Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A word of caution

So today Australia lost to India again, losing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-0 in a series which was all you could ever hope for apart from being at least one match too short. Today was crushing for Australia, as India cruised to victory with not much undue fuss, leaving the Aussies languishing below England in the Test rankings for the very first time. Australia's tail was mopped up in under an hour, and they only managed to get three Indian wickets with some poor bowling, poor fielding, poor keeping and poor captaincy all playing a part. Truly I have never seen an Australian team, whatever the situation, look quite so adrift on a cricket pitch.

So the Ashes should be a piece of cake now, right? Well, no.

This current Australian team has been extremely poor in recent years, but the stats show that within this well below-par period, on home turf they have continued to do the business. Since the end of the 2006/7 Ashes series, Australia have played 17 home tests, winning 12, drawing 2 and losing 3. That's a pretty intimidating record in anyone's book, and it averages out as only a shade worse than Australia's home record during the golden years between 1989 and 2007, and better than England's home record over the same period. Food for thought.

Even so though, the way Australia are playing right now I find it very difficult to summon up any great deal of trepidation. I may still be traumatised by the experience of staying up for 23 winter's nights four years ago and getting nothing but unrelenting despair in return, but of the 2006/7 Australia squad only Ponting, Hussey and Clarke are still around, and of those three only Clarke has improved with Ponting and Hussey both losing about 10 from their averages over the subsequent period. Back in the good old days, such a loss of form would result in them losing their places and new baggy greens being handed out, but Australia's strength in depth has undoubtedly diminished.

If this Indian series is anything to go by, Australia's big weakness is the bowling attack, which compared to the previous crop simply doesn't inspire confidence. Only Bollinger really seems a decent bet, and he's got an injury, while the spin attack is just abysmal. England's attack, on the other hand, has strengthened in almost every respect to the point where the only player from 2006/7 who would get into the team now would be Flintoff. As for captaincy, it's hard to make an argument for Ponting over Strauss, especially after this morning.

In the end it will all come down to a simple matter of the extent to which England can maintain their current level in Australian conditions, and until we get to Brisbane we'll just have to wait and see.

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