December 5, 2010

North's form has gone south

As has Clarke's. But there's still hope for Australia, thanks to Haddin, Hussey and Watson. If only their bowling attack had a leader

The Australian selectors reacted aggressively to the mauling the bowlers received at the Gabba. They might face a similar overhaul of the batting after a dismal display at the revamped Adelaide Oval.

Marcus North is fast entering Mitchell Johnson territory with another unconvincing display in the middle order. North has taken on the role Michael Hussey previously played, batting as though his survival depends on a good score. Just imagine where Australia would be if the selectors had acted rashly prior to the series and omitted Hussey.

While North's woes have been well documented and ongoing, Michael Clarke has snuck up on the rails like a fast-finishing thoroughbred. Normally a good player of spin bowling, his failures in India were a surprise, but two wild and woolly shots in the Ashes series have set tongues wagging. Clarke needs to rectify this situation or he'll quickly be reclassified as future captain of New South Wales.

The other factor highlighting Australia's poor batting performance was the placid nature of the pitch. The stands at the Adelaide Oval may be new but it's the same old pitch, still very good for batting.

If it hadn't been for the two gallant Gabba heroes, Hussey and Brad Haddin, Australia's reputation would be in tatters. Their two innings-saving partnerships in this series have been built on a critical awareness of what is required and the ability to both defend and attack when the need has arisen.

With his new-found approach to batting, Hussey is playing as well as at any time in his career. He looks more solid as his defence has moved from survival to defiant mode, and his attacking play now contains an element of belligerence. There has never been any hint of survival about Haddin's batting. He enters the arena like a punter with a wad of notes in his pocket and begins to play as though he has devised an infallible system. He has proved beyond doubt that he's capable of handling the No. 6 spot in the Test side, and this could be a godsend as the selectors struggle to find the right combination.

The other shining light was Shane Watson. His technique stood out like a beacon when Jimmy Anderson was swinging the ball dangerously, and surely he has dispelled any further doubts over the wisdom of retaining him as an opener. It doesn't make sense to weaken a strength in order to strengthen a weakness.

Adding to Australia's woes, England have plotted and planned well. To make matters worse, they're showing Australia up in the field. Good slip-catching and bustling infield work has reaped its rewards, and the Australians, with a few exceptions, are struggling to break the shackles.

The problem is the Australian attack doesn't have an outstanding leader; opponents must look at the bowling line-up and see a series of efficient No. 3s but not a No. 1

There is though, some light at the end of the tunnel for Australia. The England pace attack doesn't look anywhere near as formidable when Anderson is resting, and if they can resist the late-swinging Lancastrian, life will be easier.

However, there are also distinct signs that Graeme Swann is coming to grips with Australian conditions. His role is to churn out overs both economically and in a probing manner and he played it to perfection, especially when bowling to North. Unless North can reverse this situation, he's doomed.

The ineptitude of the batting left Australia's chances of staying in the contest in Adelaide resting heavily on the reinforcements the selectors introduced following the Gabba mauling. The problem is the Australian attack doesn't have an outstanding leader; opponents must look at the bowling line-up and see a series of efficient No. 3s but not a No. 1.

As England built on the momentum they'd taken from their resurgence in Brisbane, it appeared as though the Australian selectors were in for another session of burning the midnight oil. Their trick will be to make any further changes not look like panic.

It's a far cry from the days when the team selected itself and when a mistake didn't become a glaring error because two champion bowlers in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath covered cracks quicker than putty. Their job now is to not only select with the Ashes in mind but also for the future; not an easy task when losing to England is considered a hanging offence in Australia.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

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