London: Where do we go from here? In golf, there is an adage that says two up with five to play never wins. It does of course, probably more often than not, and in cricket it fails to do so only on the rarest of occasions.
Australia will insist that while the mathematical possibility exists, so does hope but it is delusional optimism. When Graeme Swann took the final wicket in the last over of the fourth day of the second Ashes Test on Sunday, he was to all intent and purpose wrapping up the series.
Barring weather interference, Australia face the very real prospect of a whitewash. We said that any side with a good bowling attack, which, aside from spin, Australia have, are in the game. But if the primary function of the batsmen at base level is to give the bowlers sufficient runs with which to do their job, then it is obvious where the system failure lies.
In the second Test, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were outstanding and not deserving of the wanton, inadequate performance by their batting brethren. At least Michael Clarke had the good grace to acknowledge as much.
Yet strangely the talk has been of changing the bowling. This is not without some foundation. James Pattinson, who arrived with a reputation as the most exciting young pace bowler in the game has looked far from that (although he certainly can bat) and the unexpected bonus of Ashton Agar’s batting at Trent Bridge has merely camouflaged the inadequacy of his spin bowling at this level. Even his batting, given prominence and responsibility at No 8 rather than the uninhibited freedom of batting at 11 in what seemed a lost cause, has looked way out of its depth. Now they are saying that the leg-spinner Fawad Ahmad, one of Australia’s newest citizens, might be drafted in. What this will say to Nathan Lyon, no Swann but no ugly international off-spinning duckling either, is anyone’s guess. Now the way he has been disregarded seems just disrespectful.
The real issue
The nub of it all is the batting, tied down and obliterated by England’s bowlers, and indeed team, who have yet to really function at full throttle. The senior Australia players have had their moments, with Clarke playing nicely in the second innings at Lord’s and Brad Haddin close to producing the innings of his life at Trent Bridge.
Usman Khawaja was neat and tidy in his partnership with Clarke but against Swann, with the tools the spinner had, it still only looked a matter of time, even if Joe Root did the job instead.
They have all had a decent start of some description or other at some stage. But what to make of Shane Watson? A senior batsman whose technique would be enhanced by strapping his bat to his front pad.
“Opening brings out the best in my personality,” he said, after belting a hundred before lunch against Worcester. Oh and Chris Rogers is like Simon Katich, which will please those clamouring for the latter to come out of retirement.
Watson has as many hundreds in 43 Tests as does Root in eight and the discarded Nick Compton in nine, so quite what it is saying about his personality is not clear.
Nor is Australia’s quick solution to their batting problems. Rogers has already been brought in as old stager, an experienced journeyman who has played outstandingly for Middlesex recently and, although Surrey may argue against it, there is only so far a side can go by raking up the past. Maybe David Warner will be brought back.
Clarke could move back up the order but as the only batsman of genuine class it makes sense for him at least to be where he is happiest.
Papering over chasms though merely hides the truth which is that when it comes to first-class cricket and the pathway to Test cricket, Australia have lost the plot. A decade ago, when their team were in their pomp, one Australian daily newspaper questioned whether the Australia A side due to play England were not the second best side in the world. The problem lies deep in the grassroots of the game where long-game techniques have been sacrificed on the altar of T20 ambition, pitches at grade and first-class level promote results before excellence, and the whole idea of a predominant first-class programme has been jettisoned to bookend status in favour of the Big Bash.
With timing so crass as to be barely believable, Cricket Australia announced just hours after the Test side had slumped to their second worst defeat against England in terms of runs and their worst run of defeats in almost three decades that far from reining in their BBL tournament, they have expanded it from 44 days to 58, running over two months in the middle of the season.
“Cricket Australia’s strategy for BBL is working,” it trumpets in its PR guff. What a shame the rest of the game has gone to the dogs.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd.