There was more to the warm-up match between India and Australia than meets the eye.
In the time that has passed since Australia was bowled out for 65 the critics have gone from triumphant to “well, it was only a warm-up match, no Michael Clarke, pick any 11 from 15 to either bat or field, nothing at stake, just a way of getting the old legs moving” and so discounting India’s high-end success.
Even before the game, in the warm-up for the warm-up so to speak, there were signs of bewilderment among the Aussies, whispered conversations with former great players and a look of unhappiness akin to panic.
I cannot go back far enough to remember an Australian side with that expression but it may have occurred at the Oval in 1938 soon after Don Bradman twisted his ankle trying to bowl a few overs and cut off England who were heading for 903 for seven.
Clarke the key
The reason for the distress is all about Clarke. He is the skilled captain, a particularly nice chap especially by Australian standards and the lynchpin among their harum-scarum batsmen. If he bats 30 or 40 overs Australia will make a hatful of runs. If not they may, well, be bowled out for 65.
He has suffered from back trouble all the way through his now lengthy international career, but his condition has clearly grown worse recently. “Back trouble” known as lumbago when I had a share of it 50 years ago caused a laugh whenever it was mentioned — supposedly because the British working man always used it as an excuse for not working — but my guess is that Clarke is not grinning.
His teammates were certainly not in the mood for laugh this week. Their chances of winning the Champions Trophy are slim enough even if Clarke played a major part. Without him they might as well sit the tournament out on Bondi Beach.
Shane Warne, bowling genius turned commentator, said this week: “They don’t even know their best team.”
England too have to be at full strength if they are to beat such favourites as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand and many a fan in this country hope they reserve their best efforts for the Aussies when the Ashes takes over the headlines later this summer.
The Kiwis, who won the one-day series in the first two games against England, allege they were happy to allow Jonathan Trott to bat as long as he wished because his run-rate is so slow and, just as much to the point, so unthreatening. Even to eyes which only care to see England colours, the top order of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Trott is too close to steady as she goes to win a one-day tournament.
Without Kevin Pietersen to hurry the rate in the middle order, England are unlikely to change from conventional to dramatic any time soon and they still seem to be batting 30 years ago.
As for the Tendulkar-free India I like their outlook. It has always been possible for one man — better still two — to set up victory in limited-overs games and with M.S. Dhoni and Kohli, Raina and Karthik in the side they have a strong middle order and the power to make a lot of runs very quickly.
So positively speaking, if they do not add the Champions Trophy to their World Cup it will be a very surprising tournament indeed.