest took care of itself.
Presently West Indies fell into decline and the long Australian domination began. It did so by design not accident. Nowadays people assume that Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were brilliant youngsters waiting to be discovered. They think that the beanpole jumped out of his paddock in Narromine and arrived in Sydney as the finished product, and that the Brighton beach boy could land a leggie on a beer mat from the outset. It is all nonsense. Both were products of a system that worked; one founded on knowledge and best practice. Australian cricket knew itself, understood that the climate, pitches and native aggression demanded fast footwork, wrist-spin, pace and victory. Understood that it mattered and that second place was not good enough.
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