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Versatility Now Australia’s Major Weapon

Australia has continued its slow dismantling of a fitful visiting team.

Pakistan put up a fight on the third day, forming notable alliances for the fifth and 10th wickets and only between times suffering the sort of hot-headedness that has been its undoing. Accordingly the Australians were forced to work harder than expected to reinforce their position, a turn of events that seemed to catch them off guard.

Peter Siddle

Peter Siddle bowling at Chelmsford.
Photo ©: David Morton /

Australia’s inability to snuff out the last pair boded ill for its attempts to dismiss teams able to concentrate longer and bat deeper than these bemusing opponents. Pakistan lost three wickets to Nathan Hauritz, all of them from skied strokes. It was Test cricket from another era.

As far as the locals were concerned the main source of encouragement was to be found in their team’s increasing variety and depth. Ricky Ponting’s outfit is becoming ever more versatile, with batsmen taking wickets and bowlers scoring runs. Apart from tactical acumen and consistency, flexibility has been the main difference between these sides.

No longer exceptionally gifted, the Australians need to make the most of the talents at their disposal. It’s starting to happen. And it’s the only way the team can return to the top of the pile. Ponting’s side will live or die on its wits.

Australia’s new opening pair is an example. Apart from fulfilling their duty to provide solid starts, they have been taking wickets. Shane Watson has wobbled the old ball around enough to keep batsmen guessing and looks more threatening with the ball than in his days as a senior operator.

The sight of Simon Katich rolling over an arm pleased all those convinced that wrist-spin still has a part to play in this neck of the woods and persuaded that the lower orders are inclined to lash out at anything they cannot untangle. By all accounts Katich is a reluctant bowler. Something about a sore shoulder. Psychology might also play a part. He’s had a rough ride for years and is nowadays more a grizzled veteran than cheerful novice.

Katich practised his tweakers in the nets before this match, a rare concession. His only previous spell this summer was brief but still included a dropped catch and a close shave. Whether captain or spinner are most to blame for his sporadic outings is unknown but it’s time for a change of plan.

Australian cannot afford to waste any of the resources at its disposal.

Depend on it, Australia will get stuck again. Pakistan’s lower orders were less bothered about the numerous bumpers directed at their underemployed thinking region than by the left-armer’s mysteries.

Australia’s tailenders have returned the compliment. By now Mitchell Johnson’s skills with the bat are well-known. Those studying his figures in search of an accurate assessment of his merits with the willow are wasting their time. Whenever quick runs are needed he dispenses with all notions of self-preservation. Moreover he needs time to settle before he can launch a successful assault. Clearly, though, he is going to score a lot of runs before his time is up. Hauritz is also becoming a trooper down the list. No longer nearly as bothered about respectability, he plays all sorts of shots and often makes his mark. It is not wise to be too sensible.

In Sydney, Peter Siddle played the most significant innings of his career.

Standing firm for hours, he allowed Mike Hussey to stroke the ball around without undue haste. The Victorian’s determination indicated a hardening within the team. Team spirit is not about slapping backs and laughter.

Mohammed Yousuf’s exasperated remarks sparked up his team. That was man-management. Lower-order rallies give a fair more reliable insight into spirit than any amount of huddles or sugary remarks. Siddle might not be taking many wickets but he remains unbroken.

Brad Haddin is the other player intent of pushing himself to his limits. That his glovework has not drawn much attention this year is a good sign. Like surgeons, keepers are remembered for their mistakes. He has been tidy and has also batted boldly.

England’s whole is greater then the sum of its parts. Much the same can be said about a capable though not intimidating Australian team.

This article was written for The Age.
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