While Australia are down, they are certainly not out.
14 Nov 2008
ALL that can be read into the Australians’ defeat by India is that they are still not easy to beat.
The margin of two Tests flattered India, who were content to play a great deal of negative cricket in the fourth Test knowing the Aussies had to make all the running if they wanted to share the series.
This is not meant to be critical of India’s tactics — any other team given the luxury of a 1-0 lead going into the last match against the world’s No. 1 team would have tried to do the same thing.
The difference between these Australians and their mighty teams of the recent past is that negative tactics were almost always severely dealt with in the days when Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were backed up by the best batting line-up in the world.
The classic example of this occurred in the last Adelaide Ashes Test when England went into a second innings funk and lost after declaring at 578 for six in their first innings.
It was obvious that the post-Warne and McGrath days were going to be difficult for the Australians, but their absence only means that they are now beatable, which is somewhat different from being easy to beat.
The Indians achieved their success on the back of winning three tosses in a row, on pitches that were featherbeds at first but became difficult to bat on the longer the matches lasted.
In the only match where the Indians lost the toss, they struggled to avoid defeat. Talk of India being a great cricket team is surely exaggerated.
Their batting, like any decent brand of bathroom tissue, is certainly long and strong. Their bowling is clever and varied, but any team that shells catches with the regularity of these Indians cannot be called a great side.
All that has happened is that the Australians have come back to the chasing pack that includes just three teams — India, clearly, England and South Africa.
For the Aussies to be dethroned they must be defeated on their own turf. It is satisfying, of course, to beat them in front of one’s own supporters, but the real task is to do what South Africa and India have never done, which is to beat them in Australia.
Until that has been accomplished, the Aussies will remain at the top of the tree.
The evidence of the current season is that the South Africans have little prospect of knocking them off their lofty perch. One reason is that a three-Test match series, let alone a back-to-back clutch of them, reduces the chances of visitors to Australia beating their hosts.
The process of acclimatisation to the intensity of the cricket and the alien conditions often takes at least one Test, which leaves little room for a recovery.
A second reason is that the Aussies do not look ready to be taken at home. With the imminent return of Andrew Symonds, their batting remains formidable.
The long-awaited development of Shane Watson as a Test all-rounder can give greater balance to their team, but he may struggle to get into the side if Stuart Clarke is in form.
None of the bowlers is a genuine tail-end batsman, which means that taking 20 wickets against them will not be easy for the likes of South Africa on anything other than an extremely seamer-friendly pitch.
Ricky Ponting had an awful time as captain. Not only did he lose three tosses, but his attack was impotent in the conditions of the sub-continent.
His fast bowlers could not swing the new ball, they struggled with length on pitches where bounce was a problem and, until Jason Krejza burst on to the scene in the last Test, his spinners served up a feast on which the Indian batsmen gorged themselves. Even so Krejza was horrendously expensive, but at least he took wickets.
Back home, however, Ponting will have pitches that suit his fast men and are conducive to spin on the fourth and fifth days.
Lee and Mitchell are both sharp enough to worry most batsmen in Australia. He will have the luxury of playing either Clarke or Watson, depending on the conditions and the form of his frontline batsmen.
Krejza has shown that he is an old-fashioned off-spinner who relies on flight and prodigious spin. He may be expensive, but if he has runs to play with, he is clearly a match winner on pitches that offer turn.
On top of which the versatile Symonds is available to bowl either seamers or off-spin, depending on the needs of his captain.
In other words, Ponting will have a number of effective bowling options that were denied to him in India. His batting will deliver enough runs to win matches and the Aussies will cling on to most catches as they nearly always do.
He said he is looking forward to the rest of the summer and one can see why. His is a team that still expects to win at home against any members of the chasing pack.
In the meantime, the Proteas are endeavouring to get into shape against a Bangladesh team that has been depleted by defections to the rebel ICL. The batting is coming along well, but the only shape the bowling resembles is the wobbly jelly pudding from the birthdays of our younger days.
They have just a month to get this right, failing which the party will be enjoyed only by the Australian batsmen.
•Ray White is a former UCB president.