Everyone’s got an opinion on why Australia are playing rubbish cricket at the moment, so it is incumbent upon me to add my own two bob.
It seems to me that the big problem is that the bowling side of the game has completely disintegrated. Australia’s batting, despite Friday’s lamentable performance, is still quite potent enough. The problem is, no matter how many runs Australia are making, the opposition are able to chase them down. In the last 12 months, Australia have failed to defend 434, 336, and 332, and there have also been a couple of 320+ scores that they only just succeeded in defending.
Whatever John Buchanan might suggest, his game plans are not working. The opposition are about to counter Australian moves and there seems to not be any way of stopping them.
Another point worth noting is that Australia is too willing to concede singles. It was pointed out by New Zealand commentators yesterday that Australia were missing Ponting, Symonds, and Clarke, a devastating fielding trio inside the ring. However it makes little difference, because when opposing batting lineups go on the attack, the inner fielders go back to the edge of the thirty yard circle. This means that opposing batsman can work the good balls around for singles, and wait for the inevitable bad ball that they can send to (or over) the fence. In this method, you can get eight runs an over without taking a great deal of risk.
Meanwhile, the concentration that Australia has put into bowling for Test cricket has meant that the coaching energies of Buchanan and Troy Cooley have been very red-ball oriented. It is noticable that few of the Australian bowlers are able to get the white ball to reverse-swing properly; the best exponent is Brett Lee, and that is not surprising- the faster you bowl, the easier it is to reverse. And naturally that shows up with the numbers of wickets that he takes.
However it is nearly two months now since the Ashes have been settled, and one would expect that the work the bowlers have been putting in would have got some rewards. So far, there’s little to show. This means that once batsmen are set, there’s little in the bowler’s armouries to dislodge them, and Australia have really struggled in breaking partnerships during these huge runchases.
The lack of a finger-spinner who can keep things tight in the way that Panesar or Vetorri does has also hurt the Australians. Hogg has played an effective role in the past, but he seems to be affected more then most by his form on the day. If you go after Hogg, his confidence wilts.
Australia can turn it around; there’s nothing like a transfusion of self-belief to change the atmosphere of the side. It seems to me that Tait and Bracken have to step up- they are the immediate future of the Australian attack, and it is up to them to turn things around. If they don’t, or can’t, the disease of doubt will simply get worse and worse.