While Australia capitulated at the WACA and then collapsed at Bellerive , both India and England prospered in Rajkot. The implications of these scenarios are many and varied.
Australia is in distinct trouble against South Africa and unless this trend is reversed quickly, the selectors face the prospect of wholesale changes for the upcoming series against an improved Pakistan outfit.
Australia then faces a tough tour of India, a playground where it has recently experienced more recriminations than celebrations, followed by a visit from England in summer. The next few weeks are crucial to Australian cricket.
Most of Australia’s recent failures have stemmed from poor batting displays but the inability to keep fast bowlers fit for duty is shaping as just as big a problem.
A short while ago it appeared Australia’s pace bowling future was bright with Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins all capable of swinging the ball at genuine pace, while Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle provided consistently probing spells.
In addition, there were other hopefuls with pace and talent at the Shield level who promised adequate back-up in case of the odd injury. What has transpired is a string of injuries as long as the sartorius muscle (the longest in the body), which leaves Starc and Hazlewood as the last men standing.
Bleak picture for Steve Smith
It’s a bleak picture which provides skipper Steve Smith with a migraine style headache and the administrators with many questions to answer.
When a team has lost five Tests in succession -- three of them from virtually impregnable positions -- there are bound to be questions about the captain’s right to retain the job.
However, the job of Australian captain has been made increasingly difficult over the years by some questionable administrative decisions.
In 2011, I told the Argus review; “I don’t think the system allows you to captain Australia properly. There are too many people to tell to get stuffed. At least when I was skipper you only had to tell the manager to butt out if he wanted to stick his nose into the cricket side of the business.”
With that said, the Argus review recommended an additional layer of management and even more impediment to good captaincy. Smith’s job has been made infinitely harder than mine ever was.
At least, I was in control of my own destiny which is a must when all the W’s and L’s go against your name. Smith doesn’t have that luxury and he’s also impeded by a development system that is faltering, bordering on total engine failure.
A weak Aussie production line
Cricket Australia held the Argus review and another into the safety of the game following the tragic death of Phil Hughes. However, they haven’t addressed the failure of a system that should provide selectors with a production line of successful young batsmen from first-class cricket.
The current system has been an abject failure for at least a decade, mainly providing a string of journeymen, ageing debutants and yet nothing seems to change. Actually that’s not exactly true; there are more coaches, more theories on how to play spin bowling and less overseas successes.
While the failures in India, England and Sri Lanka were treated with an “out of sight, out of mind” approach by the public, the inability to cope with a weakened South African attack on a reasonable WACA surface has thrown a fierce spotlight on Australia’s batting frailty.
India on the other hand, has a plentiful supply of talented and technically efficient young batsmen. England, who used to eschew selecting youth as though that would inflict a plague on the side, has blooded two young batting hopefuls on the tour of Bangladesh and India.
Australia is now at the point where the ageing debutant policy is a proven failure and they will be forced to choose a few younger batsmen on a speculative basis.
With a tour of India looming, followed by a tough home series against England this is not ideal. It could go one of two ways; either it’ll be a triumph for youth or cause the pain often felt in seeking longer term success.