Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide January 23, 2008

Australia turn to Hayden for revival



Matthew Hayden's absence at the WACA exposed unknown frailties in the top order © Getty Images
 

The presence of Matthew Hayden has had a calming effect on Australia over the past eight years, but when he strides back into the side in Adelaide the emotion felt will be relief. The team missed him badly in Perth as he recovered from a right thigh problem and will look to him for stability in the series-deciding encounter.

After hundreds in the first two games, Hayden's absence was as influential as any of the reasons given for the 72-run loss on Saturday. Without their opening rock, Australia's top order wobbled and had no way to continue the cover for four out-of-touch batsmen and one debutant. Anything Chris Rogers contributed was a bonus - he scrambled 4 and 15 - but more was expected from Ricky Ponting and Phil Jaques, while Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke managed a half-century in one innings and struggled in the other.

The quartet has not found fluency during the first three Tests and each man has returns that are well below their career marks. Covering a couple of mis-firing batsmen is not a problem for Australia, but propping up the side when so many are battling for meaningful contributions proved too tough against a well-rounded Indian attack.

Brett Lee, the No. 8, did not get to bat in the two-Test series against Sri Lanka in November, with Australia declaring three times on the way to a clean sweep victory. Only once, in the first innings in Sydney, has Ponting been able to call his men in against India, and the same game was the one occasion when they posted more than 400 - the 463 came after they were in the horrible position of 6 for 134. Australia have now been dismissed five times in six innings for the first time since 2005.

Tim Nielsen, the coach, blamed the lack of partnerships in Perth as the reason for Australia's defeat, which ended their winning run at 16. Nielsen, who was pleased with the performance of his bowlers, said during the week that teams should expect the opposition to operate at the high standards India's attack achieved at the WACA. More runs have been demanded for Adelaide and when a group of players are struggling it is important that strong combinations are developed.

Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds posted the only century stand of the third Test for Australia with 102, providing some CPR after their top-order team-mates left them at 5 for 61. "We blew it in the first innings," Nielsen said. "We were 3 for 15 before lunch on the second day." Working on lifting the batting output has been the focus between Tests after scores of 212 and 340, which was boosted by a ninth-wicket liaison of 73. That stand also exposed the team's current weakness.

Jaques, Clarke, Ponting and Michael Hussey averaged at least 70 in the Sri Lanka series, when four century stands were scored, while Symonds and Gilchrist weren't dismissed. Hayden was the only one who failed to make a half-century, but he repaid the squad in critical circumstances in the opening two Tests against India. Symonds, who has 380 runs in a particularly strong series, and Michael Hussey (270 runs at 54.00) are the only batsmen who have supported Hayden adequately since Christmas.

Clarke's second-innings 81 in Perth boosted his tally to 198 at 33.00, a collection that is better than those of Jaques (30.50), Gilchrist (22.66) and Ponting (21.33). It is rare that so many Australians have been treading water at the same time, even against the high-quality swing offered by India.

Anil Kumble's claim after the WACA win that his batting line-up is the best in the world has riled the home team, which believes it has no peer. After some dysfunctional performances in the opening three games Australia will look to Hayden's muscle to help them return to the top.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo