Australia low on confidence - Bailey
George Bailey, Australia's stand-in captain for the Champions Trophy, has admitted that Australia are low on confidence, reasoning that the fate of the Ashes hinges on the result of the first couple of Tests. Australia, the defending champions, failed to make the semi-finals of what is supposed to be the last edition of the Champions Trophy, after they lost to Sri Lanka on Monday at The Oval narrowly by 20 runs, finishing at the bottom of Group B behind England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
It has been a demoralising few weeks for Australia, starting with the loss of their regular captain Michael Clarke to back injury, following by the David Warner controversy after the player admitted to being involved physical altercation with England batsman Joe Root in a pub in Birmingham last week before culminating in their exit from the tournament on Monday. With the first Investec Ashes Test commencing on July 10 at Trent Bridge, Australia could not be in a worse state of mind.
However, Bailey felt that the switch in the formats, the change of the ball, the infusion of fresh legs and the probable return of Clarke in to the squad could reinvigorate an Australia and arrest the downward spiral.
"There is probably not a great deal of confidence there," Bailey said at the Oval. "But it's just a very different mindset, I think, going from a one‑day tournament to a Test tournament. I don't think it's mattered where sides have been ranked going forward or in the past.
"The Ashes just tends to bring out something special in both sides. Whatever can be written and said leading up into those games, but until that first Test and the result of that first Test, I think that will dictate how the summer plays out. I think there is a huge importance in the results of the first couple of Tests."
Whatever Bailey's thoughts, the worries will persist. The biggest concern would be the slump the top-order pair of Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes. Watson had an aggregate of 34 runs while Hughes finished with 43 runs in the three Champions Trophy matches. Add to that the failure of Warner, who managed nine runs in the match against England and successive ducks in two warm-up matches, and the fragility of the Australian batting order becomes that much prominent.
There were only four half-centuries by Australia's batsmen including one from the James Faulkner, a bowling allrounder. Bailey and Adam Voges, the best performing batsmen, are not part of the Ashes plans. Australia, Bailey pointed out, would need to forget the Champions Trophy as soon as possible to move into the Ashes with a positive frame of mind.
"All of these guys will have to put this tournament behind them whether they've scored runs or not, and just focus on going forward," Bailey said. "That's no different for an Australian player to any other international player. Everyone has form slumps, everyone has their ups and downs. As a team, I think there is a really big challenge that's going to be ahead of them in the next couple of months. I think what Australia have done this time is they've got a really good preparation.
"I think a couple of the guys, the batters from this group, will maybe even join up and play the Australia A game that's due to start later this week. So, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for those guys to get some match practice in. Plenty of opportunity to get lots of practice against the Dukes balls in."
What would help the Australians immensely would be the return of Clarke who, Bailey reckoned, was likely to return for the first Ashes warm-up match, starting next Thursday, against Somerset in Taunton. According to Bailey even though it might seem Australia had been mortally wounded in the Champions Trophy there were still some positives to take forward. One reason for encouragement was Faulkner, the left-arm fast bowler, who might have just had three wickets, but his rich mix of variations could make him the surprise weapon during the Ashes.
"Faulkner has been really impressive. I think it's been good to have a lot of guys over here playing a lot of cricket in the lead‑up to the Ashes. So it's not necessarily just on the Champions Trophy group, but a lot of guys that have been playing county cricket," Bailey said. "Obviously, the Australia A groups are over here. The Champions Trophy boys that have been here for a number of weeks have been getting used to the conditions, different color ball and different format. But all of that plays a part in getting settled in. So I think all of those things will take some positives out of."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo