December 18, 2011

Clarke should move up to No. 3

Ponting is on his way out and there is no one else experienced enough to bat at that position. The captain must lead from the front

As strange as it may sound, there could be some relief in sight for Australia's beleaguered batsmen. Despite their No. 3 ranking, India's bowling doesn't match up as well as the New Zealand attack did in favourable conditions. The first two Tests were played in the perfect conditions for swing and seam bowling, which is the strength of New Zealand's bowlers and the Achilles heel of the Australian batting line-up.

Unless Zaheer Khan is fully fit, India aren't so well-endowed when it comes to proven swing bowlers. If the local curators continue to leave grass on the pitches, as they have done over the past couple of summers, it will suit Australia's emerging pace attack.

The sight of greenish pitches will have the Indian batsmen reeling, and consequently the Australian pace bowlers will have a psychological advantage. However, this shouldn't be taken for granted, because the Indian line-up is very experienced and talented. An hour of carnage at the hands of the highly combustible Virender Sehwag and Australia could just as easily be at a disadvantage.

While the Australian attack has recently shown encouraging signs, the batting has been woefully inconsistent. The quickest way to rectify that problem is to sort out the top order; the first three batsmen set the tone for consistency. Shane Watson's return - bowling or not - will help in this regard, as he should team up well with the adventurous David Warner. With Ricky Ponting now preparing for a move to a retirement village rather than looking to increase his mortgage, it's time to find a long-term solution in the No. 3 spot. Usman Khawaja isn't the answer, as he's currently not quite capable of taking charge of an innings in the manner expected of a No. 3. Shaun Marsh could prove suitable but his injury history is a concern, and resorting to a back-to-the-future solution by reinstating Simon Katich isn't the answer either. Most of Australia's memorable moments of late have been provided by the younger brigade, and the selectors' gaze should be focused forward and not in the rearview mirror.

It's time for Michael Clarke to shoulder an extra responsibility and claim the No. 3 role. He has the experience, the Test record and the ability to take charge of an innings. He's also in form and has responded well to extra responsibility in his short captaincy career. This move would also enhance his reputation within the team for leading from the front. It would leave Australia with a vastly experienced top order, apart from the exciting Warner, and then a younger player could slot in between Ponting at four and Michael Hussey at six. Khawaja could fill that spot or else the allrounder Dan Christian could bat at six, behind Michael Hussey, if more bowling options are needed.

India's best chances for victory come when Sehwag and Zaheer fire together. Sehwag makes big scores quickly and Zaheer has the ability to claim five-wicket hauls - two major ingredients in winning Test matches.

Sehwag's confrontation with James Pattinson will not only be a highlight of the summer, it could well shape the series. Pattinson has one big advantage over most other opening bowlers who have been challenged by the belligerently brilliant Sehwag: he is led by a captain who isn't easily intimidated and won't cower behind a containment strategy.

Equally, if the Australian top order can blunt Zaheer, it will help them post challenging totals for the strong Indian line-up. One area where Australia does surpass India is in the injury toll, but it's a close-run thing. Zaheer is a constant candidate for the medical ward and Ishant Sharma has ongoing ankle problems. India will miss the swing bowling of the injured Praveen Kumar, but don't be surprised if Umesh Yadav thrives in the conditions. Yadav has some pace, but just as importantly, he has the potential to swing the ball and always looks like he's bowling to a plan.

The venues for the Indian Tests will slightly favour Australia. The SCG is the only ground where India might claim a spin advantage. The WACA should definitely suit Australia, while both the MCG and Adelaide Oval will encourage pace bowlers early.

If Australia can keep Sehwag under control and find the consistency in their batting order to neutralise Zaheer, they'll greatly increase their chances of defeating India. Of these two big ifs, the latter is the less likely, but then again Australia's batting is predictably unpredictable.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vinod on December 21, 2011, 4:37 GMT

    it would be interesting if the 'real' Ricky Ponting returns. i wish him all the best and hope he will make the job tough for the indians.

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2011, 3:18 GMT

    @ ian-ghose - the only reason india lost that 2007 series was due to poor umpiring decision in the sydney test which resulted in india losing the series. at best, australia would have drawn the series. if you really are going to talk about 1999, australia hasnt done that great either in india. infact the record stands at 10-6 in favor of india in the test matches played in the last decade. we all know how well australia has done in india. you are right about india not winning in australia. check the series result after month and you sure wont be disappointed this time !

  • satnam on December 20, 2011, 20:07 GMT

    i thing ian chappel needs to chill out

  • Ishan on December 20, 2011, 18:10 GMT

    @Haris Usmani...infact the last timeIndia played against the Aussie 'legends' in Australia (1999-00)- India got their backsides handed to them 3-0. Like I said...don't let media hype fool you.

  • Ishan on December 20, 2011, 18:07 GMT

    @Haris Usmani - I think you have your facts mixed up. I think you are confusing India with New Zealand. New Zealand is the only team which has challenged Australia in Australia even with Australia's gun players was the case in 2001-02, when they drew the series even with Warne, McGrath, Gillespie and Lee. India on the other hand, have done well...only when McGrath and Warne were missing like in 2003-04 and 2007-08 - infact India still lost the series in 2007-08 and could only draw in 2003-04. Don't let the Indian media's hype obscure the truth. And better believe it - India has NEVER won a test series in Australia.

  • D on December 20, 2011, 15:52 GMT

    Why do we need a new No#3 ?? Marsh averages 70 at No#3! Our prob is we are trying to rebuild a team whilst carrying too many players who: are totally out of form, have flawed techniques, are past it or unproven at test level. It is doomed! Playing Hughes means we are 1 down b4 we bat, that adds pressure to newby Khawaja. Out of form Punter,Huss,Hadds,Usman means we lose wickets quickly in batches of 3 or 4. Our Best XI needs proper opening pair, 1 dasher/1 accumulator & a No#3 who can do both, Thats Warner/Cowans opening (or poss convert Khawaja?), Marsh owns No#3, they build solid foundation for middle order of #4 Watto, #5 Clarke, two strokemakers followed by solid #6 Huss/Khawaja who can stop any disaster or consolidate good scoreline, #7 Haddin, just! this top order leaves him to play his natural game. The Top7 MUST consistently score 350+ on their own! Too often we hav relied on late runs fm th tail to post "competitive" sub350 total.We need to consistently post 400+

  • Daison on December 20, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    "The advantage that Pattinson have is that he is led by Michael Clarke"!!! What a joke!!! Ian Chappell really had to dig soo deep to come up with that one!!! I mean, gone are the days when Australians would say, "The Captain's life is made so easy because he got Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Ponting and so on that they just have to show up to win test matches". Now the Australians are trying their best to come up some and any sort of encouragement out of somewhere. I am very impressed with that Pattinson Kid from what I saw him bowling against NewZealand. Instead of giving him credit for some of the deliveries the kid bowled, Chappell has listed his Captain as his plus point. The title of this article should have an extension saying "Only for Australians to read and feel happy about". As for the Indian Batsmen "reeling" at the sight of green wickets, I remember how no Australians were not talking after the start of the CHIN MUSIC series in 2003. Good try Chappell, but keep trying...

  • Kaze on December 20, 2011, 11:17 GMT

    Aus 4 Ind 0 doesn't matter who bats where

  • Randolph on December 20, 2011, 9:42 GMT

    Chapelli with another brilliant article. Clarke 3 and tendulkar the dead rubber specialist to retire, brilliant commentary Ian!

  • Sarav on December 20, 2011, 8:29 GMT

    @jay57870 , Ohh boy... you came down in the batting orde, hit a hat-trick... Spot on mate !!!

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