November 9, 2008

Where to now?

Australia's bowling isn't up to their usual high standards; India are a side in transition, hamstrung by poor fielding

Australia's bowling has lacked balance. The arrival of Jason Krejza will hopefully remedy that © AFP

Australia and India have provided some epic battles in the last decade but where are they headed once this hard fought series is over?

For many years Australia won above 70% of their matches, thanks to a strong and varied attack built around the magic of Shane Warne and the miserly accuracy of Glenn McGrath. Suddenly in India they found themselves with a reasonable pace attack, albeit not entirely suited to Indian conditions, and a spin attack too dependant on a bunch of part-timers. Not surprisingly they were unable to dismiss India cheaply, and there were been serious questions about the whereabouts of the next wicket-taking spinner.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Australia's slow-bowling stocks they still have an extremely strong batting line-up, headed by the brilliant Ricky Ponting and the belligerent Matthew Hayden. Australia are still going to post decent scores, but supported by an unbalanced attack they can expect to endure a few more losses and a lot more draws.

When Jason Krejza made a belated but telling appearance in the series, suddenly the Australian attack appeared a lot better balanced. When you look at the prospects of a team the first thing to evaluate is the attack. A team will not win consistently without a strong and balanced bowling quartet.

This is why India's future, despite an aging middle-order, has seemed much rosier than Australia's through the majority of this series. They have the ideal balance in attack: a left-arm pace bowler who swings the ball; a thoughtful, tall right-armer with pace and bounce; a successful offspinner; and a budding young legspinner.

There appears to be depth in both pace and spin bowling, but India's flaw - and it has been with them for a long time - is the failure to produce a top-class allrounder. Apart from that headache the big question for India is one of timing: is the great batting era passing just as the attack is reaching full potency?

There are signs that India has some viable replacement batting options. In Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir they have a dynamic opening combination that should be around for some time to terrorise opposition bowling attacks. The promising debut of Murali Vijay should give cause for confidence that there's a replacement opener on call for any emergency. He also looked like he could easily fill a top-order batting slot if necessary. If Rahul Dravid doesn't pull out of his form nose-dive, the elegant young right-hander could find himself batting at No. 3.

Then there's Rohit Sharma, who was impressive in both technique and temperament when he toured Australia. Importantly, he's now turning potential into consistent runs at the first-class level and the way is now open to blood him in the Test side with Sourav Ganguly retiring.

The big question for India is one of timing: is the great batting era passing just as the attack is reaching full potency

Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are still displaying good form and they should be around for a while to guide the younger players through the initiation stage. The one major area of concern for the Indian selectors is to find young players who can both bat and field. At crucial times in the current series India had the chance to put Australia away but didn't because of sloppy fielding. No team can expect to dominate without good catching to back a strong bowling attack.

There are a couple of things you know about Australian cricket: they will continue to bat well and their out cricket is generally of a high standard, and they will always play hard for the full five days. A depleted attack will see their win percentage drop considerably from the previous lofty levels, and while Krejza will give the attack better balance, they need to unearth more depth in both genuine pace and wrist-spin.

Unless India address their flaws in the field and the lack of an allrounder, they will continue to play slightly below the potential of a team with a good attack. These sloppy aspects of their play will also stop India supplanting Australia as the dominant No. 1, but the rivalry should still be on-going and extremely intense.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • omkar on November 10, 2008, 19:19 GMT

    It is time for Hayden to retire. His age showed in the last series against India and was fortunate to make as much as he did in his last innings in Nagpur. Marsh is a good batsman and should be given fis opportunity.

    Other bowlers like Flintoff will sort Ricky Ponting out as Ishant Sharma has and soon Ricky will have to pack it in too.

  • Martin on November 10, 2008, 16:44 GMT

    If Australia can find a threatening spinner they are not far away from resurgence I feel. We will have to wait and see if Krejza is that man. He looks to be a fighter and hes got some mongrel in him. Shane Watson has been a revelation this series. At the start I was thinking he is not cut out for test cricket but he has proven himself with patience and endurance in both batting and bowling. He had the fitness to keep bowling at 140 kph and at times looked our most threatening bowler. Keep in mind this is his first test series in the subcontinent, he will be an even better prospect on Australian pitches. There is the prospect of 2 decent all rounders in Watson and Symonds. Australia may only need to pick 2 pace bowlers out of Lee, Johnson, Clark, Tait, Siddle etc. With Haddin coming in at no 8 that is an awfully long batting line up. In summary, with a threatening spinner and some key players finding form, e.g. Lee, Haddin, Australia could be back in the game.

  • SRINI on November 10, 2008, 9:54 GMT

    Ian Chappell has put it right. More than anything else India needs to improve ground fielding and catching. the second area of concern is batting and bowling consistency - more so the former. The third aspect is the pace of scoring - when Sehwag leaves there is too much of a drop in run rate.

    In none too distant future India will be finding itself where Australia is now - transition pains. That is a real worry. Compared to CA, the BCCI is nowhere in showing vision to build a future. Except their own!

  • Paul on November 10, 2008, 9:38 GMT

    I agree with you Chappelli!!

    India have a well balanced attack that bowls in the right areas to dismiss the batsmen whilst we need to unearth a quality leg spin bowler and genuine fast bowler.

    There is a problem. The Centre of Excellent in Brisbane has not been a successful breeding ground for test cricketers. Since Rod Marsh's departure from the Cricket Academy in 2001, there have been only 3 graduates who have gone on to play at test match level (Shane Watson, Cameron White, Mitchell Johnson) whilst Doug Bollinger and Shaun Marsh have been selected on test tours.

    With the selectors picking a squad of players to attend the COA in Brisbane, does Cricket Australia and the selectors offer the states an incentive to blood the young inductees to play shield cricket for their state?

    Aaron Finch, from Victoria, cannot get a regular shield game for Victoria whilst Moses Henriques and Phillip Hughes can get a regular game for NSW.

    We have a huge problem in Australian cricket.

  • Rohan on November 10, 2008, 2:57 GMT

    I really think people are overly excited about Krejza and the returns he got from his first Test. But isn't that the point ... overly excited? I'm Australian and extremely happy to see a spinner get a fine debut, but it's only one game. If careers were decided on their first game, Bob Massie and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan (he was the guy, along with Qadir that got me interested in legspin bowling) as well as quite a few others would have had very lengthy and successful ones.

  • Scott on November 10, 2008, 2:13 GMT

    I believe Ponting is seriously suffering from the retirements of Warne,Gilchrist etc one wonders how much kudos belongs to him and how much to these guys. The 4th day last session was headless chicken stuff. Over rates are cont a problem therefore a team that is supposedly so well prepared should also have the 'hurry it up' scenario down pat. Question? Whats the overrate when Clarke captained games. Is the answer a new captain even though it goes against the Aussie ethos to change captains. Never for a moment did i believe that the Aussies could win against a balanced looking India - especially with bad luck stalking them the whole tour - but that's not the point, the on field displays have lacked any direction. Australia still has a great team and the likes of Noffke, Hilfenhaus et al must be wondering what's going on. To me also the selectors need a shakeup - they have really bemused all. Hilditch failed at intl level because he couldn't stop hooking, this type of character flaw does not bode well

  • Ashok on November 10, 2008, 0:27 GMT

    India has a well balanced team as Ian rightly pointed out. Sehwag and Gambhir are the best openers whilst Dhoni is the best WK/batsman in the world today. Ishant and Zaheer provide the pace whildt Harbhajan, Chawla, Mishra and Ojha provide the spin attack. The middle order has Sachin, Laxman, Raina, Rohit, Yuvraj and M.Vijay with several backups. Inclusion of Fab 4 and Kumble had weakened the Indian fielding. With Raina, Rohit, Vijay and Yuvraj the fielding will improve significantly. This presents a strong line up. On the other hand the present Australian team is in the process of rebuilding. Lee and Haydon appear to be on the way out. Although Krejza got 12 wickets in his debut, they came at a huge cost - nearly 350 runs. Australia need an opening batsman & bowler to replace Haydon & Lee.In addition a good WK & spin bowling is needed. Ponting, Hussey and Clarke are good to fill the middle order. Symmonds was badly missed. Currently the Indian team is stronger than Australian team.

  • Sayontan on November 9, 2008, 22:00 GMT

    To people complaining that Australia has been "forced" to use the SG ball - get a life. Whenever Australia plays the Ashes in England, Duke balls have to be used. I don't see people complaining then, particularly since Duke and SG have similar behaviour when it comes to the seam. The Kookaburra balls are notoriously poor for swinging, particularly when compared to the Dukes. SG falls midway between these for swing and is best suited for spin. It is just that the Aussie bowlers have been very inept with getting the ball to swing. Spinners like Krejza have had better luck with spinning, quite obviously.

  • David on November 9, 2008, 21:53 GMT

    smale25 - the difference is that Australia bowls slowly ALL the time. India bowls slowly only as a tactic. That doesn't make either side right though, cricket in general needs an over rate shake up.

    And Chaps talking about an all-rounder here is crap. Australia didn't have an all-rounder in the late 90s early 00s - their most dominant period. It certainly wasn't Steve Waugh, he barely bowled in that time and the Andrew Symonds experiment was long away. It was only after seeing Flintoff's value in 2005 that the selectors looked for an all-rounder. They went for Watson first, who promptly was injured, then they reached for Symonds. I would argue Australia has been a worse team since they started trying to play an allrounder since 2005. Before that it was the 6 specialist batsmen - Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh bros, Martyn with 4 specialist bowlers Warne, MrGrath, Gillespie, Lee. That was a great side with Gilly at #7 - he was the only all-rounder we needed.

  • Bis on November 9, 2008, 20:28 GMT

    A balanced, sober and realistic appraisal of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides. Ian is once again spot on - almost surgical as he probes the weak spots of the teams, detecting robust and healthy tissue in some instances and areas requiring further rehabillitation and recovery in others. Most appropriately as the series draws to a close, Ian offers a retrospective on the history of the rivalry between the two sides and where that rivalry stands today and how it might evolve in future.

    A stimulating and refreshing perspective on a saga by one of its central participants, for this is the same Ian Chappell who came to India in 1967 and wowed the watching multitudes with the twinkling footwork with which he mastered the wiles of Prasanna and Bedi. One of the true regrets for cricket fans of my generation was not being able to see Wadekar's "Invincibles" - fresh from their series wins in the Carribean and England - measure up to Chappelli's world conquering outfit.

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