The pitfalls of Australia's aggressive approach to the game
It's all very well for coach Lehmann to wax lyrical about the aggressive brand of cricket that Australia likes to play, but unless they are also prepared to box smart and rein in their hard hands, their batsmen will score quickly and score few, writes Michael Jeh
Brisbane: Home ground advantage, even when it's your 'default' home, is proving to be a nigh insurmountable barrier in Test cricket. South Africa's outstanding away record notwithstanding, it is becoming increasingly difficult to win away from home, especially for teams playing on pitches alien to their style of play.
Michael Clarke walks back to the pavilion after being bowled by Pakistan's Imran Khan on Day Two of the Abu Dhabi Test on November 1. Pic/Getty Images
Australia winning in South Africa (and vice versa) or India winning in Sri Lanka may not require a huge leap of faith because the conditions are broadly familiar to the touring side. Australia's capitulation to Pakistan should therefore come as no surprise, despite the bookmakers predicting otherwise, foolishly predicated on Australian form on bouncy pitches and the loss of Saeed Ajmal.
The margin of victory may have been hard to predict but anyone who has watched Australia play on slower pitches should have seen this train smash coming. The current Australian team, like most international teams to be fair, are one-trick ponies. When the pitches are not quick, an over-reliance on their pace battery and batsmen who hit through the line of the ball make them an easy target for anyone prepared to play the patience game.
It's all very well for Darren Lehmann to wax lyrical about the aggressive brand of cricket that Australia likes to play but unless they are also prepared to box smart and rein in their hard hands, their batsmen will score quickly and score few. Funky field placings and constant bowling changes can make a captain look good when it pays off but it can also look foolish and desperate on pitches that require toil rather than thrill.
Despite the temptation, even the cheap press in Australia, will struggle to peddle the usual argument about sub-standard, 'doctored' pitches. The stats tell their own story. No Ajmal, a young spin attack and Pakistan's spinners take 28 wickets @ 25 compared to Australia's slow bowlers (10 wickets @ 88). The batting comparisons look even scarier. Pakistan averaged close to 80 per wicket, Australia just 25. Both Tests went deep into Day 5, a far cry from some Tests at the Gabba, WACA, MCG or SCG that have recently been finished inside three days.
There is the inevitable talk of the disadvantage of losing the toss and batting last but that too is an excuse that carries no water when apologists are reminded of the most recent series in India in 2013 when Australia won all four tosses, batted first each time and were still flogged. At the end of the day, batting and bowling on these pitches requires the sort of mind-set that Australia were simply not prepared to compromise on.
Watch it, India
There's a time and a place for aggression, as Misbah ul-Haq showcased when the goose was ripe for the plucking but playing on the up with hands away from the body shows a complete lack of mental preparation. Unlike on fast pitches, aggression is usually a dish served cold, once the opposition have been ground into submission.
India are about to experience the complete opposite in a few weeks' time. Sit back and wait at your own peril on Australian pitches. As poor as the Aussies have been in the Middle East, expect a totally different team at the Gabba in early December.
India will need to fight fire with fire, be prepared to take on the short ball judiciously and not let the game drift. In Asia, you generally win by throttling slowly but on Australian pitches, especially the spicy ones that will almost certainly be served up as supposed revenge for 2013, death by suffocation is unlikely. It is usually a case of coming out with guns blazing and not waiting for the rhythm of the game to ebb and flow.
One good session doesn't necessarily win you the game but one spineless collapse against a rampaging Mitchell Johnson can effectively kill off the series. Just ask England — they never recovered from Johnson's brutal assault last year. Unlike just about any other sport, barring tennis perhaps, home ground advantage and different playing surfaces bring a dimension to the game that defies form and rankings. Then again, the way Pakistan play, such measurable are a luxury to them. That is their beauty and their curse — expect the best when you fear the worst.
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player