Outbowled, Outfielded and Outclassed
Australian cricket isn’t the force it was a couple of years ago. Back then other countries wondered how they could draw a match against us, let alone win. Even the retirements of great players had little effect because each retirement only opened the door for another talent to make his mark. That all changed when a large number of players retired at or around the same time. Gone are the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer. No team in the world could withstand such a depletion of talent and the aura of invincibility that grew around it. Our national cricket team has come back to the pack. It was bound to happen but we didn’t want a slide towards the mediocrity of the 80s. I still have a shudder or two when I remember the bad old days that were the 80s. We were the easybeats and I’m not talking about the rock group that gave us “Friday On My Mind”.
The first few matches of the Ashes series in 2009 saw an Australia that looked a lot like those easybeats. We were headed for victory in Cardiff but Mitchell Johnson needed a few extra stumps to aim at and some of Ricky Ponting’s decisions had us scratching our heads. We should have won that match but we couldn’t remove England’s tailenders. England saved that match and went on to steamroll us in the second test. The third test was headed for an English victory but for the heroics of Michael Clarke and Marcus North. We were outbowled, outfielded and outsmarted. Mitchell Johnson made a century or two but not off his bat. Our foremost strike bowler just couldn’t find the stumps. Peter Siddle was almost as bad although there were occasions when he at least looked like taking wickets. Only the previously unsung Ben Hilfenhaus and the much derided Nathan Hauritz could hold their heads high. Strangely four of the top five wicket takers in this Ashes series are Australian; it’s just a pity that each of those wickets came at a such a high price. Even I can take ten wickets if you allow me the luxury of leaking a thousand runs.
We were a little unlucky, too. Brett Lee was injured before the first test and won’t be available until the fifth. He could have made a huge difference to our bowling attack. That, however, doesn’t explain the strange decision to omit Stuart Clarke. While Clarke is not a potent strike bowler he does tie up an end and builds pressure on the batsmen. He was exactly what we needed with Johnson and Siddle leaking runs. His inclusion in the fourth test highlights just how important his bowling is to Australia.
We can’t even blame the umpires who have provided us with a master class in poor decision making. Australia and England both received howlers from the unpires and Rudi Koertzen has been the arch villain so far. Cricketers who are struggling with a bit of poor form generally lose their place in the team but umpires merely continue to inflict pain. “Unfair” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.
The Australia I know have finally turned up for the fourth test. Our bowling so far is as good as England’s was in the preceding tests. We have to win this match to give us a chance at retaining the Ashes. There’s still plenty of time left in the fourth test and so many things can happen but, win or lose, I can confidently say we are still a long way from the nadir of the 80s. That is enough to keep the nightmares at bay for some time yet.