There have been two burning issues among the largish Australian media corp during the Australia v Pakistan Test series – their flight times going home and what to do with their off day since the test series wrapped up early.
This is nothing against the Australian media contigent who are a hard-working and remarkably knowledgeable group and on this tour includes some of Australia’s greatest ever players – Allan Border, Mike Hussey and Mark Waugh.
Indeed the playing Australians would probably have done a lot better if Hussey was on the field rather than the commentary box.
I make this point merely to illustrate how low the expectations around the Australian team have sunk, especially on the sub-continent, over the last decade.
The once feared Baggy Greens have not won a series in Asia since way back in Sri Lanka in 2011 and indeed have not won a Test since early March in Durban.
It all seems a far cry from the Australian team who thrashed England in last year’s Ashes, but this was pre-BT (Ball Tampering) when the Australian team lost not just two of their best players but their identity as well.
This series was almost a fait accompli.
There was some bravado at the start of the tour when the new-look Australians performed well against Pakistan A at the ICC in Dubai and both the Marsh brothers got runs.
There was also a feeling that Pakistan were vulnerable after a poor Asia Cup.
But that bravado lasted as long as the total collapse of Australia’s batting line-up in Dubai where they lost 10 wickets for 60 runs in just under 32 overs.
From there on Australia were always battling uphill and they managed to survive in Dubai thanks to the heroics of Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine on the final two days – but the “get out of jail cards” ran out in the capital.
So where to now for Justin Langer and Paine’s Baggy Greens?
The coach and captain have many questions that now present themselves and none have easy answers.
As Paine himself said, the bowlers were not to blame and with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins coming back to full fitness in Australia currently, the bowling attack for the first Test against India in Adelaide should be the same as the one that decimated England in The Ashes: Mitchell Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
Paine as captain also should hold his spot. His keeping has been tidy with five catches and a stumping and his batting has not been as bad as others in the batting line-up with 71 at an average of 23.66.
It’s the batting line-up where things get difficult for the Aussies, with at the moment just one player assured of his spot in the top six for Adelaide.
That player would be Aaron Finch, who had an impressive series scoring 181 runs at an average of 45.25, while his partnership with Khawaja has to be deemed a success after first wicket stands of 142, 87 and 16. (Finch opened with Shaun Marsh in the second innings in Abu Dhabi after Khawaja was injured.)
That injury to Khwaja means he may be in doubt for that Test in Adelaide meaning the Aussies are in search of yet another opening combination, a real issue for them over the last few seasons and even more so with the suspensions of David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
After the first round of Sheffield Shield fixtures, only Alex Doolan, who played four Tests back in 2014 for a high score of 89 and an average of 23.87, stands out.
But to show the paucity of top order batsmen currently in Australia apart from Doolan, the only other bastman to impress in a low scoring first round of matches was elegant Victorian 20-year-old Will Pucovski.
The right-hander must be seriously considered for Adelaide after he put together scores of 207*, 188, 88 and 243 over the last two months – the last double-ton coming in Victoria’s innings rout of Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield.
The only other options are batting all-rounders such as Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, who seem unprepared to fill the top order positions that desperately need some steel.
Of the incumbents it’s hard to see Shaun Marsh holding his spot at No3.
Since his 156 against Engalnd in January he has scored just 141 runs in six Tests at an average of just 13.41.
His brother Mitchell has performed only marginally better with 206 runs at 17.16, although he managed just 30 in the series at 7.25.
Clearly Australia cannot afford the luxury of both Marsh brothers and apart from them they have debutants Travis Head (122 runs at 30.50) and Marnus Labuschagne (81 runs at 20.25).
One of these may also hold their spot leaving Australia in search of three new batsmen before December rolls around.
And Virat Kohli and his Indian team can’t wait for that day to arrive. Australian batting has never been at such a low ebb.
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