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No excuse for Australia's poor preparation against swing


Despite swing bowling being New Zealand's primary weapon, Michael Clarke indicated after the defeat to Brendon McCullum's side that Australia had not prepared thoroughly for the moving ball
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A lot of surprising things happened at Eden Park on Saturday, where ball dominated bat on one of world cricket's smallest grounds. But perhaps the most startling thing occurred after New Zealand's one-wicket win was complete, when Michael Clarke was asked what had gone wrong with Australia's batting.
"I think sometimes in T20 cricket and one-day cricket you can get caught up working on the power side of your game," Clarke said. "I don't think we have had too many training sessions where we have worked on the start of our game and actually defending the brand new ball or the swinging ball and that's an area we can focus on."
Come again? If execution is the cricketer's buzzword of the moment, preparation is not far behind. Clarke talks so much of being prepared that you'd think he was Baden-Powell and his team the Boy Scouts. If they were not ready for the challenge posed by Trent Boult and Tim Southee, questions need to be asked of Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann.
What did Australia expect from New Zealand if not high-class swing bowling? Did they not watch Southee curve the ball at will against England a week before and take seven wickets? Did they not remember being beaten the last time they played New Zealand in a Test, when Southee and Boult were part of the attack that swung them out in Hobart in 2011?
Had they forgotten the embarrassment of being hooped out for 74 by Nuwan Kulasekara in a one-day game at the Gabba in 2013? Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson were part of the 47 all-out Test in Cape Town in 2011; that had surely not slipped their minds? Or 98 against England on Boxing Day 2010? Or 88 against Pakistan in Leeds in 2010?
Red ball, white ball, pink ball (probably - we'll find out in a day-night Test against New Zealand this year) - Australia's batsmen struggle against swing whatever the colour, whatever the format. They know this, and yet they were caught unprepared this weekend. How can that be? They had five days in Auckland before the game. What were they doing?
Clarke's comments gave off the strong whiff of complacency. Before this match, Australia had lost only one of their past 13 ODIs. Perhaps they had become so accustomed to winning that they felt perfectly prepared. They should not have overlooked their one loss at home this summer, when South Africa's elite pace attack skittled them for 154 in Perth.
On Thursday, the bowling coach Craig McDermott was asked to assess the way Southee bowled against England, who New Zealand had dismissed for 123 in Wellington. He bowled really well, McDermott said, but softened his praise by observing that "the Poms didn't move their feet very well". "Our blokes move their feet pretty well," McDermott said.
A penny for his thoughts on Glenn Maxwell's dismissal against Boult, feet planted on middle and leg, bat flailing outside off, ball chopped onto the stumps. Maxwell was later caught on camera making a choking gesture to the crowd after Mitchell Starc took two late wickets and Australia had a chance to win; he would do better to reflect on Australia's collapsibility than New Zealand's.
Australia crashed from 80 for 1 in the 13th over to 106 for 9 in the 22nd. "You're worse than England," came the chorus from the crowd. Only a 45-run last-wicket stand, and then Starc's six-wicket haul, made the chant untrue.
The tiny Eden Park boundaries were discussed at length during the week. But that was a siren song that lured Australian batsmen to their demise, underestimating New Zealand's bowlers in the process. Aaron Finch was bowled trying to deposit Southee onto Reimers Avenue; Watson pulled Daniel Vettori straight to one of the four men out.
They were part of a series of brain explosions from Australia's batsmen, the kind to which Brendon McCullum might have been susceptible, according to David Warner's comments last Monday. But perhaps the biggest brain explosion was a collective one, the absence of enough training against new-ball swing during the week - and the summer.
Much has been made of Australia's long ODI batting order, with Brad Haddin at No.8, but their weakness was always likely to be against high-class swing. Clarke's comments that such failings had not been addressed can be viewed as a thinly veiled criticism of Lehmann, for it is the coach who directs the training regime.
But as captain, Clarke can have a strong say in what occurs at practice. If he felt certain areas were being neglected, he should have addressed them. It is possible that Australia will have to return to Eden Park to play New Zealand in a semi-final, or face them at the MCG in the final. Or South Africa, who also have the ability to swing a team out.
To use the language of the modern-day cricketer, you could understand failings of execution in a high-pressure World Cup game, but not poor preparation. Australia need to spend the rest of this campaign controlling the controllables. Working, as they like to say, on the right areas.

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