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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Shot Themselves in the Foot (again)


Did you know there was an international T20 between the West Indies and Australia today? More to the point, did you care? The Australian crowds did, but barely so. Despite the Gabba's handy trick of colour blocking its seats to make the stadium look jam packed, it was half full at best. The crowd were loud, but not overly so. They were enthusiastic, but in a sort of 'too cool to care' way, rather than raising the roof in their support.

Australia hadn't fielded an A team; they'd barely presented a B team. The usual suspects were in India, preparing for the forthcoming test series in traditional, time-honoured fashion; collapsing to some average spin bowling. This was after a five match one day series against the West Indies, in which we learnt nothing we could already take an educated guess it. West Indies need Chris Gayle to fire; Australia is reliant on middle-order cameos; these are two sides that actually, big names aside, are not that good.

Who can blame them, though? Conquering India, or more aptly, the sub-continent, is the main aim of most international teams. England's recent historic victory there has shown that it can be done. With back to back Ashes series on the horizon, Australia will be desperate to prove that whatever the Poms can do, they can do better. The first test begins in roughly eight days. Not only have Australia spent around two weeks playing a one day series that in the long run means nothing, they've missed out on valuable acclimatisation time. 

While they have another tour match lined up, it begins in three days, which hardly gives the Australians time to work on the faults that the first game highlighted. It is a fairly inexperienced team that arrived in India, in particular the batsmen, and Australia should have jumped at the chance to spend as much time in India as possible. England had a pre-series training camp in Dubai, five warm-up games and the England Lions also playing a series in India. There was as much preparation as possible.

Australia, meanwhile, have two games in quick succession. Their new middle order has barely been tested. Now that Hussey and Ponting have retired, Michael Clarke is the most experienced batsman in the line-up. Watson, his vice-captain, is still experimenting in his new role as an all-rounder who doesn't bowl. There's still debate over who will occupy Hussey and Ponting's places; Clarke still seems to have little faith in Nathan Lyon, who bowls better than many give him credit for and the back-up spin options are inexperienced at best, scarce at worst. 

There are also the odd glitches here and there. The sneaking suspicion that David Warner cannot play spin, Matthew Wade's keeping occasionally veering toward village... issues such as these will play on the captain's mind. Given that this is his first experience in leading the side in India, a place where he scored a brilliant 151 on debut, he will be hoping to emulate Alastair Cook's profitable winter. But he does not have the strength of team behind him that England did; there is no-one of Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar's calibre to toss the ball to when things are stalling.

Mickey Arthur, meanwhile, is watching over proceedings in Australia, while the warm-ups go on without him. Quite why it was felt another one day series was needed in Australia is unsure. TV rights must surely top the list. Channel 9 have took great joy throughout the summer at criticising Australia's rotation policy and  anything and everything George Bailey has done, whilst retaining a one-eyed view that has been impressive in its bias. The players, meanwhile, hardly profited from the one day series. Their were centuries for the odd batsman, and Starc was able to prove again what a class player he has the potential to be, but with such an important test series around the corner, it felt rather like a waste of time. 

In the pre-game build up on Sky, Dominic Cork suggested that the success of Australia in the T20 match was "crucial to international cricket." Rubbish. On another Sky channel, England's women were showing valiant fight, to no avail, whilst the West Indies women beat Australia to enter their first world cup final. These are the games that are crucial to international cricket. The umpiring in the women's cup has been atrocious. The games themselves have received barely any media attention in India, and whilst some of the games have been poor, there have been some star turns that have been gripping. These are the areas of the game that deserve more attention, rather than the showy nature of another T20.

Australia do have a good chance of winning in India. England's performance, first test aside, showed that the myth of Indian spin is not as threatening as once was. Clarke is a beautiful player of spin and is currently in the form of his life; Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith all scored in the first warm up, and Australia's young pace bowlers will profit from plying their trade on India's flat pitches. But spending two weeks preparing for one day games so near to a test series seems a waste of resources. IPL owners aside, who was really watching?