Australia's fall, England's rise
If the Australian cricket set-up was anything like the Indian cricket set-up, odds on Ricky Ponting returning from retirement and regaining his number three spot in their ODI line-up would have been shortened after a 4-0 defeat to England. Yes, they lost four matches, to the English, in a row!
You can call it a mini-catastrophe, after all this ODI series was labelled as a prelude to next summer's Ashes. As far as that billing was off the mark, it does however show that the Aussies have some major thinking to do in terms of their limited-overs plans. Their second-to-last venture - in near-similar conditions - was against the Sri Lankans and Indians at home. And let's face it, these two teams don't make for fervent opposition away from home, at least not recently. A rejuvenated West Indies held them to a 2-2 result and that was perhaps the inkling of pending disaster. This tour of England has only showcased that in its wholesome brutality.
The question then is, if Australia make for a light-weight ODI number one side now, much as India were last season?
If you look at the Aussie bowling, it is nowhere as intimidating as it was a decade ago. Part of their problem lies herein, but this is what transition from a legendary era does to any team. The re-building process has begun earnestly for them and it is just a matter of the right players finding that sweet spot in their careers, progressing injury-free for a long term. Brett Lee might have shepherded the likes of Pat Cummins and James Pattinson. But his recent retirement means that role now goes to Ben Hilfenhaus. It is a good bet, though again, hinging tightly on injury-management.
A look at figures from the Caribbean and English tours will tell us that Clint McKay was a consistent performer. Xavier Doherty and Shane Watson contributed as much in the Windies but failed in England. Conditions worked against Doherty of course, the English will never crumble to spin at home. But their medium and fast bowlers also ran into a batting line-up that is at its prime. There has been much debate over the feasibility of having Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott batting in the top three. Surely, whilst chasing 300-plus on sub-continental pitches, they will be found out. But that is a debate for later. The bottom-line here is that the trio clicked against the Aussies, thereby, helping their fans lose track of Kevin Pietersen and his adventure with retirement/comebacks.
Fifty-over cricket is about batting, well mostly. If that aspect worked for England, it didn't work out so well for the Aussies. And the missing denominator was Michael Hussey, on leave for the birth of his fourth child. But his absence wasn't the only reason why the Australian batting is in a mess.
They have three openers in Shane Watson, David Warner and Mathew Wade, with the latter being moved up and down depending upon Watson's fitness. If Watson is out, it brings both George Bailey and Peter Forrest into the picture. On their day, they can grind out the opposition. However, these days have been far and few in between, especially for Forrest. Bailey has been consistent on both these tours, yet his inability to rotate the strike easily has been a disruptive influence on the innings and left the latter batsmen with too much to do.
In the absence of his brother, the onus of setting the tempo fell on David Hussey. For Michael Clarke isn't known to be a quick-starter. With 120 and 115 runs respectively in the four matches, this move didn't work out very well. Clarke has the ability to move up the order and be the number three Australia want in the mould of Ponting. It augurs well for when Mike Hussey returns, as he can saddle into number four. However that leaves a gaping hole to fill at number six, assuming Wade continues to bat at number seven.
David Hussey was given that role against the West Indies. He scored 109 runs in five matches. Steve Smith was then chosen against England and he got to bat only twice, scoring 29 runs in all. He bowled in only one match, thus begging the question as to what his pertinent role in the side was after all. Perhaps Greg Chappell can answer that one, as Australia move on to wonder aloud a solution to this mess before their summer begins in mid-October.