As the dust settles at the end of a whirlwind Test series and as Steve Waugh again proudly hold the ICC Test trophy aloft, and as the South Africans gain a consolation victory, Australian cricket has a lot to ponder and some hard decisions to make.
I personally find the loss in the final Test rather staggering. Losses
attributed to the “dead rubber” syndrome made famous by Mark Taylor’s men are long gone. They were made a thing of the past the instant Steve Waugh took over. He had made it quite clear even as vice captain that he loathed the habit and I don’t believe that we have had a single lapse under Waugh’s captaincy. Quite obviously, the winning streak was testimony to that. Perhaps the Aussies were not too bothered about losing the 4th Ashes Test, but I’d put that down to a special effort by one player (Butcher). And besides, Waugh was not in charge for that match (not on the field, anyway).
South Africa won the match after conceding and 150 run first innings lead and by making the 10th highest successful run chase in Test match history. Australia’s successful chase less than one week earlier is now 11th. The big difference is that Australia won the second Test by making an almost identical score having lead by 150 (ish) on the first innings. When batting second in a Test, first innings runs are paramount. A lead of less than 100 is often shaky. For Australia to lose, having batted first and then lead by 150 on the first innings is a real concern. For the 4th innings of a Test match to be the highest is quite rare, especially considering that the 2nd and 3rd innings totals were less then 200. I could not see South Africa making 200, yet the 335 was made with relative ease. And the enormous opening partnership was broken by a run out.
Australia may look back on the summer as a raging success and it was. A drawn test series which Australia could have been lost 2-0, but equally would have won 2-0 if not for rain. The Australian attack was plundered for 500 plus in the final Test. South Africa was thrashed 3-0 in Australia and had no answers. They still managed a 400 plus score, following on in Sydney.
Having suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in Test history, South Africa rebounded well. They made a match of the 2nd Test (after Australia let them back into the match) and had a creditable victory in the final match after being well behind the “8 ball” at the half way point.
Australia won the 6 Test exchange 5-1 but really, they came very close to loosing this series and the lead in the ICC Test championship. Maybe 50 more runs in the 2nd innings in Cape Town would have added a whole different complexion to these final outcomes. The two run outs were a turning point in that match and cost South Africa a better chance at an unlikely victory.
I’d like to look at the Australian 11 on a one-by-one basis over the past three series (9 Tests) – and it has been the same 11 for the whole nine games:
Player M I NO Agg HS Ave 100 50
AC Gilchrist 9 14 3 826 204* 75.09 3 2
ML Hayden 9 16 2 1035 138 73.92 5 4
RT Ponting 9 14 4 645 157* 64.50 2 2
JL Langer 9 16 2 837 126 59.78 4 3
DR Martyn 9 13 2 539 133 49.00 3 2
SK Warne 9 12 1 415 99 37.73 – 3
ME Waugh 9 13 0 438 86 33.69 – 3
SR Waugh 9 13 0 314 90 24.15 – 2
1. Gillie. No need for comment. First one picked.
2. Hayden. No need for comment. First one picked. Except for Gillie.
3. Langer. Very good results over the nine Tests. Off the boil in South Africa but still an automatic. Langer has shown tendencies to have red hot periods. As soon as he goes off the boil, his place is “in question”. The opening pair shows a great deal of potential. It is hard to see them ever repeating the achievements of the home summer. The Haynes/Greenidge union realised just 4 double century partnerships (which is the record) in 10 years.
4. Ponting. Stats are great. Still gets out too easily, especially for number three. Run out too often. The run out (which wasn’t his call) in the first innings of the 3rd Test was one of the turning points of the match. His century to win the 2nd Test was a great innings. He must now be thinking about the Test captaincy.
5. Mark Waugh. Still shows some signs of form but…. His run out of Ponting in the third Test was also at a terrible personal cost. Was out soon after and may (should) not play the Tests against Zimbabwe.
6. Steve Waugh – shows no real sign of form. When was the last time we saw a front foot cover drive or a boundary in front of the wicket. His adage that class is permanent and that loss of form is temporary can’t hold for much longer. Should captain the side to Zimbabwe – not because he is playing better than Mark but because he IS the captain. Failures in Zimbabwe must surely see his end.
7. Martyn – I’m a big fan and he has had some great performances. And his Ashes tour adds to that. But his scores over the 9 tests are: NZ: 4, 0, 60, 30 SA: 124*, 6*, 52, 117, 133, 2, 0, 11, 0 and also England: 105, 52, 4, 33*, 118, 6, 64*
As I said in a previous email – not much between 15 and 50. He either fires or fails and needs to work on it. Seems to go down with the rest of the deck – if the Waughs go quickly, which is way to often he seems to struggle (with some notable exceptions).
8. Warnie. Bowling well and batting like a champion. Averages 29.10 with the ball for the past ten matches. Has lost weight and is showing great application. Fancy bowling 70 overs in one innings.
9. Lee. As andrewg says, he’ll be the first to go when the revolution
happens. Meaning: Steve Waugh is his greatest fan. He’s got some potential but his bowling performance since the Ashes has not been up to scratch. Averages 33.97 for his past 10 matches. And that includes a lot of tail enders as his captain gives him the opportunity to bowl at them.
10. Gillespie. I’m a big fan. Could get more assistance from his skipper. Averages 39.53 for the past ten matches – which is not flash at all and I’m surprised. Is a world class bowler.
11. McGrath – one of the greats, of course. But has had a lean patch or two recently. Average for last 10 tests is 26.68 which is very respectable but down on career (21.91). Is never expensive but on some pitches, provided the batsmen are patient can be rather ineffective. He took 5 wickets @ 65.4 against NZ and 4 wickets @ 44.5 in the last two tests in RSA. The morale is when McGrath struggles for wickets, Australia struggles to dismiss the opposition. In the South African 2nd innings in Sydney, McGrath took 1-95. Australia relies heavily on McGrath to rip the heart out of the top order – something he has been as master at doing.
All in all, I’d like to see 3 changes in the near future. Both Waughs out and Lee out. Replace Mark with someone – there is a long list to choose from, with Boof Lehmann being apparently at the front. And we need a batting all rounder – another young Steve Waugh. A genuine Test batsman who is a very useful backup bowler. Jacques Kallis does the job for South Africa. I don’t know if Shane Watson is that man for Australia but the selectors are clearly looking in that direction. Aside from bowling backup, we could do with some more variation. We essentially have three seamers at the moment. Fleming in form would be a good option. We could also go for a work horse – Lee, McGrath and Gillespie are all strike bowlers. I never thought I’d suggest this by maybe Bichel is worth looking at. Do any others come to mind?