India v Australia, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 4th day March 5, 2013

Where to from here for Australia?

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

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 here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajaram on March 6, 2013, 22:08 GMT

    Phil Hughes should be dumped, no question. And,oh,no,not again - the Poms will be licking their lips. Why are you,Brydon Coverdale, AND the Selectors, pampering Shane Watson so much? Don't we want to win? I sincerely suggest: Warner,Cowan,Khawaja,Clarke,Henriques,Wade,Johnson,Siddle,Pattinson, Lyon,Doherty or Maxwell.And for guys like Ian Chappell who don't like the sight of Ed Cowan - who's asking you? Cowan is the most resolute batsman,he's a fghter, has good technique,and does not give his wicket away easily.Unlike Warner or Watson or Phil Hughes.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 21:24 GMT

    I still can't believe the way people are thinking, Australia can still retain the B/G Trophy. But to do this Australia must win .... to win they must bowl India out twice for less than 250-runs in both innings.

    If we get the chance .... India bat first.

    I would have Pattinson open with Johnson, first change Harris and Hilfenhaus, second change Siddle and Starc. That's right six bowlers .... all who can hold a bat. Cricket would never have experienced so much testosterone on an oval in one day and I think that this order would 'inspire' Siddle and Starc to do something special. 3-over rotations, 6-over rests, 15-overs/day. No excuses and nothing subtle .... go hard or go home.

    If it doesn't work, at least you can go to the Australian public and say, "We had to win this test. We had to take 20-wickets. In Australia we play cricket to win and that's what we did."

    Also I would have Agar and O'keefe ready for Baggy Greens for a spinning pitch in Dehli, with Haddin as keeper.

  • Anil on March 6, 2013, 17:53 GMT

    Brydon, there is not much of a problem, actually. Chennai was a one-man show (Dhoni). That muddied the Aussie minds who committed selectorial blunder for Hyderabad. They should have persisted with Lyon. Now, they need to bring him back. Have Mitch J for, say, Siddle, as he might enjoy the Mohali track. Bring a specialist for Hughes; maybe Khawaja. And, more importantly, have patience. Not many hoped the Indians to do well down under last time, and not many hope this Aussie team to do well here either. These teams are at their regional best. Just accept the results, and just motivate the players to be patient and to not capitulate without a fight. That's it. Simple. There will be a winner, laud them; there will be a loser, encourage them. Dismembering the game to threadbare details will only ruin the fun.

  • Anupam on March 6, 2013, 17:45 GMT

    Clarke is responsible for struggling Australia.due to respect He axed all the senior players. senior Watto body language looks like he is not a team member. Only siddle is left.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 15:57 GMT

    No simple answers for this Australian team. They may not win a Test Match on this tour, but the experience will be valuable for the players, especially the ones who will continue to retain their places for future Test Matches. Apart from Clarke, there is no other superstar batsman in the side or in Australia. Watson has lost whatever he had and if he continues to fail, he should be dropped from the Test side. Warner may make runs, but he is far from being consistant, and so is Cowan. Lyon is not a Test bowler, and why he continues to be picked is a big mystery for any fan of Australian Cricket. They also need a superstar spinner. The fast bowler's line up is good and can take wickets on an encouraging pitch. India will not prepare a pitch to accomodate them. Numero uno spot is very,very,very far away.Take the trashing and hope for the best in the Ashes. To defeat England in English conditions is like defeating India on Indian wickets. The next two years does not look too good !

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    Mohali would be more to Aussie liking and you can count them to come back strongly. When in India, one real quality spinner can make all the difference. Just a short while back Swann and to some extent Panesar had the team in knots. A Shane Warne might not appear overnight but there is got to be someone who is better than Lyon really. It should also force the Aussie selectors to concentrate on spin as an art of bowling and encouraging talent within domestic cricket.

  • Alistair on March 6, 2013, 11:59 GMT

    Surprisingly and pleasingly level-headed article given the potential for hysteria over these two poor performances. Ifeel, however, I have to point out that, although visiting squads overall have been failing for decades in India, there was a rather recent exception to that rule!!! England lost the first test then dominated the series impressively. And although Hughes may be more comfortable in English conditions he'll be playing, as will the others, against a far better team than at present! I doubt there will be a nadir to rival the Ashes of 2010-11 but I can hope, and based on the respective form of the two teams it's not out of the question in 2013-14 ;-)

  • Tushar on March 6, 2013, 11:24 GMT

    Actually, The only one who deserves to be dropped is Watson... Ofcourse maxwell needs to be dropped as well... Including a batsman and MJ will solve the problem... MJ is sure to score more runs than maxwell and provide a left arm seam option.

    Infact since watson can not bowl, they should have included MJ straightaway. I am sure he could have scored as many runs as Watson has scored along with a seam option. Did anyone think about that??? I feel that is a good option...

  • yuvraj on March 6, 2013, 11:16 GMT

    What a contrast between Indian writers about their countrymen and non-Indian writers about their respective countrymen. I can see signs of hope, advises, suggestions and still a pat on the back to move forward. I haven't seen this kind of treatment given for Indian cricketers when they failed miserably in England and Australia. I still believe Australia can pull things back and win one in Mohali, and that would spice things up well for the Delhi test. After the end of Chennai test, i thought the pitch has got into Australian batsmen, but after Hyderabad's test i have changed my mind; it's the mental block to play against spin. They got to believe they can handle spin well. After all that is the country that gave Shane Warne to the world. Eight days, more then enough to learn to negotiate the good balls. Once you succeed that, you will keep receiving bad balls at regular intervals. Test cricket is all about technique and patience; Don't over-think it.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2013, 10:47 GMT

    I'm going state what I think is the obvious.. Given who is currently available in the squad, any replacements will simply paper over the cracks. None of the bowlers look capable as a group of getting 20 Indian wickets... and none of the batters (excluding Clarke) look capable of amassing the big scores you need with such a ineffective attack. Quite simply, with the exception of Clarke, there is no real class in this Australian line-up and it's been well and truly exposed. I cannot believe that there is such a paucity of talent in Australia that this squad of players is the best that could be assembled. Still, the selectors have made their bed and they will have to lie in it..uncomfortable as it may be.