Shifting Sands

For Australia, little is easy at the moment. The sands have long since closed over the era of the greats, and the side which drew another unsatisfactory two-Test 'series' with New Zealand had a strange, unbalanced look to it.

Ballast, experience and expertise (theoretically, at least) was provided by Clarke, by Ponting, by Haddin and by Hussey, but, in at least one case they're not what they were, and the side was completed by a range of inexperienced players who in some cases don't belong where they are and in others don't look as though they believe that they belong where they are.

On the face of it things don't look too bad, but this impression may be illusory. As was widely repeated yesterday, Australia have become very adept at losing matches over the past few years, and, of their recent opponents, Sri Lanka continue to struggle in the shadow of Murali's retirement, while South Africa had them 21 for 9.

If the superb Pattinson continues to look as impressive against India as he has against New Zealand, and Cummins returns, they will have an attack capable of causing problems. Consistent, big runs may not be needed and Ponting may get some more breathing space. What seems more likely, though, is that because the series is twice as long and India's batting line-up is stronger than New Zealand's (and is backed by superior spin bowling), something extra will be needed, like big runs from number four.

Australia's decline, while inevitable, has required both collective and individual psychological adjustment. For players like Pattinson and Cummins, who grew up in a time when their national side was the best on the planet, it has been necessary for them to come to terms with the way the world has changed, relish the pressure placed on their young shoulders and respond to it. They have.

For Ponting it is a little different. For all the contrary evidence provided this year by Dravid, almost two years his senior, it is probable that the great years won't return. But he will not want to reprise the ignominy of his departure from the Bellerive arena he knows so well.

He may have to be happy with a big score somewhere, and a dignified exit on his own terms.

He'll need the score, though.

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