India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali, 5th day October 21, 2008

Australia's stars fail to shine

Ali Cook
This result has showed Australia's deficiencies cannot be covered unless a couple of the senior players carry the team, and one of those has to be a bowler.


Matthew Hayden attempted to bash his way out of form but just looked like a man who had forgotten how to read a game © Getty Images
 

Until Ricky Ponting spoke after the game it felt like this Test was a throwback to the 20th century. Australia looked angry, upset and impotent on the field, and they were struggling again in India. Instead of showing his frustration, which has emerged a couple of times during the game, Ponting calmly outlined his plan for the rest of the tour.

The players would rest, reflect and refocus for the third game in Delhi next Wednesday. On the form of the first two Tests it won't be enough. The way India overcame Australia in Mohali was shockingly easy after the more competitive opening game in Bangalore. It looks like the teams have found their levels and the gap is significant - only the usual winners are losing.

This result has showed Australia's deficiencies cannot be covered unless a couple of the senior players carry the team, and one of those has to be a bowler. Ponting offered Brett Lee his support after the match following their on-field disagreements on Monday, when Lee was upset not to be used in the first session. But transforming from pedestrian to powerhouse in a week is unlikely to be helped by whichever holiday destination he chooses for the side's mini-break this week.

Fast bowling in India is one of the most difficult tasks and it looks like it will be beyond Lee in his first series in the country. None of the fast bowlers can expect help in Delhi, where the wicket will be made for spin, turn and more spin. It is where Australia are at their most deficient.

The team arrived knowing this sector would be weak and it would have to rely on pace. If they could alter their outlook they would, but apart from Stuart Clark, who has an elbow problem, they played their best team in Mohali. The result was a 320-run defeat, the seventh-heaviest by runs in Australian history, and the side's worst performance under Ponting's captaincy.

Australia's best chance of revival revolves around them retaining their supreme self-belief. If that goes too, their first series loss since the 2005 Ashes could end in a 0-3 return. The arrogance was at its greatest when the batsmen swung like unmanned hoses in the second innings as they tried to prove the target of 516, almost 100 greater than any successful chase in history, was within reach. It was as out of touch as their wild attitude and 58 for 5 was a worthy result for the tactic. Not even Steve Waugh's team would have done it that way.

Matthew Hayden attempted to bash his way out of form but just looked like a man who had forgotten how to read a game. He has only 42 runs for the series - six more than Mitchell Johnson - and has been more like the player who turned up in England in 2005 than the hero of 2001. If Lee and Hayden are firing, Australia have a chance. Without contributions close to their career averages the team is likely to fold again. The spine is no longer strong and dreams of a reprise of 2004 should end.

The inexperienced men have contributed usefully, particularly Shane Watson in the first innings and Brad Haddin in the second. It is too much to expect big centuries from these two, or five-wicket hauls from Cameron White or Peter Siddle. They are doing fine for men with such little experience in Tests or in India.

When players enter a team they look to the top for guidance, but the new entrants have been let down by the on-field deeds of the senior men. Ponting knows this has to be fixed and after a couple of outbursts during the game he settled down at the finish. Cool heads work better than hot ones when teams are under pressure in India.