Australia’s bravado ahead of their Test series against South Africa masks a soft underbelly that the Proteas’ fast bowlers will do a better job of exposing than England did Down Under.
A 5-0 triumph in the Ashes has everyone trumpeting Australia’s re-emergence as a world force. However, just a year ago they were in the doldrums, copping a 4-0 beating in India before losing 3-0 in the Ashes in England.
In all, they had a desperate record last year, losing seven of 10 Tests before dramatically turning around their fortunes on home soil.
Michael Clarke bristled at the suggestion that his team were “in crisis” on the back of their trip to England, choosing instead to focus on the fact that in recent years the trend in Test cricket has slanted towards home team dominance.
“If you look at international cricket over the last couple of years, a lot of teams are having success at home, but not having as much success away from home as they would like. We played in India (and) that was a very tough series and then lost to England,” said the Australia captain.
“But over the last 12-15 months, the team’s had a change in attitude; we’ve worked exceptionally hard on our games individually and as a team and we got a little reward for that through the our summer.”
Still, there were concerns ahead of that first Test in Brisbane last November, and England, despite ending the tour in somewhat of a rabble, were still able to expose problems with Australia’s batting.
In four of the five Tests, they had Australia five wickets down for less than 150, but only in the fourth match in Melbourne did they press home their advantage by bowling Clarke’s team out for 204.
The Australians relied heavily on veteran wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to dig them out of the numerous holes into which their top order batsmen dropped them. Haddin scored 493 runs, including a century and five 50s, on each occasion changing the momentum of the match decisively in Australia’s favour.
South Africa won’t allow that to happen. While they weren’t at their best with the ball against India, they’re also an attack who don’t allow batsmen to settle.
The Indians, in particular Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, were extremely watchful as they built innings on pitches – especially the one in Durban – that were largely to their liking.
South Africa, especially in the first match at the Wanderers, were not precise with their lines, allowing the Indians to leave the ball regularly.
Australia don’t play the same way. They are – have always been – a far more attacking side who look to put the opposition under pressure by attacking the ball.
So if there is width, don’t expect to see Australia’s batsmen shouldering arms like the Indians – they’ll go after South Africa, which will provide the home team with chances.
Australia’s concerns over their batting is apparent from the one change they made to the successful Ashes side – the axing of George Bailey. Alex Doolan has been called up, but whether he slots straight into the No6 spot remains to be seen.
Clarke hinted that the tourists would keep their options open as far as their batting order was concerned, and there is a strong chance that Shane Watson, who batted in the No3 spot against England, will drop down the order to No6, allowing Doolan, who has yet to play a Test match, to bat at No3, where he is apparently more comfortable.
Clarke’s own feelings on the matter appear mixed – before leaving Australia he seemed to support Watson staying at No3. “I know he wants to bat there, he loves that extra responsibility,” Clarke said in Sydney. On Friday, he had changed his tune somewhat. When asked about a replacement for Bailey, he said: “We’ve got options; a left-handed batsman (Phil Hughes), a righthand batsman (Doolan), an all-rounder (Watson), an extra fast bowler (James Pattinson).”
Australia play a three-day warm-up match against an SA Invitation XI in Potchefstroom starting on Wednesday, which they hope will answer many of those questions.
The first Test starts in Centurion on the 12th of this month. - Sunday Independent