Shane Watson and Brad Haddin’s absence from the 2nd Test brought some fans joy, ambivalence or anxiety. Many were joyful at Watson’s overdue dropping from the Test team. Haddin left himself out for family reasons but with a very capable replacement and poor recent performances, we are not too upset. However I am leaning towards feelings of anxiety…
Why, you ask? Well, the nature of sport is to point the finger of blame at a few rather than the collective during tough times. What often goes missing is the fact that sporting success – particularly sustained success – relies upon the consistency of the collective, rather than the reliance on one or two individuals. Think the Golden State Warriors defeating the Miami Heat in this year’s NBA Finals, Hawthorn’s sustained success in the AFL over the last 3-4 seasons, Germany’s win at Football’s World Cup, Barcelona FC’s triumphs in all competitions. Mind you, in the last example Barcelona have both exceptional individual talent AND collective consistency. Nevertheless, when too much is left to too few, the game eventually catches up and hard truths follow.
So my anxiety comes down to the fact that while these changes inject some much overdue youth and excitement, there are still many problem areas. For one, Australia’s success in recent times has been down to good individual performances – Mitchell Starc’s superb World Cup campaign, Steve Smith’s mountains of runs last home summer, Mitchell Johnson’s aggression. Outside of these players, the team has been stuttering or spluttering. Chris Rogers has probably been the exception, generally consistent with the bat, however Dave Warner has been hit or miss, generally capable of good starts without going on to massive scores. Shane Watson, well, I’ll leave that one alone. Michael Clarke has been quite ordinary of late with 4 scores over 47 (all centuries, mind you) dating back to the start of the last Ashes series in Australia. That’s a total of 27 innings, simply not good enough for Australia to make big scores.
It is worth mentioning Clarke has now been dismissed 10 times by Broad in Tests. Also worth mentioning is Australia’s batting performance in general against the Poms: Steve Smith averages a paltry 37 in Tests vs England (career average of 55), Clarke 44 (50.31), Warner 43 (46.5) and Rogers 44.5 (40). Adam Voges we hope can turn it around and Mitch Marsh comes in with 2 centuries in the recent tour matches but the lower output (except Rogers) against the English is very concerning. Also, when Brad Haddin was at the crease in last Ashes series 5-0 whitewash, 47% of all Australia’s runs were scored. 47%! The difference between Australia scoring 250-300 and 450 was really put down to his performances, again highlighting the consistently poor output of the men above him as well as his own influence.
Moving onto the bowling attack. The pitch preparations in England are unsurprisingly slow and low to negate Australia’s aggressive bowling attack, particularly Mitch Johnson who found the going tough last week’s opener. While his bowling was generally OK, he was largely ineffective as his aggressive tendencies meant he was hit for an economy of nearly 4.5 runs per over. Mitchell Starc’s wayward bowling (similar economy) meant not enough pressure was built upon the English batsmen. Yes, all bowlers got amongst the wickets and all 20 were picked up but the lack of sustained pressure with the ball is a worry – and as the pitches are going to continue to be slow, Australia will need to be able to rely on their patience and guile rather than their aggression to continually put England on the back foot. It remains to be seen whether they are capable in this area.
Put simply, if the top order doesn’t perform from here on out, it won’t really matter if Shane Watson or Mitch Marsh was picked, nor Haddin or Nevill. And if Australia cannot bowl collectively with patience and try to rely on aggression with the ball, it won’t matter if Johnson, Starc, Hazlewood or Lyon is at the top of their game. A better performance from all concerned is required for Australia to level the series at Lords, and retain the Ashes.