Infront of 84,000 people at the MCG, the English exposed a miserable Australian top order.
The optimists would blame Australia’s performance on too much plum-pudde on Christmas day. But in reality, Australia’s embarrassing 98 first innings total revealed a deeper rot that has slowly lodged itself in Australian cricket. Their performance was rot. Their attitude was rot. The English bowlers bowled a wonderful consistent line. The three English fast bowlers displayed discipline and execution combined. The Australian batsman displayed a schoolboys shortcomings- impatience, immaturity and an inability to construct an innings.
The selection of Phil Hughes is startling. His shortcomings and immaturity with the bat are obvious. It may be too premature to call, but, Hughes is in danger of loosing his way in the cricket ranks; thats if he hasn’t already. Hughes’ weakness to the short ball on his body and the wide angling full ball was on glaring display today. His averaging below 20 at state level this season which indicates that even the state players have figured out how to bowl to him. He now must make a crucial and swift career decision. Does he stick with his swash-buckle approach and ignore the technical advice he is now receiving. Or, does he look to make a radical technical change now. At the moment, Hughes is in two minds. Should he follow his boyish instincts or reconstruct a severely faulted technique? Shaun Marsh is waiting patiently in the wings and should be rewarded at the expense of the inept Hughes.
However, Australia’s demise should barely be blamed on the young Hughes. The older head and seemingly once wise head, Ricky Ponting, is desperately struggling for form. His footwork is disorganised and out of sorts, and his reflexes have dropped off a fraction. Like his fellow teammate Michael Clarke, Ponting’s lack of runs in the past year or two places enormous pressure on the selectors to act. Perhaps, the lack of suitable replacements is the Captain’s and Vice-captain’s saviour.
Although Australia managed a dramatic turn around in Perth, the same lingering deep problems remained embedded in the Australian side. If the ball swings, the Australian batsman lack the temperament and application to combat the subtle movement. There were more nicks in Australia’s innings than in a greek nightclub. The raw and currently not up to the level, Steve Smith, pushed hard at a full ball. Like the men who came before, he had little clue of how to play against intelligent swing bowling.
Jimmy Anderson was the pick of the English bowlers. His consistency throughout the series has been of a higher class to that of everyone else. He managed to make a usually dull MCG pitch look like a minefield. With the impressive support from Bresnan and Tremlett, Anderson exposed three major faults in the Australian line-up- the opening spot of Hughes, the number six role filled by Smith and an ageing under-performed middle order of Ponting and Clarke. Hughes and Smith are considerably young and are currently of an inferior class.
The Australian selectors cannot be blamed for an astonishingly meagre and pathetic 98. Yet, they must be brought into severe questioning over the selection of the team. Is Smith a superior option over the Victorian Cam White? White offers leadership, experience and an accomplished and refined technique. Smith is not ready for test cricket. He is of Australia’s future but in four years time. And how can Andrew Hilditch justify Hughes’ spot? A drunk from the side of a road could figure out how to get him out. He jumps at anything short like a bunny and he flashes at anything wide like an excited child waiting for christmas presents.
The English have proven to be the more balanced, settled and superior side of the series. Their hands are nearly clasping the Urn. For the first time in 15 years, selection issues must be sensibly faced and strategically tackled, after a likely series defeat on home soil for the Australians.
It was a perfect day for the English. An English lead of 59 runs at the end of day one without loss of wicket. On the other hand, the Australians were left licking their wounds on a day that is normally celebrated as the greatest annual sporting event on the Australian calendar. The heat is on but of a different kind. Suddenly, the attention is turned to off the field where the Australian public will be calling for long-term change, not just a short term fix.