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Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day

Too much on too few for Australia

Australia's win at Perth felt like a lifetime ago as they were blown away for 98 on Boxing Day

Peter English at the MCG

December 26, 2010

Comments: 70 | Text size: A | A

Steve Smith's unhappy experience at No. 6 continued when he edged behind off James Anderson, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, December 26, 2010
Australia's batting failures were a familiar story for a team who struggle against the moving ball © Getty Images
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This is what happens to Australia when Michael Hussey and Shane Watson fail. Following the bowler-inspired revival in Perth last week, the real Australia re-emerged after Hussey and Watson were unable to carry the batting line-up. Australia are currently so reliant on them and Brad Haddin at No.7 that it's three-out, all-out. Today that left them with 98 in 42.5 overs and by the end of a Boxing Day to forget they were wicket-less and 59 behind.

Hussey is having a fantastic series with 525 runs and Watson is in the middle of a solid one, but they picked bad times for their first single-figures contributions of the campaign. Not that this embarrassment was their fault. Just that with no superhero in the middle order with a cape marked H, and no muscular start from Watson, the side face-planted on the biggest occasion of the cricket calendar.

It is not possible for two batsmen to cover for a top six throughout a five-match contest. Ricky Ponting (93), Michael Clarke (135), Phillip Hughes (30) and Steven Smith (49) have combined for less runs in the series than Watson's 298. That has left a cavern for Hussey, Watson and Haddin to attempt to patch up, but today they ran out of putty.

Buoyed by their stunning WACA performance, which looks more like a fluke with every session in Melbourne, Australia started on equal terms with England but quickly fell back through indiscipline and poor technique. Having been delivered a surface with life, they seemed to forget that their run-makers would have to survive against the moving ball, a perennial weakness. Sent in to deal with the seaming conditions, the batsmen kept aiming drives through cover instead of playing straight, edging to the cordon one lemming at a time.

Bowlers are told to feed the slips and England's were sated with eight of the ten catches, with the other two going to Kevin Pietersen at gully. Watson popped an edge to Pietersen after being dropped twice on the way to 5 while Hughes swung fiercely but misguidedly at one going away from him. He had spent an hour attempting to avoid such risk. Ponting started cautiously and correctly, ultimately doing well to get a nick on a Chris Tremlett ball that lifted and darted towards the slips. From 3 for 37, things really turned ugly.

Hussey survived a couple of close lbw calls until driving at one going away eight minutes from lunch. Smith arrived to play and miss badly from his only ball before rain sent the players off and he was even less convincing when he returned. Only 21, Smith will be a fine cricketer in the future, but he owns a limited-overs technique and is desperate to follow the ball when it curves. When he saw James Anderson's delivery leaving him he kept chasing it and was caught behind. More is expected from a Test No.6 in this type of situation.

Five for 66 became 6 for 77 when Clarke did the same thing as Smith, reaching for a ball he could have left. Haddin drove hard and nicked to first slip while Mitchell Johnson was caught behind at the same score. In the end, 98 was better than expected.

Such is the current frailty of the batting that it's only necessary to look back six months for a smaller Australian total. They made 88 after winning the toss against Pakistan in Leeds in July when the ball seamed and swung. It has been a horrible year for the batsmen, whose first day of 2010 included them being dismissed for 127.

The order has drifted with the ailing form of Ponting, a captain under immense pressure as he moves closer to becoming the second Australian to lose three Test series against England. Ponting finished the day fielding at mid-off due to his broken little finger and at times in his lonely position must have wondered if he would have been better off staying away.

While he is a brave leader who will live with the consequences, he is now desperate for runs from a group that can't be depended on to provide them. Ponting has become one of the unreliable, a shadow of his great days as a world-beating No.3. His men say they adore him, but not enough of them have been playing to keep him in charge. Last week Ponting experienced the fantasy of an Australian Ashes revival. Today he was back in reality.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by beakyjonjo on (December 27, 2010, 7:25 GMT)

There is no doubt England bowled superbly with discipline and patience. It was a good toss to win as the conditions were definitely at their most favourable on that first morning. The pitch is now more a batting track. However with australia so far behind in the match the situation is impossible for them and a miracle is required to prevent England retaining the ashes. I hope that in the aftermath a real inquest is made into this debacle and it will be recognised that the selectors are to blame. Clarke should have lost his place after the second test. Doherty should never have been picked ahead of Hauritz. For the MCG a spinner needed to be picked. Smith is not the best number 6 in australia and though his bowling was servicable Hauritz on form would have proven a better batsman and bowler. The current 11 playing for australia are not the best 11 available.

Posted by Iceborn999 on (December 27, 2010, 7:20 GMT)

I think its time for Australia to move on after this series..... Marsh (or best state opener currently), Watson, Khawaja, M Hussey (C), D Hussey, Haddin, White, Hauritz, Copeland, Starc, Siddle.............. Harris, O'Keefe,

Posted by anver777 on (December 27, 2010, 7:14 GMT)

Aus need to bring inform batsmen like Khawaja & Ferguson for tests or form an ODI team for test cricket & I'm sure they will perform better than the present lot...... only Hussey & Watson showed good form during the series but unfortunately they too failed in this crucial encounter..........an impossible task ahead for Aussies to save this match !!!!!

Posted by   on (December 27, 2010, 6:24 GMT)

i think australia should completely shake up the team for the last ashes test and series against bangladash, with watto, marsh, khawaja, lynn, hussey, ferguson, paine, johnson, hauritz, harris and siddle. as these are the best preforming players in the country with alot of young talent (khawaja and lynn will be two of the best batsmen in the world in 5 years) and some expirence there to help the young players settle into test cricket.

Posted by sawifan on (December 27, 2010, 6:21 GMT)

@Gopal Krishna, to say Ponting is 'over-rated' is pure, unadulterated ingnorance. The guy is obviously going through a rough patch coupled witht the failings of his fellow batsmen. The best thing that could happen to him is to lose the captaincy but remain as a player. Unfortunately that is not something that happens often in Australian cricket and not for the reason of 'egos'. It's a cricket hierachy thing. Ponting is a world-class batsman and i'm sure he can bounce back, we all remember SRT had a few rough years and now look at him!! (and no, i'm not comparing Ponting to Tendulkar, but in terms of batsmen in their generation, Ponting is probably 2nd only to him). While at times (most of it) in this series, the Aussies have been terrible, i think more credit should go the the Poms too, they've played well and deserve their successes.

I believe any team in the top 5 or 6 could beat each other on their day, conditions willing. Either way, its good to see ball dominating bat for once

Posted by MisterE84 on (December 27, 2010, 6:20 GMT)

Hooves, I agree with your comments here and I think its only natural that after a great rise you almost have to expect a great fall! The Australian great rise into 1990-2005 is over and we can expect to see a great fall from the amazing heights the team reached:

You've got once in a generation players like Hayden, Gilly, McGrath, Warnie, JL and I am going to include Punter in that class. Most teams are lucky to have 1-2 of these in their side - I can't even think of WI, Pakistan, NZ (maybe Vettori) have one and for this period we had these SIX play in the same teams as each other.

You have to expect a great fall as with champions you just can't tap them on the shoulder and say their time is up to blood young kids after all the great success they've brought to the country.

Therefore logical to expect a sharp decline. Lets stop being so so harsh on the team - the Ashes are gone I am in pain there is no doubt but lets back our guys in to another great dynasty!

Posted by anikbrad on (December 27, 2010, 6:14 GMT)

HAVE ANY ONE SEEN THE INFAMOUS DAAR- PONTING AND SIDLE ARGUEMENT? IF ANY ONE IN ASIA WOULD VAE DONE IT HE WOULD HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED FOR 5 TESTS. REMEMBER SHEWAG SUSPENDED FOR ESSESIVE APEALING IN HIS DEBUT MATCH AND THEN MCGRATH- SARWAN/ SLATTER- DRAVID. ALL AUSSIES GOT SCOTT FREE AND WHEN INDIA IS TOLD THEY ARE FLEXING MUSCLES I THINK YES WE ARE BUT MORE SHOULD BE DONE TO REMOVE THIS DISPARITY. IF PONTING AND SIDLE IS NOT SUSPENDED WE SHOULD STOP PLAYING WITH THEM. WE HAVE NOW GOT THE POWER WHAT THEY CAN DO OTHER THAN BEG NOTHING. LETS START FLEXING MUSCLES FOR PATIRY AND EQALITY.

Posted by Point4 on (December 27, 2010, 6:14 GMT)

OMG...My fears have come true.....After the team announcement for Perth there were some nagging doubts in my mind which to my horror have come true...

1.MCG wont assist Aussie pacemen like WACA (AUS missing quality spinner or a pretender for that matter..)

2.Eng need only to draw the test series to win the ashes while Oz need to win at least 1 test and avoid defeat in another (HUGE pressure).

This is the jinx..for Christs' sake

3.PONTING MAY LOOS HIS COOL ONCE THINGS DONT GO HIS WAY .. and see what has happened today...

Posted by stormy16 on (December 27, 2010, 6:13 GMT)

This is pathetic by Aus with everything to play for to be bowled out for 98!! Eng were brilliant with the ball (at bat!) but it seems Aus have forgotten how to bat. Surely some of these selections are not right - Hughes was dropped for technical flaws which are apparently unresolved and hasnt made runs this season so why did they pick him. What is the basis for picking Smith - he cant bat at #6 and cant bowl. When you #3 and 4 are struggling but you cant drop them because its your leadership then you must pack up with the rest of the order with proper batsman in form and Hughes and Smith arent either - no technique and no form.

Posted by arvin on (December 27, 2010, 5:39 GMT)

ponting needs to atleast take a break if not retire for any chance of aussie revival... but his and idiotic chappal brothers greed to break sachins' batting records will make him stay in team forever and australia will continue to suffer...

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