Cricket: The well-rounded character Australia covet

View from Down Under

The dreaded "h" word - hypothetical - was much in vogue in the days after the Lord's Test: "What if Mark Taylor had caught Mark Butcher?" was the challenge offered by the pedlars of hindsight.

The inference was, of course, that England would have collapsed thus allowing Australia to level the series. Absolute tosh. They might as well have asked: "What if it hadn't rained?" Or, "What if Mike Atherton hadn't been dead unlucky?" After all, he was in such total command that a jaw- jutting job of Johannesburg proportions didn't look out of the question.

There is only one answer to the query about Taylor's dropped catch and that is it assured Butcher of a run in the next Test, surely an egg-shell thin prospect when he walked out to bat. Now we must wait for Old Trafford to see if Taylor's slip might actually be to Australia's advantage - is it to be a case of born-again Butcher, or merely a life before death?

That is crystal-ball gazing and, in the uncertain game that is cricket it is always a much more fulfilling exercise to ask "what if" with foresight, rather than hindsight.

Consider these hypotheticals, one in conjunction with the other: what if Australia fail to win one of the next two Tests, and England are one up with two to play? And, if the Australians were able to choose in their side one member of the England team, who would it be?

The first question raises the real prospect of the Australians having to alter the balance of their side; if they're not winning the most likely problem will still be the bowling. The last day of Lord's was not inspirational.

Do you realise that at this stage of the series the Australians are bowling at 39 runs per wicket taken and that overall so far England have had one more innings than Australia but lost fewer wickets?

So, logic says that at one down with two to play Australia would have to stack their bowling - but how to do it? In recent series against the West Indies and South Africa the bowler who often made the difference was Michael Bevan, so much so that the selectors even accorded him "bowling all-rounder" status by temporarily batting him at No 7.

But now, in England's prevailing mildewy conditions Bevan's success may turn out to be fool's gold, a dummy to the Australian tour selectors as deceptive as Matt Dawson's was to the Springboks at Newlands. If the conditions do not even suit a spinner of the class of Shane Warne, then Bevan's value to the game plan, up until now not negotiable, is suddenly null and void.

Unless there's a heatwave, Australia hardly need a second spinner as their fifth bowler, particularly a wrist spinner. They need a seam and swing bowler. Which brings us to the second hypothetical: who is this Englishman who could make a difference to Australia's winning chances?

Mark Ealham. Gung-ho Down Under judges would be more likely to raise their glasses to dasher Darren Gough, but he doesn't fit into the balance of the team a desperate-to-win Australia would need to field. Ealham would be an ideal ingredient, a smart all-rounder who can bat in the top six.

That used to be the Australian way. Bowlers such as Keith Miller, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson all spent time in the top order. Despite our Cricket Academy we don't seem to bother coaching our bowlers in the art of proper batting any more. They are either pinch- hitters or rabbits.

That is not to say Ealham is in the same class as any of those former champions, but he can certainly be cross-indexed with the strong-willed, disciplined Australian all-rounder Ken Mackay. Ealham, though, would be more likely to live up to the nickname "Slasher" than its owner, Mackay, ever did during his Test career through the Fifties. I'm confused - which will probably prompt the response, "Well, he's an Australian, isn't he?" - as to why Atherton did not use him at some stage into the strong breeze at Lord's, but I'd also concede that captaining from the grandstand ranks with conjecture on Taylor's dropped catch - tosh.

On the evidence of his bowling in the Texaco matches, and the Edgbaston Test, Ealham knows how to maintain pressure with a good line, mixed up pace, and ball movement. And, he looks like he thinks he can get wickets, not just that he's there to block up an end for Gough or Devon Malcolm.

At the moment, Australia would kill for a bowler like that, a horse for the heavy going, and one who is capable of batting as well as Ealham did at Edgbaston.

In the absence of an Ealham, Australia will be hoping that Steve Waugh can do the job he once did with his medium pacers until plagued by his stretched groin, but even at his best Waugh is more part-time than frontline. The alternative can only be to play four pace bowlers plus Warne, and that would then mean Ian Healy coming in to bat at No 6.

Why not? Surely his batting talent and competitive nature entitle us to classify him as an allrounder and, if Australia are indeed confronted by the worst, having to win one of two remaining Tests, then it must happen.

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