Australia’s dismal performance at the Ashes 2015 series is a sorry advertisement for the future of Test cricket
By Boria Majumdar
Like many others, I had predicted an Australian win ahead of the Ashes series. This is because Australia looked a better side with a more potent bowling attack capable of picking 20 England wickets, going into the contest. However, not without reason did CLR James pen his now immortal words, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”
In a stunning upset of humungous proportions, England has blown Australia away. Meek capitulation at the hands of Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Wood, Australia did everything to shatter the myth of Australian invincibility. Batsmen did not hold up, their inability to play quality swing bowling horribly exposed, the Aussies are now looking to revamp the Test team post the retirement of Michael Clarke.
However stunning the result may be, the series was boring and a really poor advertisement for cricket. Twice in four test matches the result was a foregone conclusion at the end of two sessions. Australia was just not in the game. And twice did matches get over in under three days. Such games, while they may be great for Alistair Cook and his England team, is not the best advertisement for Test cricket struggling for survival. Having paid to watch five days of intense action, whoever the eventual winner is, the crowd was hopelessly disappointed to see Clarke’s Australia not turn up after a spirited comeback at Lord’s. In a rather bizarre turn of events, Australia ended up giving Ben Stokes, no more than an average Test bowler, six wickets for 36 runs in 21 overs at Nottingham. It was flawed batsmanship caused by a serious lack of application from some of the world’s best. Smith, the next captain, played loose far too many times, Warner did not convert fifties into hundreds on four occasions, Rogers faded away by the time of the third test and Clarke had a nightmarish series by his own high standards. Shaun and Mitchell Marsh did not look capable Test match players and Adam Voges was extremely vulnerable at number six. Most importantly, Mitch Johnson and Josh Hazlewood were erratic and were unable to maintain the pressure created by Mitch Starc, who waged a lone battle. No wonder Ricky Ponting believes that seven or eight of the current team members may not play Test cricket again.
So where did Australia go wrong and why? And what does this mean for Test match cricket going forward?
This Australia, unlike the famed Australian teams of the past, wasn’t able to adapt to conditions that allowed for quality swing bowling. Batsmen lacked the technique to combat the moving ball and each time the ball moved in the air and
off the pitch, we could see the Australian batters finding it difficult to negotiate. Most of them went hard at the ball to get caught behind the wicket. The inability to graft it out in the first session of a Test match when the bowlers will have their tail up, is the principal reason behind Australia’s downfall. Not always is it possible to dominate in Test cricket. On occasions you have to tire the opposition out. That’s not what Australia did, and as a result the England bowlers and fielders were always in the game.
Most importantly for Test match cricket this is now a pattern. It happened with the Indians in England in 2014, (there too, Lord’s was an aberration); with the English in Australia in end 2013; and now it has happened with the Australians in England. Except South Africa, no other team is being able to negotiate overseas playing conditions. Home advantage is fast turning into the deciding factor making Test cricket predictable. Versatility and adaptability, which made Ricky Ponting’s team near invincible, is now a thing of the past. Players like Hayden and Langer, Ponting, Clarke and the Waugh brothers followed by Gilchrist could master any condition in any part of the world. India with Sehwag and the famed batting quartet – Sachin, Rahul, Sourav and Laxman, did this for a while. Unless you are able to master alien conditions, you will never be a quality Test match player. Clarke knows that and unfortunately for him, it had to end in a rather disappointing manner.
Could Clarke have done things differently? Was there anything that he ought to have tried?
Perhaps not. Clarke did his very best in the nets. He worked as hard as ever and in fact, harder. He would go out to train as early as 6am on most days. But he was not at his best to hold the batting together and in his absence, no one managed to put his hand up. For some years the Australian batting had revolved around the brilliance of Clarke. Twice ICC Batsman of the Year, he even managed to get them back to the top of the world rankings as captain. But once he himself lost the magic, the team crumpled around him.
In the absence of eleven quality performers who can do it day in day out in overseas conditions, exceptional individual performers will have to make a difference to keep test cricket relevant. Whether it is Virat for India or Smith and Warner for Australia, it is now up to these performers to buck the trend. The question is: are they as good as we think they are? To go back to James, “What do they now of cricket that only cricket know?”