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Monday, August 1, 2016

The Catastrophic Test Loss That Is Being Swept Under the Carpet


The most surprising part of Australia's capitulation in the First Test against Sri Lanka in Pallekele is that this isn't being seen as perhaps their most catastrophic failure in recent times. How is this not being treated as the horrific and somewhat unbelievable destruction of a team that is supposedly the best Test team in the world? How can you just throw your hands in the air, and accept that this is simply just another in a long line of failures by this team on the sub-continent, and move on with barely a whimper to prepare for the Second Test this week? This is a MAJOR BALLZUP, and some sort of action should be taken to make it known that this is completely unacceptable.

But of course, that won't happen. Heads will be buried in the sand once again.

A lot has been made of the failure of the batting line up to successfully bide their time and fight for their wickets against a spin attack that provided some concern, but was certainly not the most vicious of this kind that Australia has faced in recent times. But hells bells - what about the bowling? Sure, the attack did well to dismiss Sri Lanka for just 117 in that first innings to lay the platform for what should have been victory, but what happened in the second innings? When Matthews was dismissed, Sri Lanka was effectively 4 for 1. Six wickets to fall. Surely even another hundred runs was going to be a stretch for the last six bats to eke out. Well, that wasn't to be the case. Certainly there was brave batting from Kusal Mendis, whose 176 contains touches of brilliance mixed with the kind of strokes that on other days may have fallen safely into Australian hands. Those are the breaks. But should it have been so difficult to get wickets at the other end? The bowling seemed ill-prepared for Sri Lanka to fight back, and when they did, there appeared no plans to alter the course of the innings. Mendis and Chandimal added 117 runs, Mendis and De Silva another 71 runs. Australia's advantage, smaller than it should have been anyway, had gone, and now they were behind the eight ball. Even when Mendis finally fell at 7/290, with the lead now 204 runs, the scuttling of the tail quickly should have been achieved. Instead, through the brainless bowling of Mitchell Starc, who decided that the Brett Lee School of Bowling to Tailenders should be revitalised and as such try to knock out the tail with short pitched bowling instead of plucking their stumps out of the ground, and the ineffectiveness of Nathan Lyon, the last three wickets added another 63 invaluable runs. Seriously - when will Australia's bowlers learn?!? They are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do this, and they still, on occasions, either have no idea or just lose the plot. When Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh had been captain, that kind of tripe would have been stopped in its tracks swiftly, either by telling the bowler to bowl at the stumps, or by removing him from the attack. Steve Smith, from where I sat, failed to take action. If not for sub fielder Moises Henriques' brilliant catch, that last wicket partnership could have stretched forever. Perhaps more fortunately for Sri Lanka than Australia, it did not.

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The captain and vice captain have to shoulder a lot of the blame for the batting. Warner's two shots to be dismissed were completely against what he had preached just days earlier. "Patience" apparently. Well, he showed none. His record allows forgiveness for two major misjudgements, but he would want to be much more forthright from this point on. Smith's shot in the first innings, so early on Day Two when Australia needed to build a lead, was completely unforgivable. Again he has a heap of credits in the bank, but as the leader he lost his head and paid for it. The fact that the rest of the batsmen struggled is not terribly surprising, but it needed the team's leaders to show the way with the bat, and both failed under the spotlight.

Against a team that was trounced just weeks ago in England, Australia now lost only its Second Test against Sri Lanka, having scuttled them for just 117 in under two sessions on the first day. There is a lot wrong with that scenario, but hat will be done to fix it? By all accounts, probably nothing. The loss of O'Keefe for bowling for the second half of the last innings certainly contributed to Australia's problems, but bigger ones now face them. O'Keefe's replacement is Jon Holland, a similarly left arm orthodox spinner who has played very little cricket in the past two years. he has been selected ahead of the leg spinner Fawad Ahmed, who has been by far the most successful spinner in first class cricket in Australia over those same two years. Why he has been overlooked once again is a complete mystery. His experience and over-the-wrist bowling would surely have been of benefit, having seen the amount of purchase the young chinaman bowler Sandakan got in that 1st Test. Whether Holland plays, or if Australia pick a third seamer to support Starc and Hazelwood instead, and leave the back up spin options to Voges and Smith, would surely be a more likely option. Jackson Bird or Nathan Coulter-Nile are the two other pacemen in the squad.

No doubt Mitch Marsh will be retained, though it would have to be tempting to give Henriques his opportunity. I would.

The result of this Test has been buried underneath the football codes, Jason Day's run at the USPGA Championship and the approaching Olympic Games, and so the howl of disdain at the performance has been lost. And while the same will probably be the case no matter what the result of the Second Test is that starts this week, another performance like the last will have major ramifications for the futures of a number of Australia's current Test cricketers.

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