After Australia were bowled out inside 34 overs for a paltry 88, their lowest Test score in 26 years, on the opening day of the Leeds Test in England, the British media took huge delight in the plight of their great rivals. "Any chance we can play you for the Ashes now, Ricky?" The Daily Mail said in a jibe at Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain. "Australia had a dog of a day against Pakistan simply because they are no longer very good and are even, at times, plain ordinary," Scyld Berry, the editor of Wisden, wrote in The Daily Telegraph. "When the ball swings is one of those times.
"To England's cricketers if they would watch their screens while clutching their sides and wiping away tears, Australia's batsmen sent the message they are even more inept now against swing than they were when Stuart Broad ran through them at The Oval last August to seal the Ashes." Australia's batsmen have indeed struggled in the swing-friendly conditions of England. They have lost the last two Ashes series there and in their last six Test matches in the country they have scored more than 300 in their first innings on just one occasion. At home in Australia, they have crossed 400 in the first innings in all but one of their past six games.
There have been no significant explanations on offer for that disparity, save a few assumptions about the Duke balls used in England, which swing for a bit longer than the Kookaburras employed in Australia. And it is not just the batsmen who are struggling in the conditions - their frontline bowlers have also been found wanting. In the two-Test series against Pakistan, the pace trio of Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul shared 30 wickets between them from 214.3 overs.
Australia's Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson bowled 168.3 overs and had 16 wickets to show for it. Only Shane Watson shone with the ball for Australia, taking 11 wickets, and Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, explained the reasons for his success. "I think he's [Watson] bowling in the best of the areas when you look at the Australian line-up," Waqar said. "Doug Bollinger's bowled short, even Hilfenhaus struggled a little bit. Normally he's the one that's key on this sort of surface."
Individually, Bollinger had five for 182 in the series, Hilfenhaus eight for 190 and Johnson a mere three wickets for 217 runs. They did a lot better in the Ashes last year, so Ponting is not yet pushing the panic button, but he admits the need to improve. "We've got a bit of work to do yet before we even start thinking we are in the best shape we can be for November," he said. Australia's pacemen did turn up the heat on Pakistan yesterday, but their performance against a fragile, inexperienced Pakistan batting line-up should give England hope for the Ashes, even though they have not won a series in Australia since 1986-87. @Email:email@example.com