After a lot of tough talking and putting up a brave face, the obvious truth is almost impossible to deny, even for Australian skipper Tim Paine: their batting, without the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner, is hardly worth talking about.
Since the Sandpaper-gate scandal in March took heavy toll on Australia’s image and batting strength, there has been only one Test hundred from the team — a marathon match-saving effort from Usman Khawaja in Dubai. In the three Tests of the ongoing series, the highest individual score by an Aussie has been 72. It reduced Paine to wishing he had the two banned cricketers at his disposal, as those in the eleven are clearly not up to the task.
To put matters in perspective, Australia’s most prolific batsman this series has been Travis Head, with 217 runs at 36.16. Kohli and Pujara have expectedly outscored him, by a big margin in terms of both aggregate and average.
“The silver lining is that we have got world-class players that are available soon to come back into this side and clearly when they do it will make a huge difference.”
The suspensions on Smith and Warner get over on March 29.
Paine even struck an analogy: “I think if you took Pujara and Virat out of India’s side, you’d have the same conversation.”
Why the banned duo were missed sorely
Two batting mainstays out of the reckoning and the Australian batting is all at sea. It is a far cry from the time when the proud cricketing nation produced top-quality batsmen as a matter of routine and several high-class players became part of the so-called ‘lost generation’. But the Aussies have had just one hundred since The Ashes almost a year ago. The suspensions of Steve Smith and David Warner are felt more than just in the loss of runs that they themselves used to make. They gave their batting partners enough confidence to make hundreds themselves. Also, the opposition used to focus so much on these two that the other batsmen almost slipped below their radar. Against England, Smith scored three tons, including a double, while Warner helped himself to one. But their influence can be seen in the Marsh brothers scoring two hundreds each while Usman Khawaja also got one. Without their two best batsmen, the other Aussie batsmen have had to take the lead role and they have not been up to it. In short, there is no one who can be expected to hit a match-winning, or match-saving, ton.
Those were the words of a shattered captain. You could sympathise with Paine, captaincy thrust on him when all he was only looking to cement his place in the side, which’s far from the intimidating team it was before. Especially with regards to their batsmen — once bursting at the seams with quality batsmen, now hard-pressed for a decent willow-wielder. But for all their deficiencies, he had led the team bravely.
His wait too shall pass — when Warner and Smith return. But the present reality of the diminished batting stocks raise a question mark on the once-revered Australian model.