Camaraderie 'broke down' in Test team, reveals Ian Healy
IAN Healy reckons it's simply "unfathomable”.
Coming from an era when mateship was the hallmark of the Australian team, the former champion keeper-batsman just can't get his head around the claims of in-fighting that have so far plagued the eve of another summer of cricket.
Even in retirement, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Simon Katich have all taken strike during a war of words through the media.
The word "tumour”, for instance, has been tossed around more than a ball at fielding practice.
Current skipper Steve Smith, all the while, has been left to pick up the pieces of a national team in tatters following a 3-0 Test defeat in Sri Lanka and a 5-0 one-day international drubbing in South Africa.
As a former vice-captain, Healy has been increasingly concerned by the state of play under Clarke and now Smith - particularly the lack of togetherness both on and off the field.
"It probably started after my time, in 2000,” the Queensland great tells Australian Regional Media.
"The side didn't need coaching, it just needed organising.
"(Coach) John Buchanan didn't really need camaraderie off the field to get the job done tomorrow.
"Whereas we loved hanging out together, having an opportunity to talk ... talk about your fears tomorrow.
"When the side became so great, I don't think they did so much of that.
"They were able to just relax and breeze around the world. They began rooming on their own, and I think the camaraderie side of things broke down.
"Now we've still got that same scenario when our team is not as good.
"We haven't rebuilt it to rebuild our team.
"There's lots of different things one could try but the captain has to lead it, he has to really be dragging his team into the trenches, and it sounds like it hasn't been happening.
"We've got that many coaches it's not funny ... we've got senior players, and then we've got a board, cricket management, that has overseen it.
"It's unacceptable. It unfathomable that it's been allowed to happen.”
Healy slipped on his first baggy green cap in 1988 under the leadership of Allan Border, before deputising for Mark Taylor and finishing his career under Steve Waugh with 119 Test matches and 168 ODIs.
Be it behind the stumps or in team meetings, Healy was the ultimate support for the men in charge.
Healy remembers the side having "wonderful chemistry” throughout the 1990s.
"Heals” led the singing of the team song for a time, and certainly the players were all on the same page. There were very few spats, certainly not ones that couldn't be ironed out over a quiet meal ... or in some cases a beverage - not looking at anyone, Shane Warne.
"Tubby (Taylor) was excellent at keeping Warnie on the ground,” Healy recalls.
"If he started to get a little big in his thinking or in enthusiasm on the field, overstepping the captain's mark, it wouldn't be long before they would be out to dinner, having a chat.
"Other than that, every now and then AB (Border) used to blow up, but quite rightly so.”
At 27, Smith is now in the hot seat after the retirement of Clarke.
Soft Test series wins over New Zealand and the West Indies only camouflaged the Aussies' problems, particularly with playing spin, that came to the fore in Sri Lanka.
"He (Smith) hasn't had an easy start. He hasn't had an easy team to captain,” Healy says.
"It's his job to instil those inconsistent players with a lot of confidence. Whether they get through it or not, they need to feel a real part of the team.
"He's got a big role to play - not just making runs, and making more than his fair share of runs, but he's got to get the other guys going.
"That's going to take some doing.”
Back on home soil, it won't get any easier for Smith and the Aussies confronting an opponent such as the Proteas.
Having played them upon their return to international cricket in the 1990s, Healy knows only too well the challenge they will present during a three-Test series, starting today in Perth.
"I think we're the two closest countries in terms of personality in the world of sport ... even more so than New Zealand,” Healy says.
"We seem to know how to rustle each other's feathers.
"Blokes like Pat Symcox, Brian McMillan (from the '90s), they were very good at supporting their captain and getting the job done
"We just found it so difficult to beat them. They were really good competitors just like our side.
"I expect no quarter given (this time around).”
Healy remembers the battles between Warne and Daryl Cullinan in particular.
"There was always a bit of spice between Cullinan and Warne - ridiculously, Cullinan would talk to Warne when he (Warne) came out to bat.
"We were all thinking 'what are you doing?'.
"Then Warnie was just all over him when he came out and batted, he didn't have a clue.
"That was probably the stoush of my time. After my time it was Steve Waugh and Herschelle Gibbs.
"But they (the Proteas) are all very united in their cause in trying to win a Test series.”
As usual, Healy will be an interested onlooker in the Channel Nine commentary box.
It will be an intriguing mix with Healy joined by old partner in crime Warne and new arrival Clarke, not to mention controversial South African-born England-raised batsman Kevin Pietersen.
Healy says it is a team that will "educate and entertain”.
And if anyone gets out of line, they'll have both he and Tubby to answer to.
'Uncle Ian' says Aussies can't afford to lose Starc
MITCH Starc became a member of the extended Healy clan in April when the Australian strike bowler wed Alyssa Healy.
Uncle Ian Healy says his relationship with Starc is "good, great actually”.
But the former Aussie gloveman adds "I don't really care about that dynamic as long as he stays on the field. We cannot afford him to get injured.”
The big left-arm seamer has become arguably the best fast bowler in world cricket, but is coming back from a nasty injury - a cut to his leg - which has hampered his preparation.
"He's got very little bowling under his belt, which is extremely dangerous,” Healy said.
But at least he's out there ready to go against South Africa in the first Test at the WACA. The same thing can't be said about a host of other pacemen, such as James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
"The (Australian) fast bowling stocks are potent,” Healy said. "But it's pre-season and our stocks are so bare.
"Are the Brisbane Broncos going to start a season with three or four forwards who are not able to play?
"I don't understand it; it's got to be fixed.
"We do not need injuries while we're trying to fix it.”
Healy has also put the blowtorch under all-rounder Mitch Marsh, who will bat at No.6 and be second-change bowler, but is so far falling short of expectations in the longest form of the game.
"This team would look much much different if Mitch Marsh could average 10 more with the bat, and a few less with the ball,” Healy said.
"He needs to start making hundreds when we need them - that's going to be his role.”
Marsh averages 24 with the bat and 36 with the ball in Tests, below his figures in ODIs, which are 37 and 35, respectively.
"He's just got to do the hard work,” Healy said of the hard-hitting 25-year-old West Australian.
"He's got to stop thinking at important times and start doing - don't tie yourself up in knots, just demonstrate your talent.
"These all-rounders who have got the ability to bowl quick and bat well ... he has got a lot of talent, but he hasn't played with talent yet, he's just playing with brawn.
"I really want him to show us his talent.”
Current wicketkeeper Peter Nevill has said he is open to a move up the batting order to No.6 from No.7, but the 31-year-old is currently averaging a lowly 20 in his 15 Test appearances.
Healy said the New South Welshman was the right man for the job behind the stumps, "although I don't think he's been in great touch” with the bat in hand.
"He's got to get going ... got to make handy runs, average 30,” he said.