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Hughes gone, Khawaja struggling, but Ponting must stay

Expert
12th December, 2011
67
1959 Reads

It seems it’s one step forward and two steps back for Australian cricket at the moment. In each of the last two test series (versus South Africa and New Zealand) we have had a great win and a woeful loss.

Inconsistency is not uncommon in any sporting team which is both young and experiencing a high turnover of players. However, you wonder whether the character of the team has fundamentally changed.

The batting in particular has become flaky. When we lose wickets they are in bunches. For the years that I grew up watching test cricket it seemed such collapses were a disease which only our opposition could contract.

England through the Gooch, Atherton, Stewart and Hussein eras was famous for it and the Windies have done it so often in recent years it has become known and the “Callypso collap-so”.

At 2 for 159, just before lunch on the fourth day of the test which finished in Hobart yesterday – we looked to be cruising to victory. However nothing is certain in the current era of Australian test batting.

The result is that several of or batsmen will be sleeping rather poorly between now and the Boxing Day Test.

The first man to fall was Phil Hughes who was caught in the slips on twenty after having already had a life on zero after the Kiwis failed to review a caught behind appeal which replays showed was out.

Hughes’ technique has been under fire for almost all of his short career – and for good reason. When he defends he gets squared up too often and when he attacks he hits the ball in the air through the gully region too often.

The pattern of his career has been low scores followed by a big career saving knock, but I am afraid his time has run out and he will be watching the Boxing Day test on his box at home. There are several openers to come back from injury in Watson and Marsh and several state openers in good form.

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Next to go was Usman Khawaja, who again gave up his wicket rather meekly. This is how you would have to describe the Test career of the polite youngster so far. He seems to be playing meekly for a man who dominated domestic cricket with attacking stroke making for the last couple of years. He cannot survive for too much longer in a losing side with a Test average of 30.

The third man to fall was Ponting. I have recently advocated for the selectors to stick with the great man. But his two dismissals in this test would give even his most loyal supporters concern.

In the first innings his issues with balance at the crease could not have been more starkly exposed. He practically fell over and was so plum he walked – a move practically unprecedented for an LBW decision.

In the second innings he attempted to play a signature back foot drive and instead spooned an embarrassing shot to cover. He has not scored a hundred in the last two years and has averaged under 30 in that period.

On the balance I still feel that Ponting as a package – when you take into account his experience, mentoring, work ethic, fielding and batting record – still deserves his spot.

I think that Michael Clarke would feel more confident when he sees R. Ponting in the lineup than without him. Ponting himself must feel now that the end is nigh and it is perhaps time to start planning for a dignified exit on his terms.

The last test of the summer in Sydney has become the stage for many such exits – including his predecessor Steve Waugh. I for one will be there to clap him all the way into the dressing room if that is the decision he makes.

We are now in the quandary that all underperforming teams face. The more changes we make the more instability we create but at the same time you cannot cheapen the baggy green by allowing guys to keep their spot without scoring runs.

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