Pak v Aus, 2nd MCC Spirit of Cricket Test, Headingley, 1st day July 21, 2010

Clouded thinking hurts Australia during dark day


As the dark, gloomy weather descended on Headingley late in the afternoon, the Australians drifted from the ground thankful to see the end of one of their grimmest days. Ricky Ponting has had some tough experiences as Test captain, but it's hard to recall an Australian team under his leadership enduring a worse day than this.

In terms of significance, decisive Ashes occasions like the second day at The Oval last year or the first at Edgbaston in 2005 are at the top of the list. But for a single, self-contained day of Test cricket, this was terrible. Australia were all out for 88, their lowest Test total in 26 years, and Pakistan passed the score with one wicket down.

Yes, the Australians can say they have a chance. At the SCG in January they were in a remarkably similar position and somehow Pakistan handed the match back. To expect the same result again is to anticipate predictability from Pakistan, and that's never a wise move.

The Australians will be left to wonder if they made the wrong decision to bat first. Ever since Ponting infamously sent England in at Edgbaston five years ago with a McGrath-less attack, batting first has been almost a Pavlovian response when the coin falls his way.

Even when logic dictates - as it did on a Sydney greentop in January or February 2009 on a Johannesburg pitch described by Michael Hussey as having branches growing off it - that bowling first is the logical move. Even when it means playing into the hands of the opposition.

The Australians never like to cede control of a Test and they feel that by bowling first, they are doing just that. They often speak of focusing on their own plans and not concerning themselves with their opponents. It's an approach that looks pigheaded when it fails.

Against a Pakistan team whose strength clearly is swing bowling, batting first under overcast skies after overnight rain defied common sense, especially given the inexperience of the Pakistan batting line-up. As Ponting himself said two days before the Test, "in Pakistan you don't generally see the ball seam around and swing around like it did last week".

So why not subject their batsmen to those hardships? Umar Gul said he was surprised at Ponting's decision, and that the Pakistanis were ready to bowl first had they won the toss. Australia's coach Tim Nielsen said the idea of sending Pakistan in was discussed, but they felt the pitch would deteriorate later in the week. The match might not get that far.

Perhaps the coin-flip didn't matter. Truth be told, Australia were outplayed in every department. When their bowlers were given a chance in the afternoon they did not display the guile and skill shown by their Pakistan counterparts. Whereas Mohammad Asif had deceived batsmen with a sequence of outswingers followed by an inswinger, the Australians possessed no such patience.

They tried to take a wicket every ball, without building to a plan. Ben Hilfenhaus bowled too straight and often saw the ball whipped through leg, while Mitchell Johnson was erratic. The bowlers say the right things about working in England - they know they must pitch it up and allow the ball to swing - but too many deliveries were banged in short of a length.

Nor did the batsmen handle the conditions with complete composure. They reached forward against the swinging ball, hoping to negate the movement but at times that exacerbated the issue, as they allowed themselves no time to adjust when the ball swerved late.

The innings was over in less than three hours, and not since 1984-85 had Australia scored so few. That was against a vintage West Indian attack at the WACA, on a day when Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall were so fearsome that Courtney Walsh didn't even have to bowl. You can bet on that occasion they weren't pitching it up and searching for swing.

Australia's SCG memories will sustain them into the second day at Headingley. They know the sun will rise again - they just hope there'll be plenty of clouds as well.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chandramohan on July 22, 2010, 16:56 GMT

    As an Indian, I have often been surprised how India and Pakistan have managed to pull of defeats from "impossible to lose" situations... even as I will feel sad if Pakistan doesn't win this test, I won't be surprised if they lose it from here... all I really hope is they get their act together and stick to the advantage/momentum they got in the first innings... else it will be a new low for sub-continent cricket...

  • pat on July 22, 2010, 16:17 GMT

    @pankajkumarsingh You dont seem to understand what rooboy is saying...all he said is ponting is an excellent fielder and he won a WC final (I'm sure you remember the pasting he gave India in the 2003 final). He was not comparing him to sachin or saying he is better than sachin. The truth is sachin could not perform in a wc final as of date.. think he has been in only one..his last chance will prolly be the 2011 wc...

  • Robert on July 22, 2010, 15:45 GMT

    I love reading these comments how people think 1 bad toss decision and 1 bad innings means that it is all over for the Australian teams future. we are still a very competitive cricket side and will never be easybeats like most others have been at some stage. Some things that are very obvious to anyone with half a cricket brain. 1. Australia is obviously coming back to the pack and are beatable with the recent retirements. 2. Ricky Ponting is nearing the end of his career so yes his skills are diminishing but he is still the best no.3 Australia have to choose from. All these people who are ranking his entire career on current form are clueless. As for pressure innings what about 2003 WC. Is there a bigger pressure stage? 4.Johnson clearly has issues with the Dukes ball but with the Kookaburra ball he is one of the best currently and his stats prove it. By the way this test is not over yet but I expect a Pakistan win which will draw the series and we will retain the Trophy.

  • Pankaj on July 22, 2010, 13:53 GMT

    @Rooboy - You are absolutely right in defending in Ponting. He has scored a lot of runs and did won a world cup for them (and so many other games) with his bat. And yes, Tendulkar hasnt gotten a World Cup for India (yet) although, his record in a single world cup (2003?) was the best ever performance compared to any other batsmen (Ponting included). But that wasnt the point though. Point wasnt comparing Ponting to any other batsman. Point I was making was - when Ponting hangs his boots, he would go away with two Ashes loss (did he win one in UK), lowest ever totals in Aussie history. Bottomline point was - Ponting has lowered the bar. Aussies were basically unbeatable for the most that I can remember. A win for Aus was for granted. No one even offered a fight. Now, UK, which barely has changed in last 4 yrs, can beat Aus anyday on any ground. Dont rate Ponting against Tendulkar or Lara. Rate him against The Chappels, Borber, Taylor and Waugh.

  • ankur on July 22, 2010, 13:18 GMT

    Ponting scored all those runs when he had absolutely no pressure to perform as he had better players and which is precisely why he had won 2 WC.

    Now for the last 2 years when he has had to be "whole sole" of Australian team he has crumbled under pressure time and again........

  • tanuj on July 22, 2010, 12:43 GMT

    Hiii everyoneee,

    One of the worst moment also came against Indian when the Aussies couldn't chase down 107 runs odd target in MUMBAI in 2004 and got bowled out for paltry 93. At that itme they were Stronger than now vs PAKISTAN.

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 12:18 GMT

    v al knw pakistani bowlers bowled superbly ...Hats off to them...but still its Australia its Ricky Pointing ,The punter v are talkin abt...that Bloke wont give up ever...evn his team has virtually one innigns to win against opposition's 2....and there is still Pakistan of which v never there is still hope fr Australia...But frm cricketin prospective its gud to c Ozs under pressure :)

  • Sunil on July 22, 2010, 12:03 GMT

    Is Ponting on a "self destruction" course?Tall boasts before the test match,batting first on a clod laden day ona greenish wicket.Australia better watch out,no longer the no1 test team,a captain whio hasnt had a significant score himself,Mr Cricket struggling,depending on the Watsons and Norths to take wickets..There are other test playing teams raring to knoock Australia off the pedestal.

  • Steve on July 22, 2010, 11:55 GMT

    @pankajkumarsingh: "with all due respect to runs he has scored, he is the worst thing that has happened to Aussie cricket". Care to explain this ridiculous statement? Although his captaincy can sometimes be a bit iffy, the rest of his game is still top notch - batting has been a bit down recently though (form is temporary, class is permanent). He has won more test matches & ODIs by virtue of his batting and fielding than anyone else currently playing the game. As for leading Australia down to other teams levels, he has had to oversee the team lose Warne, Langer, Martyn, Hayden, McGrath, Gillespie, Gilchrist & Lee - more than half a team of superstars and very good players. The calibre of these players are not easily found or replaced so a period of readjustment was inevitable.

  • md on July 22, 2010, 9:52 GMT

    With this bowling attack and batting line up I donot see Aussie are winning the ashes. Johnson is an overrated bowler he can't swing the ball nor as fast as tait. I think peter George deserve a chance in the team. Shane Watson should bat. At 6. Hussey should not be in all format it is hard to perform every series at this age. Australia need a good opening pair to win test matches. If Philip huges has got technical problem why don't we try s. Marsh instead or may be north with usman at 5. Mattew wade will do better than Paine.The x factor is missing in the team. S. Tait brought in oneday matches and now need some for tests as well.

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