India tour saves Cricket Australia as Covid-19 threatens to decimate the coffers

Australian cricket review 2020

The global pandemic uprooted the cricketing world leading to mass fixture cancellations, job losses and bio security bubbles.

Glenn Maxwell impressed in a new role batting at number 7 in the ODI side (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

When Australia began year with a comprehensive 279-run Test victory over New Zealand to complete a 3-0 series sweep at the Sydney Cricket Ground, little did they know – like the rest of the world – what would soon transpire for the majority of 2020.

In fact, the SCG has represented somewhat of a cornerstone for Australian cricket in 2020. It was at this venue when on March 13th, the hosts were first forced to play without spectators as Covid-19 spread throughout the world leading to mass border restrictions and tough lockdowns.

After plenty of toing and froing they will return to Sydney next week, hosting a Test match with a 50% capacity of supporters despite a recent coronavirus outbreak in the city. In many ways it represents a full circle for cricket in both Australia and Sydney during the current times.

Once the global pandemic began to take force postponements were inevitable and Australia’s remaining ODI fixtures with New Zealand in March as well as two Tests in Bangladesh (scheduled for June) were both quickly canned. The originally planned limited overs tour of the UK was eventually switched to September once the ECB mapped out their own way to save their international summer. While, the T20 World Cup due to be held throughout Australia and New Zealand in October was also re-scheduled.

It was, however, the fear of not being able to host a lucrative full tour of India later in the year that sent Cricket Australia (CA) and in particular rookie CEO Kevin Roberts into panic stations.

Only four days after the aforementioned March 13th fixture at the SCG, Roberts held a press conference stating that CA would be looking to make serious cutbacks to its costs despite no immediate losses in revenue. Just a month later the majority of CA staff were stood down until at least July on just 20% of their pay while Roberts and his fellow executives still carried on receiving 80% of their salaries.  

So pessimistic about the finances was Roberts, that he suggested CA could be “trading insolvent” by the scheduled beginning of the cricket summer. By the time CA went to the state associations requesting a 40% cut in annual distribution costs there was mounting opposition and disbelief – not least from New South Wales chairman John Knox.  

Things came to an abrupt head in early June and Roberts resigned from the position he had held for just 18 months – a stark contrast to his predecessor James Sutherland who held the role for 18 years. He was swiftly replaced by Nick Hockley (previously CEO of the T20 World Cup) on an interim basis.

Kevin Roberts’s tenue as Cricket Australia CEO ended in June after just 18 months in charge (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

After years of recent stand downs, resignations and retirements from the top echelons of Australian cricket, many due to the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, CA are left looking for their third permanent CEO in as many years.

Another prominent figure in Australian cricket, ACA CEO Alistair Nicholson also resigned in October after six years in the role. He was most noticeably known for his negotiating on behalf of the players during the 2016-17 MoU pay dispute with CA.   

Due to a strict bio bubble environment for the players and a lot of negotiating between CA and the BCCI, India’s tour eventually went ahead as planned with only a few tweaks along the way. Had the Indian’s not arrived down under, its estimated that CA would have stood to lose somewhere in the region of $300M.

On the pitch it was topsy turvy year for Australia. In a smaller than usual fixture list they both sparkled and flattered to deceive across all three formats.

They lost their two opening ODI series in India (2-1) and South Africa (3-0) before rebounding later in the year with impressive victories in England (2-1) and at home to the Indians (2-1), while they finished on an even keel in T20I’s with four wins and as many losses across series with South Africa, England and India.

One major plus to come out of 2020 is the form of Glenn Maxwell who had a breakout year in both limited overs formats with a new refined batting role at number seven with the flexibility to also come in earlier if required.

In Test cricket, after dominating both Pakistan and New Zealand last summer, there was real hope that a settled batting line-up would also dominate the visiting Indians. However, a groin injury sustained by David Warner during the proceeding ODI series along with the patchy form of Joe Burns, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head have left the Australians a long way short of their best with the bat.

In their three completed innings across the first two Tests, they have musted scores of just 191, 195 and 200. While the bowling got them out of a hole during the series opener in Adelaide, they weren’t so lucky during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.

The declining form of Smith is becoming a slight concern. Although he started the summer with back-to-back 62-ball hundreds in the ODI’s – his Test form has plunged since last years Ashes in England. Throughout last summer and the beginning of this, he’s averaging just 26.40 (against a career average of 61.33) from 11 innings without a three-figure score. Class is of course permanent and the smart money would be on Smith scoring his first home Test hundred in three years when the series resumes next week.

Elsewhere, their remarkable turnaround victory in Adelaide saw Mitchell Starc reach the landmark of 250 Test wickets, while Josh Hazlewood (200 wickets) and Pat Cummins (150) also hit personal milestones in the match with Nathan Lyon (394) standing on the brink of becoming just the second Australian spinner to reach 400 Test scalps.

After a man-of-the-match innings with the bat in Adelaide, Tim Paine looks set to continue as Test captain until at least after next summer’s home Ashes campaign. The 36-year-old had muted the final of the World Test Championship, due to be played at Lords in June 2021, as a potential end date but doubts remain over the staging of the showpiece event.

High Point: Bowling India out for 36 in Adelaide.

After being bowled out for an under-par 191 leaving them with a 53-run first-innings deficit, Tim Paine’s men managed a turnaround for the ages on the third day at the Adelaide Oval.

When the Australians entered the field for the third afternoon 62 runs behind with nine second innings Indian wickets still to prize out, all avenues pointed towards a day of toil ahead, instead what transpired was hardly believable.

The mighty Indian batting line-up, led by the champion Virat Kohli, were rounded up for 36 runs (their lowest ever Test innings) in only 16 overs leaving the hosts just 90 runs to chase in the final innings.

Doing the damage for the Australians was Hazlewood and Cummins who claimed staggering figures of 5-8 and 4-21 respectively.

Pat Cummins celebrates taking a wicket against India at Adelaide (Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Low Point: Getting hammered at the MCG

Apart from the devasting affect coronavirus had on the game, Australia’s lowest point of the year came quickly on the tails of their famous Adelaide victory.

With Kohli heading home for the birth of his first child and India seemingly in disarray after their display in Adelaide, many suggested they were there for the taking on Boxing Day.

However, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane had other ideas and posted a magnificent 112, helped by shoddy fielding from the home side and another poor showing with the bat – where no batsman scored at least a half century for the first time in a home Test in 32 years – the visitors strolled home to an eight-wicket victory on the fourth afternoon.

New Kid on the block: Cameron Green

A promising allrounder who bowls in the mid 140kph’s and bats in the middle order, the 21-year-old Western Australian Green made his much-anticipated Test debut in Adelaide recently, and while he didn’t pull up any trees with either bat or ball, his talent was evident for all to see.

In what was otherwise a match to forget for Australia, Green’s second innings 45 at the MCG showed great application, calm temperament and huge promise. He will look to the rest of the series to show what he’s also capable of with the ball in hand.

Fading Star: Joe Burns

Opener Burns has been awarded ample opportunity to succeed at the top of the order this summer after receiving regular backing from both the selectors and the coach Justin Langer.

With both Warner and Will Pucovski suffering untimely injuries ahead of the first Test, he was given a reprieve despite scoring just 57 runs in five innings for Queensland and five runs in four innings for Australia A leading into the series. However, after scores of just 8, 51no, 0 and 4 in his four Test innings he’s been dropped for the third Test – with just 125 runs first-class at 10.41 this season.  

Despite four Test hundreds and a solid average of just under 37, at 31-years-old Burns could perceivably have played his last Test with younger men like Pucovski waiting in the wings.

He was perhaps unlucky not to have being recalled for last year’s Ashes, when he appeared to be in the form of his life after having scored a career best 180 against Sri Lanka just months prior.

Farewell to: Dean Jones, Graeme Watson, Barry Jarman

The cricket world was immensely saddened to learn of the death of former batsman Dean Jones, who succumbed to a cardiac arrest in Mumbai in September whilst working as a commentator on the IPL.

Despite the best efforts of former Aussie quick Brett Lee, who performed CPR on the Victorian, he was later pronounced dead in hospital aged just 59.

A squash buckling batsman for his state and country in the 80’s and early 90’s, Jones was in many ways ahead of his time, partially in ODI cricket, with his dedication to fitness and running between the wickets.

He was a major part of Allan Border’s side who won the 1987 World Cup and then regained the Ashes in England in 1989.

‘Deano’ would go onto play 52 Tests averaging 46.55 and hitting 11 centuries with the highlight being a legendary 210 in Madras in 1986. He also played 164 ODI’s before retiring in 1994 and later becoming a well-renowned commentator and coach on the subcontinent.  

Former allrounder Graeme Watson died in April, aged 75. A middle order batsman and medium pace bowler, the Victorian also played AFL for Melbourne in the winter before later joining Western Australia and then New South Wales.

He made five Test appearances between 1966 and 1972 taking six wickets and scoring one fifty before ending his first-class career by signing with World Series Cricket in 1977.

South Australian Barry Jarman, a former Test wicketkeeper and captain died in July, aged 84. He made his Test debut in 1959 and would go on to become Test captain no.33 when he led his side on the 1968 Ashes tour in the absence of the injured Bill Lawry.

After several years as a backup, he became a regular Test keeper after the retirement of previous incumbent Wally Grout in 1966 and ended his career with 19 Test caps before later becoming an ICC match referee.

What 2021 holds?

Australia enter 2021 with two more Tests against India in Sydney and Brisbane with the series on the line at 1-1.

They will then head to New Zealand for their re-scheduled T20 series, before potentially touring South Africa for their first Test visit since the Newland debacle in 2018 – Although this tour will depend on the hosts providing a sufficiently safe bio secure environment.     

The T20 World Cup in India, originally slated for March, will now be held in October and November before Australia round out the year with a five Test home Ashes campaign.

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