Australian cricket’s batting debate rages again after MCG horror show against India
Well, we had a good run, but I think we all knew we had to face it at some stage.
We got through two whole Tests of middling-to-good Australian performances, but the inevitable was always hiding around the corner, and now the only course of action is to crack open our skulls to feast on the goo inside.
That’s right, the Australian cricket team has suffered a batting collapse, and the world is caving in again.
It wasn’t the worst one ever, not nearly on the level of Trent Bridge or Hobart, but it was certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Australia lost 7-62 to be all out 151, surrendering the match and the opportunity to win the series in the process despite some Pat Cummins-inspired late afternoon madness.
Sure, the Cummins onslaught was pretty fun at the time, but once the novelty wore off it really just became increasingly annoying.
Fancy Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli wasting their two ducks of the series while India already leads by 300. Fancy the return of leg theory giving Cummins the haul he really deserved in any of his previous brilliant-but-barren spells. Fancy people deciding this 15-wicket day is indicative of a wonderfully competitive cricket pitch after all, and not just of some particularly awful batting.
Let’s not pretend this Test is saveable
Pat Cummins’ mad afternoon of mayhem was a happier conclusion to day three for Australia. (AAP: Julian Smith)
It was all vey exciting, but completely pointless. Australia already has a record chase ahead of it while India still has five wickets in the shed and two days to play with. Australia’s effort at the crease has already decided this match.
Like an old, ugly pair of jeans that nobody really likes, an Aussie batting meltdown is always there to give you that comfortably familiar feeling of sadness and despair.
Naturally, the recriminations have been swift and the finger is being waved around like its Saturday Night Fever. Everyone’s to blame, some more than others. The takes have been hotter than these last two Melbourne days.
So let’s go through the best and most common ones and see if any learning can be achieved, or if it’s all just knee-jerk hurting from scorned cricket lovers.
The main talking point of the day is a familiar one — why is Australian batting still this bad?
Jasprit Bumrah bowled incredibly, never more so than in dismissing Shaun Marsh before lunch. (AP: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
There are plenty of theories, all containing elements of truth. The Shield has been devalued in favour of T20, young batsmen aren’t taught how to bat for long-form cricket, the selectors are consistently getting it wrong.
None of those are incorrect, but the whole thing is more nuanced than that.
Stopping the Shield for two months in the middle of the summer to cater to the Big Bash is not at all ideal, and there’s a strong chance that India’s uninterrupted five months of domestic four-day cricket helps it in the creation of ready-made Test players.
But Australian players are still playing the same amount of Shield cricket overall, so it’s an issue of scheduling rather than quantity of games. And its main negative impact is that there are no format-fit players to bring in as a mid-series replacement, something Cricket Australia is normally hesitant to do anyway.
The rise of Twenty20 has unquestionably changed the way young players learn and think about the game, but most of the skills of the shorter forms are applicable to the longer.
All that needs to be honed is shot-selection and the ability to build an innings from scratch, a particularly tough chestnut no Australian batting coach has yet managed to crack.
Selectors are guilty of giving some players chances that others — Glenn Maxwell and Matt Renshaw say hi — aren’t afforded, but at the same time the list of players demanding selection gets shorter by the year.
The problems are entrenched and multi-layered, difficult-to-fix in the long term and even harder to paper over in the course of a summer or two.
So what do we do to fix it?
Which leads to the day’s next big debate — what should be done in the here and now?
Most people wheel out their list of players to drop and coaches to sack. And yes, there are players in this team that haven’t proven they belong in the Test arena and others on the outer who arguably have.
The short turnaround means changes for Sydney are unlikely, unless any bowlers are injured or exhausted, but the gap before the series in Sri Lanka offers time for a slight rethink, one that ought to have an away Ashes series in mind.
It would be wise to stop picking players on form — in other words, did you score a hundred in the first two games of the Shield season? — and start properly assessing their strengths, weaknesses and career histories. You can’t complain about the devaluing of the Shield if any Shield runs scored after November don’t count.
But perhaps the most important step, for fans at least, is the first of the 12-step program — acceptance.
Success comes in cycles, world class players are not easy to find and they rarely come in large groups. Right now, Australia has two elite Test batsmen and they are both suspended.
It’s a hodgepodge batting lineup of placeholders and not-quites, against a finely tuned and frankly excellent Indian bowling attack. That it’s taken until the 13th day of the series for this to happen is honestly surprising.
So take this summer for what it is. The men’s Australian cricket team is effectively starting from scratch right now, with new players, administrators, coaches and values. These issues aren’t going to be fixed promptly, only with time.
And just remember — even on Australia’s worst day of the summer so far, there was still Pat Cummins.