Collapses. Why do they happen? It is a question the Australian leadership leave Bangladesh with, in urgent need of a solution. By taking time out from the India ODI tour preceding the Ashes, much as he did in 2013, the coach Darren Lehmann has given himself the chance to ponder this question in some detail.
In Chittagong, it was a 7 for 79 stumble that should have had a greater influence on the final result than it did. In Dhaka, 6 for 41 was fatal in the final innings, while 4 for 33 and 4 for 42 set up the failure in their first.
In the aftermath of the squared series, the captain Steven Smith was not shy in airing his frustrations. Stating that they had again let themselves down, citing 15 collapses in their previous 14 Tests according to their internal team metrics. “That’s not good enough for an Australian cricket team,” he added bluntly, adding they would have to sort it out before the Ashes.
Lehmann echoed the sentiment. “It’s happening too often for a young group,” he said. “The first part of the batting collapses was with an older group if you like, and then we changed it around and we’re still having them. It’s seriously not their preparation or how they go about it. It’s more the mental side of the game. We’re working through that with a young group and trying to come up with some solutions.”
Inevitably, the personnel involved are coming under selection scrutiny. Glenn Maxwell is an interesting example. He earned a start in each innings in Bangladesh, and after a mini-wobble chasing 86 smashed an unbeaten 25 to finish off the job in Chittagong. Yet it is his position that appears most under threat.
“With No. 6 in Australia it is totally different to Asia,” Lehmann said, hinting to Australia’s preference of picking a seaming allrounder in the slot at home. “We’ll certainly be looking at that position and anyone can jump out of the pack in the three Shield games and what we think the best make-up is for that first Test. Glenn is there at the moment, like everyone else, he’ll have to perform.”
Technically Maxwell wasn’t there in the second Test, shuffled to No. 5 after Usman Khawaja was dropped. But Lehmann all but confirmed Khawaja will be back at first drop for the Ashes, averaging 76 in Australasia since his return to international ranks in November 2015.
“I would think Usman would play the first Test, although I’m only one of four selectors,” Lehmann said. “Obviously for the make-up of the side we changed it here, but we think he’s a pretty special player and obviously he’s got a really good record in Australia.”
If Maxwell has to sing for his supper in the three Sheffield Shield rounds that lead into the first Test, another such case is wicketkeeper Matthew Wade. He had a stellar game with the gloves after coming excruciatingly close losing his position to part-timer Peter Handscomb. But with the bat he had another failure, trapped leg before for 8 in his one hit.
“Wade did a great job behind the sticks this game after the criticism he copped,” Lehmann said. “We obviously want runs from our keeper as well so for him and all the other keepers around the country, the Shield games are going to be important.”
Of altogether less concern for the coach is how his bowlers accounted for themselves across the two Tests, bowling out Bangladesh four times for an average of 236 runs an innings. The talisman was Nathan Lyon, who took a staggering 22 wickets – one victim short of Rangana Herath’s all-time record for a two-Test series.
“Obviously, after Sri Lanka, he had to change a little bit,” Lehmann said, as one who levelled specific criticism at the spinner last August following that misadventure. “He’s done that and he’s bowled in well each series on the subcontinent since, so I’m really pleased for him.”
As for sole-speedster Pat Cummins, his pace was crucial to opening up the home side at the time they had a chance to get back into the game in Chittagong after ending Australia’s first innings in a hurry. “Exciting wasn’t he?” Lehmann said. “I don’t think we’ve done it for however long with one quick. He did a great job. For him, holding up, Steve used him really well in short spells. From our point of view just pleased he got through.”
Which begs the question – where does he fit in come Brisbane, with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson all expected to be fit and ready? In the XI, there is no doubt about that. But do all four get rolled out in an effort to shock and awe the English tourists in a similar fashion to the way Mitchell Johnson did in the corresponding 2013 fixture?
It was a topic Lehmann was happy to entertain in March at the end of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series, but is less forthright now with Lyon having locked in his own spot. “Nathan is going to play there’s no doubt about that,” he confirmed, adding they would look at conditions and assess accordingly.
In the event of a more solid middle order, maybe it would be the case that five specialist bowlers could be considered. Or another way of taking that: if a brittle spine is just that, then what is lost by playing to their strengths? Some more questions for Lehmann to ponder away from the Indian spotlight, with all roads now leading to the the Gabba.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo