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Ashes 2013: Australia need to strengthen domestic cricket to get back on track in international circuit

Ashes 2013: Australia need to strengthen domestic cricket to get back on track in international circuit

The Lord’s Test once again highlighted the grey areas in the Australian team © Getty Images

By Devarchit Varma

The Australian batting line-up fell like a pack of cards as England took a strong 2-0 lead in their bid to retain the Ashes. Their meek surrender to England on a batting-friendly track at Lord’s, their bowlers failing to contain the opposition batsmen and substandard fielding strikes in mind the judgment given by a strong review committee led the Don Argus Review Committee: Can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field.

It was a distressing show on all fronts by the Australians at Lord’s — suffering their third heaviest defeat in terms of runs in history. The former world dominators have now lost six Test matches on the trot. Apart from momentary bursts on Day One when Australian bowlers put some pressure on England, there wasn’t much of a fight in the rest of the game. A side that was once famous for its trait of fighting till the very end, which was even evident in the narrow defeat at Trent Bridge, suffered a thrashing at Lord’s and the memories of such a heart-wrenching loss will take a long time to fade away.

Before the start of the series, this side was compared with Allan Border’s side of 1989 — a chapter in history that could have been repeated. The Australian side of 1989 wasn’t tipped to win the Ashes that year, and so was this one.

Undoubtedly, the ‘Australianism’ in Michael Clarke’s team is missing. The current generation of cricketers that keep shuttling around the globe playing in Twenty20 leagues and cashing in huge pay cheques doesn’t really fit in when it comes to coping up with demands of Test cricket.

Life comes full circle for Australian cricket

Cricket Australia (CA) went for an independent review in 2010 headed by one of Australia’s top businessman Don Argus. The members of the committee consisted former captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and former ICC Chief Malcolm Speed.

The Don Argus Review had pointed out many of the shortcomings out in 2011 after Australia lost to England in the Ashes series after 24 years at home. It said: “The evidence from the Ashes [2010-11] and other recent series is that our basic cricket skills are lacking in key areas, in particular: For batting  batting for long periods; batting against the moving ball; our (Australian) approach to playing spin; general batting technique in some instances. For bowling: building pressure; bowling to an agreed plan; spin bowling and captaincy of spin bowling; swing bowling, including generating reverse swing. For fielding: overall fielding, especially catching; General athleticism; this has extra significance as in the panel’s view fielding standards reflect the attitude and professionalism of the team.”

If one looks at Australia’s performances in their last two Test series including the ongoing Ashes, (against South Africa at home and tour of India in 2013) one would find that they are grappling with all the aforementioned issues two years after the Argus report came out in open. 

The Lord’s Test highlighted the grey areas in the Australian team. Australia were shot out for 128 and 235. In the first innings, Graeme Swann bagged a five-for and claimed four scalps in the second. Australian bowlers failed to match the skills of their English counterparts, and on the field Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin let go an edge of Joe Root that flew between them for four when the batsman was on eight in England’s second innings. Root went on to add another 172 to his tally, and the Australians were pummelled by 347 runs.

Sometime in 2011, Ricky Ponting had highlighted the similar shortcomings regarding the need of finding good batsmen. In an interview to ESPN Cricinfo, Ponting said, “Good state players these days are averaging 35. If you were averaging 35 when I was playing, your dad would go and buy you a basketball or a footy and tell you to play that. So there’s areas of concern there. I don’t know how you change them. Everyone we listen to says that kids want to play T20 cricket, but the real cricket-loving kids?”

The current squad consolidates this fact — barring Michael Clarke (average 51) and David Warner (average 39) — none of the Australian batsmen selected for Ashes 2013 have a batting average above 35.

Let’s take a look at the statistics of the Australian batsmen named for the Ashes 2013.

Australian batsmen on tour of England and Scotland 2013:

Batsmen Tests Runs Average 100s 50s
Michael Clarke 94 7,377 51.58 23 57
Shane Watson 43 2,689 34.92 2 19
Brad Haddin 46 2,394 34.69 3 11
Phil Hughes 26 1,535 32.65 3 7
David Warner* 19 1,263 39.46 3 7
Ed Cowan 18 1,001 31.28 1 6
Steven Smith 9 493 29.00 0 4
Usman Khawaja 7 331 30.09 0 2
Chris Rogers 3 108 18.00 0 1

* Withdrawn from the tour.

Evidently, the steps that Cricket Australia (CA) took to address the list of woes haven’t yielded the desired results. The batting continues to remain their biggest worry, and so do the other skills, including their attitude and professionalism.

To begin with, CA needs to take concrete steps to strengthen their domestic cricket. They have to develop batsmen who can bat for long sessions and score tons of runs. CA can revisit the methods and systems that created a stream of immensely talented batsmen that brought glory to Australian cricket in the past. The governing body must also bring back sheen to the Sheffield Shield, which some claim has been overshadowed by the Big Bash League.

It is a long road to recovery and the results will come only over a period of time. But it is important that the right steps are taken to ensure no more suffering is there. Any cricketing house needs a strong talent pool to excel, unfortunately Australia’s resources are not being utilised effectively and the approach needs to be changed. For the present, one can only hope that the current squad gets their act together and put up a fight. 

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)  

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