Time for action, not words from Australian cricket

Date: March 27, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

There is no way to sugar coat it – Australia’s tour of India was an unmitigated disaster.

For the first time in over 40 years Australia suffered a 4-nil series defeat.

Not even the most ardent Aussie fan would have seriously entertained a series victory when Michael Clarke’s side left for the sub-continent.

But neither perhaps did they foresee such a lop-sided series where the tourists were outplayed in every aspect of the game.

Stand-in skipper Shane Watson said after the final defeat that the team had learned a lot from the experience.

Looking on from the outside you would have to suggest that what they may have learned they did not put into practice out in the middle.

The top-order batsmen, save Clarke, were the most culpable.

Unfortunately, it appeared that none of them had ever heard one of Albert Einstein’s most oft-repeated sayings; ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.

If they had, stark errors that were exercised at the crease would not be repeated.

At various stages, left-handers David Warner, Phil Hughes and Ed Cowan were all bowled by off-spinner Ravi Ashwin on the sweep after failing to cover the line of deliveries that pitched well outside leg stump.

Shane Watson fell twice on the pull shot courtesy of inconsistent bounce.

The second of those instances, when he was bowled for five by Pragyan Ohja in Australia’s second innings at Delhi, came at a time when as captain he needed to lead by example with his team potentially in a winning position.

He used the same shot to great effect on batsmen friendly pitches in Sri Lanka during the T20 world championship last year but attempting the same on dusty and cracked Test pitches was irresponsible.

Watson has quite simply failed to live up to the hype that has often surrounded him.

There is no disputing that he has been a highly successful batsman in the limited-overs arena but often that success has been wrongly bundled up with his Test record in assessing his overall benefit to Australian cricket with bat in hand.

Many still portray him as an aggressive and powerful hitter at Test level, but again, this is a carryover from his deeds in coloured clothing as his career strike rate in Tests is an extremely sedate 49.7.

The Indian series saw yet another lacklustre performance – 99 runs at 16.5 from six innings.

More damning is the fact that the number 11, Nathan Lyon absorbed more deliveries at the crease than the country’s second most-experienced batsman – 244 to 239 – with both playing three of the four Tests.

Watson hopes to be bowling again during the Ashes series and he badly needs to.

His batting is quite simply below par with two centuries and an average of 35.3 from 41 Tests and 75 innings.

Australian cricket can simply not continue to accept such a paltry return unless he is able to contribute very significantly with the ball.

If he cannot, he must be jettisoned, and approaching 32, that would likely spend the end of his Test career.

Warner is another who is making life tough for himself.

Several of his dismissals during the series – in which he averaged 24.4 – would have raised eyebrows in the one-day arena let alone at the top of the order in Test cricket.

Warner has now played 19 Tests and it is high time that his shot selection showed more maturity.

There is a clear upside when he is on-song but with a batting line-up at present that possesses such frailty a continued rollercoaster form line from Warner is going to hurt the side badly.

His behaviour during the final Test would have won few friends and given the state of the series and his own batting form he was coming from a long way back when it came to giving the opposition cheek.

If he continues to bat with such nonchalant abandon perhaps the selectors need to jettison him back to Shield ranks with a request that he tighten up his game.

A demotion, similar to that experienced by the likes of Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer early in their careers, proved the making of them as Test batsmen.

A similar path for Warner may have a similar affect.

Cowan battled away in India and in essence perhaps that is what he is most capable of producing at Test level.

He averaged 33.1 with a highest score of 86 but again he squandered a number of starts.

Since what was considered by some a breakthrough century against South Africa at Brisbane in November last year he has batted a further 17 times and on nine of those occasions he has scored between 29 and 56.

He must start to convert those efforts into three-figure scores otherwise his place will have to be scrutinized.

It is totally unacceptable that in four of Australia’s eight innings in the recently concluded series the top score was produced by men listed 7 to 11.

Sometimes top order batsmen can have an excuse if they are forced to contend with a fearsome seaming pitch but in India, if anything, batting early on day one is the prime time.

Yet, despite that, Peter Siddle created history in the final Test by becoming the first man to top-score in each innings of a Test from number nine.

His first innings career-best 51 took 136 balls to compile and showed the top order what could be achieved with a cool head and a determined technique, just as Mitchell Starc’s 99 did at Mohali.

You can only hope that the designated batsmen looked on from the player balcony with a high degree of embarrassment.

Currently, the first-class cupboard in Australia when it comes to batting is extremely bare but nonetheless we cannot continue to reward mediocrity from our country’s specialist batsmen.

It may be better to promote players who don’t boast stellar domestic CVs than continue to accept what is too often dished out by the incumbents.

India is never a fun place to be a wicket-keeper.

Brad Haddin’s first Test behind the stumps in India – at Bangalore in October 2008 – produced 39 byes.

Matthew Wade had his problems as well with the low and dusty Indian pitches but sadly it was not a one-off.

His dozen Tests to date have featured too many errors for a Test keeper, with Lyon the unlucky one on many occasions, and not just in India.

With Lyon still establishing himself at Test level he cannot afford to have an inferior gloveman supporting him.

At 25, Wade still has plenty of time on his hands to hone his craft and at present that exercise would be best served at domestic level in Australia.

Lyon’s saving grace was his 7-94 in the first innings of the last Test, a performance that will surely boost his confidence.

He was clearly the best of the three spinners – four if you throw in Steve Smith.

Xavier Doherty has shown that he is not a Test bowler and while Glenn Maxwell topped the bowling averages with seven wickets at 27.6 he is far from being a true Test all-rounder at present and is another who needs to foster his game in Shield ranks.

For mine, Western Australia’s Ashton Agar has to be the next spinner called up.

His tail-end batting heroics this summer for the Warriors has illustrated his ability to cope with pressure.

If not Agar, surely Steven O’Keefe must be given an opportunity.

Players need to be taught that acquiring a baggy green is one thing whilst continuing beneath it is an entirely different exercise.

Often the best way for that lesson to be learned is by exercising tough love.

The time for excuses is over.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 26 March 2013