ICC World Test Championship Series Australia Missed Opportunity To Lose To Sri Lanka, Troubles Resurface Once Again
2022 ICC World Test Championship series, Sri Lanka beat Australia in the second set. It will probably feel like a loss to the Australians. It certainly felt that way after Prabath Jayasuriya, who was making his debut, ended Australia's misery by picking up his 12th wicket of the test match, rattling Mitchell Swepson's stumps late on day four.
Unfortunately, it was sort of an anti-climactic end to a test series that promised so much for the Australians. Because day four of this second Test match was probably the only occasion in Cummins' brief reign as skipper that the Australians went down without a fight. On occasions, although quite rare under Cummins, where they found their backs up against the wall, they managed to find a way.
What Went Wrong With Australia In Race 2 Of The 2022 ICC Test Championship Series?
They fought back when they were reduced to 83/4 in the 1st innings of the 5th Ashes test, posting 303. They fought back when Pakistan put up a huge 1st innings total of 476 in the 1st test, scoring 459 in reply. But when they conceded 554 in the Sri Lankan 1st innings, their highest total conceded under the new skipper, giving away a lead of 190, they succumbed to the pressure.
That it came right after a 10-wicket thumping of the hosts inside two and a half days of cricket is even more difficult to fathom. Invariably, their downfall was a result of their batting woes against spin, with Prabath Jayasuriya picking up 12 wickets in the test. The Australian bowling attack is not without blame either, with them conceding close to 150 runs for the last 4 Sri Lankan wickets, while Alex Carey's glovework left a lot to be desired in subcontinental conditions.
So, from a commanding position of 329/5 on the morning of day two to succumbing to their first innings defeat against Sri Lanka inside four days, what went wrong for Cummins and co?
Australia Hits Spin Issues At ICC World Test Championship
Before the series, Usman Khawaja hit back at critics, saying that this is one of the best Australian teams that he has been a part of in facing spin. The Australian batsmen, including Khawaja himself, proved their detractors wrong by out-batting their Sri Lankan counterparts on a turning track in the opening test in Galle.
Khawaja largely played from the crease and was on the front foot on his way to a brilliant 71. Cameron Green stepped out of the crease and got to the pitch of the ball, using his long reach to score 77, while Carey brought out the sweeps and reverse sweeps. Posting 321, the Australian batsmen gave a good account of themselves on a difficult batting deck despite their big guns misfiring.
But come the 2nd test, especially in the 2nd innings, it was as if they were batting on a different surface altogether. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne made long-awaited hundreds but lacked support from the rest of the batting group. This meant that they couldn't get past 400 even though it looked very likely at 329/5.
But the 2nd innings was when their batting frailties against spin were brutally exposed as the batsmen wilted under the scoreboard pressure. Warner did his subcontinental record no good by scoring just 24 and caught plumb in front trying to sweep the ball. Khawaja wasted another start, caught at short leg for 29. Steve Smith made one of the worst reviews ever, by sending upstairs a plumb lbw decision.
Head's subcontinental misery continued as he lasted just four balls and was bowled by a Mendis off-breaker. Labushagne played with fire, sweeping full-length deliveries, and eventually got out leg before, trying to sweep almost a yorker. Green didn't last long either and the Aussies crumbled for 151.
The capitulation begs the question of whether the Australian batsmen did indeed improve their game against the turning ball or whether the docile tracks in Pakistan have somewhat masked their deficiencies.
Australia To Face India In Next Series Of IC World Test Championship
Even though Australia has just suffered their worst-ever defeat against Sri Lanka, there aren't any obvious candidates in the firing line just yet. In the aftermath of the 3-0 whitewash in 2016, Burns, Khawaja, and Adam Voges were immediately shown the exit door. But on this occasion, the selectors find themselves in a precarious situation.
In the batting order, the two likely candidates are David Warner and Travis Head, with both players enduring horrendous tours in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It would have been an unthinkable proposition to drop both Warner and Head from the test setup just six months ago, with both players playing a crucial role in Australia's Ashes success.
It was the coming of age of Travis Head in the Ashes where the South Australian batsman was declared Man of the series. But since then, the 28-year-old has had a fall from grace as he has not managed a single half-century since the Ashes. In 7 innings across the 5 tests, he has scored 101 runs at 15.1 with the highest score of 26. Head's track record away from home isn't very good either, with the batsman averaging 23.08, while it drops to 21.30 in Asia.
David Warner's struggles against spin are well documented as he has one of the highest home-and-away average differences in history with 27.52. It has been the story of Warner's career so far, where he is brilliant in home conditions but flatters to deceive outside Australia, where he is averaging 32.78.
While it will be difficult to replace a player like Warner, Australia has a proven replacement in Glenn Maxwell for Travis Head, at least in subcontinental conditions. Maxwell hit a century against the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja in 2017 and had a decent IPL as well.
Australia will face the toughest assignment in test cricket of beating India in India next year in one of the most anticipated test series in recent memory. Both Head and Warner's places aren't in any immediate danger, but if both players aren't deemed good enough to play in India, should they be selected for the home summer against the West Indies and South Africa?
Shouldn't a new player be given enough time to settle into the team before the all-important India series? Or can Australia carry two passengers in their top five and still hope to beat India? These are some of the questions Cummins and the selectors need to find answers to after a disappointing series.
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