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March 21, 2013

Australia in India 2012-13

Ashes talk undermines Australia effort

Mahesh Sethuraman
Has Michael Clarke's team been guilty of failing to focus on the task in hand?  © BCCI
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Australia have been so thoroughly outplayed on this tour of India that one can lay the blame at the feet of anything and get away without much scrutiny. One can accuse them of lacking the will to fight, being spoilt by T20 riches, or the new-age culture of high-performance academies. Some of them may even be true. Just as equally true, if not substantially more, is the stark difference in the skills and experience of the conditions between the two teams.

Having said that, I am still going to pick a subject of my fancy and attribute that as one of the factors for their loss. For an outsider, with no stake in Australia's performance on this tour, I found a couple of areas of their approach and preparation absolutely baffling.

Purely in terms of the quality of rivalry, India-Australia was arguably the finest for a decade in world cricket. The stocks of the Border-Gavaskar trophy were enhanced significantly since Steve Waugh anointed India as the final frontier for his champion team back in 2001. The rivalry has produced magical spells, the pinnacle of batsmanship the game has seen, gripping drama, and some obnoxious controversies over the years.

Add that to the fact that for the proud cricketing nation that Australia is, their record in India isn't particularly earth shattering. They have won four series in India in their history and only one since 1969 - that, too, with generous help from BCCI infighting (Nagpur) and the weather gods (Chennai) in 2004. The mighty trio of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting managed two wins in India between them (Adam Gilchrist managed two as stand-in for Ponting though). A series win in India could define Michael Clarke's captaincy in a way no other single series might.

Yet, it was hard to convince myself that Australia treated this series with the sense of importance it deserved. Phil Hughes was protected from the potent South Africa bowling attack for his comeback but was brought to India as if it is his most natural habitat. James Pattinson, the pick of the bowlers in Chennai, was preserved for the major part of the first Test of a critical series when the match was absolutely hanging in the balance. Irrespective of his fragile fitness and the sapping heat, would they have done it in the Ashes?

"If the Ashes is the only thing that matters, why even take the effort to come here? Is this a pre-Ashes preparatory camp?"

You get thrashed in the first, ransacked in the second, and you have two more Tests to go, with one of the most prestigious trophies in the game at stake - what do you do?

If you are Mickey Arthur, Australia's coach, you argue that these failures will have no bearing on the Ashes campaign. Really? He nearly hints that the India tour shouldn't have been part of the schedule at all. If your team has performed well at home and floundered badly abroad, would you look at the positives of performing at home or talk about fixing the performance outside? If the Ashes is the only thing that matters, why even take the effort to come here? Is this a pre-Ashes preparatory camp?

Arthur wasn't the only one. Pattinson thought dropping him on disciplinary grounds was the right step ahead of the Ashes. What about the fact that it ensured there was a negligible chance of Australia retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?

What about the homework scandal itself? How important are culture and discipline to the larger objectives of the team? Are the means so overwhelmingly important as to obfuscate the end? Was the incident so severe that it needed to be addressed (in such a high-handed fashion) at the cost of not giving the team their best chance to retain the trophy? Again, would they have dropped a player as critical to the team as Pattinson in the middle of the Ashes? Heck, would they have dropped him had it been a home series against any opponent? Channel Nine honchos would have knocked on the doors of Cricket Australia almost immediately.

Not only is this Australia team a pale shadow of its famed predecessors, it increasingly resembles the Poms of the 1990s: treating every other series as a sideshow to the perceived marquee event every two years, eventually get thrashed in the marquee event anyway.

For the love of "Tubby" Taylor, I hope it hasn't come to that.

When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets @cornerd

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Posted by screamingeagle on (March 21, 2013, 20:21 GMT)

Some of the posts actually bear out what the columnist is saying, ie Ashes before all. But then, probably Aussies have messed this one up big time. I am not sure how losing 4-zip would assist them in anyway before going to Ashes tour. Unfortunate that the Aussie fans seem to indicate that the team lost because they do not care if they lose to India, but getting blanked in India and losing Ashes badly might just make some people realise how mediocre the Aussies have become.

Posted by Sameer-hbk on (March 21, 2013, 15:06 GMT)

Not sure Michael Clark really thinks this is a warm up series or preparatory camp. From all the media reports regarding Clark, it is pretty evident that he would not let that happen. Is Ashes far more important than India vs Australia to Aussies? Of course. here is nothing to feel offended about that. Is India-Pakistan not far more electrifying a contest for all Indians? When Australia could walk over England anytime of the day, Steve Waugh called India the 'final frontier'. It was all there was left to conquer and still is. But the English are favorites now and it makes sense for Aus to worry about a series where a defeat will cause 'rolling of heads'. But the problem is that constantly losing (to SA and India) will not help one bit in retaining Ashes. Winning is a habit. I do not feel Aus lost because they think Ind series is a prep camp. Just lack of skills required in these conditions.

Posted by Fifthman on (March 21, 2013, 12:55 GMT)

Jimmyrob83 is right, as it happens. What the author cannot see past is that anything might be more important to Australia than a Test series with India and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. There is something a lot more important, and it's called the Ashes. Back in the early 2000s when England were a rabble and Australia were thumping them home and away, the outcome of any Ashes contest was pretty much pre-ordained. India, especially at home, were not so easy to knock over; hence Steve Waugh's remark. Now times have changed. England have the ascendancy over Australia and that hurts the Australian psyche - much more than losing to India in India, apparently. So despite the author's thinly veiled outrage at this situation, I'm afraid that's just the way it is. India aren't as special to Australia as they thought they were. This will never be said out loud of course because in the global game, India hold the purse strings.

Posted by planfino on (March 21, 2013, 12:50 GMT)

Mahesh might be 'just another marginal voice ' ... but he has hit the nail squarely on the head here ! Notwithstanding ... I think likely the blame lays more with the "hangers on" administrators than the players ! What passion and commitment to the honour and tradition of Australian Cricket do Micky Arthur and a Pommy tour manager and a Rugby coach bring to the table here ! The tradition in the past is that an Australian Coach should be an Australian who has played for Australia ...we should return to that ! ( and whoever decided he should be a selector as well needs to be seriously despatched ) .... DGM Dissapointed Aust Cricket fan ...who is nonetheless delighted to see the best team rightfully winning here !

Posted by Beertjie on (March 21, 2013, 12:08 GMT)

Lovely article! As an Aussie-fan for more than half a century, I am almost as dispirited as I was 25 years ago when the rebels went to SA and hindered the rebuilding. But now it's CA shooting itself in the foot because the people placed in the key structures are clueless. Still your point about disrespecting tests against India is proven by the failure to send an A team there to play India A. And the talk about becoming number one never ends! Talk about in their dreams!

Posted by milepost on (March 21, 2013, 11:49 GMT)

Absolutely spot on this article. Also agree with handyandy that we should be picking the best players regardless of their age. Dropping those players for the 3rd test was stupidity and I think Arthur and Clarke should be shown the door.

Posted by handyandy on (March 21, 2013, 11:31 GMT)

Australia haven't really got time to rebuild ... at least not before the ashes.

I think a reasonable planB is to look at the senior sheffield shield players.

Shield stalwarts like Chris Rogers and David Hussey for example. Between them they have a hundred first class centuries and averages of over fifty. In their prime they were ... and perhaps still are a class ahead of Cowan, Hughes or Watson.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 10:48 GMT)

The thing is, with all due respect to India, South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, to the vast majority of Englishmen or Australians the Ashes is the most important thing in cricket, end of. Forget world cups, forget other test series. If you hold the Ashes, you're doing alright. That's the main thing.

Steve Waugh's side dubbed India the final frontier, but you can only get to the final frontier if you've conquered the others first. This wasn't a problem for that side because they were giving us (England) a pasting in every series. Now that they're not, their priorities have shifted back. The Ashes come first.

I'm not saying that the attitude is right, from either country, but that's the way it is. If you ask me if I'd rather England be ranked No. 1 in the world or retain the Ashes, I'd take the Ashes every time. When South Africa beat us here last summer, it was bad, but it wasn't the end of the world, because it wasn't Australia.

Posted by Timmuh on (March 21, 2013, 10:34 GMT)

I do think there is some truth to the argument. Certainly most of the fans, and it appears a lot of the CA heirachy, have been focussed on the Ashes since last year.

It is a real shame. Every Test series should be treated with the same importance by players, team management and the national body. That simply isn't happening. That said, a lot of the problems with selection are systemic (trying to create all-rounders out of players who can't bat or bowl, preferring batsmen over wicketkeepers to keep, etc) and even if the best team available were playing at their best we simply do not have anyone capable of playing well in Indian conditions. Australia is hopeless in India. Result, whitewash. India is hopeless in Australia. Result, whitewash.

Posted by Robertito on (March 21, 2013, 9:51 GMT)

As an Australian, I think this article is more ore less spot on. The notion of Phil Hughes being "protected" from South Africa is ridiculous and didn't happen, but apart from that, I think the characterisation of Cricket Australia's attitude is fair.

This series has been disappointing not least because it means we can't demand that India play seriously when they come to Australia, because we haven't returned the favour. That's a shame, because recent history shows that teams who arrive nice and early for a series perform much better, and more than anything I like to see competitive cricket.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mahesh Sethuraman
Mahesh aspired to be India's answer to Michael Holding. That aspiration still lingers, 15 years hence. IPL franchises looking to make a millionaire out of an innocuous bowler as part of their corporate social responsibility may reach him @cornerd. When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, he works in a bank in India to pay his bills.

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