By Karthik Parimal
Going down without a fight is not something you generally associate an Australian cricket team with. However, the first two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) of the NatWest Series produced results that were totally uncharacteristic of an Australian side. Not only did England play better cricket, but they triumphed in a resounding manner.
The first ODI saw the home team post a challenging total on the board, and the Aussies, who never looked close to surpassing the target for a major part of the game, fell short by 15 runs. In the second ODI, the English bowlers did well to restrict the visitors for a reasonable total, before the batsmen made mincemeat of the Australian attack to win with ease. The point here to be noticed is how fragile the Australian bowling unit looked during both these ODIs. Not even for a moment did it appear as though the Australians would run through the English batting line-up.
Bowling has been Australia’s predicament for quite some time now. None of the bowlers in the present Australian squad looked threatening enough to cause some damage. For a brief moment during the first ODI, it appeared as though Brett Lee would be Australia’s chief protagonist in creating havoc in the English unit, but he too fell flat after an initial burst that saw Alastair Cook and Ian Bell tottering. However, the two English openers played him with far more ease during the second ODI at the Kennington Oval. The only bowler who came close to troubling the host batsmen was Clint McKay. However, the highlight of his bowling spell was not the wickets column, but the economy rate, which was below 4.4 runs per over.
It’s surprising to see Australia’s declination in this department of the game. A few years ago, Australia had at its disposal one of the best bowling attacks of all time. The likes of Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne struck terror in the hearts of the opposition batsmen. Some quality bowlers who could spearhead almost every other team in the world were made to warm the benches while representing Australia. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. In the absence of premier bowlers, Australia’s bowling attack lacks sting.
A few months ago, the Australian seamers were a thorn in the flesh of the Indian batsmen. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were two bowlers who gave a fine account of themselves during that series. It’s difficult to comprehend why an out of form Mitchell Johnson was chosen ahead of Hilfenhaus for the second ODI. Obviously, Johnson’s recent poor record and his performance at The Oval indicate that he needs a few more games to hit the right line and length. It would be a risk to include him ahead of Hilfenhaus for the remainder of the ODIs. The Australians can’t afford to experiment with their bowling attack at this crucial juncture in the series, and hence it’s important that they pick Hilfenhaus, who could possibly strengthen the bowling department a little.
Despite having a couple of good bowlers in its artillery, Australia needs to have a good hard look at its overall bowling prowess. It shouldn’t strike out the fact that since the last few ODIs, its bowling has been very ordinary. West Indies’ tail wagged on quite a few occasions a couple of months ago against this very Australian attack. During the first two ODIs here, they couldn’t dismiss more than five English batsmen. The worrying fact is that none of the bowlers ever looked like dismissing a batsman. The only way the English batsmen looked like possibly getting out is by committing a mistake themselves.
Also, after Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, Australia has been struggling to find a quality spinner since the last few years. Xavier Doherty hasn’t looked as effective as he was in the West Indies. Despite bagging 11 wickets during that series against West Indies, Doherty’s economy rate was on the higher side. He is yet to find the perfect balance. But time is running out. If he is the only spinner in the Australian squad for the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup, then he will have to focus on enhancing his performance. That will tremendously improve Australia’s chances of faring well in the bowling department on Sri Lanka’s turning wickets.
Australia will have to pull up its socks in the bowling department from hereon for it to stay alive in this series. A clean sweep in the five-match series would make England the top-ranked nation in all forms of cricket. It will be interesting to see what bowling combination will be employed in the rest of the matches.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)