'Australia's batting is in strife'
Australia were beaten comprehensively in the first two Tests, the weaknesses in their batting and spin departments exposed. Is there a deeper problem in terms of lack of options available from Australia's domestic circuit? And are India's difficult conditions making this Australian side look weaker than it is? Ian Chappell and Tom Moody join Harsha Bhogle for a discussion on where Australia can go from here.
Excerpts below. The numbers in the brackets are the duration for each segment.
Is 2-0 a fair reflection of how good Australia are? Plus, there is so much uncertainty about the side. Too many questions and too few answers? (2.02 - 4.29)
Ian Chappell: It's a fair reflection of how they've played. Bear in mind that they probably had the best of the conditions, they won the toss in both Test matches. It's not a great surprise, perhaps a surprise that they have gone down as badly as they have. If you've been watching the Australian batting line-up in recent times, they've struggled against good spinners, the sort of pitches they got was no surprise to me, the way they batted was even less of a surprise.
TM: I think it's a true reflection of where Australian cricket's at at the moment. The lack of depth and the lack of pressure that's being put on the 11 players that are in the side. Australia are still very uncertain as to what that top six is; the top six boasts a lot of players that would ideally like to bat one, two, and three. There's one player who is in as good a form as anyone in world cricket in Michael Clarke, who has taken a long, long time to eventually make his mind to move up the order where he needs to be to lead this new Australian side.
About time that Clarke went up the order? And what about Shane Watson? (4.30 - 8.52)
IC: I don't think Clarke is the ideal No.3, I don't think he is the natural No.3, but in this case he is far and away the best-equipped player to play there in the Australian side and he has been for a while. It staggered me that he hasn't moved up the order. He should have moved up to No.3, probably when Ricky Ponting moved out of there, certainly when Clarke was playing so well against India and making so many runs. In these circumstances, he's got to get up there and stop trouble.
The batting order is a mess, and has been in one for a while. It comes about because they haven't been opening with Shane Watson. When you've got a side that is struggling and you've got a guy who is pretty decent at the top of the order, leave him at the top of the order and just bowl him for the odd-few overs whenever you needed a change. That's how they should have been using Watson for quite some time now. Him moving down was a mistake and ever since then, the batting has been in strife.
TM: I agree with Chappelli with regards to Watson. The foundation of your innings is so critical, and Australia just haven't had a foundation for too long. Watson's best form is at the top of the order - he averages about 43 in Test cricket there and it just falls away in every other spot in the order. The team needs to be built around Watson at No.1. I would want Clarke at No.4. I would be willing to take a mid-term view on trying to get this batting order right, at least 12 to 24 months ahead.
We just need to persevere, at the moment we are going with Phillip Hughes. Whether he is the long-term answer , certainly the way he has batted in Indian conditions hasn't looked to be the case. But outside of India, he's had a reasonably promising comeback to the national side after being out for a lengthy period. His overwhelming appetite for runs in domestic cricket outweighs all the negatives in my view. The other point is, there are not too many options that are bashing down the door.
Is Ed Cowan doing enough to stay in the side? What about the rest of the batting spots? (8.53 - 14.15)
IC: I wouldn't have had him in the side at the start. I think that's where they've got themselves into trouble. There's not much choice now on tour. The worst-case scenario for me, always was when they walked out of India if they didn't have their top four sorted out, with the batting order in a bit of a mess and no opportunities to get it sorted out before going to England. Now they're in a situation where they've got to go in to a holding pattern, do the best they can, but the people happiest about that would be the 11 blokes who are likely to play for England.
Tom's right. The alternatives [in the top order] aren't great. At some point, as a selector, you've got to say, "that's the young guy, he's got something about it, you've got to put him in there and give him a chance." Unfortunately, there's not enough guys banging the door down back at home. You look at Australia's situation. We've got Ponting and Clarke, two young batsmen who had long-term success, but Ricky started 18 years ago. Australia used to produce Test batsmen who were coming in to the side, some of them eve in their late teens, early 20s was just normal. Now, we can't find one. That's an indictment on the system that's producing these batsmen. We had the Argus review after two Ashes losses, if we have four Ashes losses in a row, what are they going to have then? What we got in the Argus report, in my opinion, was pure window dressing.
TM: It always makes me laugh, whether it's an Argus review or whatever an organisation gets reviewed when things are going badly. To me, the time to review your performance is when you're doing well. When you do that, you tend to discover why you are doing well and what you need to continue to practice to maintain that longevity. We have enjoyed an enormous, successful, period of time, over a decade, and we've produced some remarkable players, but during that time we've spent too much time looking at the spoils and enjoying the success instead of making sure we maintain that success. That's what we are paying for now; we haven't got ready-made players ready to pick up the bat and keep Australia competitive, home and away.
Why is there always a new spinner coming to India? You've had Jason Krejza, Nathan Hauritz, Gavin Robertson back in '98 come here. They say they learn a lot, but don't come back. (14.16 - 19.22)
IC: It's symptomatic of the fact that we haven't had much in the way of spin bowling since Shane Warne and Stuart McGill. They might say, "we've learnt a lot in India," but if that doesn't produce results in other places, you don't get picked, that's tended to be what has happened. It was interesting to see Hauritz's quote the other day where he was encouraging Nathan Lyon not to make too many mechanical changes to his action. That's what stuffed him up, he reckons in India. I think what also stuffed him up were the field placings Ponting gave him, they were horrible. By the look of Ashton Agar, he and Lyon are probably the best two spinners going forward for Australia.
What they did with the whole selection with the spin bowling was a muddle to me. Agar went there to fill in until the main party came over, played quite well, and they said, "oh, we better keep this guy." There was always talk about what Glenn Maxwell can do, he didn't even play in the second tour game. You had the feeling if Agar had a good match there, they'd play him in the first Test. But he didn't have a good game, suddenly he's gone. Maxwell doesn't play in the first Test, Lyon has a bad first Test, he's gone, Maxwell's in and Xavier Doherty's in. It can't do a lot for Lyon; I still think he is the best spin bowler in Australia, and having given him that mantle for this tour, I thought you had to certainly stick with him a little bit longer.
TM: Lyon's numbers in the early part of his career for a finger-spinner are excellent, he averages in the low 30s. He is young, at a development stage. To lose patience as quick as they did I thought was very short-sighted. The non-selection of Lyon for the Hyderabad Test is a significant derailing of his progress and undermined the investment that had been made in him. For Hyderabad, I would have played Doherty and Lyon, who I would have played in the first Test as well. You need to show faith and confidence in your players. Lyon is not the only spin bowler to struggle in Indian conditions - Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan don't have great records in India.
Are the conditions making Australia look worse than they are? And what can we expect in Mohali? (21.00 - 26.02)
IC: The bonus for Australia is it'll be a pretty decent pitch in Mohali and there'll be a bit of encouragement for the quickies. That's where Clarke has got to put his focus and say to these guys, "alright, conditions haven't really suited us in the first two, they're going to be more in our favour in the next one, and that's when we've really got to play well." That's the opportunity to get some confidence back. The big concern will be, how much confidence the batsmen have lost.
The conditions in India are conditions that suit Australia least of all. I'd still be concerned about England, but there's a bit of history there of trouble with the seaming and swinging ball. If Graeme Swann is fit after his elbow operation, off-spin has trouble Australia for some time now and is troubling them in India, Swann has a history of gobbling up left-handed batsmen and we've got a hell of a lot of them at the top of the order. Yes, these might be conditions that show us in the poorest light, but if they haven't got their confidence back and the batting order is still a mess, then England might not be much better.
TM: Yes, it is making us look worse, but what it's highlighting is we have some serious issues and we have to make consistent selection decisions for the long term. Otherwise, in 12 months time, we will be in exactly the same position as where we are today. I'm still trying to get my head around Matthew Wade batting at six and Moises Henriques at seven. I believe in your Test side you need your best six batsmen. I don't think Wade or Henriques are among your best six batsmen in Australia currently.
Mohali also turns. From my experiences up there, if it's left dry, it will turn and turn quite sharply. I think there is going to be a bit of a drought up there, for sure. That's the contest we're in and you've got to be up to it.
Numbers Game (26.07 - 28.41)
In the last three years (since March 2010), England had 22 century partnerships for the second and third wickets out of 114 for those wickets; South Africa 14 out of 93. How many century partnerships have Australia had for the second and third wickets in that period, out of 118 in all?