The Australian cricket team has dominated world cricket for the last decade and a half. This domination has slowly but surely come to an end. In fact, it has hastened over the last couple of years, particularly in Test cricket. There is no greater proof of Australia’s decline in Test cricket than the panic-stricken “chop and change” approach of the selectors for the first three tests.
After the first two Tests, it appears that Australia’s biggest challenge right now is its bowling. The batting has shown some signs of success (though still insufficient) barring Ricky Ponting, who has struggled for the most part. (Its hard to ignore that James Anderson dismissed Ponting with a gem of an outswinger in the first innings of the second Test.) Hussey, Watson, Katich, Clarke, and Haddin have all made runs. Marcus North is a lot like India’s Yuvraj Singh in that he scores a big knock every fifth Test. Unfortunately, this level of consistency is insufficient esp and not surprisingly he finds himself out of the team, much like Yuvraj himself.
The Aussie bowling on the other hand has been a complete disaster. Apart from one good performance by Peter Siddle, the bowling has continued to disappoint. Australia always had one spinner in the playing eleven. After the failure of Nathan Hauritz on the India tour, the Aussie selectors decided to go in for Xavier Doherty. Unfortunately, during the two Tests, he never really looked like taking wickets let alone run through the side. For a team that once had Shane Warne (who incidentally is in the news once again for the wrong reasons), Doherty is a huge let down, to say the least. It is hard to imagine that Doherty is actually successful in the domestic circuit and if he in fact is, then it does not speak highly of the future of Autralian cricket when it comes to tackling spin bowling. The most surprising aspect of the Australian selection is the decision to experiment further in the spin department by going in for Michael Beer, an unknown spinner. Hopefully, the team management will make a sensible call and not play him in the final eleven.
As for the fast bowling line up, Mitchell Johnson has been on a steady decline over the years. It makes no sense whatsoever to drop him for a Test and bring him back as the spear head of the attack in the very next Test! Bollinger who showed a lot of early promise surely failed to make a mark in the second Test, but sending him packing after one Test is bound to destroy his confidence just when the Aussie talent pool seems wanting. Hilfenhaus is capable of picking up a few wickets from time to time, though he is no Glenn McGrath. That leaves Ryan Harris, who is easily Australia’s best bet in the bowling department. Perhaps the Aussies are better off playing four seamers, than including a spinner just for the sake of it. Playing Steven Smith in place of Marcus North might not be a bad bet because he is a better bowler than North and a gritty batsman as well and this will help field four seamers and one spinner.
No matter what the team combination, Australia’s chances of a turnaround depend entirely on good bowling performances and the return to form of Ricky Ponting. Without these, the pressure of being one down in a home Ashes series is enough to destroy the team’s remaining self-confidence and make them crumble further.