Aussies are celebrating what they consider to be a famous victory this morning. It was a good win, I’ll grant them that. At one point they were 285-8 in their first innings after the Windies had posted 450+. To win from that position is a good effort by anyone’s standards. But what does the victory really tell us about the Australian team? It actually tells us a lot. It tells us that the Aussies still aren’t very good.
What Aussies need to ask themselves is this: how on earth did they let the Windies score a big first innings total in the first place? And how on earth did their top order batting fail twice against such an inexperienced attack? In the end, the Aussies scraped home by three wickets with just minutes to spare. And they wouldn’t have been able to do it at all if it wasn’t for Mike Hussey – a batsman who will surely retire soon.
Let’s look at the current Australian team. The openers are David Warner, until recently a T20 specialist, and poor Ed Cowan, who is probably the most limited Australian test batsman to don the baggy green for twenty years. His inability to hit the ball off the square in fading light on day five almost cost his side the chance of victory.
Shane Watson is a worthy adversary, but he’s now batting at three to make up for Ricky Ponting’s diminishing skills. The linchpin of the side is Michael Clarke, who is a good player but has a very average record against England. Meanwhile, the combined aged of Australia’s five and six is 74.
Now let’s look further down the order … The current keeper, Wade, is a rookie. Siddle is batting at eight, Harris nine, Hilfenhaus ten and the off spinner Lyon at eleven. It’s hardly Bresnan, Broad and Swann, is it?!
Having said that, it was the tail that rescued Australia at Barbados: Harris made 68 and Lyon 40 (a feat that’s likely to be repeated as often as Glenn McGrath scored a half century).
The truth is, however, that the Windies lost their nerve and handed them the initiative on a plate. Fidel Edwards in particular bowled like Devon Malcolm after ten pints. England have therefore got nothing to worry about. Our bowlers have always made short work of Harris and Hilfenhaus, and we see no reason why this won’t continue in the future. Rabbits don’t turn into Bradman overnight.
As for England’s batsmen, they’ll be praying that Siddle, Harris and Hilfenhaus stay in the team. They looked totally innocuous in the 2010 Ashes, and they’re no better now – despite the channel nine commentary box declaring them ‘much improved’, ‘the best seam bowling unit in the world’ and ‘a yard and a half quicker’ during their demolition of India in the Australian summer (something the New Zealand U-15 side probably could have achieved if they’d put their minds to it).
As we surmised a few weeks ago, Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Harris are no quicker than they were a year ago. How could they be? Sportsmen tend to get slower as they age, not faster (unless they’re Linford Christie – ahem). Despite regularly recording speeds of 150kph at the MCG and the Gabba, Hilfenhaus and Co were back in the mid-130s at Barbados. Those who pay close attention to the speed guns at Australian cricket venues will hardly be surprised. The way they manipulate it isn’t even subtle anymore.
Of course, the other big difference between England and Australia is the Aussies lack of a quality spinner. After experimenting with Hauritz, Doherty, and Michael Beer, they seem to have settled on Lyon. The best thing we can say about him is that he’s better than Beer, but probably worse than Hauritz. Shane Warne he is not. In fact, scratch that; Gareth Batty he is not.
So what does Australia’s victory at Barbados really mean? Does it mean the famed Australian fighting spirit is back? Does it mean that Michael Clarke’s boys are a resurgent juggernaut set to dominate world cricket for the next decade? Err not quite. It means they were taken to the wire by a Windies team they would have beaten inside three days two years ago. And that’s progress apparently.