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Battered and Bruised – The Sorry State of Australian Cricket

The past few days have been dark times if you’re an Australian cricketer. At home, the media are constantly hounding your team for the unprofessional state of your last performance, with former players and coaches criticising every action taken by each member of your side. The ‘worst batting line up to leave Australia’s shores’ was what was quoted in Ian Chappell’s opinion article on Cricinfo, as the former Australian Test captain gave a harsh analysis on the terrible state of Australia’s batting. The UK tabloids are almost mocking and jeering at you with a spring in their step, with some claiming that England have won the next five Ashes series to come. Key players in your side have become injured, with some of them having to leave the UK for treatment back home, whilst others are being sidelined to prevent further damage. Your ex-coach is suing your cricket board, and one of your players just cannot behave himself. If things couldn’t get any worse, the Old Enemy are just one win away from retaining the little urn, and the psychological scars they have inflicted on you are so severe, it’s unlikely the little bit of rest between now and the third Test is going to help heal those wounds in time.

So what needs to be done now?

With the whirlpool of mess that this Australian team finds themselves in, it is highly unlikely that a 3-0 score line is not out of reach for England. Yet, stranger things have happened, and although Bradman’s 1936-37 side was the last such occurrence in which an Australian team was able to bounce back after being 2-0 down in an Ashes series, if this current team are able to show a bit of professionalism and present that good old Aussie ticker, who knows what might happen? But this again is wishful thinking, and it will take a monumental effort from Clarke and friends to arrest the momentum which England have so nonchalantly plundered in their favour.

Right now, it is best to examine just exactly where this Australian team has gone wrong during their torrid Ashes campaign. It could hopefully shed some light on what needs to be corrected in time to provide England a decent challenge, and hopefully chase that elusive win. If Australia are to bounce back in this series and really fight it out against the Old Enemy, the following areas of their game plan need to be addressed and analysed in detail.

First and foremost is the batting. It has been woeful, tragic and downright ugly this entire series. Terrible shot selection, poor technique, lack of judgement and almost zero patience have led to the downfall of many of Australia’s batsmen so far. It was not always a case of England’s bowlers’ being outwardly superior, but rather Australia’s batsmen displaying an overall poor performance with the willow. The fragility of the batting line up was exposed in the second Test match, and it has since proven to be a major concern, as too often we’ve seen the Aussies collapse like a pack of cards as soon as one of them is seen departing for the pavilion. When your bottom five to six batsmen are the ones constantly propping up your team score to some degree of respectability, you know there are serious issues to address in the batting department. Haddin, Siddle, Agar and Pattinson cannot always be relied on to score runs, as that is not their fundamental role in the team.

Shane Watson’s batting is continuing to deteriorate. Numerous articles and opinions have been written and said on what he has to do to fix up his flawed technique, but it is ultimately a battle of his own mind. England are aware of this, and so Watson needs to iron out his mistakes by constantly working on it at practice, learning to place his front foot forward instead of across his off stump, thus nullifying his chances of getting out LBW. If he can rectify this in time, then hopefully Australia will have a few more umpire decision referrals left in the bank!

Spin bowling. A problem that has been haunting Australia ever since Shane Warne bid farewell to his baggy green in 2007. And sorry to say, but Ashton Agar is not the immediate answer to that problem. Talented, youthful and bundling with enthusiasm though he may be, his gentle left arm orthodox bowling are mere child’s play compared to the raging cobras that Graeme Swann is able to produce off the pitch. You could see the degree of spin each man was able to apply on the ball, thanks to the new rpm (revolutions per minute) graphic that shows up on the television screen now whenever a spinner is bowling, to demonstrate the amount of spin they are applying to the ball.  On average Agar was ‘ripping’ the ball at just 1700-1800 revolutions per minute, whilst Swann was regularly generating up to an excess 2300 revolutions per minute on the same cherry. What is more baffling is that both bowlers are of the same type; finger spin, and the fact that Swann was able to produce more turn shows that Agar will clearly never be as threatening as his English counterpart. This is not to take anything away from Agar, but the youngster was initially selected for his spin bowling and not his flamboyant batting. Upon this analysis, it can be seen that Ashton Agar is a mere part-timer compared to Graeme Swann, and his gentle, unthreatening bowling needs to be worked on heavily if he wishes to be a consistent wicket taker in the future.

Unlike other members of this Australian side, Agar is still young and has plenty of time to correct his weaknesses. In the meantime, Nathan Lyon is the only viable solution Australia has to their spin bowling woes, even though he is also just a gentle part timer compared to Swann as well. Steve Smith is far too inconsistent with his legspinners to be considered a genuine spin bowler, and not a peep has been heard about the activities succeeding Fawad Ahmed’s frantic battle to receive Australian citizenship in time for the Ashes. Ahmed was touted as one of the best spin bowlers in the country, yet the Pakistani-born Melbournian has not been given a chance to show his worth, as Australia was too blind-sighted by the wonders of Agar. Perhaps it is time to give him a go at Old Trafford.

Last but not least, if Australia is to save some sort of dignity from their failed Ashes campaign this series, they need to perform with much more professionalism, discipline and apply exceptional concentration in tough situations. Easier said than done of course, but it is here where the gulf lies between both teams, and so far England have been managing it much better than their Aussie counterparts. Throughout this series, both teams have found themselves in precarious batting wobbles, such as being 3 for 30 odd, or 4 for 50 odd and so on. Where England comes out trumps is in the way they go about escaping from such conundrums, through batting time, being patient and selecting the right balls to hit to the boundary. If Australia can follow suit and provide more application from their batsmen, then maybe, just maybe, there is a minute glimmer of hope left for this team in disarray. Until then, it is full steam ahead for this England side who can confidently say that the Ashes are once again firmly within their grasp.

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