March 9, 2014

Resilient Australia close to becoming a powerhouse

They have the aggressive opening bowler and batsman and the imaginative captain to become unbeatable. The No. 3 slot is the only chink in their armour

Australia have surged on a tidal wave towards the top of the Test rankings and they possess some attributes that will make it difficult for opponents to stop that momentum.

Michael Clarke said before the series that his attack was stronger than a very capable South African line-up, and in the end he was proved right. That's one reason Australia are surging: a superb fast-bowling attack headed by the pace and aggression of Mitchell Johnson.

The captain himself is another plus. Clarke has been far ahead of his opposition this summer - Alastair Cook and Graeme Smith - but he's also a superior Test skipper to all the others, with his only challenger being the aggressively like-minded Brendon McCullum. Unfortunately for McCullum, New Zealand aren't blessed with the talent of Australia.

The other advantage Australia have over the contenders is David Warner. An explosively aggressive opener provides an enormous windfall for his team, with the main prize being that the opposition are wary before he has even faced a ball. Warner is now more consistent, has a thirst for centuries, and has cleared his mind of the clutter that can stunt the growth of an aggressive batsman. As long as Warner is performing, the chinks in Australia's batting armour are less likely to be exposed. The fact that Steven Smith has also matured into a consistent performer means Australia's batting suddenly has fewer weaknesses than when the Ashes series started.

However, No. 3 is still a black hole and this will become more apparent if Warner's form recedes. Australia won't become a real powerhouse until they can unearth a dominant No. 3, and there doesn't appear to be one with the potential in the pipeline.

As the summer progressed, it became patently clear that conservative captaincy wouldn't halt the runaway train that is Australia, with Johnson spearheading a penetrative attack, complemented by Clarke's imaginative captaincy. It's a tough combination to beat; an aggressive captain with the wherewithal to implement an attacking strategy from the opening delivery of each Test. The other major Test nations must be concerned, because Australia's style of play is suited not just to home conditions but also to those in South Africa and, to a lesser extent, England.

Having confirmed this by defeating South Africa in their own conditions, Australia have completed a rare recent feat among Test nations - they have won away from home. Their confidence will be further boosted by the stream of young fast bowlers waiting in the wings; James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins provide hope that the pace bowling edge can be maintained.

The team with the best chance of unsettling Australia are India, at home, where the conditions suit spinners and also help defuse pace bowlers. Not only is Australia's pace-bowling advantage blunted but their batting is also most susceptible when the ball is turning consistently.

As Australia look to build on the momentum gained during the summer, it will be interesting to see how Shane Watson adjusts to being an allrounder, batting in the No. 6 slot. If it works well he'll bring some distinct advantages. Watson gives the frontline quicks a breather by delivering a few overs of tidy medium pace, and if Australia get into a strong position he can batter the opposition into submission with his adventurous strokeplay.

However, if the hole at No. 3 can't be satisfactorily filled he may be deployed there in an attempt to plug the gap. I suspect Clarke will resist this move as long as possible, as he prefers Watson to fulfil the role of the allrounder. Compared to the major headaches Australia had just a few months ago, these are just minor irritations.

Once again Australian cricket has displayed tremendous resilience. It's a strength based on aggressive play, good fast bowling and imaginative captaincy. It has been a productive formula over time, and fortunately for Australia the other major Test nations not only find it difficult to counter but also to emulate.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 12, 2014, 22:04 GMT

    Steve O'Keefe's exclusion is a mystery, especially with so many others tried out. But he's got 38 wickets at 20 this summer to once again be the best bowler in the competition so he'll surely go to Pakistan and then hopefully play against India.

    Ryan Harris, Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin all will be done sometime in 2015 you'd think, the World Cup or The Ashes being good send off spots.

    Clarke, Johnson & Watson will have a few years left in them with Clarke probably playing another four or five years.

    Phil Hughes is obviously going to come in and hopefully bat with Dave Warner for the best part of the next decade. Steve Smith has got the captaincy all but sewn up I would have thought. Matt Wade would probably still be the replacement wicketkeeper.

    Tom Cooper & Ryan Carters have been outstanding this year with the bat. Jackson Bird and Pat Cummins have got spots waiting for them with the ball.

  • Peter on March 12, 2014, 8:02 GMT

    Warner, Hughes, Khawaja or Doolan, Finch, Clarke, Smith, Wade, MJ or Starc, Pattinson, Cummins, O'Keefe or Agar in ten years. Faulkner/Hazelwood and Bird in the wings...not bad. That's a powerhouse team ! Aside from 3, all explosive batsmen to Wade able to make centuries with some bowlers who can really bat as well. Yes MJ found his Mojo because he had time to work with Lillee who has changed his bowling mindset. One year to work on his bowling ! You can only win if you have the right cattle regardless of captaincy or coaching! That's all he is saying. Australia had the cattle just not the right people calling the selection shots. I'm sure some Pak. India, England and WI fans etc would say similar of their national setup.

  • Peter on March 12, 2014, 7:46 GMT

    Good to see the naysayers here. Chappell however is right. His comments are based on pivot players. The rest are not an issue if you look....Finch, Maxwell, Faulkner, Hughes, Khawaja, and the bevy of 150 kph capable bowlers as well as young O'Keefe. Remove old farts, they will still field a very good line up around pivot players. He does not account pre Arthurs, nobody liked the Germanic approach to coaching as evident during homework affair bar the boffins. Billy left as bowling coach after a few months and only returned when Boof took over. Mike Young left and returned etc. Chappell and Clarke had to keep quiet because it is enforced solidarity upon Clarke and silence upon Chappell otherwise zero access to the inner sanctum of the team. Boof is no issue as he's true blue. Notice Boof's comments wanting old greats to visit the team.

  • Paul on March 12, 2014, 1:15 GMT

    Ian Chappell is repeating what I've been saying all summer: Australia has the best captains and it is by far the best drilled of all cricket teams - indeed Australia is the only truly professional cricket side in the world! With quality players now this is the side to beat.

    One question: why does Hughes have the following he has? Can he do no wrong? He shines at Shield level but can't cut the mustard at international level. Isn't there anyone else for this role? What about Usman Khwarja - he hasn't had much of a go at international level unlike like Phil Hughes?

  • Jay on March 12, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    Note a big black hole in Chappelli's "powerhouse" argument: No mention of coach Darren Lehmann! How disingenuous of Ian to not even recognise Darren who played a major role in the OZ turnaround! Look at the dismal situation before Darren arrived. Arthur & Clarke suffered the "Homework" saga in India & a 0-4 whitewash. In an earlier series, they were exposed ("secret dossier") & outfoxed by (who else?) Kirsten & Smith. Arthur was axed just before the England tour. The affable Lehmann was inserted to remedy the toxic team culture. It worked. Though OZ lost 0-3, they rebounded later at home with a 5-0 Ashes thrashing. The momentum carried over to SA: OZ won 2-1. Coaching matters, Chappelli's Myths notwithstanding. It's presumptuous to say OZ can become "unbeatable" on account of Clarke, Johnson, Warner & Watson, given their troubled history. Cricket's vagaries - injury, burnout, form loss, longevity, indiscipline - can quickly turn a "powerhouse" into a "powermouse"! Another Myth, Ian!!

  • Jay on March 12, 2014, 0:05 GMT

    Myth 4: Chappelli's half-baked "use-by-dates" theory for "ageing masters". How absurd! OZ Test team is mostly over 30; notably Haddin (36), Rogers (36), Harris (34) & Clarke (33). Does Ian want to push them out? Just ask Tendulkar on how he outsmarted Chappelli's stupid "Mirror, Mirror on the wall" dictum to retire in 2007 at age 34! Myth 5: Clarke's "aggressive" captaincy is behind OZ success. So how come, before the SA tour, this "imaginative" Clarke never got to win in 10 away Tests? He's overrated. In contrast, SA has not lost an away series in the past 8 years. That's why Gary Kirsten calls SA's "Smith the greatest Test captain ever"! Myth 6: "Coaching kills the batting star". The coach should be held in check. But modern cricket is too demanding for a captain to handle alone. Uber-coach Kirsten took both SA & India to the top in Tests. Gary's positive "personal mastery" culture & team spirit outdid predecessors Mickey Arthur & Greg Chappell. Both were control freaks & failed!!

  • Jay on March 11, 2014, 23:55 GMT

    Ian - Close to becoming a powerhouse? Whoops! How so? Granted resilient OZ is on a roll. But not for the reasons (myths) Chappelli wants us to believe. Look at the fallacies he's been spewing from his bully pulpit. Myth 1: "Australia's pointless tour to India could lead to selection blunders". Actually this timely lead-in ODI tour (Oct-Nov) helped CA selectors to set up match-ready players & bench strength: Johnson, Haddin, Watson, Bailey, Maxwell, Faulkner & Co. Mitchell gathered terrific form as his MI team-mate Tendulkar attested "Johnson could prove an Ashes menace"! Myth 2: "The Watson and Johnson question marks". Mitchell answered Ian aptly with his phenomenal pace bowling in a 5-0 Ashes whitewash & grabbed Man-of-the-Series award to boot! Myth 3: "Drop a format, or restrict T20". Ian's IPL phobia in particular is ludicrous. Many OZ stars play in IPL: Clarke, Warner, Watson, Smith, Haddin, Harris, Johnson & Co. In fact, Brett Lee credits Mitchell's resurgence to his IPL stint!!

  • Amit on March 11, 2014, 12:33 GMT

    After 2 back to back series wins, it would seem they are on an upswing and yes they do have some "power" players, but I wouldn't call the current Aus team a real deal yet. This success owes a lot to Harris (of the dodgy knee and brilliant spell fame) and Johnson (of the bodyline reinvented fame) and who knows how long they will be able to keep it up. Clarke is the only one I would rate as an all wickets player, Warner's recent success notwithstanding. In SA, he got countless lives and if Steyn hadn't been injured in the third game, I doubt if the series would've been won. SA managed to nearly save the game by batting as long as they did. Do you see Australia being able to do so? I don't. Still no closer to solving the batting puzzle, the Aussies and so, no closer to being the top dogs.

  • subhasish on March 11, 2014, 4:58 GMT

    australian team in 2018/ thats a very gud team i think they should pick player like burn and doran .i think in 4 years time this is the australian team i expects to play test cricket .plz publish

  • c on March 11, 2014, 3:10 GMT

    Response to Chris_P: hello lotus (returning the compliment).

    Since you've missed the point by your own admission, let me reiterate it. This time I'll say it in English! If SL with ONE strike bowler could beat SA IN SA with a side that was better and more successful than the one AUS beat recently, how does that translate into AUS being CLOSE to a powerhouse? 3-0 drubbing there of whom? Haha. Since the subject under consideration is AUS becoming a "powerhouse", let's stay on subject and not go too far back or wider. Let me remind you SA has lost only three series' since 2006: to AUS recently & in 2009 and to SL in 2006. To say AUS is CLOSE to becoming a powerhouse NOW is a joke.

    As an aside, what's even MORE amazing is how Chappell makes outlandish claims regarding the FUTURE and some here categorically state he is right! And we know this how? Haha.

    Yes, it was a 2-1 margin over SL. My error. Aaargh!