Muddled Aussies beginning mind games already ahead of Ashes series
By Steve James | The Daily Telegraph
30th October 2012 12:29 PM
It’s started already. They’re trying to wind us up. Australia are trying to say that we don’t matter. Apparently they’re more interested in some forthcoming three-Test shebang against than the Ashes next year, when they are back-to-back Ashes no less.
Anyone would think they were playing the team ranked No 1 in the world.
Oh, hang on ...South Africa are No 1 in the world. I suppose we did enough singing and dancing about it when we were holding the International Cricket Council’s mace that we should at least recognise the fact.
And, if I’m being totally truthful, this is what the Australia captain Michael Clarke said last week: “Although the public and the media look forward to such a big Ashes series and that will certainly be built up, the players are focused on what is in front of us. We have some really tough opposition in South Africa, the No 1 side in Test cricket, coming to Australia very soon and our main focus is on that.”
But you get my drift. It’s time to start talking about the Ashes. Remaining tickets for the first four days of the first Test at Trent Bridge apparently moved more quickly than Usain Bolt last week.
It’s surely time to interview Glenn McGrath to receive his standard 5-0 prediction. It’s surely time for Australia’s arch Pom-baiter of a journalist, Malcolm Conn, to ask mockingly how many South African-born players will be in England’s team (although he’s recently been directing his ire at the decision to award Sachin Tendulkar an Order of Australia medal, pointing to Tendulkar’s part in an ICC hearing after the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ scandal involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in 2007-08.)
Clarke was speaking last week at Cricket Australia’s inaugural ‘captain’s address’, which kicked off the Australia season under the banner ‘Cricket’s Back’.
In an eight-minute speech described by the CA website as “stirring” and bearing scars on his forehead from what he has described as a “fight with branches” while doing some gardening, Clarke looked ahead to Australia’s schedule over the next 15 months, which includes 20 Test matches, with three at home to Sri Lanka and four away in India to add to the three against South Africa and 10 against England.
Clarke said: “Our goals are very clear - we want to be the best we can be. And if we are, that will take us back to where we want to be - the best in all three forms of the game. I make no bones about the Australian team getting back on top.”
Clarke’s task is tricky, but not as tricky as George Bailey’s. He is captain of the T20 side in case you didn’t know. In that Australia are ranked seventh (England are fourth).
In one-day internationals Australia are rated fourth (England are first!) and in Test cricket they are a place behind England’s second. Yes, in case you didn’t get that, England are in front in every format of the game.
And actually their lead up to the Ashes is a good comparison in Test cricket. Can they fare better than England did last summer against a South African side Clarke describes as “as good as probably I’ve played in my career”? Then there is their trip to India next year following England’s beginning next week.
England’s record in India is, of course, woeful, but so is Australia’s. Since 1979 in nine series played there they have only won one – in 2004 – with just one of those drawn. Steve Waugh has always banged on about it being the “final frontier” he never conquered and he had one of the greatest spinners of all time, Shane Warne, in his side.
Now the Australian selectors seem only to find spanners in their search for spinners. The incumbent wrench is off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who was comfortably outbowled by James Tredwell in the two unofficial Tests against England Lions at Old Trafford and Edgbaston last summer.
Such has been the avalanche of advice given to Lyon his bowling has apparently become “muddled”, to use the word of national selector John Inverarity. It has even been said that Mitchell Johnson, that paragon of bowling’s simplicity and accuracy, has been offering Lyon counsel. Goodness me.
Muddled should not now be the state of mind of the groundsmen at grounds like Old Trafford and the Kia Oval next summer. Their pitches must turn.
Given Australia’s spin shortage that shouldn’t be a problem for England’s batsmen, however they fare in India.
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