When Australia embarked on their tour to England to resume their Ashes battle, they were given the tag of underdogs. In that context, it shouldn’t be surprising that they are 2-0 down going into the third Test at Manchester. However, they had raised hopes of a closer contest following a fighting performance in the opening Test at Nottingham, which is why their capitulation at Lord’s was all the more disappointing. If Australia still have hopes to clinch the Ashes they cannot go down at Old Trafford, for it would put an end to their dreams.
To make a strong comeback at Manchester, there is a lot that the hosts need to get right in the third Test. First and foremost, they need much bigger contributions from their senior players, namely skipper Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. Whatever personal issues they have must be put on the backburner for now, and the team’s cause must be paramount. It is striking that while England have notched up three centuries over the two Tests, the highest score by an Aussie in the series so farhas been 98, and that too by a batsman coming in at number eleven – Ashton Agar.
Skipper Clarke has got only one half-century in four innings, which is no achievement in Test cricket while Watson hasn’t got even one during his four visits to the crease. This is not what you expect for the seniors in such a high-profile series. With the other batsmen in the team pretty much inexperienced there is additional pressure on the duo no doubt, but this is also an opportunity for them to prove how good they are when the chips are down. It goes without saying then that Watson and Clarke’s performance would be crucial to Australia’s fortunes at Manchester once again.
At the same time, the other less pedigreed batsmen in the side will also have to put their hands up if Australia want to stay afloat in the Ashes. Domestic veteran Chris Rogers has perhaps been trying a bit too hard to justify his Test recall at such a late stage in his career. Usman Khwaja, like so many times in the past, has looked confident out in the middle, but has failed to build on his starts. He must learn to convert starts in big scores before time runs out. Australia desperately need a stable number three with Ricky Ponting gone.
In comparison to the batsmen, the bowlers have done a much more commendable job. If there is one criticism that can be made of them, it is that they have often allowed the pressure to ease on the Englishmen. In all the four innings of the series thus far, the Aussie pace bowlers have had England in trouble early on. On each occasion though they have allowed the hosts to recover. Peter Siddle has done a laudable job, but the others need to support him. Having said that, their task would be much easier if the batsmen get their act in order.
--By A Cricket Analyst