It's time to give George Bailey the Baggy Green
In England's second innings at Lord's, Joe Root was batting on just 8 when he edged Shane Watson between Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke. Root would go on to score a match-winning 180 and Sir Ian Botham's prediction of a 10-0 triumph (across both Ashes) is seeming less and less like conceited English pride.
Australian cricket is in turmoil. If the first Test at Trent Bridge peppered over the batting cracks with two freak last-wicket stands, the game at Lord's has ruthlessly exposed the fragile line-up. The Ashes is heading towards a no-contest and if this were a boxing match, the towel would have been thrown in a long time ago.
In England's second innings at Lord's, Joe Root was batting on just 8 when he edged Shane Watson between Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke. Root would go on to score a match-winning 180 and Sir Ian Botham's prediction of a 10-0 triumph (across both Ashes) is seeming less and less like conceited English pride. Back to the misjudged catch, Clarke looked around and gave his vice-captain a look that echoed derision. It was a look that said - I've played with McGrath, Warne, Ponting and Gilchrist, and now this is what I have to deal with.' It probably wasn't intended at Haddin, who is a fine cricketer is his own right, but at the mediocrity around the skipper and his deputy.
It's all conjecture, but Australia could do with the above-mentioned characters. Not their talent, just their moral fiber.
The oddity with the current crop is their passivity, their lack of substance and an acceptance with being second best. Shane Watson, his aggression apart, has a clear technical flaw in his batting and with 43 Tests under his belt, should by now know where to plant his front foot. As games go by, his credentials in the five-day game are diminishing and just two centuries in a career spanning 8 years is hardly acceptable. England, remember, dropped their previous opener (Nick Compton) who scored two centuries this calendar year!
The others do not fare much better either. Phil Hughes probes and prods outside his off stump, his tentativeness defined in his batting. Usman Khawaja is un-tested, Chris Rogers is a mere stop-gap while Ed Cowan is an essayist yet to find a script.
Apart from Clarke, Peter Siddle and possibly Haddin, this Australian side is in desperate need of leaders - players who won't take losing lightly. This next statement may be accompanied by uninformed giggles, but the man most deserving of a Test cap at this stage and one who would fit seamlessly into the Australian middle-order is their Twenty20 skipper George Bailey.
In 2013, to much public ridicule, the then uncapped Bailey captained Australia for the first time in T20s. 'What does he do on the field?' people asked. The 'non-playing captain', the newspapers termed him. I would like to say that Bailey silenced his critics with a 60-ball match winning century but alas, this isn't a movie script.
Bailey clawed and scratched through the initial stages of rejection, criticism and is now a permanent feature in the Australian limited-overs squad. It is time to hand him the Baggy Green.
The 30-year-old has impressed in his ODI career. 878 runs in just 23 games at an excellent average of 44 suggest a temperament and technique to survive the five-day game. And to be honest, Australia could do much worse in their current predicament than turn to Bailey.
At the risk of sounding delirious, Bailey is in the mould of Steve Waugh. Not uber-talented, but with no obvious flaw, Bailey is a fighter - a man seemingly unfazed by reputations and occasions. His first-class record isn't outrageous but Australia do not have a single 'outstanding' talent in their current domestic setup. This was evidenced when Ricky Ponting after retirement, was voted the Sheffield Shield player of the year last time around.
Australia need characters to play the type of innings that Haddin did in the second innings at Trent Bridge. Bailey still has a few good years ahead of him with an obvious ability to be Haddin-esque. When August 1st comes around, Australia travel to Old Trafford with the Ashes all but lost. If an edge were to find its way past Clarke in the slips, one would hope that he could turn to gully and see the calming presence of George Bailey.