After Australia lost the first Test at Chennai a debate commenced as to whether Michael Clarke’s side or Kim Hughes’ squad in 1979 was the weakest Aussie team to visit India. The debate can now end. The current squad is beyond doubt the weakest Australian team to come to these shores.
When a visiting team loses one match early on the final morning, managing to avert an innings defeat only through a last wicket partnership and follows this up with a huge innings defeat by lunch on the fourth day one has to ask this Aussie side ''are you Bangladesh in disguise.''
Australian cricketers are the doughtiest fighters the game has ever known. The phrase ''no game is lost till it is won'' was given a new meaning by the Aussies who are the most dangerous opponents when cornered.
Time and again we have seen over the years how Australian teams have turned defeat into victory or at least saved matches that had appeared to have been lost. To see the present squad surrender as meekly as they did on Tuesday morning was the antithesis of the fighting spirit.
When they went down by eight wickets in the first Test at Chennai much of the debate centered round the dusty pitch which was a spinner’s paradise, the incorrect selection of the Australian think tank in taking the field with only one specialist spin bowler and how they stayed in the game till MS Dhoni’s breath taking counter attack on the third day took the match away from them.
There was this feeling that Australia could still come back for they had a good pace attack and a batting line-up that has Clarke, Shane Watson and David Warner couldn’t be knocked over twice easily. But following the shocking capitulation at Hyderabad things only seem to be getting from bad to worse. To recover from two successive heavy defeats is too much to expect even from an Aussie side.
And in any case this is a rather rag tag outfit masquerading as an Australian side. There are hardly any redeeming features about the touring squad for neither the batting nor the bowling has produced anything out of the ordinary. The fight begins and ends with the captain who besides putting up a brave front and accepting full responsibility has performed in keeping with his reputation as one of the world’s leading batsmen.
Watson and Warner who were expected to play strong supporting roles for Clarke have come up with below par performances. Phil Hughes and Ed Cowan have been failures not being able to handle spin. Moises Henriques after a promising debut at Chennai looked out of depth at Hyderabad and it is difficult to see him repeat the heroics of his first Test.
Mathew Wade apart from one innings has been a sitting duck against the spin trio. The problem for Clarke is that there is no depth in the reserve bench. Usman Khawaja is the only batsman not yet tried out but his record inspires little confidence.
When it comes to the bowling Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty have been treated harshly as only to be expected. Indian batsmen have given Shane Warne the treatment so playing these three bowlers has been child’s play for them. I would still advocate that the visitors go in with a pace oriented attack.
In the recent past we have seen Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Mike Kasprowicz enjoy greater success in India than Warne. Even left arm medium pacer Geoff Dymock proved to be quite a handful with a bag of 24 wickets in 1979 including a match haul of 12 wickets in the third Test at Kanpur.
Good pace bowlers have had successful tours of India and the current squad will have to depend more on the quartet of Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle than any of the spin bowlers who have all been mediocre.
So can Australia turn things around in the remaining two Tests? I doubt they can halt the Indian juggernaut and if they can reduce the margin of defeat it would constitute an achievement given what has happened in the two matches so far. Fortunately there is a gap of more than a week for the visitors to try and regroup, to think of any change in strategy or tactical game plan.
There doesn’t seem to be much by way of alternatives but sometimes a team can lift itself from the ground and come back to stage an upset. Not too long ago England did this so well that they went on to win the series. Australia cannot win the series and the most they can is to draw level.
But besides inherent weaknesses which means that they are not in the class of the Alastair Cook led England side history too is against them. Out of the last nine Tests they have played in India, Australia have lost seven and drawn two including the last five in a row. They seem to have lost the winning habit in this country.
One supposes that for a turnaround to happen much will depend on Clarke. The captain’s batting form has been the one crumb of comfort they have had so far. Now he has to prove that he is a strong, inspiring leader who can infuse some fighting spirit into his men. Getting Matthew Hayden to talk to the beleaguered batsmen is a start.