Australian cricket continues on its old, merry path

EARLIER this year, after England sealed a resounding 3-1 win in the Ashes Test series, Australian cricket authorities, apparently all shaken up, launched an inquiry to find out why the team had been beaten, and so comprehensively too.

This was the third time that Tasmania’s Ricky Ponting had led the national team to a loss in the Ashes series; Ponting lost twice in England, in 2005 and 2009. The Ashes is the series that matters most to Australia as England is historically the enemy.

When the inquiry reported back and recommended sweeping changes, there was hope that things would look different this summer. Of course, the captain had to go – of that there was little doubt. But despite a lot of talk, much promise of change, one finds that with the summer cricket season nearly a third over, things are pretty much the same.

Australia has a new bunch of selectors but they follow the same methods as their predecessors. Before the two-Test series against New Zealand began, the selectors had the chance to get rid of some of the older members of the squad, people like Mike Hussey and Ponting, usher in some youngsters and start the process of rebuilding.

Two Tests were played in South Africa before the series against New Zealand but the same old faces were seen in action. On returning from that country, some changes forced themselves on the selectors – a fairly large number of players had sustained injuries. Opener Shane Watson was one. The selectors’ reaction was the same as that of those who have gone before them – bring in an opener from New South Wales, the state that is the most influential in cricket in the country. It doesn’t matter that the man, David Warner, is not suited to the role.

The other opener, Phillip Hughes, was retained despite a very shaky showing in South Africa. He got two scores of 9 in the first Test, and 88 and 11 in the second and showed, as he had against England last year, that he is still susceptible to the moving ball early in the innings. But he is from New South Wales. Hence he stayed put.

Hughes got 10 and 7 in the first Test against New Zealand. He has stayed on to open in the second Test too. His first innings effort in the second Test is done – all of 4 runs, again caught at slip. But I’m willing to bet that when India lines up against Australia on Boxing Day in Melbourne — that is the next Test of the summer season — Hughes will still be there.

Shaun Marsh was another player injured after the South African Tests. He is still on the mend and may be fit to play against India. But who will be moved out to make way for him? Ponting? Hussey? Or will he be sacrificed as an opener, the most difficult job in Test cricket, so that the two old men can save their jobs?

When it came to the bowlers, the selectors had to ring some changes. Mitchell Johnson, after another erratic tour, was injured. So too Ryan Harris. Two new men had to be brought in. The selectors picked James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. Judging from the way the previous bunch of selectors handled the debut of Patrick Cummins in the second Test in South Africa — the man has sustained a serious heel injury and is unlikely to play again this summer — one has to wait and see how Pattinson and Starc pull up after the Tests against New Zealand.

Given the appearance of Pattinson and Starc, the selectors loudly proclaimed that young blood was being infused; in other words, they, the selectors, were taking bold, new steps. But, pray, if someone had not been brought in to replace the injured bowlers, how would the 11 have been made up?

Ponting failed in South Africa. He made one score of 60-plus; anyone who saw him make that score would have concluded that it was time for him to quit. It was a painful innings from a man who is widely acknowledged as the second best batsman produced by Australia, after Sir Donald Bradman. But he is allowed to stay on.

Hussey got 15 in the first Test against New Zealand. In South Africa, he scored 1, 0, 20 and 39. He is still in the team despite being 36 and blocking the entry of some promising youngster. He will be there for the series against India too, have no fear.

The argument used by the selectors will be that you need some experience in the ranks; after all, they can point to their opponents, India, as an example. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, the nucleus of the Indian batting, are all above 30. Tendulkar is 38. The difference is that they are all scoring and scoring heavily. Just yesterday, Sehwag hammered the highest score in one-day cricket, 219, against the West Indies. Ponting, by contrast, has not scored a hundred for something like 18 Tests.

But the Australian selectors are too scared to make changes; they want to please all the little cliques in cricket circles and are unwilling to rock the boat. Anyone who cares about Australian cricket would have to hope and pray that India wins the series and overwhelmingly too. Then we might see some dramatic change.


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