Australia should wear lipstick. At least they’ll look good while getting hammered, a fate that looks inescapable for Michael Clarke’s side heading into the third Test with a deficit of two. Far from the inspired deeds that this folkloric series was expected to fire his men to, Clarke now faces the singular humiliation of being in charge during Australia’s most disastrous phase of Test cricket.
They are presently on a sorry run of six defeats (four to India and two to England). Another at Manchester will have them equal the seven consecutive losses suffered in the late 1880s. If that indeed comes about it will be truly a dubious landmark, a deplorable turn of events that even the teary Kim Hughes escaped in his tumultuous term in the early 1980s.
The reasons for this sharp decline are many, though almost all can be indolently ascribed to the cyclical nature of things. If it could happen, unthinkably, to the West Indies, it had to happen to Australia, sooner rather than later going by the sheer weight of their accomplishments in a 15-year span when they won everything in sight.
Ebb and flow
Stars fade and are replaced. Downtime is inevitable. Only the churn of renewal and regeneration separates the animate from the inanimate.
But the ebb and flow of fate and fortune cannot always provide a shield behind which to hide one’s inadequacies. Australia’s nosedive – as much as it was instigated by a susceptibility to spin bowling against India last year – is, in the ongoing Ashes, strongly related to an inability to score runs.
It might take a fine bowling attack to win Test matches, but it takes an equally resolute batting line-up to save them.
And that’s where the visitors have fallen woefully short.
With only skipper Clarke and the temperamental Shane Watson as their pedigreed accumulators, Australia started this Ashes banking more on hope and promise rather than proven performers. While Clarke has severely underperformed, Watson, whose front-foot tangles with technique are presently trending as several knowledgeable columns of batting advice, has played rather unlike a Test batsman.
Across four innings, eighty of the blonde all-rounder’s 109 runs have come in crisp boundaries, but his termination each time to the now-expected ‘lbw’ decision has left him the only Aussie batsman without a fifty. Chris Rogers has made his extensive acquaintance with English conditions count for very little, Usman Khawaja has been sporadic, while Phil Hughes, who began with a gutsy 81 in the first Test, has subsequently hit rock bottom.
Steve Smith has been more successful with his leg-breaks than at the crease. No Australian has yet reached three figures and Australia are yet to cross 300 in any innings. That fast bowler James Pattinson, who has been ruled out of the third Test due to a back injury, tops the batting averages says all that’s to be said.
England, au contraire, have recouped twice from being three-down for thirty-odd, and the unyielding nature of Joe Root and Ian Bell has more than made up for the relative failure of captain Alastair Cook.
It was way back in the 1936-37 Ashes that Australia rallied from being two Tests down and won the series, making it the sole instance in history of a team launching such a ferocious comeback. Those three last matches in 1936-37 bore witness to Donald Bradman scoring 270, 212 and 169. Considering the plight of Australia’s present batting, Clarke may have to surpass that tally if he wants to avoid unparalleled disgrace.