Cricket

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: Oh, oh, oh... dear

India may have been struggling at 127-6 on day one, but the Adelaide Oval pitch was a belter. Shane Warne could see that.

If India didn’t somehow engineer a tail-end fightback against Australia’s rampant pace attack, the eagerly anticipated first cricket test between the game’s two superpowers would be as a good as over.

Australia, Warne warned, would crack 450 on this pitch in no time at all. And the Indians would be dead and buried by the end of day two.

Warne’s assessment was based on personal experience. And belief. And his gut. And a whole bunch of other things that are of little relevance to his job of providing television commentary on the efforts of the current Australian cricket team.

What Warne’s baffling ‘insight’ wasn’t based on was any kind of realistic critique of Australia’s top six.

Australia’s batsmen, you see, are mud. Total mud. There isn’t a player among them fit to lace David Boon’s boots – a task, this column suspects, that is almost certainly outsourced these days.

It’s almost as if Warne – and his fellow ex-Aussie legend commentators – have been instructed to ignore the fact that the country’s only two world class test batsmen are absent because they got caught cheating.

That would be one explanation for why, as the Aussies slumped to a 31-run defeat on Monday, the men behind the mic honed in on Australia’s bowlers’ inability to blast out India’s tail in the first innings as the reason for defeat.

The blame for the defeat lay primarily at the door of brilliant left arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc, whose match figures of 5-103 at an average of just over 20 against the strongest batting line-up in world cricket were rated as sub-par.

That view of proceedings weirdly overlooks the fact that India’s first innings resurrection was thanks to No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant fighting century. And that Australia’s ‘best player of spin’, Shaun Marsh, is so bad he just equalled a record for consecutive scores under ten (six) that has stood since 1888.

That’s not a misprint.

The other five Aussies in the top six are so bad or so inexperienced they barely justify a mention. Only Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscombe average above 40, and both of them just barely.

This is an historically awful Australian batting line-up.

Why does this matter? Because it is awesome. Because there is great fun to be had in watching world cricket’s bully boys receive a comeuppance that, until recently, there had been little reason to suspect would ever occur.

We Kiwis grew up knowing Australia would be brilliant at cricket forever, and that was that.

Outside of the commentary box, there are few humans – Australians included – who now believe that is the case.

Australia’s fans have deserted a team that behaved so reprehensibly for so long in victory that there is no bank of love for them to draw down from in honourable defeat. The vast swathes of empty seats in Adelaide insisted the announced crowd of roughly 22,000 on day four was about as realistic as Warne’s assessment of Australia’s batting capability.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand. Cricket nerds love nothing better than speculating who in one team might get into the other. When comparing Australia with New Zealand, for decades the answer to that was Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe, making it a short and not overly-fulfilling conversation.

It’s a vastly different story today, with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor walking into the Aussie line-up. The rapidly improving Henry Nicholls, who now averages 39.2 in test cricket, would also likely get a game. As would BJ Watling and, at a stretch, Tom Latham.

New Zealand these days, though, are actually quite handy. But what if the same exercise was applied to, say, Australia and Bangladesh?

Do tell, I hear you say. Okay then.

If he had an Aussie passport, you could safely pencil in Banglasdesh’s Mominul Haque at three for Australia. With an average of 44 and eight test centuries to his name, he’d be Australia’s best performed batsman by some distance.

Shakib Al Hasan (average 39.65, five centuries) would likely bat four. And the Aussie selectors would have to think hard about opener Tamin Iqbal (average 37, eight centuries) and Mushfiqur Rahim (average 36, six centuries).

Sure, that all sounds a bit fanciful, but that cast of mighty Bangers batters would be measured against an Aussie top six that mustered 295 runs at an average of 24.5 across two innings on an Adelaide belter.

Numbers don’t lie. And, statistically, Bangladesh’s top six is superior to Australia’s.

Gold.

How did it get to this?

The most likely answer is the success and market domination of the T20 Big Bash – a place where fans flock and dependable batting techniques go to die. The money, glamour and interest in cricket in Australia is now firmly centred on the Big Bash and its fickle format that celebrates style over substance.

Is it any wonder then, that Australia’s current crop of batsmen are exposed as empty vessels in the test game?

Curiously, though, while the Big Bash has devoured Australian cricket from within, the rise of T20 and the Indian Premier League has bolstered India’s global domination of the sport.

Go figure.

Australia’s decline is not a blip. Australia ranks fifth in test cricket and, having endured a record losing streak in limited overs cricket, sixth in ODIs.

They are not very good – and there isn’t much prospect of them being any good any time soon. At some point this summer, Warney is going to realise that. And that will be a moment no Kiwi cricket fan will want to miss.

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