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by Matt Carter Wednesday 29 October 2014
Alien conditions and ring rustiness undeniably played a part in Australia’s first Test demise at the hands of Pakistan, nonetheless the humbling in Dubai reopened cracks that had previously been concealed throughout a dominant 12 months in the Test arena.
Inspired by the fire of Mitchell Johnson the Australians arrived in the UAE having won seven of their last eight Tests - that run encapsulating the emphatic Ashes whitewash over England and delivering South Africa’s first series defeat since 2009 - yet there was a nagging feeling that the unique tribulations presented by Pakistan in their adopted stranglehold would signify an acid test in relation to whether we are genuinely braced for a fresh era of Australian dominance.
A fleeting glance at the statistics highlights Pakistan’s dominance in the UAE, with Misbah-ul-Haq’s side yet to taste a series defeat since relocating to their temporary home and that has been accomplished in spite of several undeniable holes in their armoury during that period.
For all the criticising of Australia’s meagre surrender in Dubai, it should not be undervalued the arduous assignment presented by Pakistan on their own patch, even accounting for the absence of focal point Saeed Ajmal.
There was always a suspicion that the slow surfaces would not translate to Australia’s strengths - that Johnson’s venom would be nullified by the mundane conditions is an obvious point yet it was the question marks surrounding their batsmen which arguably generated the most intrigue.
For all the deserved credit lapped upon Michael Clarke’s side following their year of superiority, there was a nagging undercurrent of doubt surrounding the credentials of their batting as a functioning unit.
In too many instances during that golden run the likes of Steve Smith and Brad Haddin were tasked with rebuilding missions. Had England showcased a greater degree of edge when in positions of strength the extent of their ignominy would have been somewhat lessened.
David Warner has developed into the game’s dominant opener and concerns surrounding his viability on the subcontinent - bred out of a viewpoint that his bludgeoning would be unconductive to pitches lacking in bounce - were quickly quashed by a typically aggressive century in Australia’s first innings. It is however post Warner where things grow muddy.
Alex Doolan, tasked with filling the troublesome number three berth in South Africa, contributed a combined total of just five runs, which leaves his Test average lingering at a substandard 24.
Mitchell Marsh did little to disparage those filing his selection in the bits and pieces category, while Haddin, so often Australia’s resuscitation maestro in the Ashes, continued his alarming slump since that historic triumph: the wicket-keeper’s last four Tests have yielded just 48 runs.
Further question marks surround the long-term viability of Chris Rogers, although to his credit the 37-year-old showcased the level of resolve that deserted the majority of his teammates and in a batting line-up carrying so many blemishes that Michael Clarke has only once passed 50 in seven Tests generates further reason for alarm.
To reap run-scoring rewards in the UAE requires patience, resolve and concentration – facets which are hardly synonymous with Australia’s current bullish approach to batting.
This is not the first instance in which Australia have come unstuck on a deck lacking in pace, with Australia succumbing to defeat against South Africa on a sluggish Port Elizabeth surface. On that occasion, Australia surrendered twice in little more than 130 overs, yet by comparison South Africa dourly plodded away for 150 overs in their first innings alone. That approach hardly offered engrossing viewing but given the circumstances its effectiveness couldn’t be faltered.
To take Australia’s perceived weakness a step further, it could also be suggested that England’s summer Ashes victory was built around a platform of grinding Australia down rather than by blowing their opponents away. The hosts' gamble on a philosophy of outlasting their arch rivals while using the x-factor of Graeme Swann on slow tracks to reap dividends.
Clarke’s side are not the first to be bamboozled by the unique assignment of cricket in UAE - England suffered three consecutive helpings of Saeed Ajmal-induced misery – but it is hard to escape the belief that Australia’s batting arsenal currently serves up more questions than answers.
With the Ashes drawing ever closer Darren Lehman has much to ponder regarding the make-up of his batting line-up with arguably only Warner, Clarke and Smith currently assured of selection come July’s curtain-raiser in Cardiff.
Thursday’s final Test affords Australia’s maligned batsmen the opportunity to silence a segment of the doubters and given the emphatic manner in which they rebounded after that Port Elizabeth defeat such a turnaround would not be inconceivable.
Unlike the England side who toured the same shores in 2012 a lack of character is not an accusation which can be labelled at Lehman’s men.
That being said in bouncing back from defeat against South Africa, the Aussies were afforded a relatively familiar Cape Town surface - in comparison Abu Dhabi will present an almost parallel environment to that which caused the tourists such troubles in Dubai.
It is possible that not even Australia’s unrivalled self-belief will act as a sufficient equaliser to their current limitations with the blade and if Lehman’s team are to avoid a series defeat unearthing a previously absent mental fortitude is essential. © Cricket World 2014