With a series win already achieved heading into the Fourth Test at the Adelaide Oval, the Australian cricket team is currently on a high.
Despite the fact that India has never won a series on Australian soil, to defeat a team still laden with world class batsmen and dangerous bowlers is a wonderful accomplishment for a team presently going through a rebuilding phase.
There have been numerous performances that are worthy of note, headlined by Michael Clarke’s stunning 329 not out in Sydney, David Warner’s whirlwind 180 in Perth, and Ricky Ponting’s long awaited 40th Test century.
Yet, as magnificent as all of those batting innings, and others, have been, you need to take 20 wickets to win a Test match. And with that in mind, much of the credit must go to the bowlers for ensuring that Australia will take home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The bowling unit, in particular the quicks, have been sensational.
Statistics can sometimes paint an inaccurate story, but the series numbers so far give an indication of how good the Australian bowling has been.
Ben Hilfenhaus, in an amazing return to Test cricket, has taken 23 wickets at an average of 16. Peter Siddle has looked extremely comfortable in his role as the leader of the attack, and claimed 17 wickets at 19.59.
James Pattison has been a revelation, following up his strong debut series against New Zealand by capturing 11 Indian scalps at 23.36. And Ryan Harris and Mitchell Starc, despite playing just one game each, ensured Australia didn’t miss a beat when Pattison went down injured and Australia selected four frontline quicks for the WACA Test.
However statistics only tell half of the story. The attack has worked brilliantly as a team, maintaining pressure from both ends, bowling very few loose balls, and utilising the conditions to their advantage.
The bowlers give every impression of a cohesive unit, and that togetherness and ability to hunt as a pack has been a key to their success.
Though perhaps the most impressive aspect of the fast bowlers’ performance has been their propensity to swing the ball.
During the Ashes series last season, one of the biggest differences between the two sides was the ability of the English bowlers to move the ball in the air. Whilst James Anderson and company were swinging the ball in and away from Australia’s batsmen, the local bowlers were more often than not gun barrel straight.
Previously, many English bowlers had been found wanting when the ball was not moving around for them, and the English hierarchy identified that if the Ashes were to be won on Australian soil, their bowlers were going to have to find a way to make the ball talk in Australian conditions.
England subsequently appointed Australian David Saker as their bowling coach. Having played for Victoria, Tasmania and Australia A during a long and successful first class career, Saker had the knowledge, skill and mindset that England required.
Saker immediately went about teaching the England fast bowling unit how to swing the ball on Australian wickets. Hundreds of Kookaburra balls were purchased, and the England team practiced with them for months leading into the Ashes series, instead of the usual English Duke ball.
The hiring of Saker and his influence on the English fast bowlers paid large dividends, with England crushing Australia and winning the Ashes, primarily behind some quality swing bowling.
At the time I asked the question of what the hell Australian bowling coach Troy Cooley was doing. It was embarrassing that a touring side was making better use of the conditions, and the ball, than the home side.
How could it come to be that the tourists were swinging the ball, yet Australia weren’t?
Well, it’s pretty hard to swing the ball when you ball short and simply bang it into the pitch, but that seemed to be Australia’s tactics against England. No wonder that Alistair Cook, who predominantly cuts and pulls, was made to look like Don Bradman. Rarely did the Australian bowlers pitch it up and make him drive.
Post-Ashes, there was a need for accountability across the board in Australian cricket. This should have included the out-coached Troy Cooley, who ought to have taken a large percentage of the blame for the bowler’s poor performance, especially their lack of swing.
Instead of being fired, Cooley was promoted to the role of head coach at Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence. Go figure.
Twelve months on, and the fortunes and performances of our fast bowlers couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
The bowlers are pitching the ball up, swinging it, and claiming lots of wickets behind the stumps.
Whilst the players are deservedly receiving plaudits, kudos must also go to Australia’s current bowling coach Craig McDermott.
McDermott was a fantastic fast bowler for Australia, claiming 291 Test wickets, and his impact on Australia’s quicks so far has been every bit as impressive as his own international career. Gone is the mentality of ‘hitting the deck hard’, and ushered in is the approach of giving the ball every chance to swing.
If accountability was required after the Ashes series, then equally, praise is called for following the performance of Australia’s fast bowlers against India. Cricket has always been about results, and McDermott is currently achieving very positive ones.
All credit to him.
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