Let us start by wishing our readers a happy new year, a hope unlikely to be fulfilled, but what the heck.

And now before getting down to the nitty gritty, the answers to three questions I have been asked frequently during the break.

  1. Should Kevin Rudd apologise to Mohammed Haneef for the abuses committed by the administration of John Howard? Yes, because he is head of the Australian government and the Australian government was the institution responsible for the abuses. The same logic and obligation which compelled the apology to the stolen generations apply here.
  2. Should we take a share of those to be released from Guantanamo Bay? Probably not. The Howard government’s Pacific Solution to outsource our own unwanted was a bad idea and the Americans should not be allowed, let alone encouraged, to attempt a similar piece of buck-passing. Moreover, however innocent the previous inmates may or may not have been at the time of their capture, a few years in the hell hole the Americans deliberately placed outside the law are unlikely to have made them wildly sympathetic to western Anglophone society — not ideal material for Australian citizenship.
  3. Is there anything we can do about Israel/Palestine? No. With the benefit of 60 years hindsight, it can be seen that setting up a Jewish state on what had become Arab homelands in the midst of what were confirmed as Arab homelands was a pretty dumb idea. But we did, and it’s not going to go away. Moreover it has a fanatical nationalism and widespread international support, backed up by its own nuclear weapons. All we can do is wait and hope that sooner or later sanity prevails on both sides, as it eventually did in northern Ireland. But it would be unwise to hold our breath.

And now, having got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the real crisis: the Australian cricket team.

The afore-mentioned John Howard would approve of this allocation of priorities. For him as for his fellow Australian Ginger Meggs (with whom he shares so many limitations) our cricketers hold an almost sacred significance, and the captaincy ranks as the most important job in the nation. Thus Howard must be aghast at the present position but it is one with which he should be familiar. Just as he did, the players have brought disaster upon themselves by hanging around for too long.

It is strange indeed to hear captain Ricky Ponting (34) talking about “the youngsters” in his side. These would normally be understood to include Simon Katich (30), Michael Hussey (33), Brad Haddin (31) and the new boys Doug Bollinger and Andrew McDonald (both 27). In fact Peter Siddle (24) is the only one of the current lot under 27. And the average age of the side would increase still further if the injured regulars Brett Lee (34), Andrew Symonds (33) and Stuart Clark (33) were available.

Chief selector Andrew Hilditch (about 96 and a half) likes to describe the side as “in transition”. But transition to what? Middle age? Hilditch also insists that the oldest member of all, Matthew Hayden (36) is by no means ready for retirement and in fact figures prominently in his plans for the future. This suggests that either Hilditch believes in time travel or that Hayden has compromising photographs of him and a goat. If ever a player was clearly past his use-by date it is Hayden. But like the Queen, he refuses to abdicate.

And in any case, who would replace him? Like Prince Charles, the various replacements likely to find favour with Hilditch and his fellow selectors are also well into the second halves of their respective careers. Two who have been briefly tried are Brad Hodge (34) and Chris Rogers (31), while Michael’s younger brother David Hussey (31) is felt to be not quite ready yet. Phil Jaques (32) is also hoping to make a comeback. The only spring chicken on the horizon is Phil Hughes (19), but he is clearly seen as far too immature by the gin-soaked old farts who administer the game (Ian Botham’s description, not mine, alas). Let the young whippersnapper spend his best years in frustrated impotence like everyone else.

And on the bowling front, things are no less bleak. The newest find, Mitchell Johnson, is already 27, getting on for a quick. So are the favoured new “boys”, Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus. Spinner Nathan Hauritz (also 27) probably has a few ineffectual years ahead of him but Jason Krejza (35) can hardly be considered a long term prospect and the other possibility, Bryce McGain (36) is even closer to the twilight home.

There are other, younger players of potential around; there must be. But they never get the chance to show what they can do. Too many are locked into the hit and giggle of 20-20 non-cricket and while the privileged few may graduate through one day games to the Sheffield Shield, even there they seldom if ever get a chance to test themselves against the national representatives. Wearing the baggy green is now a full time, fully-tenured occupation, and what little time off the players get is more likely to be spent recuperating from inevitable injuries or reintroducing themselves to their families than in filling in at state level.

It is no wonder that from time to time they appear tired and stale. But it is a pity that neither they nor the selectors seem to understand the need for regular rejuvenation, for generational change. Next time John Howard drops into the dressing room, they should take a long hard look at him and consider: do we really want to end up like this?