In truth, India’s batting is not as strong as it was, they have only been saved by their No.8, and the Australians haven’t been that far from winning. It’s just that their nearness to winning has happened at the wrong time. In Nagpur, they were in a good position on the second morning, and in Delhi they were in an even better place on the second evening. This is the positive, as a golfer might say if they have scored under par in the first round even if they missed the cut after the second. Australia have been good enough. Just at the wrong times. Maybe that’s the positive straw the coach has been grasping at.
Otherwise, they look like a team that wants to learn too much, too quickly. They don’t have coaches and selectors who tell them, “You’re professional cricketers and you have embarrassed yourselves”. Instead, they have Ronny and Dodders, an arm around the shoulder and a kind word about learnings and becoming better people. In Nagpur, teammates saw Marnus Labuschagne do well on the first day playing deep in his crease and presenting a staunch defence. Hey, that looks like the way to play! En masse, they copied him and fell apart on day three, playing too far back, too defensively.
The lesson? Be more “proactive”. So in Delhi, they saw Usman Khawaja do well on the first day attacking the bowling with a variety of sweeps, forward and reverse, sideways, up and down. Hey, that looks like the way to play! Matthew Hayden, aka Haydos, had scored a million runs here in 2001 when he decided to sweep everything that moved. So en masse, they all copied (while Hayden, post-removal of memory cells, fulminated from the commentary box about how stupid it was to sweep everything that moved).
“Play your own game,” is the mantra, but these are batters so adaptable to different modes of cricket that they have three or four games each. In India, they have tried several of their own games, sometimes switching from moment to moment.
Matthew Kuhnemann, as a batter, has no game. To the second ball he faced, he tried his first-ever reverse sweep and dragged the ball back onto his stumps from somewhere near point. If he meant to make a comical statement, to take the piss out of the rest of the team, he did a better job than could be expected from a debutant.
If all this seems easy to say from a distance, it is. In fact, it’s clear from Australia that this team is so radically underprepared that they have played the first two Test matches as if they were acclimatisation exercises – overcompensating in defence one week, in attack the next, veering about as you do when you’re getting used to things.
The home front has become such a good vantage point that many of the team are now taking the opportunity. Davey, Hoff and Ashton Agar are now taking things in from 8000 kilometres away. Starcy, Koons and Sweppo have been here, then there. Along with the lack of commitment to a full tour with first-class matches and proper acclimatisation is the lack of commitment even to being there. Home is just a few hours away, so there’s no reason to stay in India while touring India. Adaptability is the modern method, but Australia have adapted themselves all the way out of their matches.
Cummo, who had to come home for a genuine family medical emergency, has also been getting some perspective from Sydney. On Wednesday, he was clearing his head and trying to make sense of it all by figuring out how to whack a ball as far as possible at Pittwater Driving Range, which he was doing more successfully than in his second innings air-swing at Delhi.
As a method of trying to figure out what is going on in India, it appeared to have its advantages. He will get closer, and so, after they’re finished with adapting and are ready to dig in and commit, will his team. By the end of the fourth Test match they should be well prepared to play India. And who knows, Mum – by the end of September, they might even be prepared to play England.
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