Frankly, the Reverse Sweep is not surprised to see that some sections of the English media are using Australia’s test series defeat in India as final proof that the Empire has fallen and that the English hordes led by Andrew Strauss are going to sweep all before them down under this winter.
Certainly, Australia have lost three tests in a row for the first time since 1988 and Ricky Ponting rightfully rued on the glaring chinks in the Australian armoury apparent in the Indian mini-series. These include the brittleness of his batsmen in the second innings, the failure of his seamers to match Zaheer Khan‘s clever use of reverse swing and the lack of penetration offered by spinner Nathan Hauritz.
But are the English media right to crow? Or should they be more reflective given that a series defeat away to the number one ranked side in the world was hardly a shock? The Reverse Sweep investigates.
There for the taking?
There can be no doubt that the forthcoming series represents England’s best chance of winning a series down under since 1986/87. Strauss’ side is a settled, talented and confident unit and this is the weakest Australian side in an eon. On the last trip, Australia possessed at least five men in Ponting, Hayden, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist who would have walked into a World XI of the time. Now they would arguably have no representatives. But Australia will still be an extremely different proposition in front of home crowds with the Ashes at stake on their own faster and harder wickets. England will have to be on top of their game if they are to emerge victorious and will need their key players Strauss, Pietersen, Swann and Anderson to fire.
Prone to collapse
A few months ago we highlighted Australia’s increasingly frequent batting collapses (see article here). Since then they have been bowled out for 88 by Pakistan and now two second innings collapses in India have cost them the series. The opening partnership of Shane Watson and Simon Katich has done remarkably well, but get them out and the Australian middle order is vulnerable. Michael Clarke had a poor series in India and both Mike Hussey and Marcus North have obvious weaknesses that can be exploited. However, England suffered their own share of batting collapses against Pakistan and it could be that the side that papers over the cracks best will win the series.
Is Punter in an irreversible decline?
For a mere mortal batsman, three fifties in four innings in India should signal that you are in good form. But for Ricky Ponting his failure to convert even one of those into a hundred continues a worrying malaise for the man who is still Australia’s key batsman. Since scoring a hundred in Bangalore in October 2008, Ponting has only converted three out of 18 test fifties into tons. For a man with a previously exemplary conversion rate that must be a concern. But if Australia’s key batsman is struggling to recapture former glories, what about his counterparts on the England side? In tests in 2010, Pietersen averages under 34 and Strauss under 32, so it would seem that Punter is not the only batsman who would seem to be in decline.
Short in the spin department
This is an area where England hold a huge advantage. Nathan Hauritz’s already dubious reputation took a further knock after his performances in India and it would seem that Ponting doesn’t entirely trust him. In contrast to the impotent Hauritz, England have Graeme Swann who has taken 65 wickets at 23.72 in 12 tests since last year’s Ashes. With this huge differential don’t expect to see a traditional Sydney or Adelaide turner though.
Ben Hilfenhaus and one Mitchell Johnson spell apart, the Australian seamers lacked penetration in Mohali and Bangalore and Johnson was extremely wayward on several occasions (no change there then). However, with Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris to come back into the equation, the Australians if anything seem to hold a slight advantage in this area – especially at home. Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Stephen Finn would seem well suited to Australian pitches but none have played test cricket there before, whilst there are questions as to whether James Anderson can be effective in conditions not traditionally conducive to swing bowling.
Whilst the English media are right to be confident and correct in their assessment that this is the worst Australian side for over 20 years, they are kidding themselves if they think that Ponting’s side is going to just roll over. They won’t and we at the Reverse Sweep sees two evenly balanced sides fighting out an extremely close and competitive series, which at this time is too hard to call. If we had to stick our neck out though, we would go for a 2-2 draw, which of course would see England retaining the Ashes.
Where next?Published 15 Oct 2010, 14:23 IST