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Where do Aussies go from here? - Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Oct 25, 2008
Down 0-1, blighted by an injury or two, shrouded with a couple of players going through a rare loss of form, and it does not augur too well for a team that is a three-time defending World Cup Champion, and the unofficial holder of the test throne as well. One expected India to do well in this Border-Gavaskar trophy, and at best, for Australia to stave off the challenge and make the hosts fight every inch to get to the position of strength. However, unfortunately, after a gritty performance at Bangalore in the first test match, the Aussie performance in the second seemed too 'unAussie' to be real; almost as depressing as the global financial condition. The bowling was purported to be the Aussie Achilles Heel before the series begun, and to an extent, it had been suggested that the tourists would struggle against the Indian spinners, but what has caught all and sundry unawares is the shoddy display of their batsmen against the Indian pace attack.

So what can the Aussies do to get back on an even keel going into the Nagpur test match from the 6th of November?

Ricky Ponting should realise that the tactic of being overtly defensive worked well against India in 2004 for two reasons. For one, it was a surprise, and the Indians failed to make proper adjustments to the strategy. Secondly, Adam Gilchrist had the required personnel to carry the plan out. Glen McGrath, Shane Warne and even Jason Gillespie would bowl to their fields to the tee, and quite often, won the battle of patience against the Indian batsmen. No longer do the Indians fear these tactics, and the aforesaid mentioned bowlers have long departed the international scene. The sweepers and the deep-third mans of the world need to be put to the back-burner and the more conventional test match fields brought out of the closets; at least, till very late in the match.

Instead, Ponting would need to outwit the Indian batsmen if he harbours any hopes of clinching the twenty Indian wickets. Virender Sehwag was caught behind, down the leg-side off a superb delivery by Mitchell Johnson, who had cramped the free-flowing batsman for room with the short-pitcher. However, one did not see a lot more of the same treatment meted out to the other batsmen right throughout the match.

Oh for Brett Lee to fire, is what the Aussie skipper would be wishing for. Ferozshah Kotla is not the best venue for the quick bowlers, but Lee would need to up the ante for his team to have any semblance of a chance in the series. Clearly looking out of depth even to the blind, Lee could look at offloading the pressure of being the leading bowler in the inexperienced side, and do what he does best; bowl quick without the slightest care in the world.

Troy Cooley needs to swing around some magic that he had as a bowling coach of the English team during the 2005 Ashes. The story had been very similar then, as the Aussies had been done in by the deliveries that swung at the eleventh hour against the conventional direction. From the bowlers' perspective, so far, the tourists have barely extracted any kind of reverse earlier on, and by the time they have, it has almost been the time to take a new ball! It has been reported that the Australians have been looking at Zaheer Khan's bowling videos much more intently, and should be able to bring something to the table at the Kotla. One hopes though, that in doing so, the men from down under do not fail to recognise that the real threat at Kotla would be from the Indian spinners, and learning to face up to reverse-swing does not occur at the expense of unlearning the lessons of spin they have grasped so far.

Are the doors still shut on Andrew Symonds? Is there a way by which he can be imported into the country and slipped into the playing XI by the next test match, or is it akin to asking for live fish (there we go again!) in the Dead Sea? One cannot help wonder but Symonds' presence could have seen a 180-degree phase shift in the fortunes of the team with his aggressive batting, more-than-useful off-spin bowling and imposing presence in the field within the proverbial 30-yard circle. And with both Shane Watson and Symonds - at the expense of Cameron White - in the team, there is little doubt on the difference it could have made.

With Michael Clarke in the firing line from many an Aussie supporter for being responsible for that decision to expel the Queenslander, it would do well for the middle-order vice-captain to shoulder more responsibility with the bat. A lot had been expected out of him, but so far, apart from the Mohali half-century in a lost cause, Clarke himself looks to be a little lost. The long stint at the wicket would do his confidence a world of good, but it can only mask the earlier struggles so much. Both, the reverse swinging, and the away spinning ball have troubled him, so much so, that before that second inning knock at Mohali, Clarke looked as flat as a fizz-less can of Foster's.

The trouble with Mathew Hayden is not only with his paucity of runs. It has also to do with his body language, or the very little of whatever exists anyways. The swagger is gone, so is the confidence, and it almost looks like another couple of failures could signal the beginning of his end. For the first three innings of this series, he looked as clueless as Ajit Agarkar would have after 'scoring' those string of ducks in Australia, and then he played a very strange sort of an inning in the fourth. The starts have, thus, been conspicuous by their absence and this has hit the middle order more than necessary. This needs to change, and although tinkering with the line-up may not be an Aussie prerogative, there still exists an outside chance that Shaun Marsh may replace Hayden in the line-up.

The other Clark in the squad, Stuart, was someone I had pinned my hopes on, for his up-and-down bowling and immaculate lines and lengths. But after an ordinary first test match, his elbow caved in and he had to be replaced. Personally, the Aussies would need to get a fit-Clark on to the field at Delhi, because his bowling does give that much-needed variety to the pace battery. And at the expense of being repetitive, I do think that the Indian pitches should help him more than the rest of the Aussie bowlers.

Lastly, but most importantly, Ricky Ponting needs to ensure that he gets that call at the toss right! Down 0-1, and batting fourth on a turning Indian track like the one he would encounter at Delhi, may not be as palatable for the Australians, as hot Indian curries, or the baked beans were for a certain Shane Warne.
 
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