Apr 20

The case for the defence after Australia crashes to another big defeat

Both openers were gone inside 20 balls, and the next pair were having a torrid time of it, feeling for full deliveries, ducking under bouncers and sometimes into them. Dim as it is in the memory now, that is how it was in Dubai on the first morning of this mini-series. Improbable as it seems, the team under siege was Pakistan.

So what did Azhar Ali and Younis Khan do? They waited and watched, played a few, left more, won some and wore some, faced up and waited again. They scored at a trickle, less than two an over. They wore down the Australian bowlers, and wore them out. Later batsmen accelerated steadily, Sarfraz Ahmed slashed 109 from 105 balls, Pakistan made 454, romped away to victory and pretty much hasn’t stopped scoring runs since.

What Pakistan did was to read Australia a lesson in Test match tempo. Evidently, it was in Urdu – or Arabic. Between games, Adam Gilchrist counselled Australia on the need to know when to sit tight, in batting and bowling. Gilchrist, one of the most attacking cricketers in Australia’s history, admitted that studied inertia did not come naturally to Australians. “Attack is our best form of defence, but there are times when you have to realise the need to shut down,” he said.

But current captain Michael Clarke was having none of it. He pledged an even more attacking bent in Abu Dhabi, and was given a team with two more attacking players, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Starc, to replace two who were defensive, and lost again, by an even more gargantuan margin, making for a series defeat so comprehensive that it stands now to undo all the moral gains of last summer before the next begins.

But when Brisbane and the first Test against India comes around, expect to hear again that Australia will attack, take the game on, be on the front foot, play its natural game, da da da. It has become a mantra, heard repeatedly as Australia crumbled to a 4-0 defeat in India last year, heard as it quickly fell 2-0 behind England in England, and heard again now in the dust and shimmer of the Middle East. Instead of “stop the boats”, “stoke the bats”, instead of “a great big new tax”, a “great big new score”.

It was also heard last summer at home, for once in an environment in which Australia could make good its slogan. Even then, a more prosaic explanation is available, wryly advanced by retired England spinner Graeme Swann, who said England was well placed to win last summer “until Mitchell Johnson took off his blindfold”.

Foot-to-the-floor for five days is no more workable in a Test match than on a highway. The young Steve Waugh understood only all-out attack in all disciplines, until he had flailed his way out of Test cricket. Chastened, he reinvented himself as a cut-down cricketer, who said he had discovered how a well-constructed defensive stroke to a crafty ball was more demoralising to a bowler than to have a half-volley put away to the boundary. It left Waugh open periodically to accusations of selfishness, but it led to thousands more Test runs and many victories for Australia.

There is lineage here. The late David Hookes announced himself to the world in the 1977 Centenary Test with that quintet of fours from Tony Greig. Hookes played all his cricket with that mien, and later captained South Australia in the same vein. But his haunt was the Adelaide Oval, as unpropitious for bowlers as Abu Dhabi. So, from Barry Richards, another great free-flowing batsman, Hookes learned about dry lines and ring fields and the power of subtle pressure, passive-aggressive cricket if you like. Arguably, it came too late for Hookes the batsman; 23 Tests and one century undersold his talent.

Hookes was mentor to the young Darren Lehmann. Lehmann in his time was the most attractive batsman in the country to watch. But he never quite managed to tone down his game sufficiently for the more severe rigours of Test cricket, and his 27 Tests and five centuries (two against Bangladesh) also did his gift an injustice. Now he is the man guiding Australia’s philosophy.

In the Middle East, the Australian batsmen have failed their test of cricket. The batsmen either have swung from the proverbial, or Pakistan’s spin-bowling Gorgons have turned them to stone. Between black and white, there were few shades. The drawing of the Australian bowlers’ sting has not helped, but the batsmen have not helped themselves, nor the selectors helped them. Maxwell at No. 3 was not so much a Test batsman, with all the scope and responsibility that entails, as a suicide bomber, who Pakistan safely detonated twice.

Maxwell and Misbah-ul-Haq tell this tale. They batted with similarly furious intent. But Misbah came in at 3-332, and in the second innings, effectively 3-461. Maxwell was in at 2-34 chasing 470 and 1-19 chasing 603. This should have been a case of different strokes for different folks. Instead, Australia finds itself on eBay, looking for a drawing board. Last summer, against England and South Africa, Australia’s record was 7-1. In bookend series, its record now is 0-9, with two draws. Last summer is beginning to look suspiciously like a freak in its time.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.