India resume their quest to stay at the top of the Test Championship table on Friday at the Basin Reserve, traditionally a tough place for India to win or even draw.
Since Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and consummate tourist Brendon Julian took Australia to the top of world cricket in 1995, Australia has generally had the best bowling attack in the world. Typically this meant Warne, McGrath and two of Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Lee, who between them have 1800 Test wickets and counting.
Last week’s Second Test line-up was not in the same class, and prompted me to recall The Top 5 Dodgy Aussie Bowling Attacks Since 1995.
1. Lee, Johnson, Clarke, Watson, White and Siddle, 2nd Test v India, Mohali, 2008 (c)
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I can claim foresight in this case: I started this article as soon as Stuart Clark withdrew. As expected, an off-key Lee, a debutant in Siddle, plus part-timers in Clarke, Watson and White did not give an Indian top order with 43,000 Test runs too much to worry about. Only Johnson had the muscle to trouble them, and even then he has stopped swinging the ball. I am most troubled by our selection policy: since when are bowlers (Watson and White) picked for their batting? Meanwhile Doug Bollinger mixes the drinks, having taken 45 wickets last season in 7 first-class games at the best strike rate in the history of the Sheffield Shield.
2. Kasprowicz, Wilson, Blewett, Warne, M Waugh and Robertson, 2nd Test v India, Calcutta, 1998
Australia’s seam stocks dipped like the Dow when McGrath missed the tour with injury and Pistol Paul Reiffel pulled out after the First Test. This left Paul ‘Blocker’ Wilson to waste the new ball, and part-timer Greg Blewett to bowl first change. Mark Waugh bowled non-turning offspin, as did ‘The Riddler’ Gavin Robertson. Warne added class on paper but not on the field as he struggled with a malfunctioning shoulder. To make the point, Tendulkar deliberately smashed him over cow corner the last two balls before lunch on Day 2 rather than playing for the break. Warne took 0-147, India’s worst-performing batsman was Ganguly with 65, and they declared at 5-633. Result: India by an innings and 219 runs.
3. Kasprowicz, Reiffel, Warne, Cook, M Waugh, Blewett, S Waugh, Elliott, 3rd Test v New Zealand, Hobart 1997
Young and Horne was not quite in the Greenidge-Haynes league of opening combinations, but Bryan and Matt had little difficulty easing the score to 60 without loss against this McGrath-less attack. Adam Parore scored a rare ton from first drop, helping the Kiwis to 1-192 before they declared at 6-251 in this rain-affected match (Astle and Cairns the not-out batsmen). Australia could not bowl NZ in the fourth innings either, and the match ended in a draw. Simon Cook was injured soon after and did not play Test cricket again.
4. Lee, Gillespie, Bracken, MacGill, S Waugh, Katich, Martyn, 4th Test v India, Sydney 2004
To be fair to the Aussies, the SCG pitch was a featherbed for 5 days, and a draw appeared inevitable from Over 1. However an unpenetrative attack didn’t help, with Bracken yet to make the jump to world-class, MacGill having a rare unproductive outing at his home ground, and Lee in career-worst form. He lost his run-up completely, bowled 18 no-balls and was bashed at 5 an over by Laxman and Tendulkar as they batted through a whole day. To underline Lee’s difficulties, Ganguly batted on even when India reached 700. He declared at 7-705 instead, once Lee had conceded a full 200 runs. Cruel.
Incidentally, Rahul Bhattacharya’s description of the Aussie attack in Wisden is a gem:
“Gillespie was good, but increasingly more container than wicket-taker. Brett Lee went from not-bad to crap. Stuart MacGill was a reservoir of four-balls. Nathan Bracken was asked to bowl ineffectual cutters from around the wicket. Brad Williams, their best bowler at Adelaide and Melbourne, was shockingly left out for the decider.”
Perhaps the only time Brad Williams was billed as the hope of the side!
5. McGrath, Reiffel, S Waugh, McIntyre, Hogg, M Waugh, One-off Test v India, Delhi, 1996
This was best known as “Brad Hogg’s only Test” until his unlikely comeback in 2003. Beau Casson may still be cursing him. At the other end Peter McIntyre joined Peter Sleep in the list of “Top 5 Pre-Warne Leg-Spinners We Struggle To Remember”.
Honourable mention to Hughes, Campbell, Taylor, Rackemann, Border, 2nd Test v Pakistan, Adelaide, 1990. Pre-1995, this one, but such an eclectic line-up it warrants inclusion. Greg Campbell is more famous these days as Ricky Ponting’s uncle and as “the other guy” on the 1989 Ashes Tour. Carl Rackemann was back briefly after his Rebel tour ban, while Peter Taylor was failing to recapture the form of the legendary “Peter Who”.
With thanks to Nicholas Gray for his suggestions.