Australia report card: Inferiority complex surfaces
England's relentless brilliance drained self-belief from Australia, a remarkable role reversal from the days of McGrath and Warne
Australia will depart from England a chastened side, knowing that their status as the world’s best one-day side has ebbed away. The latest drubbing by seven wickets at Old Trafford gave England the series 4-0. Australia were fortunate that the fifth game was rained off.
Australia did not play like the world number one, but rather like a team with a growing sense of inferiority to England. After losing the first game narrowly at Lord’s, when they had the advantage of bowling first in tricky conditions, Australia's confidence drained away.
Coach Mickey Arthur was right to speak about his side’s "submissiveness". Just as Britain’s Andy Murray started the Wimbledon final strongly, before losing self-belief at the first glimpse of Roger Federer’s genius, Australia started to believe they were second best and their performances deteriorated with every game.
At Durham, on Saturday, Australia were 15-2 after 10 overs, their slowest start in nearly 800 games. Such ponderousness was as much a consequence of their negative mindset as England’s brilliant bowling. Australia were on the back foot, not seeking to dominate, but clinging on and hoping that a weakness might appear in England’s attack.
It was reminiscent of how England used to play against McGrath, Warne and Gillespie when the gulf between the sides was exacerbated by England’s sense of inferiority.
Again in the final ODI, here at Old Trafford, Australia didn’t get out of the blocks. Opening the batting in place of the injured Shane Watson, Matthew Wade was not equipped technically to cope with the moving ball in English. He crawled to 12 in 41 balls without a boundary, which was way too slow in a 32-over game.
But the list of glaring Australian deficiencies grew longer as the series progressed. Their pace attack was bedevilled by injuries, a fate which once plagued England sides of lesser vintage, and they chopped and changed without coming close to England’s potency.
The return of the conquering hero, Mitchell Johnson, did not last long. Johnson was soon dropped as questions resurfaced about his technique and temperament.
Meanwhile, Ben Hilfenhaus was said to have put on a yard of pace, but there was no evidence of that in his lacklustre performances at Durham and Manchester.
The Australians have high hopes for James Pattinson, 22, but he was slightly disappointing, too. With 26 wickets in his five Tests, he came with a reputation for precocity, but he didn't inspire anything like the excitement surrounding England’s Steven Finn, whose pace and control in the last two games made him England’s most dangerous bowler.
More promising for Australia was the remarkably mature 19-year-old Pat Cummins, the one Australian to match Finn’s 90 mph pace. After Cummins’ early departure to injury, the best Australian bowler was Clint McKay, but he is unlikely to play in next year’s Test matches.
As for Australia’s spin attack, it is dire. On the strength of his bowling at Old Trafford, James Tredwell, England’s second-stringer, would walk into the Australian side ahead of Xavier Doherty.
Before this series, there was a lot of Australian talk about putting pressure on Tim Bresnan at seven, but Australia took so few wickets – 13 in four games – that only six England players batted and they got nowhere near the England tailenders.
The Australian batting was even more of a problem than their bowling. Peter Forrest was put under an unfair amount of pressure by being asked to bat in the great Ricky Ponting’s old position of three. Forrest failed repeatedly and Michael Clarke needs to step up to three to take the pressure off his young charges.
George Bailey was more successful than Forrest. He made a fifty, as well as a resourceful 46 from 41 balls at Old Trafford and generally showed maturity. But Bailey will never amount to another Mike Hussey, or Ricky Ponting. Already 29 years old, he is a solid, if unspectacular talent, selected as much for his character as his ability. A first-class average of 40 would not have brought him near the Australian side a decade or two ago.
This was Michael Clarke’s first series loss as captain in ODIs and there was some mitigation in the fact this was Australia’s off season, and injuries undermined the team. But Clarke will still have much to ponder in the way that Australia were so comprehensively outplayed.
England are now level with South Africa on 118 points in the ICC’s ODI table, just a point behind Australia at the top. The Test series between the world’s best two sides will be the highlight of the summer, but their five ODIs will also provide much to savour as they wrestle to take the number one slot of Australia.