Langer’s Ghost, And Australia’s Selection Conundrums
The early end to the first Test has not spared Australia intense scrutiny
The early end to the first Test has not stopped drama about the Nagpur pitch to die down. And it has certainly not spared Australia intense scrutiny, calling into question more than one decision about the tour, the coach replacement and the players.
The first Test in Nagpur might be over but Australia continue to nurse grudges and it doesn’t have to do with just having lost a Test by a humiliating margin of an innings and 132 runs. Instead, Australia are now insinuating that Indian curators in Nagpur played foul, watering a pitch after the match ended, when they wanted to practise to plausibly get a feel for the next Test.
Once again like the eve of the first Test, the end of the Test is witnessing some former Australian cricketers demanding intervention on the part of the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).
But perhaps Australia needs an intervention on their own behalf, because they cannot bury the ghost of their past coach. They cannot get past selection bunglings, and worse still, are guilty of not having come adequately prepared for a tour as important as this, one that has a direct bearing on qualification for the ICC World Test championship coming up later this year.
Even as the second Test of the Border Gavaskar Test in Delhi inches closer, Australia are caught between rock and a hard place. While they continue to complain about India scuttling their chances at preparing for spin friendly pitches, the response back home has been, for the most part, far from supportive.
If anything, there are questions down under that seemed far more insidious than anything India have had to bowl at them.
Andrew MacDonald, Australia’s current coach, believes that the first Test will be an indicator of what Australia can expect in the remainder of the three Tests. What he might not have counted on was having a barrage of former Australian cricketers piling it on in terms of criticising not only the manner in which Australia played the match but also, the manner in which they have gone about showing up for the tour of India.
That MacDonald himself is in the line of fire is no hidden secret as the tweets from former cricketers and commentators back home was scathing in the views of the manner in which Justin Langer was unceremoniously dumped while players continue to play “soft” on and off the field in their opinion.
Firing Langer after Australia won the ICC Twenty World Cup and demolished England by 4-0 margin in the Ashes did not paint Australia in a good light. As if emphasising that point as it was considered that it was the players led by the now captain Pat Cummins instigated the ouster of the former Australian opener from the coach’s post in the name of being too intense.
But if intense discipline was a problem for the current crop of players playing under the old guard, former Australian cricketers reckon Australia have only themselves to blame for the perilous situation they now find themselves in.
While Australia would like to believe that they can become only the team after England in 2012-‘13 to come back from a 1-nil deficit and beat India in their own backyard, they have to climb past a few hurdles, including not looking like they fell flat on their face and had to push some hard choices at the risk of looking unprepared for the challenge and worse still, looking entirely clueless if the risks don’t pay off.
For one, questions are being asked of Australia being skittish before the first match and after when they had explicitly decided against a tour match or practice match and instead chose to prepare by themselves in Bengaluru ahead of the four Test series.
Their loss, which led to the scratching of history books, did not make for good reading. The defeat was Australia’s third biggest margin of defeat, narrowly missing the top spot that includes losing by an innings and 21 runs in Eden Gardens in 1998 and losing by an innings and 135 runs in Hyderabad in 2013. Being bowled out for 91 all out in the second innings after India notched up 400 runs in their first and only innings meant that this was Australia’s lowest total against India in India, and their second lowest total of all time against India. Those numbers don’t exactly scream No.1 Test team.
What complicates matters for Australia is that the coach and captain have gone on record to say that they didn’t get too many things wrong in the first Test and are unwilling to admit that Australia might need some changes to be made without it looking like a knee jerk reaction.
That Australia don’t know their own team better is the contention back home. The decision to drop Travis Head, who at No.5 averaged over 90 over the Australian summer, for Matt Renshaw was jaw dropping. Now to bring Head back would be a mistake the team’s think tank would not be willing to admit, but wouldn’t be able to do so without admitting it.
If that is a tricky enough proposition, there is talk of dropping David Warner. But who will fill the vacated place could be anybody’s guess. Whether it will be Head, or an allrounder like Cameron Green who remains on the injured list, or a spinner would make it an interesting though still a desperate choice.
For one, Australia left out Ashton Agar for the first Test. And now with the inclusion of Matthew Kuhnemann who himself is a replacement , Australia have the option of two left arm spinners. But the problem for Australia is having to include either as the third spinner. Here’s why.
Nathan Lyon and debutant from the last Test, Todd Murray, are both off spinners. Their likeness might call for cutting one for the other. But Lyon is the senior spinner in the side. And the 22–year-old Murray made a memorable debut despite Australia’s batting fiasco, picking up seven wickets for the match.
Cutting either would cause a furore, no less. And including a third spinner would mean having to justify the inclusion as an attempt to add balance to the team which means Agar would perhaps fit better as an all rounder in their book unless Australia were willing to do with a makeshift part time bowler in Smith or somebody else worth his salt.
Australia have plenty of head scratching to do and they don’t have a whole lot of surefire answers before the second match gets underway. Before they get carried away crying foul of a change of venue at the near eleventh hour as Dharamsala loses hosting rights for the third Test by BCCI’s own assessment of pitch and surrounding conditions post renovation, they still need to navigate the tightrope that is restoring their reputation and also, saving face with the knives out down under for the team and coach ahead of the Delhi Test.