Australia v India, 1st Test, MCG, 4th day December 29, 2011

Australia make for compelling viewing

Michael Clarke's side is not a great one, but just about everything Australia have done in their past five Tests has made for compelling viewing. Whether good or bad, it has been impossible to look away

Michael Clarke's team is not a great one. But it is great to watch. At a time when the Big Bash League is trying to lure new followers to cricket in Australia, the long format is providing some of the most absorbing action it has in years. Just about everything Australia have done in their past five Tests has made for compelling viewing. Whether good or bad, it has been impossible to look away.

Who could move from their seat as wicket after wicket tumbled in Cape Town last month? Who could fail to be mesmerised by the sight of 18-year-old Pat Cummins leading Australia to victory with bat and ball in Johannesburg a week later? How could one not be impressed by James Pattinson's pace and swing in his match-winning debut in Brisbane against New Zealand? And who could deny that the following Test in Hobart, with David Warner carrying his bat for a century in a seven-run defeat to Ross Taylor's underdogs, was a fantastic contest?

Australia's 122-run victory over India in Melbourne was another example. Clarke would love to win every Test as emphatically. It is good for the spectacle of the game that his side has not. The 189,347 spectators who turned out over four days to watch the Boxing Day Test - a record for Australia-India matches in Melbourne - were treated to a battle that twisted one way and then the other, and was at times as unpredictable as Ian Healy on a segway.

Not insignificantly for the Australian fans, they saw a side that is, for the most part, likeable. Since the retirement of Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist et al, Australia have won more Tests than they have lost. But there has been a certain blandness about the squad. At last, that is changing. Young men like Pattinson and Warner provide raw energy, as Cummins did in South Africa. They also bring immense talent and promise.

A 21-year-old Melbourne lad who grew up with the tradition of family trips to the Boxing Day Test, Pattinson had the MCG crowd behind him as a bounded in, over after indefatigable over. He swung the ball. He bounced some of the best batsmen of the modern era, bringing roars from Bay 13. He was aggressive without overstepping the line. For the Melbourne fans, he might as well have been Merv Hughes.

He finished the Test with six wickets, including 4 for 53 in the second innings as he rattled the stumps of Rahul Dravid and also accounted for VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni. In his third Test, he won his second Man-of-the-Match award. Pattinson also has a personality, and is willing to show it off the field. Unusually for young players, he says what he thinks. Occasionally he resorts to cliché, but only occasionally.

Before the Test, he spoke bullishly of his plans to intimidate India's batsmen and lead the attack. Then he went out and did it. Some might call it cocky, but it's refreshing to hear a young fast bowler show such genuine self-belief. It's a trait possessed by most great fast bowlers. Some men, Mitchell Johnson for example, have the pace but not the confidence. Pattinson has both.

"Bringing it all together is a captain, Clarke, who is willing to try different things. His plans don't always work, but seeing Hussey amble in and nearly draw a false stroke from Sachin Tendulkar with his medium pace was, again, fascinating."

He appears to boost the energy and belief of those around him. Peter Siddle bounces off his Dandenong club-mate effectively, his aggression and passion evident at the MCG. Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon are men of few words, but they complete a four-man attack that fans can relate to: a bricklayer (Hilfenhaus), a groundsman (Lyon), a woodchopper (Siddle) and a would-be roof tiler (Pattinson). All of the fast men performed over the past four days, and the way they worked together on day four was outstanding.

It is also hard not to be impressed by the debutant, Ed Cowan, who speaks with confidence and views the sport with a more discerning eye than most cricketers. At 29, Cowan knows his game. He has written about the trials of the Sheffield Shield cricketer, the mental and physical strains that accompany that lifestyle. Those who have read his book, In the Firing Line, will feel that they know him. They would have appreciated his grit in making 68 in the first innings, and shared his despair at leaving a ball that trapped him lbw in the second.

His opening partner, Warner, has also won over fans who thought he was a Twenty20 basher. He did not show his Test credentials in Melbourne, but his hundred against New Zealand showed his willingness to knuckle down. When Warner walks out to bat at the top of a Test order, it is best not to look away. Like Pattinson, he supplies the side with energy in the field, throwing himself around to save runs and take catches. His leaping AFL-style mark in front of Bay 13, on the long-on rope, to finish the Test brought roars from the crowd.

The struggle of the veterans, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, has also been gripping. That they were the two men who rescued Australia when another collapse appeared imminent in the second innings was appreciated by the spectators. To watch them fight, every ball demanding their utmost concentration, was a sight to behold.

Bringing it all together is a captain, Clarke, who is willing to try different things. His plans don't always work, but seeing Hussey amble in and nearly draw a false stroke from Sachin Tendulkar with his medium pace was, again, fascinating.

The challenge for Clarke is to elicit consistency from his men. Since the start of the South Africa tour they have had a devastating loss in Cape Town, a memorable win in Johannesburg, a strong victory at the Gabba, another gutting defeat in Hobart, and now a fine win over a good team in Melbourne. Australia are not a great side, but with consistency they can become a very good one. For the time being, let's enjoy the compelling Test cricket they keep dishing up.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Warrick on January 1, 2012, 0:47 GMT

    If Australia is to reach number 1 again, then there are going to be plenty of days where we'll be head scratching. But it is necessary that we have these days in the quest for what is our best 15 test players. The bowling looks as if it's getting somewhere. All the selectors can do is pick players with talent, skill & determination to give them an opportunity to showcase their talents. It's important that they give them an extended run like the Hughes of the second opportunity & not cut them short like the Hughes of the first opportunity. So expect guys to come & go until we find players who are comfortable at this level & can be successful. The result of this process will be inconsistent performances which we will have to accept for the time being. But, like the article says, it's never dull!

  • Shanmugam on December 30, 2011, 17:19 GMT

    @suavesjmh,@_Australian_, don't get me wrong. IMO, Khawaja is as Aussie as anyone else in the team. I was only pointing out the folly in RandyOz's argument. In this age and time, people migrate from one country to another in search of a better life and to achieve their goals. I see nothing wrong in that. You see a lot of Indian people moving to the western world. After accepting, say, US citizenship, they are American and enjoy the same rights and privileges that other US citizens get. Why should it be any different with sports? Going by your argument, Strauss and Prior may have been born in SA but they learned their trade in the UK. Even more absurd is the case of slamming Monty Panesar. The guy was born and raised in England. Yes, KP, Trott and Morgan were born and raised elsewhere before playing for Eng. but they have pledged their allegiance to England and deserve to play for England. Saying that they can't play for England is denying their rights and is unfair.

  • Dnyanesh on December 30, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    Guys...this article is about the Australian team, so lets not use this to bash India. That said, I need to jump in to defend the team. We didnt play as bad as the scores say... I would say we ended slightly ahead on day 1, almost won day 2, Ended equal on day 3 and lost day 4. The batting is ageing but look at how Dravid played in England and Sachin played here and we can see that age is not an excuse at least for this series. Our bowling clicked and shows promise and we have a talented Rahane and Rohit on the bench. Want to stick my neck around and say that we could still win this series...

  • StJohn on December 30, 2011, 14:21 GMT

    Various comments on Cricinfo in the last couple of days have revisited a popular focal point for whinging: the fact that England has a couple of South African born players in the current Test side (and an Irish chap). A bit of gentle mickey taking and banter about this is fair enough, but some comments tend to betray a rather blinkered and narrow-minded view of nationality. We live in an increasingly globalised world where many people frequently move, or want to move, to different countries to seek out better opportunities. Why should cricket be any different? Obvious English parental links apart, the more pertinent question is why these guys don't want to move to Australia instead of England or stay in South Africa? It certainly isn't for the weather! Be mindful not to stray towards unhealthy nationalism too: the undertone that people should only play for the country where they were born is not a good direction for society to move in.

  • Lalith on December 30, 2011, 9:15 GMT

    India needs to learn From sri Lanka how to win TEST matches away.

  • Aidan on December 30, 2011, 6:44 GMT

    Yep @ Randy - agree the bowling stocks are very good and affecting batting averages of the quality out there - During the Warne/ McGrath era I don't remember thinking gee "I wish this such and such bowler was playing" - A guy like Bichel was the guy who game in for an injury or extra option - but there was no one else that good - at the moment there are whole series of players not even in the team who would be good additions.

  • John on December 30, 2011, 5:12 GMT

    I've enjoyed watching Australia over the last few months. You never know what's going to happen- bowled out for 47, chase down 310, win by 9 wickets, lose by 7 runs and then this match. They are consistently inconsistent. Who knows what will happen in the next match? They're not, as the article says, a great side, but they're great fun to watch.

  • Baskar on December 30, 2011, 4:57 GMT

    A test win is like an air freshener -- makes the bad smells go away for a while. While we all should laud a good win, here is what Australians need to worry about. Consistency at the top of the order; Haddin's batting blues; and Lyon's pedestrian spin. On a pitch that is more varied (assists spin as well as pace over the duration of the test), this Aussie team will not do as well even against this Indian team.

  • Dennis on December 30, 2011, 4:44 GMT

    The problem with Aussie is going too be there batting in the future , bowling looks like its got depth . all this talk about bringing youth into the team is just that TALK ,drop Kawaja and Hughes and keep the oldies Ponting and Hussey even though they probably won the game for them ,there best days are behind them , as for India they are the same boat but they have yet to admit or refuse to pension off the oldies Dravid , SRT and Laxman watching them in the field is comical - shelling catches .Indian fans want to drop Koli ,he,s there future .The next couple of years will be painful for Aussie and India ,when they tour NZ ,ZIM,WI ,and Sri Lanka they will struggle to put away these teams in there home conditions, only England it seems (and i hate to say this ) are clearly ahead of the rest .

  • Aidan on December 30, 2011, 3:55 GMT

    All this talk about Warner not having the technique for Tests is becoming frustrating to listen to. It is like "Chinese Whispers". Someone random online says he is a 20/20 specialist - no technique then another person says "yeah that's right and repeats the sentiment and before you know it circulates "he has no technique". Listen check his first class stats - impressive. The 37 he made in the first innings was enough to show he has what it takes. I suspect he is still learning the craft but his inclusion is justified (as was in previous time Michael Slater). There is nothing wrong with Warner's Technique; the guy has been playing since he was like 5 or something; He can leave, block play on the front and back foot - that's called cricket! The batting talent overall seems a concern but it is out there; one thing which should be kept in mind is the the spicy pitches have contributed to the very good players ave between 37 - 45 rather than 50+.

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