Michael Clarke is faced with a huge challenge this year, mainly the back to back Ashes series, but first the Indian tour beginning in late February.
I have outlined a few key points that are worth noting for in the upcoming series and my own personal predictions for the tour.
Ed Cowan cannot play spin bowling
Poor Ed, I was one of the many that pushed for his selection last year after the demise of Phil Hughes (who has recovered brilliantly in his most recent reincarnation).
I backed him on the basis of impeccable Shield form, which could not be ignored, however it has been slim pickings for Cowan since his debut.
In 13 Tests, Cowan has knocked up a mediocre 722 runs opening the innings at an unsatisfactory average of 32.81. One century and five scores between 50 and 100 clearly outlines that Ed cannot get the job done.
He has an infuriating habit of doing the hard yards, seeing off the new ball and getting out without going on and getting a big score.
To further compound the problem, Cowan looked all at sea on the final day of the SCG test against Sri Lankan tweakers Rangana Herath and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Cowan is not a natural sweeper of the ball and uses minimal footwork to spin.
Unfortunately I foresee the Indian tour as Cowan’s last in the baggy green, if he is even selected for the tour.
If Cowan is dropped, Shane Watson is not the answer at the top
Shane Watson averages 43 at the top of the order, and understandably so. He has a good solid technique and plays with a straight bat, often looking to hit through the line of the ball and pierce the gaps early in the innings.
However, Watson is quite like Cowan in his dilemma against spin bowling. He is heavy on his feet as a batsman, and during his short stint against Herath in the Sri Lankan series, he looked unsure whether to come to the pitch of the ball or to play off the back foot.
While in the Boxing Day Test Watson used his feet relatively well against Herath, he is far from being the answer in the Indian tour to open the batting, as he shares several traits with Cowan, including his uncertainty against spin bowling and his inability to put together a big score once getting in.
Stay down Wadey
As I predicted not so long ago, Matthew Wade has all the elements to become one of the greatest wicketkeeper-batsmen Australia has ever produced.
In nine Tests, Wade has chalked up 510 runs at 43 and already has two centuries to his name (more than Cowan, who has played 14 Tests, and the same as Watson, who has played 38 tests).
His ability to play different types of innings or change his approach mid-innings is a rarity, his raw hitting ability is scary and I see no reason why he can’t be somewhere near as good as Gilchrist with the bat if he enjoys a successful Test career over 10 plus years.
However his keeping to Nathan Lyon over the summer was somewhat of a concern – he kept well to the pace bowlers but missed three or four chances off our first-choice spinner over the summer.
He is a tough character and will work hard between now and India to rectify the issues. Wade has a bad habit of shot watching when keeping up to the stumps, resulting in his head being too far over the ball and having to ‘feel’ for the ball with his gloves.
Wade must be drilled super hard to stay down for as long as possible and watch the ball all the way, this applies in the extreme to India where the pitches have minimal bounce and spin a hell of a lot.
If he can do this, he is going to be one of the greatest wicketkeeper/batsmen Australia has ever had, mark my words.
Is Clarke burnt out?
Michael Clarke enjoyed a Bradmanesque year in 2012, but I am already concerned the golden run has come to an end.
He looks a tired man when batting, a product of having to carry the entire innings on his bat on occasions over the past 18 months.
In the SCG Test he reverted back to the old Clarke with a skied slog sweep on 50, and didn’t quite look his elegant self in the second innings to Herath.
I hope I am wrong, but I think Clarke may have a disappointing series in India. He has given so much to the team for so long now that emotionally he may have a bit of a downer in India.
Let’s hope not, as he is Australia’s finest player of spin.
Will the bowling have any penetration?
I really am concerned about the bowling attack for the Indian series and beyond.
Peter Siddle is an obvious first choice selection. While he doesn’t garner much movement, he hits the deck hard and toils away, the perfect bowler for India.
Jackson Bird showed that his pinpoint accuracy and swing will be a great weapon in English conditions, but he won’t find India a paradise. Does he have enough tricks to take consistent wickets?
Both Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson are erratic at times and leak runs with relative ease. They will both go with the touring squad, but playing them in the same side, as shown in Perth and now Sydney, is not a good idea. Do either Starc or Johnson have enough movement or tricks to take early wickets against India on flat decks?
However the most concerning point in the Australian attack is spin bowler Nathan Lyon, who’s bowling average seems to climb with every test. To be fair to Lyon, Wade, as mentioned above, has missed a few chances off his bowling, but Lyon simply does not have enough variation or flight to take wickets when the batsmen aren’t attacking him.
It will be interesting to see, but don’t be surprised if you see both captain Clarke and David Warner ripping out their part timers to compensate for Lyon, who’s bowling this summer has been pretty one paced.
My prediction: The series will be tied Australia 1 – India 1
India are a rabble at the moment, as seen when England won away to them in their recent Test series. Perhaps there is speculation that Australia should inflict a similar fate on the Indians when we tour there beginning in late February.
However, it is worth remembering the Indians were dismissed with relative ease by both Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, and Alistair Cook and Kevin Pietersen combined at pivotal moments in the game to put away MS Dhoni’s dwindling Test side.
Australia is a team with huge potential, but in need of development.
The Indian series will be drawn, not won, but it will give us a better idea of who is a Test cricketer and who is not.