Cricket: The Ashes: when will the calamity end?

Shane Watson - where to now (photo mine)
Shane Watson – where to now (photo mine)

Carnage. Probably a very apt word to describe what went on during the second Ashes test at Lord’s.

The runs are not coming, the wickets are few and far between – and then along come England, the squad merrily making its way towards its third straight Ashes series victory.

It is, however, not over until the fat lady sings.  That fat lady could be singing as early as Manchester, the venue for the third test.

Where has it all gone horribly wrong for the Aussies?  The tail-enders have scored and performed better than the top six batsmen.  The six “real” batsmen have been undone by some beautiful England bowling and their own half-hearted shots.  England, courtesy of Joe Root, slammed on the runs in the second test.  Shane Watson has been dismissed LBW three times, highlighting just how catastrophic the series is for Australia.

The list, sufficed to say, goes on.  Drastic measures are rearing their ugly head, but for now, the squad needs to stay as stable as possible, without mass changes. Team morale might be fluctuating at the moment, but the more it is broken up, the harder it becomes.

Darren Lehmann is undoubtedly the right man to help swing the Australian woes around.  He is popular with the players, and has had a successful stint in Queensland as coach of state side the Bulls.

With the Manchester test starting next Thursday, everyone on tour needs to sit down and sort out any demons that might be plaguing their game.

First on the block is Watson.  After some ugly dismissals, and subsequent failed reviews, one could argue that the opener’s mindset is simply not in the game right now.  Unfortunately, any potential replacement batsmen – ie David Warner and Ed Cowan – are currently underperforming, which makes it all the more worrying if “Watto” cannot execute his game.

Chris Rogers has drawn what seems to be the accidental short straw.  Except for the first innings at Lord’s, the Rogers-Watson opening partnership hasn’t impressed, and it has also seen the left-hander fall victim to losing his partner before he loses his own castle.  Deserves another chance.

Usman Khawaja scored a half century in the second innings of the second test, putting on what was probably Australia‘s best stand of the series with captain Michael Clarke.  He showed poise during his 54, unlike other Australian batsmen throwing away their wicket to a rash shot.  Underdone at test level, Manchester could be his proving ground.

Michael Clarke – the equation is strikingly simple.  The captain needs runs, and he needs to lead the team by example.  Right now his game is going nowhere fast.  Almost backwards since his superb summers in Australia.  Clarke is far and above the right man to lead the team, but he needs the support from everyone else, and that seems to be something that might be found further along the horizon.  With the England bowlers running rampant, a captain’s knock is needed from Clarke in Manchester, not just for his own morale, but for the whole team.

Phil Hughes – so touch and go.  Of his 83 runs for the series, 81 of them came in the one innings at Trent Bridge, as support to a superb dig from Ashton Agar.  There is not much to fall back on if he is dropped, and the punchy left-hander has some good experience on English pitches.

Steve Smith looked solid for his 53 but good bowling and nerves have been his undoing.  In India earlier in the year, the all-rounder ground out a superb 92, playing all the shots and keeping his wicket.  Conditions are certainly different, but Smith has every ability to keep his wicket and put on a big score.

Brad Haddin, the vice captain, probably played one of the gutsy innings that almost saw Australia to victory in the first test.  Other than that runs have come cheaply.  There is no questioning the work that Haddin is trying to do with this fragile team, but he desperately needs some leadership support from Lehmann, Clarke and the rest of the squad.

Haddin’s keeping, however, has been sub standard.  Missed chances, byes let through and some poor communication with the slips cordon has led to some costly mistakes and England have pounced.

The bowlers

Toiling away on foreign soil, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Ashton Agar have worked hard for little result.  Harris took seven wickets in the second test in a game where England totally dominated.  Finding the line, and the movement, has been the hardest part of the Australian bowling strategy so far.  The likes of Joe Root and Ian Bell have looked so comfortable at the crease against the pacemen, and Ashton Agar, after his stunning debut, has not fared well either.

With Pattinson now out of the rest of the Ashes series due to stress fractures in his back, the workload suddenly intensifies, and so does the pressure, even with two replacements in Starc and Jackson Bird.

Effort has not been the problem; it has been the lack of breakthroughs, and subsequent poor batting, which has cost Australia.  The Decision Review System (DRS) has also been a bane of the side, but only because of the failed reviews.

One could argue that the Australians are under prepared, especially in the red ball arena, despite two warm up matches on English soil before the first test.  The test series against India earlier this year meant a gap of more than three months before the Aussies faced up to the five day haul again.  Major problems like this cannot be fixed overnight.  The only question is: where to begin on a problem that seems to run so deep?

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