In last night’s amazing Batathon in South Africa, the pitch was as batsman-friendly as is physically possible and
the boundaries were short, but a hard, straight question must now be asked
about Australia’s Project Attack, in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup in the West Indies.

The poser is not complicated. How does a bowling attack fail to defend a world-record total of 434,
bowling with the luxury of a target that was 36 runs more than anybody had ever
scored off 50 overs?

How on Earth do you lose? Even South Africa’s captain, Graeme Smith, admitted he didn’t think they could win. “It
never really crossed our minds that we could do it,” he said. “We
were smashing balls all over the place, and then we’d look up at the
scoreboard, and we were still 350 behind.”

All that was required for the Australian
attack was to contain; to strangle the batsmen for just long enough to make the
improbable become impossible. Yet they couldn’t do it. Instead, with Smith and
Herschelle Gibbs swinging wildly, the Aussies blinked and suddenly the South
Africans could believe.

Mick Lewis set an all-comers bad bowling
record of 0-113. Stuart Clark went for only 54 … off six overs. Lee took 1-68
off 7.5 overs. Symonds 2/75 off nine. (Nathan Bracken actually bowled pretty well,
to take 5/67.)

Australian captain Ricky Ponting said
pointedly afterwards: “Teams have often had success at running down big scores
against us. … The batters did well but the bowlers didn’t.”

Ponting is right. It’s happened three times
now since Australia more or less “settled” on its squad, ahead of next year’s World
Cup. Australia’s current team makes several appearances in the list of the
greatest one day totals ever, but
worryingly, so do their opponents.

Look at the brief tour of New Zealand in December last year. In the second game, Australia
racked up 322 and then had heart failure as the Kiwis got to within two runs. But then in the next game, Australia
scored 7/331 and watched New Zealand win with an over to spare.

If the ability of our bowling attack to
defend a huge total was a cause for concern then, what about now? Looking to
the future is great but Clark and Lewis aren’t teenagers and it appears they’re
not up to it, so how would it be worse to have experienced and more reliable
bowlers like Gillespie, Kasprowicz or even Bichel charging in?

After last night, things have to change.

Peter Fray

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