You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to pronounce why Australia are trailing 1-0 in the current Ashes series. England have been the superior batting side, tempering down their opposition’s attack bit by bit over ten days of cricket. After all it is about taking those 20 wickets and truth be told Ricky Ponting’s bowlers might have found it easier to not turn up than bowl like they did in the first two Tests.
Led by Alastair Cook’s dogged defence, their batsmen have given answers to every question that has been thrown their way and more. Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott have made more hay in ten days than their predecessors could dream of in the past two decades. So much so, that arguably their best batsman Ian Bell might be ruing why he is batting so low down the order. What they have collectively done is not gone after any one particular bowler, for that would have allowed the others to breathe easy. It might have invigorated their strike capability, like the conditions on the first day at Brisbane did with Peter Siddle.
He bowled with more heart than we might see from an Aussie bowler in the remaining part of the summer. But by the time the second Test was over, you could see he had almost given up. It was most visible in his bowling length, shifted from full in the first Test to a bit shorter in the second, and it is almost a crime to do that at Adelaide. However considering the rest, it was the least of the Aussie bowlers’ shortcomings.
Ben Hilfenhaus dissipated after that exciting start in the first Test while Mitchell Johnson is a shadow of his ‘shadow of the past’. Beyond them, would it be fair to judge Doug Bollinger on the basis of just one run-in? I remember his wicket-taking prowess in the first IPL game he played for Chennai Super Kings and the tracks in this part of the world aren’t really bowler friendly. But that was T20 and this is Test cricket, and perhaps the gap is too wide for him to be able to bridge.
The matters of spin are the biggest problem herein. Keep trying out enough new faces in the pace department and maybe you will find another like Brett Lee or Jason Gillespie. They can get you some wickets and search even longer, possibly another Glenn McGrath might be unearthed. But Shane Warne was the rarest of rare treasures and now he is gone. Even the best bounty hunters in the whole of Down Under might not be able to get their act together in this matter and find a replacement.
If we look at Australian cricket history as a whole, just how many legendary spinners do we really remember and truly cherish? Warne now and Richie Benaud before him, and the count standing at two just shows that the above statement is a valid one!.
What Xavier Doherty couldn’t do, one doubts if Michael Beer would be able to. But even if he does take a ten-wicket haul and speeds Australia to a series-levelling victory, it is not going to be enough. Not because England are too good for them but because the home selectors have forgotten how to treat their players. When was the last time a deserving cricketer from Down Under was ignored constantly especially at a time when stocks are at an all time low?
Nathan Hauritz has probably only not listened to Ponting’s field placements in just the one odd Test in India and has paid a rather long drawn out price for it. Come to think of it, he is not the only one paying, rather the entire cricket loving community in that country. And their desperation is so obvious that ill-footed plans of getting the legendary Warne back are hatched almost every day.
So what you may ask can the hosts do to win a Test match, for winning the series will only come a step later. If I were Ponting, it would be best to tell them to remember what winning felt like. Not the past decade when the Aussies mauled everyone in sight, for that bunch would never have forgotten to win in the first place! No, one is talking about this squad. He needs to remind them what they have won, and indeed it may seem surprising now, but this group of players has played wining cricket in the not so distant past. He can remind them of the way they played in South Africa last year. Having lost at home, they struck back with vengeance and determination. He can remind them of the 2009 Champions Trophy win, coming on the footsteps of the 6-1 ODI series win against England. They bounced back after losing the Ashes there, so the feeling isn’t strange to them.
And then they can look at the bright side. This Ashes series is not lost yet!
© Cricket World 2010