In describing the unexpected defeat in Cardiff as a minor hiccup, Darren Lehmann might have been guilty of wishful thinking. A loss by 169 runs at the start of an Ashes series, as the Australia coach is probably well aware, may need more to remedy than holding your breath and drinking a glass of water.
Lehmann’s team, understandably overwhelming favourites in the light of their recent exploits, are suddenly assailed by doubt and uncertainty. He and they have to decide before the next Test at Lord’s, which starts on Thursday, whether to change their strategy or personnel, or both.
It was clear that Australia had devised a policy for Cardiff that demanded their batsmen assert themselves. But this overlooked the fact that England’s bowlers might outwit them, which is what happened, leaving them no second plan. Their own bowlers failed to adjust to the pitch in front of them.
Australia looked off the pace, an ageing, jaded team and Lehmann and his captain, Michael Clarke, will be urgently asking themselves if they have the right men for a long campaign. It was not an old team collectively, with an average age of a little more than 31, but of the six players over 30, all are in their 34th year or older.
By contrast, England’s average age was a little under 28, and only one, Ian Bell, is in his 34th year while five have yet to mark their 26th birthdays. It showed. England’s energy was remarkable.
There is plenty of time and scope for the tourists to come back, as they have thrice in England after losing the first Test, on all three occasions going on to win the second at Lord’s. But the choice of their team is far from straightforward and several possible options now loom.
What to do about Shane?
Despite several undoubted high spots, Shane Watson’s career may be remembered for what he did not achieve as much as for what he did. He fulfils the primary all-rounder’s objective of having a higher batting average (35.20) than bowling average (33.68) but the feeling will persist that he has not scored enough big runs or taken enough wickets considering his talent.
Back now to No 6 in the order where he started 59 Tests ago, with excursions since to opener and No 3, where he was much more successful, he looked a tired cricketer in Cardiff.
Out twice to an old failing, lbw, he has made himself immediately vulnerable. Watson’s main rival, Mitchell Marsh, scored hundreds in both the warm-up matches and is probably a keener seam bowler.
Though unproven yet at the highest level, Marsh has acquitted himself adequately in his four Tests so far. He is also 10 years younger than Watson.
Is the wicketkeeper past it?
No selection would be more dramatic than changing the wicketkeeper with the series already under way and Australia will not do so yet. But Brad Haddin’s form must be starting to cause concern.
Since his wonderful exploits in the last Ashes series, Haddin has scored one fifty in 20 innings. In Cardiff he was out badly in the second innings, bursting to show he meant business to the first ball of a Moeen Ali spell, and his keeping was that of an old warrior.
It has been necessary to revise the opinion of Haddin since his unfortunate conduct in the World Cup final in February when as a 37-year-old veteran he behaved like a spoiled adolescent who must win at all costs. Less veteran campaigner than snarling ruffian.
The reserve keeper is Peter Nevill and, like Haddin, from New South Wales. At 29, he has been round the state block and was captain of NSW for much of their winning Sheffield Shield season last year. Nevill’s career batting average is in the mid-40s but this would be a big call.
Do they need more reliable bowlers?
Nothing could have been more certain than that the pitch in Cardiff would be slow and likely to favour diligent batsmen. ‘Twas ever thus. But Australia reacted as though they had been thrown a curve ball and their rightly vaunted bowling lacked the necessary rigour.
Their hand may be forced by the ankle injury to Mitchell Starc, who took seven wickets in the first Test but still has yet to pose the same sort of threat in Tests as he does in one-dayers. Peter Siddle, a canny, one-side of the wicket operator is lying in wait ready to lend some discipline.
Australia may want Siddle whatever happens because they know exactly what he would bring, but then who would they omit at this stage? The hope will be that Josh Hazlewood’s development continues apace and that they are granted a quicker pitch for the swinging speed merchants.
Are there any more batsmen?
In a word, no. If the present middle order does not get it right soon then they may have to fiddle about with unwanted changes. Shaun Marsh is here as reserve opener and brother Mitchell is an option, as discussed. Moving Steve Smith up to No 3, which they have done for this tour, is still not certain to reap dividends, particularly if an opener falls early, and this is another conundrum.Reuse content