Exactly how bad was Australia’s tour of South Africa?

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Excuse making (via Sky Sports video)

Most Test tours are bad tours these days because it is rare for any team to win away from home. That said, there are different degrees of badness. We have a faint suspicion that Australia’s recently-completed tour of South Africa might have been unusually bad. Let’s try and work out whether that really was the case.

It’s important to be methodical when you’re asking a nebulous sort of question like this, so let’s set a series of sub-questions and try and answer each of them in turn. There are no points on offer here – we aren’t going to precisely quantify the badness – but hopefully by breaking down the larger question into smaller ones, we can get a clearer idea of how things went. These are questions you could ask of any tour but in this particular instance they are being applied to South Africa v Australia.

Are you ready?

Okay, let’s go.

Did the team lose any significant players to injury, retirement or for some other reason?

Teams lose players all the time for all sorts of different reasons. Often, it’s not a problem, because the player in question is being deliberately discarded because they aren’t very good at Test cricket. Sometimes, however, their absence is keenly felt as the player leaves a vacuum that cannot be filled (even though nature famously finds such situations abhorrent).

Did Australia lose any significant players to injury? No, not really. Not in the long-term anyway. Not beyond the usual wear-and-tear on fast bowlers that occasionally sees one or another sitting out a game or two.

Did Australia lose any significant player to retirement? No, they did not. South Africa actually had a far worse series than Australia in this regard, losing Morne Morkel for that very reason.

Did Australia lose any significant player for any other reason? Yes. Yes, they did. They lost no fewer than three players thanks to a ball-tampering attempt so woeful and ineffective that the umpires didn’t even feel it necessary to penalise them five runs.

While all three players who have been lost could eventually return, you’d have to say that the side will be worse off for a decent enough period that their absence can legitimately be considered ‘a bit of a blow’.

As it stands, Australia have lost their best batsman and second-best batsman for one whole year. They also lost their captain and vice captain for the same period because they are the exact same people.

They have lost both their opening batsmen (although the inferior one could return slightly sooner).

It’s probably worth mentioning that they lost their coach too.

Verdict: Australia just lost over a quarter of the team and it was a rather important quarter. This was a bad tour for Australia.

Did the team lose any matches by an enormous margin?

Chasing 612 to win in the fourth Test, Australia were bowled out for 119. Their last seven wickets fell for 31. Two players reached double figures.

Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.

Was the team reduced to cheating?


Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.

Were any of the players reduced to tears?

Yes. Several of them.

Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.

Did the team in any way embarrass itself?

Just to repeat what we said four sections ago, Australia lost three players to a ball-tampering attempt so woeful and ineffective that the umpires didn’t even feel it necessary to penalise them five runs.

That, in itself, is pretty embarrassing. Throw in a bizarre and pointless fake explanation where they said they planned to use tape with dirt on it instead of the sandpaper they actually used and we have to go up an embarrassment level. Then the whole country went mental and revealed itself to be the only cricket-playing nation that had no inkling whatsoever that Australian cricketers might not actually be the sport’s ultimate moral supremos after all.

It was all very inglorious and unaware and hypocritical and a big, great overreaction. And yes, because of all of those things, the team did in a very real sense embarrass itself (and this is without even mentioning the run-out ‘celebrations’ that we’re going to come to in a couple of sections time or the whole barney-on-the-stairs thing that we’re not going to mention at all other than here in this sentence).

Oh, and then David Warner went rogue. We almost forgot that bit.

Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.

Did results deteriorate?

The nature of Test cricket means that the winning margin can be expressed in runs or in wickets. This can be problematic if you’re trying to make direct comparisons.

Let’s take a look at the results in this series and try and work out whether they got worse for Australia.

  • Australia won the first Test by 118 runs
  • South Africa won the second Test by six wickets
  • South Africa won the third Test by 322 runs
  • South Africa won the fourth Test by 492 runs

Clearly losing is worse than winning and losing by a greater number of runs is worse than losing by fewer runs, so the only question that remains is whether losing by 322 runs is worse than losing by six wickets.

Going off average scores, six wickets would generally result in fewer than 322 runs, so we’d say that the third Test result was worse for Australia than the second Test result.

Verdict: Results deteriorated. This was a bad tour for Australia.

Did the team start out kind of noisy and full of itself but end up quiet, subdued and slightly humiliated?

This is a great way of deducing whether or not a team had a bad tour or not. By comparing the players’ general demeanour at the start and end points of the tour, it becomes easy to see what has changed.

If the team is nervous at the start and all boisterous and irrepressible at the end then it’s been a good tour. If the team starts off gobby and cocky but ends up mute and diminished then it’s been a bad tour.

Way back at the start of March, Australia had a great deal of conspicuous fun running out AB de Villiers for a duck. Nathan Lyon dropped the ball at him; David Warner’s inner chimp took control (and also locked himself in the cockpit for the remainder of the tour); and afterwards, everyone accepted their fines and resolved to carry on doing almost exactly the same thing anyway, regardless of the financial cost.

By the end of the tour, one of those players was in a different country and Dean Elgar was making reference to “the most docile test” he’d ever played against Australia.

Appropriately enough, the series ended with Nathan Lyon being run out. No-one roared in his face because Australia were not at this point credible opposition worthy of face-roaring.

Verdict: This was a bad tour for Australia.

In summary

We posed seven questions and after all seven of them we concluded that Australia’s tour of South Africa was a bad one. This leads us to believe that regarded as a whole, Australia’s tour of South Africa was very bad.



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  1. It’s all very well coming along here and presenting philosophical statements like you are some sort of philosophical statement maker. But surely we should expect a bit of context. Natura abhorret vacuu, as I think you intended to say in the Latin, is one of Aristotle’s finest moments, up there with the brain being a radiator for blood and eels being born out of mud. In the great man’s own words:

    For if 4 exceeds 3 by 1, and 2 by more than 1, and 1 by still more than it exceeds 2, still there is no ratio by which it exceeds 0; for that which exceeds must be divisible into the excess plus that which is exceeded, so that will be what it exceeds 0 by plus 0.

    Anyway, what Aristotle was trying to say was that Morne Morkel will be replaced by a series of virtual Morne Morkel pairs that are constantly annihilating each other. A bit like the Spirit of Cricket, constantly being created and then annihilated when it comes into contact with reality.

    …we aren’t going to precisely quantify the badness…

    Yeh, but I’ll give it a go. Here are the scores for your seven categories:

    Losing players – Minus 3
    Losing matches – Minus 3
    Cheating – Minus 1 (for getting caught)
    Crying – Plus 7 (for the lulz)
    Self-Embarrassment – No numbers exist that can encapsulate this one
    Deterioration – Minus 8
    Quietening Down – Plus 52, because this is what everyone wants after all

    So that’s a total of minus two hundred million billion billion thousand. And that’s being generous.

      1. Without going over the top, I’d say it was pretty much the worst tour anyone has ever been on.

  2. Thank goodness for Bert and his relentless quest for meaningful cardinal numbers.

    I wonder whether Bert might help me out over on Ogblog, where I have been having a great deal of difficulty reconciling the seven faces of The Gesualdo Six and the occasional six members of the Jackson 5:


    The composer Carlo Gesualdo, as it happens, is an interesting example of reputation rehabilitation after a somewhat embarrassing incident in 1590. He caught his wife and her lover in flagrante and brutally killed both of them on the spot.

    Naturally enough, the Neapolitan Gran Corte della Vicaria determined that Gesualdo’s actions were not a crime. About a year later, on his father’s death, he became Prince of Venosa & Count of Conza. A mere 420 years later someone (with less arithmetical ability than Bert it has to be said) decided to name a choir in Gesualdo’s honour.

    So there is hope for Steve Smith and perhaps even for David Warner to rehabilitate their reputations.

    As we say in Latin, Gesualdo si potes, potes “The Reverend”.

  3. I do wonder if some of the other Australian players (I’m looking at you, Nathan) were thinking after that third test, “Sheesh, just glad I wasn’t part of that conversation with Warner and Bancroft, because, you know, I probably would have joined in, and that would have ended up pretty badly for me, what with me having to cry at a press conference and lose all my sponsorship deals and do community cricket service (whatever that is) and what have you.”

  4. Is serious allowed? I’m feeling all serious this morning and I need to get it out of my system.

    I think what it is is the same thing that led to the catholic abuse scandal, the BBC abuse scandal, the MPs expenses scandal, and pretty much every other scandal we’ve had recently. Two things happen. Firstly, the people inside the organisation start to see it as a thing in itself, as opposed to the collection of people within it. And secondly, they then give this newly created entity the power to create moral laws that are independent of normal life.

    As an example, I live in an area with Schools. Not schools, every area has them. These are Schools, capitalised. They exist independently of the kids who attend them. Remove all the children, the School would still exist. It is a thing of importance, something to be nurtured and protected. MPs and councillors are proud of them, as they repeatedly tell us. Because of this, the kids are either beneficial to the School or detrimental to the School, and if they are the latter, they are removed. The School matters – its results, its reputation, its place in the league tables. Individual children do not matter – they are the means, not the end.

    The Australian Men’s Test Team has become a Thing. It’s not a group of the best players Australia can field, it is a Thing. It even has a personality – The Baggy Green – complete with a set of ideals (largely dragged from the fevered imagination of Matthew Hayden). Inside the team is different from outside the team; different rules apply. To get in, or at least to become accepted, you need to sign up to these rules. So when one of the society’s Grand Masters comes up to the new boy and says “Do this cheaty thing”, he doesn’t think about external morals, what he would say to his kids or something, he thinks only of the internal ones. And then suddenly someone comes along with a big shiny light and exposes their actions to the real world’s rules, and it all comes crashing down. Like apologetic priests who didn’t know they were supposed to report rapists to the police, or contrite MPs who had no idea that obtaining money by fraud was wrong, they are caught like rabbits in headlights. All the barriers, all the railings, collapse, annihilated by the consciousness of their freedom. They have not, nor can they have, recourse to any value save that it is themselves who sustain values in being (*). In other words, they suddenly realise that it was them doing these things all along. Not the team, not the Thing – just them, alone. And they break down under the pressure.

    As Chuck says, I’d bet that Lyon and a few others would have signed up for this as well. It takes bravery to stand against the norms. But once the edifice has been destroyed, what a relief it must be for the reluctant ones. That’s why I think this might be a genuine turning point, for some years at least, because the ones in charge of the team’s ethos now never liked the previous one anyway. And it must be said also that Australia aren’t the only international cricket team infected by this malaise. Too many people in English cricket have a conception of the men’s test team as more than a collection of the best cricketers playing cricket. It isn’t.

    (*) This is a quotation, obvs.

    1. Those are all things to be agreed with. The schools point is particularly interesting and the comment about preserving the school’s reputation made us think of the ‘brand’ of Cricket Australia and how that is now ‘the thing’. This is why advertising revenue has become the goal and why the loss of it is now seen as more significant than whatever’s going on with the team and the sport that ad revenue is supposed to be funding.

      The means to an end is now the end itself (partly because it’s so easily measurable).

      A second and related point we want to make is that much of what you are saying is that international cricket teams have subcultures with their own norms and values.

      Subcultures explain a lot of the mischievous things that happen in sport. The classic example is how professional cyclists used to be injected with entirely legal recovery concoctions and within that world, this was seen as completely normal, which of course it is not. However, once being injected after every race is normal, it is a much shorter step to being injected with something slightly different and not legal and once almost everyone you know is being injected with something slightly different and not legal, you’re the one who’s breaking the subculture’s rules and norms by refusing.

      Then one day the public finds out.

      1. The means to an end is now the end itself (partly because it’s so easily measurable).

        A few years ago, the FA was having some anniversary or other. The chairman was on the radio in self-congratulatory mood, and when pressed as to the health of football he said that revenues had never been as high, with the amount of money spent on grass-roots football also at an all-time high.

        The interviewer pointed out to him that over the course of his tenure, a couple of pro clubs had gone bust, that crowds were at their lowest for some decades, that participation had dropped significantly, that the TV audience had fallen, and that the FA was embroiled in some scandal or other and up before parliament. In other words, in all measures except one, football was in decline.

        But that one measure was the only one that the FA was using as its yardstick, and therefore he was a success. And genuinely, he dismissed these other things and went on congratulating himself.

    2. If you are going to get all serious you might enjoy reading watching or hearing my 2008 Gresham lecture on Commercial Ethics:


      Cricket lovers might spot some echoes of our sport’s culture in the illustrative characters I used – a brash Aussie consequentialist, Terry and a more axiological Kiwi, Dion. Yes of course I had a couple of well-known bowlers from days of yore in mind.

      1. You co-founded a company in 1994? I hadn’t co-founded anything by then. But I was only nine years old.

      2. But you have interviewed a UK Prime Minister, Sam…

        …and exposed her to be a right bozo.

        I have met some former ones and a UK Prime Minister to be in Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor.

        The only extant Prime Minister of anywhere that I have met so far in my entire life was the Prime Minister of Vanuatu.


        He was champion.

      1. Top threading!
        I wonder what David Warner would make of all this?

        Maybe Bert IS David Warner and this is his way of venting in a way which wasn’t available to him in his recent press conference?! Which begs the question, is it the dickish ex-Australia opener which is the real persona, or is it the rugby league loving cruciverbalist with a (now that I think about it, suspiciously anonymous) black spot avatar who we all know and love?

        I need a lie down.

      2. David Warner has played altogether too much cricket in his life to have had the time to learn enough about Wigan to pass as Bert.

  5. I’m done with serious now, for a while at least. And so to celebrate, here is a FACT.

    Barnacles are named after Barnacle Geese, not the other way round.

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