The best news Australia has received while touring India is the report of England’s monumental first innings batting collapse in New Zealand and Graeme Swann’s elbow operation.
The worst-case scenario for Australia was they would depart India with their top six in the batting order in turmoil. Unless there’s a major turn around in fortunes in the last two Tests, that’s exactly the situation they’ll find themselves in as they prepare for a tilt at regaining the Ashes in England.
Spin, still a concern
Australia know they can match England in fast bowling but their batting and spin departments were always going to be a concern. Australia’s batting frailty is being blamed on inexperience and the sudden decision of Michael Hussey to retire at the end of the home summer.
I’m not so sure those excuses withstand close scrutiny.
While Australia has lost the extremely valuable services of Ricky Ponting and Hussey in a short space of time, India has also recently had two stalwarts retire in Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. In addition Virender Sehwag, another lynchpin in India’s batting strength of the last decade, has been stumbling lately to the point where he’s fallen flat on his face during the series against Australia.
That’s also a lot of experience and runs to lose in a short time.
Whilst the comparison is somewhat biased because the Indian batsmen are being judged in their own conditions, there’s a world of difference between Australia’s rebuilding efforts and those of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s cohorts. Those Indian batsmen who have been promoted exude talent, technique and flair; they are also reasonably young.
In addition to Cheteshwar Pujara and Vijay Murali, both of whom looked capable when they debuted in Test cricket, India has a depth in batting reserve that Australia doesn’t posses.
While Rohit Sharma has been a disappointment in many respects, he’s just one of a talented list of reserve batsmen who have the ability to replace Sachin Tendulkar when he eventually retires. Additionally, during the recent World Cup at the under-19 level, the Indian batting was superior to Australia’s in both technique and flair. Both Unmukt Chand and Baba Aparajith would either be on the verge — or in — the current Australian side.
The Australian batting production line has been faltering for some years and one of the main flaws is exposed when you look at recent history. For a country that used to consistently produce talented young batsmen ready for the Test side in either their late teens or early twenties, Australia has only had Ponting and Clarke (as long-term successes) in that category since the former made his debut eighteen years ago.
Where the early twenties used to be the normal debut age for an Australian Test batsman it’s now blown out to the late twenties and occasionally even thirty.
Clarke aside, the current Australian batsmen aren’t inexperienced (they’ve played a lot of first-class cricket), it’s just that they haven’t established their Test credentials under a variety of conditions. Consequently the top order is currently a “dog’s breakfast” and there’s no real opportunity to resolve the issues before the England tour.
Confidence is vital
It’s all well and good to say Australia’s performances in India won’t have any effect on the Ashes series and they’ll bat better in England. Confidence is a big part of batting once a player has reached the highest level and lack of it plays an adverse role in the same way as an abundance helps.
Again, apart from Clarke, the batsmen’s credentials aren’t yet established under seaming conditions. Australia has little choice now but to stick with what they have for the Ashes series, as there’s little in the way of alternatives and none of the players back home are making a strong case via the Sheffield Shield competition.
That’s why Australia will be delighted to know that England’s batsmen have had some issues adapting to New Zealand conditions. And having been mesmerised by Ravi Ashwin’s off-spin so far in the Indian series, anything that hampers Swann’s preparation will also provide welcome relief.