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March 8, 2013
Australia's coach Mickey Arthur has said the team's struggles in India cannot serve as an accurate indication of how they will fare in England later this year due to the vastly different conditions. However, Arthur also said the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey had sent the team's batting plans almost back to square one, because the selectors expected both veterans to be part of the Ashes campaign.
The losses of Ponting and Hussey have left Australia with a top six seriously lacking in experience and Test runs. Michael Clarke is the only member of the current batting order to have scored more than three Test centuries, and in the first two matches against India, he is the only member of the top six averaging more than 30.
Phillip Hughes' problems against spin have been severely exposed by R Ashwin, leaving him in danger of being dropped for the third Test in Mohali. Hughes returned to the Test side for the home series against Sri Lanka in December as the No.3 batsman and replacement for Ponting. He scored a pair of eighties in the Sri Lanka series and would be more suited to playing in England than India, but the question is whether he will now get the chance.
Shane Watson has shuffled between No.3 and 4 recently and could be back at first drop if Hughes is axed, but wherever he bats he needs to soon end his two-and-a-half-year drought without a Test century. Ed Cowan and David Warner have struggled to have any significant impact in India and the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade has been asked to play at No.6, a necessary move if the selectors want an allrounder while Watson is not bowling.
"It's probably not that fair a barometer," Arthur said of India compared to the Ashes. "I was pretty scared when I looked at the schedule because we'd been building a top-six and a team. We were nearly the finished article, then we lose 300 Test caps. In my thinking Ponting and Hussey were coming to the Ashes. We had them pencilled in to come to the Ashes so we had some stability in the top six. We thought we had experience, some good young players and it was the perfect blend. We then lose both those players.
"Then I thought we've got to go to India, and on every tour to India I've been on there's been casualties. We don't want those casualties going into the Ashes because we've got to back what we think are our best players. We've got to keep the team as stable as we possibly can. We can't go into the Ashes thinking 'what's our best top six?' We can't be using the first couple of games as a trial. We need to be clear in our mind as to who those players are. I was clear in my mind ... but I'll talk to you again after the next two Tests."
The loss of Ponting was half expected, for although he piled up the runs in 2011-12 at home against India he had a disappointing tour of West Indies and a miserable series against South Africa. But the departure of Hussey was the major blow. Batting at No.6, Hussey provided an invaluable buttress between Clarke, the team's best and most in-form batsman, and the lower order.
It was all the more frustrating for the Australians given that Hussey had scored three centuries during the home Test summer. During the 2012 calendar year, Hussey made 950 Test runs at the average of 59.37 and was comfortably second to Clarke on Australia's list of averages for the year.
His footwork and skill against spin would have made him a vital member of the side in India, where he had scored 493 Test runs at 44.81 on past tours. Instead of being with the squad as they settled in to Chandigarh on Friday, Hussey was in Adelaide scoring 99 for Western Australia in a Sheffield Shield match. His retirement was based on a desire to spend more time with his young family, and Arthur said nothing would have changed his mind.
"That was Huss's decision," Arthur said. "We couldn't try and persuade him either way and it was right for him. Everything he has said subsequently has made me think that the time was right for him. We can't change that. That's his decision. It was disappointing to lose him though ahead of what is such a big year. A year I guess that will define Michael and my leadership. It was disappointing because it was almost back to square one again in terms of experience."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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Shorter tours don't allow you time to get into form, and domestic cricket isn't demanding enough