Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and a team Down Under

Unless Australia can find real, bonafide options for positions four to seven – minus wherever Clarke bats – it's all looking rather Down Under for them, at least for the time being.

Updated: March 25, 2013 13:05 IST
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For once, there was a touch of humility to India's post-4-0 Australia series celebrations. (Although it's likely the news channels have been painting a different picture. I haven't been watching, so I don't know.) The execrable TV ads that adopted the 'we'll show 'em' tack were put on the backburner. Part of the reason that the 'revenge' pitch was muted was probably due to the walloping India took when the Englishmen came calling earlier. And though Harbhajan Singh's pre-series statement of intent – "We'll teach them how we play cricket in India" – has been vindicated (through no major contribution of his on the field), the overall sense I get around cricket-town is one of relief.

India might have been on the cusp of transition when they went, and lost, to Australia 4-0. Certainly, the team that went to Australia was India's first-choice squad. You always pick your best squad, so long as there are no fitness and other such concerns. Now compare that team to the Australian touring party.

The Indian team in Australia did have Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan, as well as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, two men who were discarded, temporarily or otherwise, during the course of the just-concluded series. Look at the Australia team right now. Michael Clarke is not only the best cricketer in the team, he is also Australia's only world-class cricketer at the moment, conditions notwithstanding. Sure, Shane Watson is a bit of a one-day legend and David Warner has created his share of ripples and James Pattinson is regarded as a paceman with immense potential, but none of them are world-class Test players, not yet anyway.

The similarity between the two teams is that both teams are in transition mode right now. India weren't quite in that phase when they went to Australia, even though there were injury concerns, and Australia, despite not being anywhere close to their early 2000s all-star look, did have Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. But the Indian team to tour Australia was much, much stronger than the current Australian team. Remember, when India toured, a lot of pundits – established as well as self-proclaimed – thought it was India's best chance to win a Test series in Australia?

The right time to talk about the Indian Test team might be closer to the tour of South Africa, when we have a better idea of the personnel at India's disposal, possible selectorial u-turns, form and fitness reports and much else, including Status Sachin. Preparing a report card of sorts for the Australian team right now, however, is not such a bad idea, seeing that the Ashes are in June, just after the Indian Premier League, and because there are unlikely to be too many stalwarts making a splash in the Australian firmament between now and then.

So here it is.

Warner, Ed Cowan and Phil Hughes are all right as top-order batsmen in familiar conditions, but Watson is certainly no Test class No. 4. Remember that, usually, the team's best batsman bats at No. 4 in Test matches. Watson is not that batsman. Clarke is, but Watson is not the best No. 5 Test batsman either. He might be a good No. 7 batsman, if he also bowls, comparing him, as I am in my head, with Adam Gilchrist, probably the best No. 7 batsman in history. But between Watson No. 5 and Watson No. 7, neither of which induces much confidence, you have the No. 6 and, again, Matthew Wade isn't quite the right man in my mind. Gilchrist hardly ever batted at No. 6 and it's not conceivable that the Australian selectors think Wade is better than Gilchrist. It's because of lack of options, which is what also sees Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell making the Test XI.

It's simple. No Australian team would have opted to go in with Watson, Wade and Smith, or Maxwell, in their top six or seven, give or take Moises Henriques.

The bowling, on the other hand, is fine, except under subcontinent conditions. Nathan Lyon, seven-for aside, is no Shane Warne, but not too many players are. Australia's strength is their pace bowling and that looks fairly healthy right now.

The problem is with the lack of firepower in the batting. The team is much further away from the No. 1 spot in Tests than Mickey Arthur thinks it is – if his explanation post the homework fiasco is anything to go by. But No. 1 is not the only position worth occupying. A team can win limited-overs matches with a selection of bits-and-pieces players and a couple of floaters. Test cricket is somewhat different. And unless Australia can find real, bonafide options for positions four to seven – minus wherever Clarke bats – it's all looking rather Down Under for them, at least for the time being.

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