IPL: Indian Premier League 2009

Aura-less Australia could slip to fourth


pontingAustralia stand to lose substantially more than their aura over the next month. An Ashes series defeat would precipitate a stunning fall from grace by relegating Ricky Ponting’s men to fourth place on the ICC Test ladder behind South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. A drawn series will place them second after Graeme Smith’s men.

Either rain or England could seal Australia’s demise in the coming weeks. The tourists require victory at both Headingley and The Oval to retain their No. 1 Test ranking, but a bleak weather forecast for Yorkshire could greatly reduce their chances of forcing a result in the fourth Test.

Not since 2003, when South Africa held the ICC Test mace for a four-month period, have Australia occupied a place anywhere other than the pinnacle of Test cricket. South Africa made clear their intentions to recapture the No. 1 ranking when they defeated Australia in a Test series for the first time in 16 years last summer, but Australia’s stirring riposte on South African soil provided them with a degree of breathing room.

Australia have won just five of their past 14 Tests, three of which were against the South Africans, and their inability to register a victory in the first three Tests of the Ashes series has drawn Smith’s side to within two points of the top ranking. Mickey Arthur, who so very nearly engineered Australia’s overthrow earlier this year, was adamant his side was worthy of recognition as the world’s premier Test side, even if rain proves the deciding factor.

“I have been following the rankings a little bit, and I don’t think we would be out of place at all (with the No. 1 ranking) if that was to happen,” Arthur told Cricinfo. “We have played some very solid cricket over the past 18 months. We defeated England, Australia and Pakistan away, and we are certainly proud of that. But whatever happens, I think what is clear is that there is very little now between us, Australia, India and even England. That’s healthy for the game.”

Arthur has been underwhelmed by Australia’s performances over the course of the Ashes, having previously predicted them to comfortably account for England. The South African coach queried the move to overlook the dependable Stuart Clark for the first three Tests of the series, and expressed surprise at Australia’s general inability to combat pressurised situations.

Like Andrew Strauss, Arthur feels the Australians have lost their aura, but warned England against underestimating them in the final two Tests of the Ashes series.

“I do agree with Andrew in that the Australians have looked susceptible when placed under pressure,” Arthur said. “With Australian sides of old, you could try and place all the pressure in the world on them and they would come through it unscathed more often than not. This younger side has shown the odd crack in those situations, and we saw that when we won many of the big moments when we played them in Australia. The aura has gone a little bit.

“Their bowling attack has disappointed me. I’m not surprised that they have tried to stick with the fast bowlers who did the job in South Africa, but I was at the move not to play Clark, especially with (Mitchell) Johnson and (Peter) Siddle leaking runs. They have needed someone to do that holding job, and Watson looks a little undercooked to me to be doing that. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had a big think about it going into the last few Tests.”

In other ranking developments, Michael Clarke has risen two places to third spot among Test batsmen following consecutive Ashes centuries, while Ricky Ponting has slid to ninth.

The only change in the Test bowling top-ten was Stuart Clark’s slip to No. 5, with Makahya Ntini taking the fourth spot. Mitchell Johnson, despite his struggles in England, remains the third ranked Test bowler, and second in the all-rounder category.
Source:Cricket News

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