There is a scene in the movie Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray’s character finally realises his predicament, and goes into a pit of depression. In his weather forecast, he proclaims that “(this winter) will be cold. It will be gray. And it will last the rest of your life.”
Well, winter has well and truly arrived for Australian batting. And with no immediate relief in sight, it looks like being a very very long winter indeed.
The retirements of Langer, Gilchrist and Hayden brought Australia’s batting down to the middle class, but 2013 has showcased its true post-apocalyptic wretchedness , after Ponting’s and Hussey’s exits, and Clarke’s return to mortality. When they lose the Lord’s Test, it will be Australia’s longest losing streak in nearly thirty years. Lose the next one, and they’ll have tied their all-time record, dating back to 1888.
And it is ‘when’ they lose this Test, not ‘if.’ You’d have to wager that England could declare now, 264 ahead and a pristine third day batting pitch to come, and Australia would still lose. Over the seven potential innings left on this tour, it’s likely Michael Clarke will score at least one century, but for the life of me, I can’t see where any others are going to come from. And that is a brutal indictment of a once-proud team, one which now reminds me only of India’s shambolic batting on their last tours of England and Australia.
The bowling has been adequate, with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle being outstanding, but they have been helped by the distracted laziness of England’s top order batting. It’s almost as if England’s top order can’t be bothered to bat properly, because they know they’re likely to win anyway. The margin at Trent Bridge might have been only 14 runs, but that was only because of an almighty near-jailbreak by the Australian lower order. Any other team would have lost after conceding 228 runs in two innings to the opposition’s last pair, but the fact that England won only brings Australia’s awful batting into sharper relief.
Where do you start with the individual denunciations? Shane Watson’s arrogance in his cover driving and decision review seems to mask a deep insecurity about his batting ability and his role in the team. When he looks set, his batting is a dream, much like the Indian opener Murali Vijay, but both have a persistent technical flaw – being unable to bat convincingly on the backfoot for an extended period. In Watson’s case, he is caught between the front foot and the backfoot ominously often, and ends up a prime leg-before candidate.
Add to this the confusion about whether he actually is an all-rounder. Well, he is not. A true all-rounder should be able to command a place in the side in at least one of batting or bowling (or keeping) alone, and Watson certainly is neither a good enough batsman nor a good enough bowler. And the arrogant stupidity – without even consulting anyone – of reviewing his dismissal at Lord’s reminded me of Virender Sehwag’s similar reviews in both the semis and final of the 2011 World Cup – arrogance which could have cost his team dear.
Not that Australia are really going to rue Watson’s review (or Phil Hughes’ similarly asinine review) that much – it’s not like either of them would have stuck around for much longer anyway. As for the others, Khawaja has done nothing in his short career so far, and it’s not long before the words ‘affirmative action’ begin to swirl around if he continues like this. It just goes to show that Michael Clarke’s outrageous 2012 was pretty much the only thing keeping the Australian batting afloat. Since his first Test century in Chennai, there has been an inevitable return to the mean for his form, and the whole team’s batting edifice has collapsed.
My excoriation of the Aussie batting stems from a neutral’s wish for a competitive series, and that looks a long shot right now. Also, it’s just so alarmingly incongruous to see them as the outnumbered underdogs. But those aren’t the only reasons.
Because to be perfectly honest, Great Britain could do with some losing, after Wimbledon, the Lions tour, golf’s US Open and the Tour de France. It has come to the point where even the reliably self-flagellating Guardian runs an article titled “Have we become a nation of winners?” Of course, the day will come when a British team loses to someone else. But that someone else is not this Australian cricket team.