Too nice? Aussie pacemen have it all except the nastiness needed sometimes when batters dig in
There’s no doubt the Australian bowling attack is world class. They stack up well against the best the rest of the world has to offer and compare favourably with the Aussie attacks of yesteryear who could get the job done on pretty much any occasion.
Pat Cummins became the second-fastest to 200 wickets on day three of the first Test, his 44th match, which ranks him behind only the great Dennis Lillee (38).
Along with long-time pace comrades Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, they have delivered time and again for several years and now they have Cameron Green chipping in as a seam-bowling all-rounder, it’s the strongest Australian attack since the era of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee nearly two decades ago.
But while they have pace, variation, swing, seam and stamina, they lack the nasty that’s sometimes needed to unsettle batters on a benign wicket.
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And this Optus Stadium deck has offered little to the bowlers over the course of the first three days.
In the wake of the Sandpapergate ball-tampering cycle, the Australian team has been on charm offensive to restore its public image after being known as attack dogs when there were 11 of them in the field circling the outnumbered batting duo.
Sledging and any inkling of gamesmanship have been replaced with smiles and a positive demeanour, first under the captaincy of Tim Paine and for the past 12 months since Cummins took the reins.
They don’t need to go back to the bad old days when fast bowlers the world over, but particularly the Australians, had a poor reputation for verbal intimidation.
It was almost mandatory for quicks to not only have an angry edge but to let batters know about it with what Steve Waugh termed “mental disintegration”.
Or what another renowned defender of sledging, Warwick Todd, would describe as “a few choice words”, a euphemism for abusing the opposition player’s courage, intelligence, family pedigree or worse.
By no means do they need to start watching old clips of McGrath or Merv Hughes to learn the not so subtle art of sledgehammering batters with verbal barbs.
But they need to make the batters feel uncomfortable at the wicket on days like this when the Windies were ambling along at three runs an over with occupying the crease their main priority as they try to avoid defeat rather than harbour any hopes of victory following the home side’s 4-(dec)-598.
There is nothing wrong with a snarl or a stare after the follow-through for a fast bowler to show the batter that you mean business.
The best form of sledging is saying nothing at all. The armada of legendary Windies quicks during their glory years a couple of generations ago were famous for being deathly silent while they scared the life out of batters with their pace barrage.
When Curtly Ambrose confronted Steve Waugh with “don’t cuss me, man” during their famous 1995 standoff, it was the most he’d spoken in nearly a decade of menacing the Australian side on mute.
And the message was delivered loud and clear – we’re so good we don’t have to say a word.
Australia’s current quicks are that good too.
Cummins became just the 18th Australian to reach the 200-wicket milestone in Test history – his pace comrades Hazlewood (216) and Starc (288), and spinner Nathan Lyon (439) are also on that honour roll.
When he dismissed opposing skipper Kraigg Brathwaite with a peach that hit the top of off stump, Cummins (21.71) joined McGrath (21.64) as the only members of Australia’s 200 Club with an average less than 22.
Cummins (47.5) has the best strike rate of the bunch, in fact among the best in Test history with 200 scalps, he’s sixth behind modern-day stars Kagiso Rabada (257 wickets at 40.2 deliveries per victim) and Dale Steyn (439 at 42.3), and all-time greats Waqar Younis (373 at 23.56), Malcolm Marshall (376 at 46.7) and Allan Donald (330 at 47).
The 29-year-old NSW seamer’s record could be even better if not for the string of back injuries which kept him out of Test cricket for nearly six years after he took 6-79 in South Africa on debut in 2011.
Shamarh Brooks has been inserted into the line-up as a concussion substitute for Nkrumah Bonner after he retired hurt due to the effects of a Green bouncer which struck him on the helmet, meaning Australia still need to take six more wickets before they can think about setting themselves up for victory on day five.
Brooks is off to a busy start with 18 off 22 for the Windies to be 4-237 at the tea break on day three.
The Australians need to make Brooks, Jermaine Blackwood (35 not out) and the tailenders feel uncomfortable, particularly with the second new ball three overs away.
They don’t need to overstep the mark but a little bit of old-fashioned nastiness wouldn’t go astray.