Night Shift Logic: The Death of the Australian Batsman

Posted on July 21, 2013

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I thought I would love this when it came. When I started watching cricket in the early 90s, Australia were infuriatingly light years ahead of everyone. Whilst Warne and McGrath possibly get the most adoration, its easy to forget the sheer terrifying riches of their batting stocks during that decade. The Waughs, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, David Boon, Matty Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Ricky Ponting and Darren Lehmann. Heck, this is without mentioning Greg Blewett, Michael Bevan, Stuart Law, Matty Elliott, and players like Martin Love, a guy who averaged around 50 at first class level yet only won a handful of test caps. The 2000s would come, and with them would come further riches. Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds and Mike Hussey. They were so consistent that from Michael Clarke made his debut in 2004 until 2008, only three other batsmen made their debuts alonside these guys, and 2 of them were openers following Justin Langer’s retirement. Needless to say, for the first 15 plus years of my cricket viewing, they were strong in the top order.

Then, as with Australian cricket in general it would seem, things began to unravel. Retirements came, and it was quickly realised that the bench strength had grown slim. With the leaving of such an influential group of players, Australian cricket was maybe guilty of trying to make a cultural change. They even started to do the unthinkable for them previously, which was hand Baggy Green caps to untested youngsters like Phil Hughes, Steve Smith, David Warner. As the current Ashes series quickly turns into a one sided massacre, it is the gaping holes in the Australian top order that are causing the gulf in quality. They seem bereft of confidence, none more so than Hughes, a player who bound on to the international stage in 2008 and demolished South Africa. There are no plans, no set up and no conviction. It is the least Australian looking batting order I have ever seen.

You used to be able to set your watch by the batting order. Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Martyn, Clarke, Symonds. Taylor, Slater, Boon, MWaugh, SWaugh, Bevan or Blewett. Now, they are in disarray. Ed Cowan, an opening batsman all of his life, is suddenly shunted to three. The desperate desire to make Shane Watson an opener of presence is not working. Steve Smith, who started his test career a few years back as a bowling all rounder, finds himself at number five. Phil Hughes has batted everywhere in the top six since making his debut. It doesn’t seem that anyone has a definite position, and that obviously hurts the plans.

It is also a hugely untested line up at the highest level. The top six at Lords this past week have a total of 182 tests between them. Take Michael Clarke and Shane Watson out of the equation however, and you have a paltry 45, 26 of which belong to Phil Hughes. Heck, most of the squad doesn’t have too much in the way of first class experience at all, and oh they’re young. Mike Hussey didn’t make his test debut until he was 30 years old. Contrast this with an England top six with 343 tests between them, and thats with two inexperienced guys in there. The difference there is that Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are in no doubt as to their roles in the side, and they know full well that unless injury occurs, positions two and six are theirs. No messing around, no jumping up and down the order. Solidity.

As I already mentioned today, this Australia batting side has a distinct Australia A feel to it. They are all talented players, that cannot be denied, but they are being made to look particularly second rate at the moment. The first test was close, but that had nothing to do with the top order. They keep getting starts, but there is no consistency in the slightest, and no moving onto big scores. The strength in depth behind them doesn’t look too promising either. George Bailey, Shaun Marsh maybe. The top run scorers in this past years Sheffield Shield are either retired test players (Ponting), discarded (Mark Cosgrove) or a part of this squad (Rogers and Hughes). This genuinely is the best Australian line up currently available, and their plight genuinely saddens me.

I didn’t think it would be this way. I longed for the day when an Australian side would frequently find themselves on scores such as 91-6 or 108-5, as they have so far in this series. The problem is that over the last eight years, we have been treated to two Ashes series that really encapsulated what we love about this sport, two series that really grabbed the imagination and proved that test cricket can, and frequently is, thrilling. What is unfolding here is a capitulation of a once impregnable side. It is men against boys, and those who scoffed at back to back 5-0 wins for England might be swallowing a little harder after the past four days.

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