Cricket Australia (CA) obviously doesn’t believe in omens - certainly not the bad variety. Prior to the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia the team toured India. They lost the Test series 2-nil and followed that with an adverse Ashes result at home. Having recently lost an away Ashes series by a comfortable 3-nil margin, Australia is tempting fate by embarking on another Indian tour prior to the return bout with England.
At least this time it’s only ODI matches and very few of the Test players will be involved in the tour. Nevertheless, India has been a black hole of late for Australian teams. It was a four-nil loss earlier in the year that precipitated Australia’s slide down the Test match ladder and the two teams in the Champions League (Perth Scorchers and Brisbane Heat) recently left India without a victory and with their tail between their legs.
Agreeing to this meaningless ODI tour of India, so close to an Ashes series, is evidence that CA is more concerned with dollars than sense. Australia’s mounting Test losses not only hurt in the record book but they’ve also shredded the team’s aura. During the golden years Australian teams had an inbuilt advantage; many of their opponents were half beaten the moment they looked at the opposing team list. However, once Australia started to lose, opponents felt empowered as they sensed a vulnerability.
Australia weak without Pup
Australia’s weakness in this bleak period has been batting in general and coping with good spin bowling in particular. The flaws have become so glaring that at a Lord’s Taverners function I attended recently in London the comments from former players were pointed. “What’s happened to Australian batsmanship?” was the welcome from past opponents before I received the obligatory, “oh, and by the way, how are you?”
The glaring batting weakness will be exacerbated by the absence of Michael Clarke, easily the best player of spin in the Australian side. Without Clarke to guide the side in the ODI’s and also provide a steady source of runs, Australia is at risk of again losing in India. While few of the ODI team will be in contention for the Test side, a demoralising loss on the eve of an Ashes series won’t help Australian morale and will also boost England’s outlook.
The only good news surrounding Clarke’s withdrawal from the Indian tour is it might mean he’ll get some much-needed red ball match practice under Australian conditions. On the other hand if his injury curtails his cricket in Australia, it’ll be a huge handicap to the team if he’s either unavailable or under-done for the Gabba Test.
Not only is the scheduling of this tour badly timed for the players, it also hasn’t done the Australian selectors any favours. Normally they’d be gauging batting candidates for the number six position in the Test side on their domestic first-class form. Now they’ll feel obliged to take into account any contenders who put up good performances on the Indian ODI tour.
This could lead to some selection blunders. Runs scored in the relative serenity of a fifty over game are a far cry from those that need to be earned in the pressure cooker atmosphere of an Ashes Test against one of the best attacks in world cricket. I don’t see a potential number six Test batsman in the ODI squad. Worse still there are a few batsmen in that squad who are vulnerable against spin bowling, a weakness the Indians are sure to exploit.
This means any potential contender could return home to Australia’s firmer pitches with their confidence undermined. It’s been obvious for some time that the number one priority among cricket administrators is the bottom line and the timing of this ODI tour is further proof. What wasn’t so obvious is that CA isn’t superstitious – and nor do they believe in bad omens.