Have your say on Australia
In bat with Slats
Michael Slater is a former opening batsman for Australia and now well respected member of the Wide World of Sports cricket commentary team.
I have my doubts that Australia can beat India, which just doesn’t sound right coming from me, because I’m as parochial as anyone when it comes to Australia playing at home. It is a challenge for any team coming here to play, but at the moment we give too much back to the opposition and too quickly. With just a fortnight between Tests, I don’t think there’s enough time to turn things around, but I hope I'm wrong.
We keep thinking that we have bottomed out and then we go to another level below. Our effort in the Second Test against New Zealand was as bad as the 47 they made in Cape Town. Those bad totals can happen every now and then, but we’re seeing them all too often.
What is to blame? Well, it’s a sprinkling of everything. The shorter forms of the game have had an impact on the modern day player wanting to hit the ball all the time, but they need to remember that being aggressive doesn’t mean you have to smack every ball. You just have to be very positive in your intent, and that could be just a very positive ‘leave’ when the ball’s swinging around.
In the end, Phil Hughes’ technical problems were glaring and he didn’t seem willing to do his homework and change. Inexperience also seemed a factor in the dismissals of others around him as well, but a majority of the top order will remain for now because the last thing the new selectors will want to do is hit the panic button before a big series like what India presents.
There’s undoubtedly an ageing issue. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are struggling. They come with fitness, experience and greatness, but are we trying to hang on to these older boys at the detriment of moving forward? I’m just starting to think that we’re stagnating more because we are trying to keep Ponting going. If we’re going so badly, are we not better off cutting free of what we had and really start to build for the future?
It’s a very difficult predicament for the selectors, because they are asking – quite rightfully – “who’s better than Ponting and who’s better than Hussey; and if there is someone, where do we bat that person?” The only person whose name constantly bobs up is Ed Cowan’s and he’s an opener. Shane Watson returns for Boxing Day and we have to stick with David Warner, so where does Cowan go? The fit just isn’t there.
On a much more positive note, our bowling is definitely headed in the right direction. Peter Siddle has lifted to another level, James Pattinson is a real star in the making, Ryan Harris is a dynamite bowler when he’s going (and he should come straight back in if fit) and Nathan Lyon is improving all the time. Then you have Mitchell Starc, who can threaten and might still play on Boxing Day should the selectors think Harris hasn’t bowled enough.
On paper we still look strong, but it’s the mental lapses that are a real concern. If I had to say one thing to our cricketers ahead of the Boxing Day Test, I’d offer this – play quality cricket shots. That mantra made it simple for me. I’m not saying it’s the right (or only) mantra, but once the bowler releases the ball, you’ve got to play the best shot you can and that may be letting it go through to the keeper. Thinking about that one thing – quality – just eliminated any self-doubt for me and eliminated any pre-meditation. It put me back into a very instinctive mode. They might also just want to hear the word ‘relax’. You can work too hard away from the field.
Maybe the X-Factor to Australia’s chances is the Boxing Day Test itself? There are few better stages in the game – in fact in any sport around the world – and perhaps it will be the catalyst for the Aussies to lift their game. They’re playing against some real stars, in Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar – so maybe the occasion, playing in front of a huge MCG crowd, will spark them into action. Let's hope so.
My First XI:
Shane Watson, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.
What changes would you make to the Australia team?
Do Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey deserve their spots?
Can Australia beat India?