Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Australia Dusted Off In Chennai

Warner lbw in the second innings
Michael Clarke and Mickey Arthur find themselves in a typical dilemma as visiting generals in India: one down with the wrong resources, brave faces and another battle in just a few days. It's all happened before of course and if they study even recent history both may take solace.

What is concerning is the lack of honesty in their arguments and the manner in which they appear to be convincing themselves into a series loss in this most mystical place. It's as though the snake charmers have seduced them and the blindingly obvious has been hidden from view rather than remaining the Indian elephant in the corner of the selection room.

There are, at this disconnected distance on the other side of a flat screen TV, a few bottom line conclusions that can be drawn from the lost in Chennai.

  1. It wasn't a debacle. Playing without enough of the right resources and with the bulk of the batting line up both unsuited and inexperienced to the conditions, nearly 400 was scored in the first innings, Pattinson bowled well and Henriques batted beyond expectations but not above ability;
  2. Phil Hughes should not be in this side. As a batsman, he is a ball follower. If the ball is on off stump or wider, he is inevitably drawn to play at it. Yes, he got a brute in the second innings but with a better technique and a different mindset, he might well have dropped his hands. Mike Hussey would have;
  3. Australia must play two spinners for the remainder of the series. Clarke was quick to remind the media after the game that Australian spin took only four wickets in the match and pace the rest. Factually correct but Australia with only Lyon took 12 wickets. India with three spinners took 20;
  4. The lack of DRS made little impact on the game. Dhoni might have been out on review for 106 but Clarke would have been caught at bat pad on 39.
"Come on Warnie ...
... the x is like a z"
After the game finished but before dark, SK Warne spent twenty minutes talking at centre wicket with a triumvirate of Lyon, Doherty and Arthur. At least he was spending time where he has an area of expertise, rather than writing fantasies online. Maybe he was trying to learn how to pronounce Doherty's name correctly, instead of the mangled "Eggzavya" he usually utters in commentary. Perhaps he was just commiserating, after all, India was his glaring blindspot. From the time Ravi Shastri and a spotty teenager called Tendulkar flogged him to all parts of the SCG, right through every event against India, Warne never came to terms with men who could use their feet. Tendulkar was his master, a single fact alone that makes Tendulkar the best batsman of all time. Warne averaged 43 in India and it took longer for him to get wickets than it takes Dan Vettori.

In India, Warne is little more than Liz Hurley's boyfriend.

Recovery is possible and it will come through hard work: a beacon of which might be Dave Warner. Following the game, he arranged a centre wicket practice on the crumbling clay court that was left at MA Chidambarram and batted for a hour against the spin of Steve Smith and Glen Maxwell. A guest bowler and advice offerer in Warner's personal session was Harbhajan Singh, a fact many Australians should review when forming lasting impressions of the man blamed for so much.

Warner, it might be remembered, had been stuck on the loo only a few hours earlier.

The news that Jackson Bird is returning home for precautionary scans because of back soreness, is another feather in the legal cap for the Nathan Bracken case. Even doctors in north Queensland would be right is asserting that sitting in the plane on the way home will do more damage to the big red head's back than staying with the team and having daily physio.

Where to from here? 

The England example is the most recent and best. They played only Graeme Swan in the first Test last year and lost. Monty Panesar joined him for the rest and England won the series. Without doubt, Lyon is no Swan and Doherty is no Panesar but it has to be a better option than three quicks.

Henriques - one bloke
who'll bat in a Baggy Green
Moises Henriques has batted his way into the side for at least this series, James Pattinson bowled exactly the way a fast bowler is supposed to in these conditions so the axe must fall on either Starc or Siddle. Starc provides variation but like Lyon, its expensive. Siddle couldn't bowl as badly two Tests in a row and will be retained.

Usman Khawaja must come into the team. When the batting fails, someone must be replaced and he has more of the skills needed at No 3 than Phil Hughes. This is no longer about loyalty or worrying about how Hughes might feel at being dropped for a third time. Australia must respond at Hyderabad with a win or the series is gone. 

Lyon is the largest of the worries for the selectors. The faith placed in him before Chennai has been dramatically shaken by his failure to cope under pressure. The ferocity of MS Dhoni's attack on him on the third afternoon required of him variation and grit, neither of which he appeared to have. Instead, he bowled long hops and full tosses. The days of off break bowlers just sending down even big rippers just outside the off stick and tiring batsmen into repeated forward defence are long gone, brushed aside by big bats and a diet of adventurous cricket from the one day and T20 arenas. Offies have to have more variation these days and Lyon just doesn't seem to possess any tricks. One of the oldest adages in cricket is when, as a spinner, batsmen go after you, you toss it higher and get it above eye level. Some call it loop, some call it flight. Lyon doesn't get enough rotation on the ball to cause the ball to drop on the batsmen so aggressive players like Dhoni and Kohli just plant their front foot at the ball and swing. Batting technology does the rest.

For the winners, just about everything except Sehwag went right. The spinners did as they pleased, the only real competition coming from Clarke and Henriques who used their feet to come forward or back and remove much of the advantage. The pitch helped but this was no den of vipers. Variable bounce only came from the rough of foot steps, another reason for Australia to leave Starc in the sheds and not provide danger zones on their left handers leg stump.

Dhoni was superb
Ashwin, Singh and Jadeja were far from unplayable but the inexperienced Australians fell into most of their traps with the gullibility of flies in a pitcher plant. Kohli stood up and delivered after a lean and ill-considered time at home in the last twelve months but he loves to beat the Australians. He may be a rod for their back for some time yet. Tendulkar was as silky as at any time in the last three years and Dhoni's innings was one of the great attacking innings of all time. He played some audacious shots. The open shouldered lofting of Henriques, first ball of a new spell, high into the stands beyond long off, is a lasting image. More than this innings, he has created grave doubts in the minds of Australia's bowlers for the contests to come. Don't imagine that he hasn't something to prove after the disaster of his last summer Downunder.

With the second Test starting on Saturday, Australia need to drop Hughes and replace him with Khawaja at three, move Henriques to six and Wade back to seven, drop Starc and include Doherty.

Its not our best team, but its the best team available. Any touring squad without Ferguson, Doolan or O'Keefe is selling Australia short.