Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Arthur took the Mickey out of Australia

On the India tour earlier this year, Australia went into the first Test at Chennai with a three-man pace attack and a solitary spinner, when everyone knew the bone dry pitch had nothing for seamers and everything for spinners. The Aussie think tank said they knew that all along, but preferred to play to their strengths. The daftness of that position soon became apparent because off-spinner Nathan Lyon did trouble the Indian batsmen - even the experienced Sachin Tendulkar.

You have to play horses for courses. England got it wrong too at the outset of their India tour, but then paired up Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. And how potent that proved!

Australia, on the other hand, kept messing up their team selections right through the India tour. In the second Test at Hyderabad, they did include their second specialist spinner Xavier Doherty, but left out Lyon who had looked threatening in Chennai. Then, the all-rounder Glen Maxwell, who picked up four wickets in Hyderabad with his off-spin against a strong Indian batting lineup for those conditions, was left out for the subsequent Tests.

Team selection wasn't all. The Aussie strategy too was way off the mark. In the first Test, James Pattinson was taken off the attack after three overs even though he had rattled the Indians with two quick wickets. He was brought back to bowl only in the next session. It's true Pattinson had made a comeback from injury, but if the captain Michael Clarke wasn't going to use him after he had just taken out both the Indian openers, why play him at all? And it wasn't as if Pattinson went off the field. Not to see him bowl any more with the new ball, despite being available, was a great relief for the Indian middle order batsmen as they went about resurrecting the innings.

Australia's show in the Champions Trophy was equally pathetic, not just in the results but in the way they played the game. George Bailey has looked a most uninspiring substitute captain, and his ultra conservative batting in the middle order was partly responsible for their failure to at least create winning opportunities. Their margin of defeat might have been bigger, but they would have looked more purposive. In their final game, when they had to reach their target in 29 overs to boost their run rate and qualify, they gave up the ghost after losing four wickets. They reverted to playing normal cricket and lost the game anyway. What was the point?

Australia's 4-0 drubbing in India, and elimination from the Champions Trophy at the preliminary stage, has been attributed mainly to the team being in transition, the lack of quality batsmen, and disciplinary issues. While all those are true to an extent, I believe they are also fig leaves behind which the team leadership has been hiding. The coach Mickey Arthur and captain Michael Clarke have been the ones calling the wrong shots. Cricket Australia has done well to take action before more water had flown under the London bridge. The Ashes promise to be more interesting now.

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