Can Australian cricket turn things around in three weeks?

Date: June 21, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Australia entered the Champions Trophy as the titleholder and bowed out without a whimper.

It now has three weeks ahead of the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge on 10 July to try and turn around the nation’s cricketing fortunes.

It is a Sisyphean task and recent history does not augur well.

There are two four-day warm up matches to be played – against Somerset and Worcester – and for some an additional Australia A fixture against Gloucestershire.

While the Champions Trophy was never going to be an ideal start to an Ashes campaign it did nonetheless give Australia’s batsmen a chance to experience match conditions and hopefully gather some much-needed form.

That may have been the expectation but the reality was not pretty.

Shane Watson had three opportunities at the top of the order – his stated preference at Test level – and faced 54 balls in compiling scores of 24, 5 and 5.

Potentially even more worrying than his form in the middle is coach Mickey Arthur’s comments that Watson’s relationship with skipper Michael Clarke – fractured when he was suspended for a Test during the India tour in March – has yet to fully heal.

He resumed bowling in the recent IPL season and sent down 14 overs across his three matches at the Champions Trophy.

As a batsman exclusively Watson’s tenure in the team is by no means guaranteed given the lean run he has endured of late – 627 runs at 24 in his past 14 Tests.

He needs some big scores in the lead-in matches to restore a modicum of confidence.

Phil Hughes, reinstated to the Test side last summer, was another who failed to flatter at the Champions Trophy where he opened alongside Watson.

His three knocks lasted a combined 69 deliveries during which time he scored a meagre 43 runs.

Much has been made of the changes Hughes has made to his technique during his exile.

It will be fully tested in the swing and seam friendly conditions in England – his last appearance in The Old Dart in 2009 saw him axed for the first time just two Tests into the series.

Coming off a poor series in India, his performances in his five Tests against England do not make happy reading – 154 runs at 17.1.

Such is the concern over his current form, Hughes will be given an extra warm-up match ahead of the first Test with his inclusion in the Australia A side for tomorrow’s fixture against Gloucestershire.

Interestingly, Matthew Wade – supposedly Australia’s back-up ‘keeper – will also join Hughes at Gloucester.

Incredibly, David Warner, according to chairman of selectors John Inverarity, is still in the frame for the first Test despite the fact he will not play for a month in the lead-up to the opening Test.

His early form on the tour has been nothing short of disastrous with a pair of ducks in the warm-up games against West Indies and India ahead of the Champions Trophy and just nine in his only innings in the tournament before his early-morning swing at Joe Root.

Surely you more likely spot a woolly mammoth in the tropics than you would Warner marking his guard at Trent Bridge.

The other two opening candidates in the squad have been playing county cricket.

Ed Cowan has been turning out for Nottinghamshire where he has scored 478 runs in 13 first-class innings at 43.4.

One of the blights on his Test career to date, his inability to convert starts into substantial scores, has plagued him again this county season – his highest score is 81, one of four half-centuries.

It has been a different scenario for 35-year-old Chris Rogers who is at the doorway of the last chance saloon as far as a Test recall is concerned.

As captain of Middlesex and headquartered at Lord’s, Rogers is the highest run-scorer so far on the county scene this season.

His 790 runs in 15 innings at 65.8 includes two centuries with the best of them a knock of 214.

In the wake of Warner’s antics he will surely stride out for his second Test appearance at Trent Bridge.

With Clarke’s ongoing back problems, Rogers’ experience and coolness under pressure will be much needed.

It is imperative that Clarke turn out for both first-class warm-up fixtures.

As the linchpin of the batting line-up he needs match practice under his belt.

Usman Khawaja has been touring with Australia A and in matches against Scotland and Ireland has scored 59 runs at 19.7, hardly likely to evoke confidence among the selectors.

The bulk of the Test bowling attack has also been under Brad Haddin’s stewardship with Australia A.

James Pattinson has captured 9 for 141 in his two outings while Nathan Lyon has collected eight wickets at 19.8.

So far, Ryan Harris is yet to be unleashed.

Perhaps he is being nursed through as a result of his injury-laden history but he needs to be on the field at Gloucester tomorrow.

The key over the next few weeks will be just how the Australian quicks come to terms with the English Duke ball.

The inability to extract consistent and controlled swing over recent England tours has been a major Achilles heel.

Whilst Australia has made headlines for all the wrong reasons through the early part of its England odyssey, the hosts have been steadily building towards their Ashes defence.

Arthur and Clarke have both spoken of the need for a cultural change at the top of Australian cricket.

The talk in fact started in India in March.

Heading towards July and the onslaught from a rampant England side the time for talking is over.

Petty squabbles and immature off-field shenanigans have to be a thing of the past.

After suffering the ignominy of a historic 4-nil drubbing in India, Australian cricket’s pride is on the line.

The next three weeks and how it is approached will tell us a lot more about the current status of this Australian squad ahead of the Ashes opener.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 20 June 2013