Without Steven Smith and David Warner, Australia’s batting bench has failed to deliver. This would explain the changes the selectors have made leading up to the Sri Lanka Test series. 20-year-old Will Pucovski has received his maiden call up while Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns have been recalled. Jason Sangha, the Under-19 World Cup captain, isn’t too far away from a call to Tests.
Australian cricket is in transition. “India should have won the series 3-1 had the weather not saved Australia in Sydney,” says former Australian captain Michael Clarke. Clarke is hopeful of the talent coming through the ranks though.
Norman Kochanek, a former journalist, agrees. “Jason Sangha should break through the ranks any moment,” he says. “Sangha is way ahead of his times in terms of maturity. Look at the way he is handling the media. With the bat he has impressed and it wouldn’t be improper to say he should be a part of the team’s leadership group in the future.”
While many, like Mark Waugh, believe that Marcus Harris is as good and talented as Warner, he needs to play a long innings to convince he has it in him. The same applies to Marnus Labuschagne who showed glimpses of being a solid batter at the SCG.
Australia, many thought, at least had the bowlers to trouble India. But Mitchell Starc was not able to swing the ball and Josh Hazelwood did not pick wickets with the new ball. And Nathan Lyon, despite his toil, is not Shane Warne.
The best young talent that Australia have is Riley Meredith. Meredith has been in superb form in the Big Bash League and has both pace and guile. He can swing the ball and could back up Hazelwood and Pat Cummins.
Perhaps the Australian national selectors need to recalibrate as well. Case in point, Peter Handscombe. No player would want to be Handscombe at the moment. He was picked for the first two Tests and then dropped.
He was allowed to play the Big Bash League and scored a match-winning 70 for his team just days before the final Test. He was then drafted in to play the final Test and looked good while batting in the first innings. But now he has been dropped once again and sent back to play domestic white-ball cricket. Such selections can be cruel to a player.
Even so, can Australia make it back in time for the Ashes and can they put up a spirited performance at the World Cup with both Smith and Warner back in the ranks? Clarke doesn’t want to rule them out just yet. “I would want it to be an India-Australia final with Australia winning by one run but to be honest, India are the better team at the moment,” he says.
Australian cricket writer Gideon Haigh is more critical. “This team isn’t as good as India’s. Without Smith and Warner, the batting is fragile and the bowlers aren’t able to pick wickets with the new ball, adding to Australia’s misery,” says Gideon.
Considering the fallout of ‘Sandpapergate’, Tim Paine does have a bit more time to get things right. But not much time. He cannot lose to Sri Lanka. Patience isn’t a virtue of the Australian cricket public, and just like Smith and Warner, Paine will be at the receiving end if things go wrong against a fairly ordinary Lankan team.
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