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  • 09 Apr
    In 1969, when choosing the Australian touring team for India, the selectors omitted a young Greg Chappell to the surprise of many. When pressed for a reason why, the selection chairman Sir Donald Bradman is said to have replied: We dont want him going to India and getting sick.Though Bill Lawrys team went on to win a fractious and tightly contested series, Bradmans comment endured as a summation of Australian attitudes to Asia for years afterwards. It was the place you went to to get sick, to have your batting average halved by wily spinners and trigger-happy umpires, and to have your back broken by pitches designed to break fast bowlers hearts. Tim May, the former Test spin bowler, penned a satirical book called Mayhem, that focused on digestive misadventures as the hallmark of trips to the subcontinent.It was not until a more enlightened generation of players made visits, led with perseverance and forbearance by Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh in turn, that this attitude began to change. Asia went from being a place to be endured to a challenge to be enjoyed, and a land to be embraced. Others helped too - notably the writer Mike Cowards unstinting efforts to encourage Australian understanding of the region, and to find beauty in the disparate brands of cricket played here.Cowards last Test tour was to India in 2008, coinciding with the start of the barren run that has only got worse over time. The trip ended in a 2-0 defeat over four Tests, followed by another 2-0 loss in two matches in 2010. A 1-0 victory in Sri Lanka on Michael Clarkes first Test tour as captain looks increasingly like an outlier, followed as it has been by the 4-0 drubbing in India in 2013, a 2-0 caning by Pakistan in the UAE, and now the ignominy of a 3-0 sweep by Sri Lanka, the team that Australia have historically known better how to beat than anyone else. The ledger over eight years now reads 18 Tests for one win, and the last nine lost in a row. The gains of the preceding generation or two have been utterly and irrevocably lost.Whether watching the Australians slide from 100 for 1 to 160 all out or listening to the captain Steven Smiths befuddled comments after his first series defeat, the incomprehension of the tour party was clear. This team has now spent comfortably more than a month in Sri Lanka, but they are no wiser as to how to succeed in this part of the world than they were on arrival. Not so much in terms of rhetoric, plans or intentions, but critically in terms of putting the best ideas into action when faced by hot days, dry wickets and doughty opponents.Why is this so? Certainly prevailing conditions in Australia do not give players much of an opportunity to show themselves capable against spin bowling, or capable of delivering it for that matter. The coach Darren Lehmann has pined for a return to the former contrasts between pitches in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. The team performance manager Pat Howard has tried to aid the players by having spin wickets installed at the National Cricket Centre, and Australia A and national performance squads have spent considerable time in India over the past 12 months.Equally, the IPL experience has not added much to the knowledge base of Australian players despite the fact they have now spent nine editions of the tournament traipsing across India and playing at most of the nations major grounds. Truly spinning pitches are an IPL rarity, while batsmen and bowlers do not hone skills of patience and judgment in the most truncated format. This has led to a fundamental disconnect between Australian displays in the IPL and those seen in Asian Test matches: never in history have Australian cricketers spent more time playing cricket in Asia, yet never have they looked less equipped to deal with conditions presented in Asian Tests.Another factor that has arisen in recent times, harking back to the days of barren subcontinental trips without much hope or expectation of victory. This is the perceived preparation of pitches in Asia with the express purpose of aiding the home team. A guided tour of the SSC pitch in Colombo for the touring press by the selection chairman Rod Marsh was indeed a throwback to days of greater distrust between tourists and hosts, accompanied as it was by predictions of an early finish.There is a sense, too, about this team that success at home is what really matters. For all the well-intentioned homilies about the best teams winning away and the need to be more adaptable - Smith has spoken often of it as the buzzword for his captaincy - no jobs would appear to be under threat based on results in Asian Tests. After all, Lehmann has just been reappointed until the 2019 Ashes series. While Smith was able to notch a first Asian Test hundred in the first innings of this match, his deputy David Warner has now gone 12 away Tests without reaching three figures. That statistic will only come to affect his standing and bank balance if he experiences a similar dry spell in Australia, broadcast around the country on Channel Nine. An attitude of impatience with this part of the world has also been evident in the dealings of Howard and the team manager Gavin Dovey, two appointments from the more hermetically sealed world of rugby. While undoubtedly professional, businesslike and efficient, these men have struggled at times to bridge the gap in understanding between the highly regimented, budgeted and corporatised world of Cricket Australia and the far more ad hoc ways of the cricketing subcontinent. Both are committed to getting things just right for the national team. But it is arguable that in Asia, just right simply isnt possible, whether in terms of training facilities, travel arrangements or match schedules.As it was, the SSC pitch held together much better than any member of the visiting team thought, even as they were comprehensively out-batted and out-bowled on it. That fact served only to heighten focus upon the performance of the Australian players themselves, as a pair of horrendous batting collapses delivered Sri Lanka victory on a plate, even when the home captain Angelo Mathews declined to declare overnight on what turned out to be a more than match-winning lead.The recurring nature of so many Australian dismissals, from Smith being bowled trying to cut off the stumps for a second time in the series to Adam Voges being pinned lbw by a Herath slider, left the distinct impression that the match and series had been decided as much between the ears as between wickets. From the moment the tourists failed to take advantage of Sri Lankas swift dismissal for 117 on the opening day of the series this was no longer a contest between the worlds No. 1 ranked side and a modest No. 7. Instead, it was Australia against Asian climes, complete with all the attendant mental baggage that now comes with that billing.Each batsman wore a slightly dazed look on his face that earlier touring teams will be familiar with. Their mystified, frustrated countenance betrayed a desire to get home to more comfortable conditions and speedier pitches, just as their forebears once felt. Next time Australia come to Asia, for Tests against India next year, they are likely to form a more radically selected squad. But regardless of the personnel involved, attitude and understanding will be the most important qualities of all.To lose patience is to lose the battle is a proverb the former Test legspinner and later selector Jim Higgs adopted after seeing the sign on a wall in India in 1979. This Australian side must find a way to grasp how matches are won and lost in Asia. 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Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has referred to what the Big 12 is about to step into as it moves toward expansion as a sellers market.The conference is selling salvation for two to four schools that are clamoring for a spot in the Power Five and all the amenities (mostly lots of money) that goes with moving up in the world.Through open records requests to Big 12 schools, the reporting of other news organizations and statements released Wednesday by several obvious suits, here are the candidates (alphabetical order):BYU -- The Cougars have a huge national following, a history of competing at a high level and an affiliation with the Church of Latter Day Saints that prohibits the Provo, Utah-schools teams from competing on Sundays. This is not a small inconvenience. Nor will it keep BYU from possibly getting strong consideration. And as a football independent with its other sports in the West Coast Conference, BYU doesnt need to be coy and maybe could cut a football-only deal.BYU is known for its academic excellence and I believe we have an exceptional athletic program, athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a statement. As I have stated before, I would like to see our student-athletes compete at the highest level.Boise State -- The Broncos bring a top-notch football program, and an improving athletic program in general.Central Florida -- It has enormous enrollment (60,767) and is located in a recruiting hot bed, with a growing population in Orlando. The football was awesome a few years ago (BCS win against Baylor) and terrible last year (0-12).Cincinnati -- The school has just expanded and upgraded old Nippert Stadium, which now seats about 40,000. The football team has become a steady winner and moving into Ohio would not only give the Big 12 an eastern bridge to West Virginia but maybe open up some solid recruiting territory. The Big 12 is very Texas dependent when it comes to recruiting.South Florida -- Kind of like American Athletic Conference rival UCF, but not as big (48,973 enrollment) and not as much recent football success. However, right now, USF football is trending up. Wednesday was probably not the best day to announce the NCAA was investigating the athletic program.Connecticut -- Perhaps no school suffered more from conference realignment than UConn, a longtime Big East member that was shoved from college sports main stage. Sure the football was always so-so, but UConn basketball was a power and a powerful brand. With the Big 12 no longer talking about a conference network, that foot in the New York and Boston television markets might not be as appealing.Colorado State -- The school has been doingg what you do when you want to get noticed.dddddddddddd Expanding stadiums, investing in facilities and coaches. Big 12 schools have lots of alumni in Colorado, especially the Denver area. Fort Collins is about 65 miles straight north, pretty and growing. Maybe the Rams can replace what the Big 12 lost in Colorado?Memphis -- The Tigers have a notable sponsor in FedEx CEO Fred Smith, an alum who has promised his companys sponsorship to the Big 12. The football has been mostly irrelevant but is coming off a couple of excellent seasons. Basketball is top-shelf and so is the FedEx Forum where the team plays. School officials are quick to note how the universitys academic profile is on the upswing.The University is prepared to take action when opportunities to increase the level of positive attention and exposure for our city, campus and Athletic Department are presented, athletic director Tom Bowen said in a statement. The University of Memphis continues to gain national recognition for its advancements in research, teaching and student accomplishments, and the Athletic Department is one part of that winning combination.Houston -- A new on-campus stadium is sweet, and the Cougars picked an excellent time to be coming off a 13-1 season and a Peach Bowl victory under everybodys dream coach, Tom Herman. But will Herman be here longterm? If Houston is in the Big 12, that helps the cause a lot. Being in Texas is either a deal-breaker for a conference that already thinks Houston is Big 12 country, or a good way to lock up a part of the state that has been infiltrated heavily by the SEC since Texas A&M joined.At the University of Houston we are certainly honored to be mentioned as a progressive institution that places a competitive emphasis on both academics and athletics, athletic director Hunter Yuracheck said. As a Tier One research institution and Phi Beta Kappa member, Houston has seen a reinvigorated spirit in Athletics. We have returned our proud University to the national spotlight and we aim to compete on the highest levels as we build Champions for Life. Our mission will not change.San Diego State -- Getting the Texas-centric conference into Southern California makes some sense from a recruiting standpoint.Tulane -- Sounds a little crazy considering recent athletic success. The American thought it was buying low in Tulane and it still hasnt turned around. The Big 12 provides a lot more benefits (i.e. money) and the Big 12 likes New Orleans, where it plays in the Sugar Bowl. ' ' '