By Prakash Govindasreenivasan
After the Sri Lankan bowlers ran riot on the Australian batting line-up to dismiss them for 74 at the Gabba, it was hard not to start looking at certain strategies with doubt. The Sri Lankan bowlers deserved all the credit for toying with the Australian batsmen and exposing their defense, which, on that day, was left unattended. Yet, one would want to look for answers from within the Australian camp for such a bizarre slump.
Despite a successful Test series against the Lankans, the currently employed rotation policy is under heavy scrutiny after the home side conceded a 2-1 lead to the visitors in the limited-over series.
The bold policy has given opportunity to a lot of young talent in Australia but has also had its share of disadvantages.
Less than 24 hours after defending it, skipper Michael Clarke went on to concede that there were too many changes and the constant shuffling led to the poor performance in Brisbane. If the captain of the side is unsure of the policy, then it surely needs to be revisited.
With the rotation policy in place, Australia will never be able to find the right combination ahead of a series or a match, as there will be several candidates in the squad capable of making it to the final eleven. The idea of having a certain set combination or persisting with a certain line-up is defeated. There will be frequent chop and change that will have an unsettling effect on the dressing room.
Former fast bowler Brett Lee blasted the rotation policy saying it cheapened the prestigious Baggy Green as it was being handed out at will. Not many would like to open up to such a strong opinion but it does add up. Not long ago, players had to put in hours of sweat and blood to earn that prestigious cap, but, in the current policy, it is being handed out rather easily. Lee’s frustration is justified as he had to prove himself time and again before getting into the Test side.
Planning for the future?
While the idea of infusing as many youngsters into the side is a positive step forward, to not give them enough time to breathe in the middle nullifies the very intention of giving them an opportunity. Usman Khawaja, who is in line to take Ricky Ponting’s position in the Australian batting line-up in Tests, was handed his ODI debut in the first game against Sri Lanka, only to be dropped in the second game. A youngster, coming through the ranks, needs to be given the confidence, ample opportunity and time to prove himself. If a player with a strong domestic record is given a one-match deadline, it is likely to destroy his confidence. With the policy in place, the present is competitive but the future seems skewed.
The other side
To be fair, Clarke made a wonderful point while defending the current system that is employed in the Australian setup. He spoke of the fact that today there isn’t much of a skill gap between the playing eleven and the bench. There was a time when the likes of Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Matthew Hayden would play despite not being fully fit. That happened because the team did not have able replacements at all times. But today, as Clarke points out, the Australian team is such that the replacements are as good as the ones in the starting line-up, which helps the team keep the squad injury-free.
While one would argue that it is not a stable policy, a lot of credit has to be given to Cricket Australia for giving so many youngsters a go at the International level. Fast bowler Jackson Bird was thrown into the middle against Sri Lanka and grabbed the opportunity well, producing a match-winning performance in only his second Test.
With multiple players vying for fewer spots in the playing eleven, Cricket Australia has done well to make it crystal clear that no player can take his place for granted, something that a certain left-handed opener from India needs to know. This promotes competition and gives the captain enough options to explore for different games.
The problem of plenty is not always the best problem to have. Australia have a challenging year ahead with a tour to India in February-March followed by the Ashes. Clarke’s form at home has been phenomenal, but, he will be tested when he takes his team to India. While there are several candidates to fill the fast bowling department, Clarke’s headache will be the lack of a quality spinner to exploit the sub-continent conditions. Unlike in the 2000s when Australia had Shane Warne, their current squad lacks that one reliable spinner.
The Ashes later this year will be Clarke’s biggest test as Australian captain. England, despite giving away their number one Test status to South Africa, will be upbeat and raring to go against Australia in June after registering a historic series win in India. Alastair Cook-led England would relish the idea of facing an uncertain Australian side in the Ashes. As far as Clarke is concerned, he needs to find the right combination before setting foot on English soil. For that, there has to be a tough call on the rotation policy.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)