The beginning of the end

All other teams would now know one thing for sure: they have a better chance of breaking Australia’s strangle-hold in Test cricket. The Aussie domination in Test cricket, specifically in matches played in Australia, is about to come to an end.

Not because other teams have caught up with Australia, simply because Australian bowling has lost its edge. No McGrath to pick wickets in the first innings and no Warne to exploit the conditions in the second innings.

Australia’s weakness is not in their batting line up; it is clearly in the bowling department. In spite of it, there has been considerable media speculation on who should partner Matt Hayden in the Gabba Test against Sri Lanka.

The answer to that unimportant question is quite simple: Phil Jaques. The NSW opener has done consistently well in the last few seasons; his record is too good to ignore.

Brad Hodge is the other option; Ponting likes him a lot. Hodge opened in the current game against West Australia only to be knocked over, after scoring just two runs. But, then, Test match cricket is not about the first ten overs. Hodge reminds me of Greg Blewett, who was all at sea against spin. Picking Hodge in the XI will be as good as gifting Muralitharan a wicket he should otherwise earn. Hodge clearly had difficulty in picking the variations of flight and turn during the recent tour of India.

If Australia want to resist the temptation of playing Jaques, then the other option is to ask Hussey to partner Hayden.

Hayden, Hussey, Ponting, Clarke, Symonds and Glichrist pick themselves purely based on form and track record. Australia have three recognised openers in that list – Hayden, Hussey and Glichrist.

Given the fact that Australia’s bowling is considerably weak without McGrath and Warne, my vote will go for an allrounder, preferably someone who can spin the ball. There is only one player in Australia who fits into that role ¬– Cameron White.

McGill hasn’t bowled all that well against Queensland; going for a lot of runs. Between Symonds, Clarke and White – Australia has enough tweakers to exploit any ‘spin conditions.’ Having said that, there is nothing wrong in giving Hogg a couple of Test matches to prove his worth.

Australian selectors have to do the right thing and drop Brett Lee. He hasn’t taken a 5-for in his last eight Test matches. His strike-rate in all forms of the game has waned; even in domestic cricket he has struggled to pick up wickets. All that talk about Lee wanting to lead the Aussie pace attack is all gas – the man has played 59 Test matches and is yet to pick up a 10-for in a Test match. Even his ODI record in the last 15 games is very poor, every wicket costing him a shade above 32 runs – compared to his overall record of a wicket for 23 runs. It should be good bye Lee very soon.

Clark and Mitchell Johnson must be there in the playing XI. Noffke and Bollinger must be front-runners. Shaun Tait, if fit, should be back in the side as soon as possible. So much has been said about Troy Cooley doing a good job with the Aussie bowlers – it must be noted that in recent times Australian bowling has looked very ordinary when faced with high pressure. The issue with the Australian bowling has to be the lack of intensity that McGrath and Warne provided for more than 15 years.

Given the duo’s strength and ability to carry the work-load, someone like Lee had the luxury to under-perform. Over the last couple of years, Lee has become a one dimensional fast bowler, who bowls full and fast when put under pressure. Someone like Robin Uthappa exposed Lee’s lack of intensity by walking down the track and attacking him. Don’t expect Sri Lankans to be any less; the Lankans are fearless – and they will counter-attack.

This Australian summer – we have Sri Lankans playing two Tests and India playing four. It is not going to be easy for Australia to win all six matches. How are they going to take 120 wickets? As long as Clark, Tait and Johnson don’t play together, the opposition has a very good chance to gather runs and put Aussie batsmen under pressure.

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