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Australia are on the verge of what should be a victory in Perth but it can't mask a sometimes disappointing performance
December 19, 2009
Australia are on the verge of what should be a victory in Perth but it can't mask a sometimes disappointing performance. The third day wasn't a good one for the batting line-up, the fourth was far from perfect for the bowlers. For much of the day they would struggle once again to bowl their opponents out, in what has become a worrying trend for Ricky Ponting.
He has had nearly three years to get used to life without Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath but it hasn't become any easier. Ponting said during the match that he sometimes expects too much of his still inexperienced attack and can become a little grumpy when they fail to deliver the wickets that he wants.
Fortunately for Australia, those breakthroughs did eventually arrive this time, though it was mighty close to being too late. By the time Brendan Nash and Narsingh Deonarine had taken the score to 3 for 196, West Indies needed another 163 to win with seven wickets in hand. It looked a thoroughly gettable target until Shane Watson, the fifth bowler, stepped up to break the partnership, which prompted a run of lower-order wickets.
Until then, the always attacking Doug Bollinger looked like the only man likely to strike. Mitchell Johnson was tired and ill with gastro, the debutant Clint McKay was steady rather than threatening, and most worryingly Nathan Hauritz was having no impact on a wearing fourth-day pitch. Hauritz also had a stomach upset but Australia must expect more of him than tying down an end.
Too often he bowled flat and quick, while the part-timer Marcus North tossed the ball up and found some sharp turn. Match-winning spinners usually do their best work on the fourth and fifth day as the surface begins to break up; in the fourth innings of Tests Hauritz has three wickets at 49.66. Nobody expects Hauritz to magically turn games like Warne, but it must be a concern that in ten Tests his best is three wickets in an innings.
Luckily for Hauritz, his fellow spinners aren't exactly knocking down the door. On the same day that he struggled in Perth, Jason Krejza was wicketless and expensive for Tasmania, Bryce McGain had no success in Newcastle, and the Perth Test backup Steven Smith was injured. Jon Holland and Cullen Bailey fared better but not well enough for Hauritz to be worried.
For now, Ponting and the coach Tim Nielsen can do little but accept their young attack's ups and downs, and victory in Perth will at least mean success this time around - if only just. There was no happiness in Cardiff, when they let England's final pair survive for 70 minutes to salvage a draw, or at the WACA last year when South Africa chased a near record 414, or at The Oval, or in Cape Town.
Nielsen said it was still a matter of a youthful team learning the best way to attack Test cricket. However, he was also thrilled with the way the bowlers fought back late on the fourth day against West Indies and said poor batting - Australia's second-innings of 150 was their lowest total in a home Test in 13 years - was as much of a concern as the bowling.
"It's probably a reflection of a little bit of inconsistency with both bat and ball for us," Nielsen said. "That's the thing we're learning to do better as a Test match team. Having said that, it's a pretty good surface, still. I think we probably let ourselves down a little bit more with the bat than we have with the ball today.
"We've just got to be willing to do the things like we did after tea for a little bit longer earlier in the day - just be a little bit more disciplined, if things aren't quite working out maybe just stick at making sure we don't give them any free runs, let the opposition batting team get some momentum. As soon as that happens as we saw today you've then got to actually get the momentum back before you can try and start to attack again. That does take some time. It's important that we learn that when we have our foot on their throat we don't let it go, either with the bat or ball."
They should get away with it this time, largely because West Indies' lower order is so frail. They won't always be so fortunate.
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