Thursday, 23 October 2008

Cracks in the Aussie machine, at last?

The cricketing world have been waiting 13 years for cracks in the Aussie machine to emerge. But, having suffered a humiliating thrashing by India in the second Test, real weaknesses can finally be detected.

Most fundamentally, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill have proved impossible to replace, especially given the injury to Bryce McGain. Cameron White is a fine cricketer, but he is a batting allrounder playing at eight: as near as Australia come to a 'bits n' pieces' man, he has taken three wickets in two Tests and has a top score of 18.

Indeed, the bowling attack currently does not look able to take 20 wickets in India conditions. Brett Lee, so exceptional since the 2005 Ashes, has been too wayward, and must step up to the plate. Mitchell Johnson has, however, risen admirably to the challenge. But an attack consiting of three quicks who had never played a Test in India, and two batting allrounders - White and Shane Watson - was always going to struggle.

The batting remains powerful, though a little less so than in recent years. Matthew Hayden, with 42 runs in four innings, is fighting against the ageing process, though people said the same after his poor 2005 Ashes. Shane Watson has the ability to make a fine Test allrounder at number six, though Australia clearly miss the multifarious talents of Andrew Symonds, axed for ill-discipline. And Brad Haddin has not yet scored a Test fifty in five games, while he is leaking more byes than Australia would like.

It should not be forgotten that, even at their peak under Steve Waugh, Australia were defeated in India in 2001, ending their world-record streak of 16 Test wins. And, of course, India ended the record-equalling streak once more as recently as January. Yet, where in 2001 Australia were undone by performances of staggering brilliance by Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman, the feeling this time is they are losing simply because, man-for-man, they are the inferior side.

Yet while Australia look to have a less effective outfit to win in Asia than for some time, they still have two of the finest pace bowlers in the world, in Clark and Lee, and a batting line-up that can dominate anyone. They are not quite what they once were, and it would be a surprise were they to salvage something from this series. But their side is still an outstanding one - especially in the more pace friendly conditions to be found in Australia, South Africa and England, where their next challenges lie. They are still, just about, the world's best.


Dean Sherr said...

Well let's not forget that Australia have always struggled in India, I think it's going to be interesting to see how we go and then evaluate after 12 months or so.

Home and away tests against South Africa will be very interesting, and so too the Ashes. After that, I think we'll know whether Australia are still good enough or not, but there's a lot of talent waiting for their chances too, so I think that even if some of the current players continue to fail, we'll be able to cover them.

Haddin is certainly a worry though, only Ronchi seems remotely ready to step up and he is quite inconsistent.

I was particularly impressed with the debut of Peter Siddle, who I (and many others) have earmarked as a future superstar.

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