David Leggat: Few sure of places in Aussie test team

Australia's Steven Smith walks off after losing his wicket to South Africa in their cricket test match in Hobart, Australia. Photo / AP
Australia's Steven Smith walks off after losing his wicket to South Africa in their cricket test match in Hobart, Australia. Photo / AP

Less than a year ago Australia were chortling as they cleaned up New Zealand in Christchurch to give them the world No 1 ranking.

New Zealand had lost their way in the course of back-to-back 2-0 defeats to the Aussies.

They had been poor in those series and the question sat: were Australia really as good as the No 1 spot should indicate.

The year began with South Africa at No 1, before losing 2-0 to England. That let India up to No 1 briefly, before Australia took over, on the strength of that series win in New Zealand.

Step forward Pakistan, who nosed ahead after their 2-2 draw in England, only to have India leapfrog them having clouted New Zealand 3-0. That's five No 1s in a year.

Now we know. Australia are in a dreadful state, bitterness pouring out as they try to figure out how to get out of a pickle.

Australia have lost five tests on the trot, 3-0 in Sri Lanka and now the first two at home to South Africa. Throw in five ODIs in South Africa in between, all lost, and they have gone 10 international matches without a win, or even a draw.

Things have got to such a parlous state that only four players - captain Steve Smith, opener David Warner, and seamers Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc - are sure of places in the third test, a day-nighter in Adelaide against the South Africans.

New Zealand made six changes for yesterday's test against Pakistan, partly injury-forced but there's a comparison of the scale of change.

Australia have real problems in the sub-continent. It's invariably a challenge for the best western teams but Australia are hopeless over there.

They have no batsmen with real test match glue who are prepared to hunker down if things are getting sticky.

The likes of Allan Border and Steve Waugh, flinty characters who sold their wicket dearly, must have been shaking their heads at some of the Hobart dismissals. That batting performance this week against South Africa was a complete shower.

Some Australian scribes are calling it the biggest crisis since the Packer battles of the late 1970s. That's a stretch, considering that involved a tranche of players leaving en bloc. It was a different type of pain.

So the search has been on in the past couple of days for the new thrusters to reshape the batting group. Look for younger men like Peter Handscomb of Victoria and Queensland's Matt Renshaw, both from British stock, for the Adelaide test. Both scored Sheffield Shield centuries this week (Hanscomb 215), the best type of currency.

Most of all Australia need to rediscover that crusty, cussed gnarliness which, while not making them universally popular, at least made them tough opponents.

That said, South Africa are in cracking form and have done Australia over without their best batsman, AB de Villiers, and a champion fast bowler in Dale Steyn.

They're coming here in February.

It's an appealing prospect, with bright new faces like speedster Kagiso Rabada, batsman Temba and spinner Keshav Maharaj now important figures in their side.

There's never been a soft South African side and be sure they will be formidable, as Australia have discovered to their cost.

- NZ Herald

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