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Dec 30, 2013
Former captain Allan Border on Monday rated Australia’s win in the fourth Test match at Melbourne as the best so far in the Ashes 2013-14. Australia thrashed England by eight wickets to extend their lead to 4-0 in the ongoing series Down Under.
Border wrote in his column in the Australian Cricket Family newsletter, “We’ve [Australia] been playing from in front for most of the time, although in the first three Tests we batted first having won the toss and were in trouble at tea time. We’ve been fortunate to have Brad Haddin save our bacon again. He’s been a key figure. But this Test rates as the best of the summer because we were playing catch-up for most of the game, then just blew them away on day four.
“For most of the Test the bowlers kept us in it. It was not our best batting performance on day two and we got ourselves in a bit of strife. To come back from that position makes me rate this win very highly indeed,” he wrote.
Border said though the pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) had no demons, yet the two sides England and Australia failed to bat well in their respective first innings.
Border wrote, “Michael Clarke will have his reasons for deciding to bowl first. A lot of us thought it might have been a mistake. I’m a long way away, and you need to have a look at the track, but from the evidence I saw watching on day one it looked like a pretty benign pitch. The batting from both sides was pretty poor until our second innings. If you’re prepared to attack the bowling, it looked like a track the batsmen underachieved on. That was shown up by the way Australia batted in their second innings.”
“But it wasn’t easy. The second innings was one of those tough run chases — 231 is the sort of target where you can get yourself into a lot of strife. The drop-in pitch didn’t seem to get any worse; it got better if anything as it got older. So maybe Clarke had that in the back of his mind, that whatever they had to chase he felt comfortable doing it,” he added.
Border pointed out that even though Australia won the Ashes, there were passengers in their side.
“Australia’s batsmen really have to stand up and score big in the first innings. There are batsmen that have been passengers along the way, particularly George Bailey. Also, I want to see more of a first-innings contribution from Shane Watson. Even Steve Smith, although he has had his moments in this series,” he said.
Border added, “If you were to look at the last 18 months of cricket, we have been something like 3-100 a lot. Too often. And you’re not always going to escape. That’s what happened in England, and in India to a degree as well. Once your top order misses out and the opposition start getting into your middle and lower order, look out. First-innings runs from the top order is something we really need to address.”
“But it is easier said than done! They’re all good players. Watson on day four was at his belligerent best. Chris Rogers played his best innings in Test cricket. It was fantastic to see those two guys perform and when you get that sort of start and all of a sudden you’re about one for 150-plus, you can really start putting the pressure on the opposition bowling,” he wrote.
Border rated the Australian bowlers highly for their performance in the fourth Test.
He wrote, “I give our bowling 10 out of 10 for Melbourne, they kept us in the game. They were pretty good conditions to bat in. I know the scores don’t really reflect that, but I just got the feeling that was a gross underperformance from the batting side of things. And that goes for both sides of the coin. We saw three pretty ordinary innings in this Test! So the bowlers have got to take all the credit for creating the doubts in the batsmen’s minds and making them do silly things.”
Border criticised the England batsmen for playing reckless strokes and said, “I mean, Ian Bell, first ball! He’s a good player so what was he doing with that shot? Is he shot to pieces? Ben Stokes is a good young player but he suffered a rush of blood. And Kevin Pietersen — does he need to go so hard so early? I don’t mind him going for the big shots with the No.11 but have some faith in the others.”
Border said the selection of Jonny Bairstow in place of Matt Prior was England’s mistake.
“Jonny Bairstow was a mistake selection. He’s not the second-best keeper in the country. It was a huge gamble that smacked of just doing something for a guy who is out of touch and in poor nick. Jonny didn’t do enough for me. There were moments when you could just tell he is a part-timer as a keeper. His batting looks like he’s got potential and he’s played a few good Test knocks, but whether he can do that dual role long-term … well, he’d need to improve his keeping a lot,” he said.
Border said Australian team is doing well and they do not need to make any changes in the playing eleven for the fifth and final Test match at Sydney.
“Looking ahead to Sydney, and even further afield to the South Africa tour, I’d be leaving the team the way it is for the next Test. You don’t fool with form. As long as everyone is fit I would leave the side unchanged. The worry is the bowlers, but they’ve got an extra day-and-a-half off,” Border wrote.
“The workload hasn’t been that hard — they had to bowl 61 overs for England’s second innings and Nathan Lyon bowled 17 of them. I’m no sports scientist but they would have budgeted for a lot more overs in their body than they’ve got, so they should be right. I’d would, though, be keeping a close eye on Ryan Harris and I’d be relaxed if he was rested and we had a look at Nathan Coulter-Nile instead. The rest I would leave unchanged and I’d be praying that Bailey does something for me if I was a selector,” he added.
Border expressed his worries regarding Bailey, saying the manner in which he is getting dismissed is worrisome.
“It’s getting close to the last roll of the dice for Bailey. He’s the sort of bloke we are all wishing has some good times ahead. He had a tough Test in Melbourne, and didn’t get a chance in the second innings. We all make ducks, but it’s the manner of his dismissals and the manner of his batting that worries me,” he wrote.
“He [Bailey] made a swashbuckling 30-odd in Perth and that was great but it was not under a lot of pressure. He needs to do some more and he’s probably fortunate to be in a position where the side is doing well. If we were losing I don’t know if he would play the next game. But we are winning, and he brings some leadership and steadiness around the dressing room and all those attributes we know he’s got. But the bottom line is this a performance game and that’s what you live and die on,” he added.
“Watto [Watson] had a groin problem in the match, but did bowl in both innings. He is good enough to be in the side purely as a batsman if he can’t bowl. As I said, I’d like to see him contribute in the first innings more, but he is in the top six batsmen in the country. If Watson couldn’t bowl in Sydney and the selectors were keen on keeping a fifth bowling option, they could put Haddin up to six and bring James Faulkner in for George Bailey. That would be really cut-throat and I’d love to see George get another opportunity,” Border said.
Border added, “I wouldn’t be rushing to bring in another spinner for Sydney unless it looks like it’s going to be a bit more bare than in the past few years. Maybe I would consider bringing Fawad Ahmed into the squad. Michael Clarke could always bowl more, but I just don’t know where he’s at with his back. We don’t want him to bowl a few overs and then be out for a month because his back is no good! Certainly Smith should be encouraged to bowl as much as he can in the nets to get those leg-spinners landing a bit more consistently. For a start, it makes you far more selectable, and what’s wrong with that?”
He said, “And you can really help the team out by bowling a dozen overs in a day, particularly in a second-innings scenario where ball starts turning. He could be a real weapon then. The Australians might be thinking of three or four changes to give blokes a go. But to me, that’s not what we’re about. You don’t just hand caps out willy-nilly. And don’t forget this is an Ashes contest and there’s a chance for a five-nil whitewash. That would be huge! You’ve got to stick with the blokes that have done the job for you if they’re all healthy.”
Talking about England, border said Australia have blunted England attack with both bat and ball and there are occasions when a specific brand of cricket doesn’t always work.
He wrote, “England have had a formula over the past four or five years that has worked well for them, an attritional type of cricket. They would bat a lot of overs, grind a score out, and bowl a lot on that nagging off-stump line. But I think we’ve blunted that really well. It’s been found out a few times when they’ve had us in situations but haven’t been able to land the killer blow. Attrition hasn’t worked when a guy like Brad Haddin can counterattack that type of cricket, and the way we play is far more aggressive. It’s paid dividends this series.”
“I really think Alastair Cook needs to have a bit of a rethink about his tactics. I think he’s a good leader and the players have enormous respect for him and he’s well liked. But I think on-field they’ve missed some opportunities to ram home their advantages and the game plan hasn’t worked,” he added.
But it’s not all Cook’s fault. The team has a brains trust and they need to share the blame for those tactics. There’s a lot of advice that gets given, they’re a collective front with manager Andy Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch – they’ve got a huge input into the team so it’s not just Cook. But he’s the captain, so he’s got to wear it, it’s his job.”
Border concluded by saying, “I can’t wait for the Sydney Test and to see if Australia can get a five-nil whitewash over England. That would make it a very happy start to the new year!”
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