Australia v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hobart, 4th day December 12, 2011

Australia's senior men upstaged again

Australia's loss to New Zealand was a new low. And most worryingly for Michael Clarke, it was the senior men who let the side down - again

Last month, Australia were bowled out for 47 in Cape Town. The only way from there, it appeared, was up. Appearances can be deceiving. Less than five weeks later, Michael Clarke's men have hit an even lower point. They have lost a Test at home to New Zealand.

If that sounds disrespectful to Ross Taylor's side it is not intended to be, for they played magnificently over four days at the Bellerive Oval. Their fast bowlers hit impeccable lines and moved the ball both in the air and off the seam. Their fielding was first-rate. Their batting, while flawed, was better than that of the hosts - at the moment, that's not hard to achieve.

But regardless of how well New Zealand played, the fact remains that Australia lost to the eighth-ranked Test side in the world, a team that sits ahead only of Bangladesh. Before this game, only once had New Zealand beaten Australia without Richard Hadlee in the team. This time, they didn't even have their best player, Daniel Vettori.

A fortnight ago, Clarke said New Zealand were a tough outfit to defeat "but if we're at our best, with this squad, we'll beat them". It is now clear to Clarke that his squad is not at its best, nor anywhere near it. And as they approach a four-Test series against India, that is a major concern. Even more worrying for Clarke and the team management, it is the senior players who are letting the side down.

Consider the list of Australia's best performers in the New Zealand series: James Pattinson (14 wickets), Nathan Lyon (10 wickets), David Warner (153 runs). In South Africa, 18-year-old Pat Cummins won Australia the Johannesburg Test. None had played Test cricket six months ago. The ups and downs are not the fault of a young team.

Warner was so impressive that he nearly dug Australia out of their Hobart hole with the help of Lyon. He must play on Boxing Day, regardless of whether both Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh return from injury. Of the senior men, only Clarke can hold his head up following his century in Brisbane. But in Hobart, he struggled.

Phillip Hughes cannot avoid edging seamers and cannot retain his place against India. His problems are technical, mental and terminal. Ishant Sharma would have watched Chris Martin's plans unfold perfectly, and could replicate them if Hughes plays.

Ricky Ponting no longer strikes fear into opposition attacks. At the Gabba he showed, as he did at the Wanderers last month, that there could still be Test runs in him. But there are far more failures now than ever before in his career. His back-foot drive that lobbed off the toe of the bat to cover in the second innings in Hobart was ugly. He will find life no easier against India.

Warner was so impressive that he nearly dug Australia out of their Hobart hole with the help of Lyon. He must play on Boxing Day, regardless of whether both Watson and Shaun Marsh return from injury.

Michael Hussey was Man of the Match in all three Tests against Sri Lanka. Now he cannot buy a run. Hussey made 23 against New Zealand at an average of 7.66. His past two series - against South Africa and New Zealand - have been the two worst of his Test career. Sri Lanka and his productive Ashes bought him credit, but he needs runs against India.

Brad Haddin continues to frustrate. Half-centuries in Brisbane and Johannesburg were key to Australia's victories. But in Cape Town he was irresponsible and, again, in Hobart he let the team down in important situations. On the fourth day, when resilience was required, he was dropped at slip and then edged another catch to the cordon next ball. That chance was not missed by Taylor.

Again, too much was left to the tail. They had already done their job with the ball. Pattinson, Lyon, Peter Siddle and, to a lesser extent, Mitchell Starc are a promising combination. If Ryan Harris can regain his fitness, they will be even more of a threat. But their work is irrelevant if the batsmen keep failing.

"I am worried about every one of us," Clarke said after the loss. "I can't be worried about the top order when the middle order didn't go very well either. In the first innings our tail played a big part of getting us to [around] 130, but as batters it is our job to make runs and we have got to do that more often.

"We were on the winning side in South Africa [in the Johannesburg Test] and unfortunately we lost today. It probably sums up where we're at as a team at the moment. We're seeing some really good patches of individual excellence and as a team we're playing really well in patches. But then we're seeing the other side as well, where we're letting ourselves down by very poor performances. We can't seem to find that middle road at the moment."

That Australia alternate between very good performances and poor ones is reflected in their place in the Test rankings: No. 4. And unless their batsmen find runs consistently, they'll stay there. They might even fall further. For, as they discovered in Hobart, the gap between No.4 and No.8 is not as wide as they thought.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohit on December 15, 2011, 9:46 GMT

    Well said @Krisha_cricketfan, I believe that the present Aussie side would be well matched to the Indian one touring them. It would be Aussies resurgent bowling against some strong Indian batting line-up - which in Aussie conditions should favor the home side. And then the flimsy Indian bowling against a low on confidence (and form) Aussie batting - now there is lies the battle! Me thinks Aussies would come out tops!

  • chris on December 14, 2011, 6:34 GMT


    well , mate you guys were walloped 5-0 recently..good joke , son

  • martin on December 14, 2011, 2:14 GMT

    landl47 - bit harsh on lyon - he was bowling on pitches not generally conducive to finger spin...his job was to keep things tight when needed and to clean up the tail, both of which he did very well! Also, many seem to be calling for Hussey's end, remember these have been 2 x 2 test series - ie. 4 tests! The top order can't rely on him to come to the rescue every innings after a ridiculous collapse. He, unlike Ponting, has looked sharp and focused over the last 12 months and has a technique and work ethic most of the other batsmen can only dream of. The openers and Ponting have been the biggest weakness...and that includes Watson. He is very useful when he bowls, but as an opener hasn't really delivered. For Boxing day my preffered XI would be: Warner, Katich (I'm with Bob Simpson, eat humble pie CA and bring him back!), Marsh (if fit/if not, then Kahwaja), Watson, Clarke, Hussey, Wade, Pattinson, Copeland, Siddle, Lyon.

  • Keith on December 13, 2011, 22:46 GMT

    Theres been some horrible Aussie collapses in the last 18 months, and the "oldies" have been part of them. You just can't expect to bat like this and win very much, unless you have a top class bowling attack to help level things. There's some uncomfortable decisions to be made sometime soon.

  • wayne on December 13, 2011, 21:14 GMT

    Just to keep the debate going (and given my formidable knowledge of the up-and-comers) my XI for the future would be: T. Smiff, I. Leftyright, JJ. von Beetlejuice (c), H. Fighty, F. Fighty, H. Mopoke, B. Grunties, M. Python (wk), B. Quor, GB. Blimey, AA. St Mizzlebury III. The Dapto Girls Under-7s are a force to be reckoned with, so mark my words - when Australia needs them to stand up to topple Ireland from the #1 spot in 2026, they'll be ready.

  • Peterincanada on December 13, 2011, 19:31 GMT

    @landl47 - I think yor criticism of Lyon is somewhat unfair. In 3 of the 4 NZ innings the seamers had them 5 and 6 down in a hurry, before he even got a bowl.

  • Krishnaswami on December 13, 2011, 18:02 GMT

    Those who want Hussey and Pointing to go, here is the fact. Aussies are about to face an Indian bowling unit which is hardly threatening. Even before the tour we have enough injuries and drop outs. So, why not have these 2 batsmen in the team and allow them to score if not feast? SA and NZ are having 4 fast bowlers always and so failure of Hussey and Pointing can be understood. If Zaheer drops out, then we will have a repeat of England 2011 experience. And Australian selectors are intelligent to know this fact.

  • Ishan on December 13, 2011, 17:55 GMT

    @rkannancrow - ahem! I bet you weren't surprised when India got walloped 4-0 by England either. You made me laugh old man!

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2011, 16:48 GMT

    Hey Aussies out there...being an Indian I am all for Ponting and Hussey and Haddin for the Boxing Day Test ..all these 3 are classy players and are only 1 match away from a century so guys...relax they would be in form.....btw the talent pool of Australian Players coming out of Sheffield shield Cricket inarguably the best cricketing set up in the world is not producing the kind of batsman they used to they could previously drop the waugh brothers, gilespies, greg blewett out of the team if they were out of form enoughbut its difficult these days as theres no talent pool to choose from pathetic....for a nation which has a strong domestic system...THEREIN lies a problem. and a solution...are the aussies strong enough @ the grassroot level the under 16's under 19's under 21 etc....if u need pontings and waughs of the futire they need to take proper care of the younger blokes comin out of rhe aussi system...the quality of players is what makes and great team...time to get down to basics!!

  • josh on December 13, 2011, 14:34 GMT

    @peterincanada lol chief u reckon aussie lost it yep they did due to the relentless pressure of a NZ side who is surely now on parity with them. Cant understand the call to drop veterans and build for the future in tests u play yr best XI as yr not building to anything theres no world cup of tests.

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