Has Australia learned enough to prevent a clean sweep?

Date: October 31, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Let’s not beat around the bush, Australia’s performance in the first Test was embarrassing.

In fact it ranks up there with some of the worst losses our national Test team has endured.

Today it gets a chance to atone with the second Test starting in Abu Dhabi.

A quantum leap in performance will be required to level the series with the ‘home’ side brimming with confidence.

An analysis of the scorecard from the opening Test only tells part of the story.

Across two innings Pakistan lost 11 wickets while amassing 740 runs.

Australia could muster just 519 runs whilst losing all 20 wickets in the process – the result a 221-run victory to Pakistan.

What those raw statistics do not indicate was the dearth of Test experience that the Pakistan bowlers possessed heading into the match.

The Pakistanis went into the match with a team that had a combined total of just 66 Test wickets.

Thirty-five of those scalps belonged to off-spinning opening batsman Mohammad Hafeez; nine had been captured by Younis Khan who had not bowled in the previous seven matches of his illustrious 91-Test career; and specialist number three batsman Azhar Ali had taken one wicket for 100 runs in his preceding 34 Tests.

That left the four specialist bowlers in the Pakistan team with a whopping 20 wickets between them – 11 fewer than Michael Clarke’s career tally of 31 through 105 Tests.

Yet somehow that nascent group of Test bowlers managed to, in the main, humiliate Australia’s batsmen.

Pakistan, after winning the toss, posted 454 in its first innings.

It had the look of a problematic total for Australia yet when David Warner and Chris Rogers took the team to stumps on the second day at 0-113 that number looked less imposing.

The pair extended their opening stand to 128 early on day three before Rogers departed.

His wicket was the first of ten to fall for the addition of a further 175 runs, leaving Pakistan with a 151-run advantage on the first innings.

Eventually, set 438 to win – or more correctly given a little under four sessions at the crease to draw the game – Australia lost a calamitous 4 for 5 in the space of just 22 deliveries to tumble to 4-49.

In the words of the great New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, it was “a case of déjà vu all over again”.

Batting collapses have become an all too regular and unwanted feature of Australia’s innings.

Last summer they appeared like clockwork during every one of the five Ashes Tests.

On those occasions the likes of Steve Smith and Brad Haddin often came to the fore and stabilized the innings to a point where the final figure could be defended, so much so that Australia won the series 5-nil.

But at Dubai, against an attack possessing an extremely modest international record, there was no coming back.

Warner’s knock of 133 in the first innings was a standout.

There were cameos by Rogers and Smith but the next best innings behind Warner from the nine that passed 20 was Mitchell Johnson’s 61 on the final day.

There was a fear ahead of the toss that the pitch at Dubai would follow the path of so many of the sub-continental decks and become somewhat of an Elysian Field for the spinners on days four and five.

That prediction proved to be wrong.

Australian coach Darren Lehmann when asked to sum up the demise of his batting line-up responded by saying that, “This is a very good cricket wicket … we got beaten with straight balls, I think five or six dismissals throughout the game”.

Straight balls delivered by a highly inexperienced international attack – hardly a glowing summation of his batsmen’s performance.

The batsmen were not the only culprits as the bowling attack also largely lacked teeth.

Johnson was superb in the first innings with figures of 31-18-39-3.

However the spinners lacked penetration with Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe returning combined match figures of 6-439.

Once again there was another troubling aspect to Australia’s bowling and that was the inability to develop consistent, controlled and penetrative reverse swing.

Whilst the Pakistan quicks did not produce a lot in that area either, Australia has shown an inability to master the craft over the years.

Whether it is in England or India on recent tours the opponent has impacted the game with reverse swing while Australia has been largely impotent in comparison.

Michael Clarke consistently trumpets the aim of regaining the world number one Test ranking and well he should.

A win in the current series is no longer a possibility with a draw the best the tourists can achieve.

And at present even that score line appears somewhat unattainable unless there is an across the board resurrection at Abu Dhabi.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 30 October 2014