The laughter has barely subsided after England’s tour of India, and yet attention is already being turned to the next visitors to that land. Australia arrive in the country in late February for a four Test series that already promises to fall on the hilarious side of diabolical. Given how badly England did, the question is how much worse might Australia do?
This far out from the series we already feel fairly safe in not only predicting the outcome (Australia to receive the biggest thrashing since the Winchester flower-arranging team beat Harrow by twelve sore bottoms to one) but also the key causes for their humiliation. All of the issues below essentially boil down to the one point: Australia will arrive in India with no preparation whatsoever (a point which we will return to soon) and no idea of how to get on top of their hosts. Instead they’ll be reduced to flailing around, experimenting with all sorts of stupid ideas looking for a winning equation that likely doesn’t exist.
Think Nathan Lyon will be Australia’s first choice spinner in India? Think again. The selectors have no bloody idea, and will likely be juggling several different options right up until the first Test, before probably doing something really stupid like playing Travis Head as their front-line tweaker. Don’t laugh, it’s happened before.
More realistically the position will probably be fought out between Stephen O’Keefe and Lyon, with Jon Holland emerging as a dark horse. None of whom loom as decidedly better options than the other, but being this uncertain about what is probably the most vital position on the subcontinent just underlines how much trouble Australia are really in. And of course, as soon as one looks somewhat underwhelming, they’ll be ejected for one of the guys waiting in the wings.
Having no idea about your spinners is one thing, having no idea about your batting lineup is an entirely different problem altogether. Matt Renshaw has, as far as we can tell after mucking about on Cricinfo for five minutes, never played a single game of cricket on the subcontinent. Usman Khawaja has emerged as one of Australia’s main batsmen, but was rubbish in Sri Lanka, and has done little to dispel doubts over his ability to play spin since. As for who will bat at number six, we’ve absolutely no idea, and suspect neither do the selectors. That’s massive question marks over half of the Australian top six.
At a guess, Shaun Marsh will worm his way back into the lineup somewhere for India, possibly in place of Renshaw, or as a replacement when someone inevitably fails. And whilst we enjoy mocking Australia’s dependence on the Marsh brothers as much as the next cricket blog, he is probably not a bad choice. But that still places an inordinate amount of responsibility in the hands of David Warner and Devereux. Australia will be especially hoping Peter Handscomb can really hit the ground running on his first overseas tour. Because otherwise they’ll be even more stuffed.
Whilst Wade has made himself an easy target since his recall on account of a) being selected largely for his sledging and b) being shit, in India at least it makes some sense. Wade is actually one of the better players of spin Australia could field (although that is saying not much at all) and even if he wasn’t their first-choice ‘keeper we’d inevitably be hearing about him perhaps being selected as a specialist batsman.
Which is all well and good, for what it’s worth, but his keeping to spin is atrocious, and already since his recall his report card has been marked with a litany of dropped catches and missed stumpings. Can you imagine the furore if he misses an easy chance early in a Virat Kohli innings? We can. And it’s amazing.
On Australia’s last tour of India, James Pattinson did fairly well, taking 9 wickets at 27. This time around he has almost begged the selectors not to pick him. Cummins is another who won’t go, all part of Cricket Australia’s not so secret plan to unleash him during the following Ashes. That means the two strike bowlers will be Mitchell Starc and JOsh Hazelwood, whose workloads are already causing selectors some serious concerns.
Backup will be provided by some variation of Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers or whichever flavour of the month happens to have Darren Lehmann’s eye at that moment (right now it’s Hilton Cartwright). None of which sounds terribly promising. If Mitchell Starc can take a bazillion wickets like he did in Sri Lanka, Australia might be in business. Chances are, though, he’ll fall to pieces at some point during the second innings of the First Test. That is if India even need two innings.
Consider a scenario which could potential be approached in two separate ways. In the first, Australia could dig in with the bat to ensure they can put themselves into a position from which it is almost impossible to lose. In the second they could chance their arm and potentially put themselves into a position to win a Test. Australia will always, always choose the second. Think of how India won the fourth and fifth Tests against England, by first putting themselves into a position from which they couldn’t lose, and then turning the screws. Australia can’t do that. Australia won’t do that.
It’s been pretty clear, from the moment their final Test in India finished, what England’s priorities are: the Ashes. A thrashing in the subcontinent can be tolerated as long as it does nothing to harm their chances of retaining the Ashes, and the ECB are certainly not going to make any changes to the English domestic setup that might make them more competitive in the subcontinent if it prejudices that goal.
The same goes for Australia. Maybe even moreso. Nobody will really care if they lose in India. You suspect even the players won’t be bothered too much. If the wheels start to fall off, there will be no gargantuan efforts to turn things around, rather they’ll just careen towards defeat more rapidly. Tests will be over in three or four days, with barely an eye batted. Not when you’ve got the IPL just around the corner, and the Ashes waiting back home. And any outside grumbling will be dismissed with the usual rhetoric of it being necessary for Australia to “push the game forward”.
None of which sounds terribly promising. Unless you like watching Australia lose that is, which, from looking at Twitter, accounts for an awful lot of people out there. All logic would dictate that Australia will be thoroughly and utterly pummeled in India. Which is why we have this strange feeling that it might not turn out that way at all. Call it intuition, call it pure bloody-minded contrarianism, but we have a sneaking suspicion, with Kohli and India suffering through complacency, and Stephen Peter Devereux Smith continuing to score a mountain of runs, Australia might actually get up and win one of the greatest upsets of all time.
Or, you know, maybe they won’t.