Australia rebuilding

Without the giants of the past — legends such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist cannot really be replaced — Australia's game-plan cannot be as blatantly aggressive as it once was. These are days when this previously all-conquering side appears mortal. Yet, there have been positives for the side this summer, writes S. Dinakar.

Australian cricket is on a rebuilding mode. The signs are promising but the side needs to tread carefully. It will be too early to jump to conclusions about this proud nation's cricketing health. The 4-0 sweep of India in the Test series has been widely celebrated in the nation. But there have been words of caution from more moderate voices. The thumping victory was achieved against an aging Indian side on home pitches. The real test for Australia would arrive during campaigns on foreign soil; particularly in the sub-continent.

In the one-dayers, the side's struggles against Sri Lanka during the league phase of the Commonwealth Bank triangular series — it lost three games to the islanders and won just one — have sent worrying signals to the team's followers.

Without the giants from the past — legends such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist cannot really be replaced — Australia's game-plan cannot be as blatantly aggressive as it once was. These are days when this previously all-conquering side appears mortal. Yet, there have been positives for the side this summer.

Importantly, Australia appears to have found the right captain in Michael Clarke. He is an attacking pro-active skipper who comprehends the flow of the game. Indeed, Clarke can read situations well and can think out of the box.

He is a strong captain, commands respect in the team, and does not make excuses. Captaincy has also brought out the best in him as a batsman. Clarke's big runs against India — including a triple century in the Test at the SCG — in stressful situations have shown that he can handle pressure capably.

Under Clarke, Australia has performed reasonably well on overseas series as well without quite being the marauding force it once was. For a side putting the pieces together after the nightmarish Ashes debacle at home, Australia exceeded expectations to draw the Test series in Sri Lanka and South Africa 1-1 this season.

But then, Australia's batting has appeared extremely vulnerable when the ball has seamed or swung in favourable conditions. The lowest point came when the side was shot out for 47 in its second innings at Cape Town in South Africa. There was movement and bounce for Dale Steyn & Co., but the Australian batting displayed little character or technique. It was a shocking collapse that cost the side the Test.

The technical limitations of the Australian batsmen against the moving ball — with limited feet moment they played away from the body — came to the fore again in the second Test against New Zealand at Hobart this season.

On a seaming track, Australia stumbled during a moderate chase after appearing well on course. Young paceman Doug Bracewell drilled holes in the Aussie batting with telling bowling in the corridor.

The Australian batting has chinks and the Indian bowling did not quite exploit them during the Test series. The Australian opening slot — a source of great strength in its all conquering days — wears an unsettled look these days.

David Warner can be destructive on his day but so far his failures outnumber his successes. There is also a debate in the Australian camp about the virtues of Shane Watson opening the innings. Given that Watson may also have to shoulder a sizable bowling responsibility, is it prudent to ask him to open the innings? Then there is the question of Watson's fitness. He is a match-winner but putting too much stress on his body may lead to another breakdown.

If we look back at the formidable Australian teams of the past, its opening pair pegged the opposition back, laid a solid foundation and made things easier for the middle-order. When Warner fired in the Test match in Perth or in the first final of the Commonwealth Bank ODI tri-series, the Australian team had a different look about it.

Then there is the question of Ricky Ponting's retirement. The Punter's presence was a crucial element in the Australian sweep of India in the Test series. After the Indian bowlers made early inroads, skipper Clarke and Ponting put together game-changing partnerships. Australia will struggle to find a replacement for Ponting at No. 3. And in the middle-order, the versatile Michael Hussey is ageing. Batting remains a problem area for the Australians. Someone such as Peter Forrest, impressive with his footwork, has possibilities. But then, he has his shortcomings against pace and movement. The right-hander tends to play away from his body.

The pace bowling scene is a lot healthier for Australia. James Pattinson, fast and insicive, brings much to the attack. Ben Hilfenhaus, with his swing, and Peter Siddle, with his speed, bounce and aggression, pose searching questions to the batsmen. And left-armer Mitchell Starc brings the ball into the right-handers with a natural action and can open them up with bounce. Not to forget the fast and furious Pat Cummins who made a great impact on the tour of South Africa.

Yet, for all its riches in pace bowling, Australia's bowling in the Power Plays and at the Death in the ODIs have been disappointing. Those deadly swinging yorkers have been missing.

And if Australia is to become a fully rounded Test side, it has to find a spinner who can influence the course of matches. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon is still a work-in-progress. Ideally, the Aussies should unearth an attacking leg-spinner. That will fit in with their attacking brand of cricket.

On the wicket-keeping front, Matthew Wade is pushing Brad Haddin hard. An aggressive opener in the ODIs, Wade has limitations with his glove-work. A lot of fuss has been made down under about the axing of Haddin — not getting any younger — from the ODI team but then he is no Gilchrist. There is uncertainty in the Aussie ranks about the wicket-keeper-batsman slot.

There is potentinal in this Aussie side but the team has to travel a long way to discover the glory of old. Captain Clarke has his hands full.