x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Australian cricket may need Ponting, Mike Hussey and Katich

The Michael Clarke-led cricket team are so severely lacking direction that Dileep Premachandran is tempted to look at the old guard again.

There is case for Ricky Ponting, who retired from international cricket recently, to return to the team. Robert Cianflone / Getty Images
There is case for Ricky Ponting, who retired from international cricket recently, to return to the team. Robert Cianflone / Getty Images
In 1985, an Australia side arrived in England ravaged by the inducements offered by a rebel tour of South Africa. Kim Hughes, who had resigned the captaincy in tears, was one of the batsmen who had answered the call of the Rand.

Terry Alderman, who had taken 42 wickets in the previous Ashes series in England, Rodney Hogg and Carl Rackemann were among the leading bowlers missing.

Allan Border, in true Captain Grumpy mode, led the way with 597 runs in six Tests, including a matchwinning 196 at Lord's.

Greg Ritchie and Andrew Hilditch, despite his unfortunate reputation for hooking shots, were the only others to cross 400.

A young Craig McDermott bowled superbly for his 30 wickets, while Geoff Lawson picked up 22.

The next best was Bob Holland, with six. Jeff Thomson, a parody of the fastest bowler the game had seen, lasted two Tests, in which he picked up three wickets at 91.66. Australia lost the series 3-1.

Until they lost the final two Tests at Edgbaston and The Oval, a relatively callow team competed well. But at crucial moments, it was invariably England that seized the initiative.

When the pressure mounted, England held firm while Australia crumbled.

That scenario could well be replayed this summer as an Australian team desperately short of form, confidence and experience take on an English side whose only series defeats at home in the past five years have come against the No 1-ranked South Africans.

So fragile was Australia's confidence after the 4-0 mauling in India earlier this year that one of those they called up for the Ashes tour was Chris Rogers, who played his only Test against India at Perth in January 2008.

Rogers has had a wonderful few years in county cricket and also performed strongly in the last Sheffield Shield season. But at 35, he is hardly one for the future.

Michael Clarke's degenerative back condition seems to have worsened in recent months, and the chances of him playing back-to-back Tests must be rated as slim. Ricky Ponting bid adieu after the home series against South Africa, while Mike Hussey took his bow at the end of the three Tests against Sri Lanka.

Ponting is currently in England playing for Surrey, while Simon Katich, who played the last of his 56 Tests (averaging 45) during the home Ashes in 2010, struck his last century for Lancashire 11 days ago. Hussey was the leading run-scorer in the Indian Premier League.

David Warner's indiscretions during the ICC Champions Trophy appear to have ruled him out of contention for the first Ashes Test, and the lack of experience in the line-up has pessimists wondering just how bad things could get if England establish an early stranglehold at Trent Bridge, starting on July 10.

That there are team-spirit issues is also not in doubt - especially in the wake of coach Mickey Arthur's sacking.

One of the many stories following the Warner incident suggested that Shane Watson, the vice captain until he failed to do his homework duties in India, had been one of those that pressed for exemplary punishment. Rumours have also been rife that he and Clarke no longer see eye to eye.

At the heart of the problem is Clarke, and the stereotype of what an Australia captain should be.

His prolific batting form over the past couple of years has won him new admirers, but there is a core of committed Australian support that just do not relate to him.

Senior players such as Katich, who once grabbed him by the throat in the dressing room after a disagreement over a post-match celebration, also do not seem to have endorsed his leadership.

"He's tactically brilliant, but you don't see him rallying a team like Border or Ian Chappell were able to," said a senior Australian journalist who has covered the national team's fortunes for four decades. "There's still a feeling that he's very much in his own bubble. In troubled times, that's not good enough."

In normal circumstances, calls for old-stagers such as Ponting and Hussey, or even Katich, to return would be deemed ridiculous.

But given Australia's leadership vacuum - Watson's form has gone due south the last two years - it is not as preposterous as it sounds.


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