Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 4, 2013

Sloppiness leaves an empty feeling

Despite taking a lead on the second day, Australia had something missing in their game

Only twice in 78 Tests before his final one did Michael Hussey have the words "run out" entered next to his name on a scorecard. On both occasions Hussey was out in a manner more akin to being stumped - found out of his ground by a quick thinking silly-point fielder from India. As fastidious between the wickets as he was in all other facets of the game, Hussey's avoidance of this most maddening method of dismissal spoke volumes for his thoroughness.

So it was indicative of another sloppy day for Australia, as well as a mighty shock for the crowd of 26,420 at the SCG, to see Hussey departing in his final match to a run out after his captain Michael Clarke had called what turned out to be too hasty a single. Where on day one the team selection, choice at the toss and discipline of the bowlers was questionable, the second day was pockmarked by two run-outs, a trio of batsmen out to presumptuous strokes, and mounting evidence of a pitch drying far quicker than any bowl-first captain would have liked.

As on day one, these mistakes were not quite terminal, for the Sri Lankan opposition are doughty rather than daunting, and were again to fall foul of the vagaries of the DRS when different choices might even have resulted in a narrow first-innings lead for the visitors. Nonetheless, they do mean Clarke's team are making very hard work of a Test they were prohibitive favourites to win after rolling to a series victory inside three days in Melbourne.

The haziness of Australian thinking was evident early on when Ed Cowan dawdled a first run after David Warner flicked wide of midwicket as he continued a rapid start to the day. The dawdle was compounded when Warner hared back for a second and Cowan hesitated, and by the time he was moving again Nuwan Pradeep's return was well on the way to Dhammika Prasad. Metres short of his ground, Cowan hung his head on the way off - at the time a run out seemed the only way that he and Warner were likely to be separated under sunny skies against a new ball combination that was rich in endeavour but extremely modest in record.

Cowan's involvement in run outs has been, alongside his propensity for missing out on major scores when conditions and opponents should suit him best, the most troubling part of his brief Test career so far. It seems at times as though his obvious intellect and determination to get everything right has interfered with his capacity to make the sorts of instinctive decisions that other less cerebral players manage to succeed by more often. A first run may be ambled with the thought of a long day ahead, when in fact the better thought is to be thinking purely of pressing for a second and worrying about the rest of the day when it arrives.

That early muddle was forgotten for most of the next two and a half hours, as Warner and Phillip Hughes were barely stretched in punching out a stand of 130 at comfortably better than four per over. For a time Warner threatened a century before lunch, while a more sedate Hughes could hardly be called dour in chugging along at the sort of pace Mark Taylor used to aim for in ODI matches. So secure did the pair look, despite evidence of turn on the drying surface, that their dismissals ultimately arrived via means that suggested they had become too comfortable at the crease.

Warner's slog at Tillakaratne Dilshan was unnecessary, and made worse for the fact that he stood a far better chance of lofting the part-time off spinner to the boundary with a more authentic stroke than the ugly mishmash of drive and hoick that he ultimately tried. Hughes had prospered with the cut shot, but was fooled by Rangana Herath's change of pace and the mild variation in bounce provided by the pitch. Both had fallen short of centuries on the same ground and the same day a year ago that Clarke had set about erecting a monumental 329, and both will end the Sri Lanka series with nothing like the runs their sharp touch had suggested - a waste.

This is not to say that Clarke himself was immune from censure. He began 2013 like he had spent much of 2012, driving the spinners with assurance, flicking the pacemen to midwicket with panache, and hustling between the wickets. But Clarke was then to transgress in the sort of manner that he had done every so often in the years before he became captain, something that did not endear him to followers of the team.

First, his call resulted in Hussey's run out, then a conflicted-looking heave at Herath resulted in another skier and catch for Sri Lanka. Whether or not Clarke was distracted by the manner of Hussey's dismissal will be a question only he can answer, but his exit left a great deal of work to be done for the tail unduly extended by the selection of five bowlers. Matthew Wade flirted with danger often in his innings, but he sold his wicket more dearly than most of the batsmen who had preceded him. Due to their inattention, he now has only Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird for batting company.

At the end of the equivalent day last year, Clarke had walked off in the company of Hussey to accept the adulation of the SCG for an unbeaten tally of 251 as India were confounded by the ruthlessness of a hungry team. This time Hussey's run out had left the gathered spectators with something of an empty feeling, and it would be one shared by Clarke and the rest of his team. There has been something missing in this match.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2013, 4:45 GMT

    Aus - SL, SA - NZ dont make a good mix for cricket watchers. SA - Aus, Ind - Pak, Ind - Aus in Ind, Eng - Aus are combinations that are good to watch and make for exciting cricket.

  • Roo on January 5, 2013, 4:24 GMT

    @JB77... Agree, unsure why cricinfo monitors allow so many troll comments & block many genuine comms... Have a number of friends who don't even bother coming to this website because of its known troll comms - cricinfo's loss & real fans...

  • Roo on January 5, 2013, 4:22 GMT

    Only one person misread this pitch & that was Clarke... The curator said the day before the match that it would be a dry pitch - bat 1st with a backup spinner... Mahela agreed... So far this summer Clarke has made fundamental mistakes - poor bowler selection or use at AO, WACA, SCG - running out Hussey & poor shot selection when a more mature approach would have led to a much bigger 1st innings lead in this match... Expect a few blunders by new captains, so hope he is learning from his mistakes...

  • Graham on January 5, 2013, 3:57 GMT

    I stand by those statements, as late day 2 pitch starting playing up and with wickets in hand 500 could be achieved against an average bowling attack. However, watching early day 3 the pitch doesnt seem to be playing many tricks.

  • andrews on January 5, 2013, 2:43 GMT

    Hammond, why would the series in India show 'the real difference' any more than the other 13 series played by Australia and England combined since the last ashes, 12 of which show a superior performance by Australia? You need to brush up on your cricket terminology too buddy. A whitewash is winning every test in a series. Only one of the ashes combatants has done that. We can say with absolute certainty that England never will, and haven't gone close during this brief period of recent 'dominance.'

  • David on January 5, 2013, 1:56 GMT

    @mikey76, so are we to we assume that "twice'' is a synonym for "so many times"? I'm assuming you are a native English speaker, so that I don't have to explain the meaning of that phrase. I predict Lyon will take a bag of wickets this 3rd innings, possibly 5+. The two "so many times" that Lyon didn't take wickets in the 4th innings were both times when the opposition were dead batting, playing for a draw. As we have seen with the world's most successful spinner in 2012 - Herath - struggling most innings to take wickets, it isn't easy to bowl offspin in Australia.

  • Sean on January 5, 2013, 1:43 GMT

    @Chris_P Its abit like how we didnt hear much from you when New Zealand won the test in Hobart too. Yes, thats right, the Black Caps. Hows that for comic relief or is that too real for you?

  • glenn on January 5, 2013, 1:21 GMT

    @FFL: did we watch the same cricket over the last 12 months? Notwithstanding the brilliant series win in India; England lost 7 out of 15 tests in 2012, for a win/loss ratio of 0.7. Yes, zero point seven. Australia lost one from 11, for a W/L ratio of 7. Different pitches, some different teams, but both teams played 8 of their Tests against SA, WI and SL in that period.

    England are rightfully favourites for the Double Ashes Series -- heightened by the loss of Hussey -- but Australia are a vastly improved team. Let's see how that carries through the Indian and English away tours . . .

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2013, 1:07 GMT

    @JB77 - I'm with you! pure Trolls!

  • Graham on January 4, 2013, 23:23 GMT

    Hammond - Not sure what your definition of whitewash is,the only on e I can recall is the one that was not part of the 3 of 4 series wins.

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