Australia's problem? Ponting is a better leader than captain
The Australian angle: It's not enough to inspire. The Grand Old Duke of York could do that. Ponting's task is to find the balance between attack and defence. It eludes him
Monday 06 December 2010
Australia's bowlers have been flogged and the poverty of their thinking has been exposed. Between them, these factors have condemned the hosts to days of fruitless toil. Of course the bowling has not been the only problem. The batting has been scratchy as well, the fielding has been inept. However, a toll has been taken of the flingers and there is no end in sight.
Although England's batting was superb and occasionally sublime, the hosts were inept. Australia's tactics were ill-conceived. Unhelpful fields were set, the sort that look good on blackboards and ridiculous in the middle. At various times Australia placed three short covers, three distant square legs and three gullies. Presumably the bowlers were consulted. If not, they were insulted.
Ricky Ponting might as well have written a letter to the batsmen to inform them of his intentions. Traps are supposed to be hidden. Otherwise they are not traps. No wonder Kevin Pietersen was able to rock back and pounce on bumpers. None of these supposed innovations worked. Only a fool could fall foul of them and these batsmen are calm and intelligent. As one slightly inebriated supporter put it: "Mate, we've been out-thunk."
Over the years the Australians have been masters of the basics. Amid all the hype, that was their main asset. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were two of the greatest length bowlers the game has known. SF Barnes, arguably England's finest flinger, once observed that "there are three important things in bowling – length, length and length". People keep saying the game has changed but under the surface it is much the same.
Now their inferior successors spray the ball around. Nor is it entirely their fault. Captain instructing a speedster to pitch up to one chap and short to another is risking his man's confidence and rhythm. That's the problem with these plans. They are usually dreamed up by batsmen.
Not only did the Australians forget about the basics, they also ignored the facts of a ground they know better than any opponent. Adelaide Oval has short square boundaries, and that encourages bowlers to aim at the stumps thereby denying batsmen opportunities to collect easy runs. Yet Ponting asked his bowlers to aim wide and packed that side of the field. He is a better leader than captain. But it's not enough to inspire. The Grand Old Duke of York could do that. Ponting's task is to find the appropriate balance between attack and defence. Even now it eludes him.
At a stroke most of the ways of dismissing batsmen were removed. In that instant the bowlers were told they could not take wickets, say, with outswingers or off-cutters. Nor could they bowl in their normal manner, the style that secured their selection in the first place.
Ponting handles himself well and his bowlers badly. In his early years as captain he could throw the ball to the champions of yesterday confident that order would swiftly be restored. He did not learn to think on his feet. Now he sets fields that the giants of the genre could not survive. That the coach was given a new three-year contract a few months ago confirms that the Australians have taken their eye off the ball.
Nevertheless, all is not lost for the home side. Their preparations have been abysmal and their selections and strategies have been poor, but at worst they will go to Perth 1-0 down. Between Tests they need to sit down and produce a better plan or none at all. They could start by choosing their best four bowlers, backing them to take wickets, attacking the off bail, searching for outside edges, including sharp fieldsmen, placing enough slips, attacking with intent and defending with purpose. It's not rocket science, it's common sense – the sort England showed on the first eight days of the campaign.
Changes will be made for Perth. Australians are not so much braggarts as hard markers. Although it goes against the grain, a four-pronged pace attack might be tried with Steve Smith batting at six and delivering his wrist-spinners. It's not panic. It's confronting truths obvious a month ago but ignored by selectors. Australia need to match England's youth.
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