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The Ashes 2013: Australia preview - Third Test, Old Trafford

Varun Shetty
1.67K   //    31 Jul 2013, 00:26 IST
A dejected Michael Clarke during the second test

A dejected Michael Clarke during the second test

Distorted, decapitated, defunct – Australia have already been  written off by novices and experts alike, all over the world. The seasoned cricketing heart would implore watchers to be patient and be tempted to cite the old “cricket is a funny game” parable, but the truth of the situation is that the Australian team is only sinking deeper in the shifting sand with every match.

When Siddle took a five-wicket haul on the first afternoon of the series, he played into a pattern that has been prevalent since the Australian tour of India. The one that begins with a glimmer and the potential for something big, almost a miracle, but is invariably followed by a recoil. On that day, it was the top four batsmen who couldn’t see the team through to stumps. In the second test too, they had England begging for mercy after strong opening spells in both innings, only to give it all away; and in the most grotesque of fashions at that – dropped catches, poor referrals, and an uneasy level of dejectedness.

It’s a pattern that lost them important sessions on the tour to India. Time and again, their temperament was tested and time and again, they found themselves on the wrong end. The batting was especially guilty of this, allowing constant room for the question of whether Michael Hussey should really have retired. And there’s good cause for it –  since the beginning of 2011, only Clarke (62.3) and Hussey (54.6) average more than 40.

In the same period, Shane Watson averages a measly 25 (fifteen batsmen average more than him in this period); David Warner is the next best performer in the timeline, with three centuries and seven fifties but finds himself out of the squad at the periphery of a career that was past its prime a few years ago, in the form of Chris Rogers. Strong reminders that confusion reigns in the Aussie camp and more fuel to the opinion-mongers.

The unceremonious shuffling of the batting order to provide a featherbed for their overdependence on Michael Clarke has resulted in an imbalance of the highest magnitude. To think about it at this point would be further aggravating it and accepting that is the only way Lehmann and Clarke can make any amends – even if the return series at home is where it happens.

However, for practicality’s sake, it must be assumed that Australia will think forward – it’s a trait they will never lose, irrelevant of how many they do.

The first issue to address is the pair that takes on Anderson and Broad upfront. Chris Rogers’s patient approach and old-school technique have kept him at the crease for a total of five hours for the 89 runs he has scored. For his argument is the fact that he’s playing the new ball out every time he walks out to bat. But the very point of that comes into question when his modern-day star of a partner at the other end isn’t capitalizing on it. Besides, Khawaja is more than capable of doing the same at number three. What good is rearguard action if it isn’t followed by a siege?

Ed Cowan looks a good bet to be slotted right back into the position, as does David Warner; and although all indications point towards a Warner return, they’re fixedly inclined towards the middle order and Rogers might retain a place for one more match.

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Varun Shetty
Cricket philosopher.
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