Michael Clarke's Australian team won't become a real powerhouse until they can unearth a dominant No 3 batsman and there doesn't appear to be one with potential in the pipeline, says Australian cricketing legend
Australia has surged on a tidal wave towards the top of the Test rankings and they possess some attributes which will make it difficult for opponents to stop that momentum.
Michael Clarke said before the series, his attack was stronger than a very capable South African line-up and in the end he was proved right. That’s one reason Australia is surging; a superb fast bowling attack headed by the pace and aggression of Mitchell Johnson.
The captain himself is another plus mark. Clarke has been far ahead of his opposition this summer — Alastair Cook and Graeme Smith — but he’s also a superior Test skipper to all the others, with his only challenger being the aggressively like-minded Brendon McCullum. Unfortunately for McCullum, New Zealand isn’t blessed with the talent of Australia.
The other advantage Australia has over the contenders is David Warner. An explosively aggressive opener provides an enormous windfall for his team, with the main prize being the opposition is wary before he’s even faced a ball. Warner is now more consistent, has a thirst for centuries and has cleared his mind of the clutter that can stunt the growth of an aggressive batsman.
Australia skipper Michael Clarke. Pic/Getty Images.
As long as Warner’s performing, the chinks in Australia’s batting armour are less likely to be exposed. The fact that Steve Smith has also matured into a consistent performer, means Australia’s batting suddenly has fewer weaknesses than when the Ashes series started. However, number three is still a black hole and this will become more apparent if Warner’s form recedes.
Australia won’t become a real powerhouse until they can unearth a dominant number three and there doesn’t appear to be one with the potential in the pipeline. As the summer progressed, it became patently clear that conservative captaincy wouldn’t halt the runaway train that is Australia, with Johnson spearheading a penetrative attack, complemented by Clarke’s imaginative captaincy.
It’s a tough combination to beat; an aggressive captain with the wherewithal to implement an attacking strategy from the opening delivery of each Test. The other major Test nations must be concerned, because Australia’s style of play is suited not just to home conditions but also those in South Africa and to a lesser extent, England.
Having confirmed this by defeating South Africa under their own conditions, Australia has completed a rare recent feat among Test nations; they’ve won away from home. What will further boost Australia’s confidence is the stream of young fast bowlers waiting in the wings; James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins provide hope that the pace bowling edge can be maintained.
The team with the best chance of unsettling Australia is India at home, where the conditions suit spinners and also help to defuse pace bowlers. This means that not only is their pace bowling advantage blunted but also the Australian batting is most susceptible when the ball is turning consistently. As Australia looks to build on the momentum gained during the summer, it’ll be interesting to see how Shane Watson adjusts to being an all-rounder batting in the number six slot.
If it works well he’ll bring some distinct advantages. Watson gives the front-line quicks a breather by delivering a few overs of tidy medium pace and if Australia gets into a strong position he can batter the opposition into submission with his adventurous strokeplay. However, if the hole at number three can’t be satisfactorily filled he may be deployed there in attempt to plug the gap. I suspect Clarke will resist this move as long as possible, as he prefers Watson to fulfill the role of all-rounder.
Compared with the major headaches Australia had just a few months ago, these are just a minor irritation. Once again Australian cricket has displayed tremendous resilience; it’s a strength based on aggressive play, good fast bowling and imaginative captaincy. It’s been a productive formula over time and fortunately for Australia, the other major Test nations not only find it difficult to counter but also to emulate.
4279: Number of Test runs Ian Chappell scored for Australia at No 3 in 91 innings.