Cricket Australia (CA) obviously doesn’t believe in omens — certainly not the bad variety.
Prior to the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia, the team toured India. They lost the Test series 0-2 and followed that with an adverse Ashes result at home. Having recently lost an away Ashes series by a comfortable 0-3 margin, Australia are tempting fate by embarking on another Indian tour prior to the return bout with England.
At least, this time it’s only ODI matches and very few of the Test players will be involved in the tour. Nevertheless, India has been a black hole of late for Australia. It was a 0-4 loss earlier in the year that precipitated Australia’s slide down the Test match ladder and the two teams in the Champions League (Perth Scorchers and Brisbane Heat) recently left India without a victory and with their tail between their legs.
Agreeing to this meaningless ODI tour of India, so close to an Ashes series, is evidence that CA is more concerned with dollars than sense.
Chinks in armour
Australia’s mounting Test losses not only hurt in the record book, they’ve also shredded the team’s aura. During the golden years, Australia teams had an inbuilt advantage; many of their opponents were half beaten the moment they looked at the opposing team list. However, once Australia started to lose, opponents felt empowered as they sensed vulnerability.
Australia’s weakness in this bleak period has been batting in general and coping with good spin bowling in particular.
The flaws have become so glaring that at a Lord’s Taverners function I attended recently in London the comments from former players were pointed. “What’s happened to Australian batsmanship?” was the welcome from past opponents before I received the obligatory, “Oh, and by the way, how are you?”
The glaring batting weakness will be exacerbated by the absence of Michael Clarke, easily the best player of spin in the Australia side.
Without Clarke to guide the side in the ODIs and also provide a steady source of runs, Australia are at risk of again losing in India. While few in the ODI team will be in contention for the Test side, a demoralising loss on the eve of an Ashes series won’t help Australia’s morale and will also boost England’s outlook.
A silver lining
The only good news surrounding Clarke’s withdrawal from the tour is it might mean he’ll get some much-needed red ball match practice under Australian conditions. On the other hand, if his injury curtails his cricket in Australia, it’ll be a huge handicap to the team if he’s either unavailable or under-done for the Gabba Test.
Not only is the scheduling of this tour badly timed for the players, it also hasn’t done the Australian selectors any favours. Normally, they’d be gauging batting candidates for the No 6 position in the Test side on their domestic first-class form. Now, they’ll feel obliged to take into account any contenders who put up good performances on the Indian tour.
This could lead to selection blunders. Runs scored in the relative serenity of a 50-over game are a far cry from those that need to be earned in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of an Ashes Test against one of the best attacks. I don’t see a potential No 6 Test batsman in the ODI squad. Worse still, there are a few batsmen in that squad who are vulnerable against spin, a weakness the Indians are sure to exploit.