The Australian squad for the Boxing Day Test

No signs of panic

By resisting a purge in the fast bowling department, the Australian national selectors have stuck to a principle that has served them well: reward comes from faith

Sambit Bal

December 22, 2003

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Brett Lee: expected to add an aggressive edge to the Australian bowling
© Getty Images

By resisting a purge in the fast-bowling department, the Australian national selectors have stuck to a principle that has served them well: reward comes from faith. They have resisted the temptation of drafting in Matthew Nicholson, or even Shaun Tait, sticking with Andy Bichel, Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams instead. While it is not yet clear which one of them will make way for Brett Lee, who is sure to return for the Boxing Day Test, the team selection sends out one message: Cricket Australia isn't panicking yet.

Lee, who is expected to add that aggressive edge that Australia have found missing so far, has made a return to fitness, if not true form. Turning out for New South Wales last week, he captured five Tasmanian wickets, but according to reports, he did so without attaining the hostility that Australia will be expecting from him if he is to rattle the Indian top order. But with Jason Gillespie ruled out, Lee will assume the role of Australia's lead bowler, on a pitch that is expected to provide the fast men better returns for their toil than the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval.

According to Tony Ware, the curator of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the pitch will have the kind of pace and bounce that will encourage both fast bowlers and good shotmaking. As has been the practice since 1999, the Test will be played on a drop-in pitch.

Ever since Australia's shock defeat at Adelaide, where their bowlers struggled to bowl out the Indian batsmen, speculation has been rife about a change of tactics from the Australian camp and the possibility of a change of personnel. Only Bichel managed to make an impression on the Indian batting line-up at Adelaide, but it must be said that his wickets were a reward for persistence rather than incisiveness. Once Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman got stuck in, there was little left for Bichel but to hope for a mistake.

Nathan Bracken: an appealing prospect
© Getty Images

Williams, who was played ahead of Bracken, because of his pace and bounce, showed more aggression with his body language than with the ball. Though he bowled an excellent spell in the second innings, during which he troubled Dravid and induced an edge that was dropped by Gilchrist, he went wicketless in the Test. However, he was the player John Buchanan singled out for praise in his angst-ridden personal letter to his team members that, to nobody's surprise, found its way to the newspapers. It is the fifth time in Buchanan's coaching career that a letter meant for the benefit of his team has become public. Williams, after being ruled out for a week due to the injury of his left shoulder, came back to bat, bowl and even pulled off a diving save at mid-off, and clearly earned his berth because of his "baggy-green-like" commitment.

Bracken would have considered himself unlucky to miss out after claiming three wickets in the first Test, including Virender Sehwag twice, and there was indeed a danger of him missing out on the third Test as Australia looked for a way to take 20 Indian wickets in a match. Apart from Nicholson, who took four Indian wickets for 25 from 21 niggardly overs in their last tour match, and Tait - who, in fact, looked more menacing despite going for runs - others in the frame included Ashley Noffke, who even scored a century in a Pura Cup match last weekend, Mathew Inness and Michael Kasprowicz.

But the Australian selectors have chosen not to abandon a formula that has been their guiding principle in recent years, and Willams, Bracken and Bichel have been given one more opportunity to do their job. There is even a possibility of Australia fielding a four-man pace attack, dropping either Stuart MacGill and trusting Simon Katich's chinamen, or gambling with five specialist batsmen with Adam Gilchrist coming at No. 6.

Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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