Australian cricket is on the nose
Date: March 7, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
It is time we all face facts – Australian cricket is at a modern-day nadir.
We can blame the selectors, we can blame Indian pitches, we can blame the alignment of the planets.
The bottom line is we are struggling in many of the key areas that are required to sustain excellence, or indeed, even competitiveness against the better sides on the international stage in Test cricket.
Not since the dark days of the mid-1980s under the beacon of Allan Border has Australia been in such a parlous state.
Just as the country rode on the sheep’s back for decades in cricketing terms, we rode on the back of a cluster of very good to great players for nearly 20 years.
They are long gone and in their place is a group that, in the main, is struggling to come to terms with the Test arena.
In the mid-1980s we used to say, ‘Where would we be without AB?’
Three decades on the catchcry has become, ‘Where would we be without MC?’
Whilst Atlas may have carried the world on his shoulders, the current Australian skipper is singlehandedly propping up our national side.
His 91 in the ill-fated first innings at Hyderabad saw him fall just shy of what would have been a 10th Test century in 23 matches at the helm – only a chap named Bradman can boast a similar start to a Test captaincy career.
Sadly for Australian cricket at present, Clarke is our Black Caviar with the bat as it is a case of daylight second.
He has finally conceded that he will move up the order from his customary number five slot for the third Test at Mohali, admitting after the shambolic Hyderabad capitulation that, ‘I think I have no choice’.
Never have truer words been spoken.
Australia’s current top-four underlines the plight Australian cricket faces.
Much fuss was made about the return of Phillip Hughes for his third reincarnation as a Test batsman.
So far in this series he has failed to score a single run off the Indian spinners having been dismissed by them four times with some of his shot selection and execution extremely poor – his ill-fated sweep shot in the second innings in Hyderabad a classic case in point.
His 24 runs in four innings thus far in India has seen his batting average head rapidly south to a far from flattering 33.
Ed Cowan has scrapped and fought for his wicket yet he has become the perennial Mr Mediocre.
He has an unforgiveable habit for a top-order batsman of failing to turn starts into something significant – he has scored between 29 and 56 in seven of his last 13 innings.
Doing half the job is not good enough hence a 15-month, 15-Test run that has produced just one century and an average of 32.
Shane Watson, we are repeatedly told by former Test players who now inhabit various commentary boxes and newspaper columns, that he is a true talent with the bat.
That being the case, it may be well worth his while to show us what it is that those erudite individuals see in him.
He is now a veteran of 40 Tests during which time he has scored two centuries and averaged just 36.
Some say he should be opening yet his last seven Tests at the top of the order before his demotion saw just 324 runs at 25.
I feel too often Watson’s belligerent batting and success in white-ball cricket masks his lack of productivity and success in the Test arena.
Surely, after 40 outings and at the age of nearly 32 his time is now.
If not, his future surely is questionable especially given his self-imposed exile from the bowling crease.
David Warner has been the best performed of the current top four but again, some of his shot selections in India have been very poor – sweeping at a ball from an off-spinner delivered outside leg-stump from over the wicket with a front foot on off-stump as he did in being bowed in the second innings at Hyderabad is hardly intelligent batting.
The major question however is just where is the external pressure on these four batsmen and others in the top six or seven?
Cast an eye over the stats for the current Sheffield Shield season and the answer is there isn’t much.
Shaun Marsh and George Bailey have been fine performers in limited-overs cricket this summer but in first-class cricket they have not fired, averaging 25 and 19 respectively.
Callum Ferguson has averaged 38; Dan Christian 21; Steve Smith 37; Adam Voges 33; Usman Khawaja 40; Peter Forrest 22.
Brad Haddin, at 35 years of age, has perhaps been the best of them all with a Shield average of 54.
Gone are the days where players of the ilk of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Stuart Law, Darren Lehmann and co were consistently putting up 800-plus runs seasons and demanding to be looked at.
The only player to have performed remotely like those of the past in recent times is Victorian opener Chris Rogers whose Shield average of 54 this season has taken his 14-year first-class average to 50 – but rising 36 years of age he is unfortunately yesterday’s man at the next level.
Although, if Australia truly wants to be competitive, or dare I say, win the nest Ashes series I would choose him ahead of the others currently on display.
Would he be any less effective than the likes of Cowan, Watson and Hughes?
Tasmania’s Alex Doolan has had a solid Shield season and averages 48 but after 39 appearances in the domestic first-class arena he still averages below 39.
It is awfully hard to look beyond the players currently anointed by the national selectors and feel a lot of hope for the short-term future.
Ten to 20 years ago that was never the case.
Matthew Wade continues to have his moments behind the sticks however his batting, in the main, has been solid with two centuries and three fifties in 11 Tests.
One time golden boy Tim Paine has gone rapidly backwards, injuries accepted, with a Shield season to date that has seen him score just 132 runs at 19.
Queensland veteran Chris Hartley has scored a Shield century and averaged 31 this season and is perhaps the next best candidate should Wade stumble.
His century in a Shield Final was a classic innings and he is very clean behind the stumps.
And then there is the question of Australia’s spins ranks.
Nathan Lyon has been Australia’s unchallenged number-one spin option over the past 18 months and was always going to be the first picked in India.
That situation however only lasted for one Test.
Yes, he was expensive, but he did go straight through Tendulkar and pick up three other wickets at Chennai.
He was replaced by Xavier Doherty, who for Tasmania this season averages 80 with the ball and his two previous Test innings with returned figures of 1-158 and 0-107.
The other spinner to come in was Glenn Maxwell, who given his history, was always going to bowl one boundary ball an over.
Safe to say that both Doherty and Maxwell were promoted as much for their white-ball form as anything else.
And therein lays a major problem for Australian cricket in the future if the scheduling remains the same.
The eight-week first-class hiatus in the middle of the summer is a major concern given how often Australia tours the likes of India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand before the domestic summer is completed.
At least our fast bowling stocks are sound.
Mind you, they need to be given half of them at any given time are injured!
We were lucky to witness the glory days and they will come again.
Just not in the foreseeable future.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 6 March 2013