Perhaps the selectors need to pay more attention to the words of the great Kiwi band Split Enz. Perhaps Kiwis know more about cricket than Australians give them credit for. The cracks that have been emerging over the past twelve months or so – significant comebacks were necessary against Sri Lanka, India and New Zealand. Now, those cracks are starting to open up under significant pressure. I find it hard to see Australia recovering from this dire position without some new material.
On Day Two of the 3rd Test, England put Australia to the sword. And once again the batsmen who failed and once again, and even more tellingly than Edgbaston, it was Ashley Giles doing significant damage. Australia recovered reasonably well with the ball as England made 444. Just like Edgbaston, many of the pundits were wondering if that was enough – Australia might well make 600 on such a pitch. True, Australia at its best, against a weak opposition, MIGHT make 600 on this pitch but 444 runs is a lot of runs on any pitch.
Most people, myself included would have been surprised at Australia’s feeble reply.
The Australian batsmen are under immense pressure. I’m predicting that this series will see the end of the career of at least one. It’s hard to see all of them being selected for the next Test. Perhaps two of them should go, but which two? It’s hard to pick. Langer is the only one who has looked good this series. An interesting trend is that all of the batsmen are making starts but none of them are going on with it. In the past two tests, the top seven have had a total of 21 innings. Fifteen of the innings (71%) have progressed past 15. Of those, just two (13%) have progressed past fifty. And we all know how many have progressed past 100. And that has been what is costing Australia, and England for that matter in this series.
What would England’s innings been without Vaughan’s 166? Average. And the game would be in the balance. Sides need batsmen to do what Vaughan did and make big hundreds. The performance of the England captain who stood up and lead from the front, under great pressure cannot be underestimated. It may well be the defining point in the series.
The Australian selectors need to make some changes immediately. One of the problems is that players are struggling but it’s hard to know who to replace them with. There is just one other specialist batsman on tour (Hodge) but how much cricket has he played in the last six months? Sure, he was in good form in Australia but that was a long, long time ago. The dearth of first class cricket on tour creates a real problem in that respect. And, as opposed to an Australian summer, there are not 50 batsmen going round in the Pura Milk Cup to choose from.
The selectors can’t persist with Gillespie – 3 wickets at 92.3 and conceding 4.4 rpo. Their faith and in him has been admirable but if I were playing in that team, I would be feeling more than a little discouraged that the team was turning out just three useful bowlers. And exploring the “leaky boat” theory, Gillespie has not been impressive since November 2004 where he took two bags of four and a five in the final two Tests against India. There has not been a “4 for” since then – 11 matches including this one. He took 7 wickets at 45.71 in the three Test series against New Zealand in NZ. Gillespie’s troubles did not begin on this tour! Who should replace him? The conservative choice would be Kasper and it would be rough to leave him out. But Kasper has hardly impressed on tour either. I think the time has come to bite the bullet and introduce Tait.
If I were a selector, I would be thinking Tait for Gillespie and Hodge for Hayden (Katich to open). I would also be considering Michael Hussey for the fifth Test if things don’t improve. But of course, by then, it may be too late. I know Hussey is not in the Test squad but he was the form player from the one day series and he is playing county cricket, averaging 64.58 this season. Why not add him to the squad and select him? Who should he replace? It probably doesn’t matter out of Clarke, Martyn and Katich. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.
Australia is seven down still 34 short of avoiding the follow on. But the follow on is a moot point. Australia’s only chance is to bat again and make some serious runs and set England a target. And I very much doubt that they will be given that chance. No way. The only thing that will save Australia now is a miracle and/or rain. Then they will have to prove that they are the best team in the world just to save the Ashes, let alone win the series.