England smile at Australia's batting troubles
Whilst the plight of the Australian cricket team has generated headlines all over the world, none have been filled with so poorly masked glee and joy as the English press have. For so long they have been forced to write the same sort of headlines and column pieces on how the plucky English spirit was overpowered by the mentally titanic Aussies. Now with the recent ‘homeworkgate’ scandal, the temptation to return to their school days and point and laugh at their old bully’s misfortune is too good an opportunity to pass up.
The actual misdemeanours perpetrated by the four Australians and their subsequent banning and handling of the event by the Aussie hierarchy have become utterly embarrassing for the once proud sporting country. Scratch under the surface, though, and this is just another example of a problem that every former king of a sport faces when they lose their place at the top of the summit.
It’s only natural for a former superpower on the world stage to try everything and anything to keep in touch with the rivals that for so long they ruled over. Since 2009, when their crown cracked at the hands of England in the Ashes and South Africa, the Australian cricket team has become the desperate old veteran trying to reclaim former glory. And the key word in that sentence is desperate.
When the Baggy Greens have had their backs against the wall, Blackadder’s Baldrick has had smarter and many more cunning plans than the hierarchy in charge of selection responsible for giving the on-field captain the best chance of victory. The sheer rotation of personnel has been incredible whilst micromanagement – that can be invaluable if done right – has become so full-on that cricketers have become more like office staff rather than players when they aren’t on the pitch. This just isn’t Australian and the press Down Under know it.
Of course this desperate approach wouldn’t be necessary if the side were good enough to win cricket matches as easily as the Aussies managed in the nineties and most of the noughties. But as their tour of India is proving, that is not the case anymore.
Cricket Australia’s policy of spotting potential and throwing it in the deep end has had success in the bowling department with James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc in particular. But this was only after giving away sporadic caps to names such as Peter George, Trent Copeland, Pat Cummins, Josh Hastings and Jackson Bird. If everyone was fit, South Africa and England could name their three fast bowlers in as many seconds. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Australia team who could name the same three twice.
It’s the batting line-up that has been the biggest problem to tackle and what is causing the selectors to sweat in their sleep before the back-to-back Ashes series later this year. With Michael Hussey retiring after a glittering career, Michael Clarke is now the one remaining senior batsman in the side. Since he took over the captaincy, ‘Pup’ has been absolutely outstanding and has been a one-man scoring machine holding the Australian batsman together. Look past Clarke, though, and the batting chain is incredibly fragile.
David Warner is the only one of the top six other than Clarke to average over 40. That is nowhere near good enough for a top four Test playing nation that Australia is. Ed Cowan is a solid opener but can never be relied upon to rescue a 50/5 situation because he is too slow to counter attack. Shane Watson – aside from the fact he is considering his future as the vice-captain – still only averages 37. His ability to score 50’s is legendary but so is his inability to get past 60, let alone 100. If there were more quality alternatives, he would have been played at number six and not an anchoring number three.
With Hussey gone, it looks like the Aussies are going down the English route in the 90’s of playing an all-rounder at number six. Steven Smith and Moises Henriques have had one good innings so far in India but it remains to be seen if they can take the wickets needed to secure their place in the side. Phillip Hughes has had more chances in the Australia team than Audley Harrison’s comebacks, despite the fact he has the footwork of a seven-legged ant. He’s struggled to score and now has been completely found out by spin; it’s time for him to have a long time in the domestic season to work on his technique.
With such a dearth in talent in the batting department, Australia has been forced into a corner thanks to their hapless displays against India, a side that were completely outplayed by the arch enemy just a few months ago. ‘Homeworkgate’ has not only caused the cricket world to point and laugh at them, it’s also made the English look at how the Aussies are faring a bit more than they would have usually done at this stage before an Ashes series.
The worst part: England is grinning like the Joker because of what they see.