Amit Masram considers the roots and effects of the decline in Australia's bowling stocks, evidenced by their current inability to dismiss England in the Ashes.
Australian skipper Ricky Ponting looks jaded by the burden of captaincy sandwiched between his malnourished batting form and team’s bowling woes, now becoming more pronounced in the absence of strike power.
On the back of 2-0 series loss in India and now trailing 1-0 in the biggest defeat at home in 17 years in the ongoing Ashes series, Australian cricket seems have quietly accepted the fact that their bowling is in decline.
The cracks in the potency of the Australian bowling attack appeared when they could not polish off the tail, as India needed 94 runs to win, with three wickets in hand, in the first Test at Mohali in October 2010. Much to the chagrin of the Australians, tail-ender Ishant Sharma and batsman VVS Laxman sealed a miraculous one-wicket win, defying the odd in the process.
While many term the England triumph in the riveting Ashes 2005 series as the early signs of the great decline, it is to be noted that Glenn McGrath trod on a cricket ball and injured his ankle the morning before the start of the second Test at Edgbaston and subsequently did not play at fourth Test at Trent Bridge, which Australia lost by two runs and three wickets respectively.
McGrath returned for the final Test at The Oval but the Australian team was unable to force a result and the match was drawn, giving England the series win. McGrath's injury problems are seen as a key factor in England regaining the Ashes in 2005, as their victories came in matches where McGrath was absent. Any whispers of the imminent decline were quickly addressed by a 5-0 drubbing at home against England, in the “grudge series” of 2006-2007 and settled the debates on Australia’s reign at the top.
Bowlers capable of snaring 20 wickets often win Test matches for their sides. Australia have suffered by the retirements of Shane Warne and McGrath, both match winners, instrumental in Australia’s dominant phase during the best part of the bygone decade .The mid eighties witnessed a similar indifferent phase when Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh exited from the international stage and as a result the team's fortunes nose dived.
Interestingly, the Australian domestic cricket system, where future stars often cut their teeth did not throw up bowlers or uncover cricketers good enough to maintain a tough challenge at the top. Jason Krezja was not persisted with, after he took eight wickets on debut against India. Nathan Hauritz, by no means a replacement for Warne, arguably the game’s greatest spinner, was unceremoniously dropped before the Brisbane Test.
The core bowlers post the Warne McGrath era are Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle, Xavier Doherty, Nathan Hauritz, and Peter George as Brett Lee has ruled himself out of the longest format to concentrate on one-day cricket.
Australia have tried as many as nine spinners since the retirement of Warne and it is dangerous to expect them to match the strike power and ability to win matches single-handedly as Warne.
The fast men also have not stepped to the plate either. Mitchell Johnson was Australia's spearhead pacer in the ongoing Ashes series but was axed from the side after returning wicketless in the Brisbane opener bringing in Doug Bollinger in his place while Ben Hilfenhaus was replaced with Ryan Harris, but this proved useless as England declared its first innings at Adelaide at 620 for 5.
Is the chasm left by exodus of champion bowlers too difficult to fill? Will the result of the Ashes series see some new faces in the bowling department blooded for the future?
As the cliché goes, a captain is as good as his team. Australia blossomed and prospered under the leadership of Mark Taylor and reached new heights under Steve Waugh. By the time Ricky Ponting took over as captain in 2004 the most successful bowling pair in the test cricket history, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were in the twilight of their careers.
But with inconsistent results, recent events suggest if the Australia loses the Ashes, Ponting will be the first causality, with his captaincy taken away. The blot of losing three Ashes series will stay permanently on his illustrious resume.
Are we too impatient to write an obituary?
© Cricket World 2010