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Australia have eight days to regroup before the third Test in Mohali. They will need them, to take a good hard look in the mirror
March 5, 2013
The halfway point in a Test tour provides a chance for reflection. That time has arrived a day earlier than it was supposed to. The second Test wasn't meant to finish until late on Wednesday but Australia's batsmen couldn't survive that long. Couldn't even last until lunch on day four. Their seven-day break before the next Test in Mohali has stretched to eight days. All the more chance to think about where they have gone wrong. It would be quicker to consider what has gone right.
It's a short list. Michael Clarke has batted like everyone knew he could in India, using his feet and scoring a century in Chennai and 91 in Hyderabad. James Pattinson has defied the conditions to collect eight wickets at an average of 23.62. That is a monumental effort given the lack of assistance he has received from his colleagues and the pitches. Moises Henriques made a half-century in each innings on debut. What else? Well, Clarke won the toss in both games, does that count?
Everything else has been grim. The top order has been a disaster. The handling of the spinners by the selection panel has defied belief. The fast bowlers, Pattinson aside, have been blunted. Even the fielding has lacked sharpness. But the squad and its myriad support staff cannot give up and fly home. Two Tests and three weeks of this tour remain. Heck, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is even still up for grabs; Australia retain it if the series is drawn.
Right now that seems as realistic as a Shane Warne comeback. But Clarke's men cannot think any other way. They should note that the previous Test played in Mohali provided 25 wickets to fast bowlers and only 12 to spinners. That should give them a glimmer of hope. Their situation is glum but things are never as bad as they seem. This is not the Ashes of 2010-11. Three innings defeats at home provided a nadir that cannot be beaten. This is not losing at home to New Zealand.
For decades Test squads from all countries have been travelling to India and failing, just as India were trounced 4-0 in Australia in 2011-12. Australia's batsmen are not raised on spin-friendly pitches; India's are not as accustomed to pace. That is the natural order of things. But the extent to which Australia have struggled since the competitive first couple of days of the Chennai Test points to some worrying underlying issues.
One is the well-documented lack of spin depth in Australia's domestic ranks. Sure, Jon Holland and Michael Beer could not be considered for this tour due to injury and Steve O'Keefe was overlooked, but how much difference would they have really made? The emergence of the legspinner Fawad Ahmed is a bonus but for now, Nathan Lyon remains the Test side's best spin option. Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell picked up late wickets in Hyderabad, but none when it mattered.
The retirement of Michael Hussey has also exposed the frailties of the batting line-up - at least in turning conditions, for they should do better in England later this year. None of Australia's top four batsmen is averaging better than 30 in this series. The most worrying thing is that their batting performances have declined since their 380 in the first innings in Chennai. Losing 8 for 56 on the final morning in Hyderabad was a sign either of not having learnt, or just not being good enough in the conditions. Either way, it's a concern.
So where to from here?
Clarke has already announced he will shuffle up the order in Mohali. It is a necessary move. Against the spinners, Clarke is so far in front of his team-mates that it's like Michael Jordan leading the Washington Generals. Phillip Hughes seems to think R Ashwin is a Harlem Globetrotter and watches in awe as his fingers twirl the ball. He is utterly mesmerised. Hughes might be useful in England, but he cannot retain his place for the third Test in India.
|Clarke has already announced he will shuffle up the order in Mohali. It is a necessary move. Against the spinners, Clarke is so far in front of his team-mates that it's like Michael Jordan leading the Washington Generals. Phillip Hughes seems to think R Ashwin is a Harlem Globetrotter and watches in awe as his fingers twirl the ball. He is utterly mesmerised. Hughes might be useful in England, but he cannot retain his place for the third Test in India.|
That would allow Clarke to move to No.4 and Shane Watson to first drop. Given that the Mohali pitch is likely to offer more for the fast bowlers, it makes sense for Watson to come in earlier. But he cannot keep failing. Watson has not made a Test century since last time Australia played in Mohali and that was two-and-a-half years ago. As a non-bowling batsman he is obliged to contribute big runs.
After the Hyderabad loss, Clarke was asked how Watson could translate his one-day form to Test cricket. "I don't know the answer to that," Clarke said. "You probably have to ask Watto that question." Really, Watson needs to ask himself that question. In all four innings this series he has looked okay and then found a way to get out. Spin and pace have done for him twice each; a strangle down the leg side to Ishant Sharma was his latest mistake.
David Warner has to force patience on himself. He can do it; a gritty century against New Zealand in Hobart early in his career proved that. To state the obvious, he also needs a better plan against spin. His opening partner Ed Cowan showed some promising signs in a near three-hour innings in Hyderabad. He was patient and has learnt as the series has gone on. But thirties and forties will not save Australia.
Usman Khawaja should be given a chance at No.5. What's the point of having backup batsmen unless you're prepared to play them when others fail? Under the circumstances, Matthew Wade and Henriques at Nos. 6 and 7 make sense. Wade's first-innings half-century in Hyderabad was encouraging and Henriques provides a fifth bowling option. He is not a frontline seamer, but a useful backup.
From 1 to 7, the batsmen need to play straight and wait until they are settled before expanding their repertoires too much. Clarke said he was disappointed at how many batsmen had fallen while playing across the line or against the spin so far in the series. With self-discipline, that is fixable.
Despite the late wickets from Doherty and Maxwell, Lyon should return to the attack. He leaked too many runs in Chennai but also claimed four wickets and deserved a chance to show he had learnt. Pattinson and Siddle ought to be joined in Mohali by Mitchell Johnson, who claimed a first-innings five-wicket haul in the previous Test played at the venue.
All of these are decisions for Clarke, Mickey Arthur and Rod Marsh, who will replace John Inverarity as the selector on duty this week. But none of their choices mean much if the men on the field offer no fight. Losing by an innings in India and going down 2-0 is not the end of the world. But it is time for the players to reflect. Or to put it another way, to take a good hard look in the mirror.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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