Australia v India, 2nd semi-final, Durban

Are Australia soft in the middle?

The Australian middle order really hasn't done much in this tournament, in part because they haven't had to

Hugh Chevallier in Durban

September 22, 2007

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The middle men have flattered to deceive on more than one occasion in this tournament © AFP
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India's achievement in winning the cracker of a semi-final - and ensuring that there will be one world trophy without Australia's name on it - can hardly be overstated. Or can it? Were there signs of weakness in the Australian team from the start?

Losing to Zimbabwe was a shock of Krakatoan proportions. Ultimately, of course, it didn't matter: England suffered the backlash and the Aussie vehicle rolled on in to the Super Eights, the dent to the bodywork revealed to be no more than a scratch.

One pattern to emerge from the tournament is that successful teams can take the loss of three or four top-order wickets in their stride. Yes, a bit of careful rebuilding is required - take the singles and ensure no more wickets fall - but keep some big-hitters at the crease and hope remains. Pakistan came back from three early wickets against Sri Lanka and four against Australia. New Zealand almost seemed to base their approach around a rescue act from Craig McMillan.

In that defeat to Zimbabwe, Australia's big top three - Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting - all made single-figure scores. The middle order steadied the ship for a while, but no one pulled off a Misbah-ul-Haq, Yuvraj Singh or McMillan. It cost them the match.

The Australian middle order really hasn't done much in this tournament, in part because they haven't had to. That's a downside of having arguably the world's most efficient one-day opening pair to start the innings

In fact, the Australian middle order really hasn't done much in this tournament, in part because they haven't had to. That's a downside of having arguably the world's most efficient one-day opening pair to start the innings. Gilchrist and Hayden did pretty much all the demolition work against England - and every last blow against Sri Lanka.

So when the middle men needed to maintain the healthy rate against India at Kingsmead this evening, they had little experience to call on. Even so, you'd back Australia to make 41 from four overs on a decent pitch, wouldn't you? Again, there was a worrying precedent.

When Australia lost to Pakistan at the Wanderers, their innings lost momentum just when it should have taken off. The last three overs realised just 14 runs as the likes of Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke and Brad Hodge lost their wickets. Sounds familiar? The similarities with the failed run-chase this evening were stark.

There's another similarity, too: Australia struggle to fiddle their last four overs from their allrounders. The combination of Clarke and Symonds - those same suspects - conceded around 14 an over in the defeat at the Wanderers, while the specialist bowlers went for nearer eight. Against India Symonds and Clarke cost 12.5, again considerably more than the others. Is the hard team of world cricket just a little soft in the middle?

Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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