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Wanted: A Few Good (Australian) Batsmen

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Australia_batsmen_bowlers_cricketPrior to the first ball of the first test of the 2015 Ashes at Cardiff, my firm conviction was that the Australians would dominate this series almost to the degree they dominated the last one. England’s comprehensive win did little to dent my confidence in the visitors’ superiority, and when the home team was thumped by all of 405 runs at Lords it seemed that things had returned to the way they ought to be.

But then the action moved to Edgbaston, where England’s bowlers mauled the Australians on the first day, dismissing them for a paltry 136, even though Michael Clarke had chosen to bat first having called correctly at the toss. The tourists never really recovered, losing in less than three days. And so the tally now stands at 2-1 in favour of the Englishmen. The Aussies have a hell of a task if they are to come from behind to win.

In January 1973, Jamaica hosted the “Sunshine Showdown,” the heavyweight boxing title fight between then-champion, Joe Frazier, and challenger, George Foreman. Celebrated boxing promoter, Don King, visited Jamaica many years afterwards and related that he had arrived in Jamaica for the fight firmly embedded in the champion’s team. Yet every time the insanely powerful Foreman bounced Frazier off the canvas, King said he found himself inching closer and closer to the challenger’s corner. By the time of the sixth and final knock down, moments before Frazier lost by TKO, thereby surrendering his belt to the new champion, King was a strong and vocal member of Foreman’s entourage.

I am not here saying that I have moved out of the Aussies-will-win camp and am now favouring the Englishmen. Were I a betting man I’d still have a small wager on the Ashes not changing hands. But, like a devout man beginning to doubt long-held beliefs, the strong faith I had in Australia winning the series has been shaken.

My line of thought was that the Australian bowling came equipped with enough firepower to blow away their opponents. And while it was evident their batting was not on a similarly high plane, they’d be able to cobble together enough runs between Chris Rogers, David Warner, Steve Smith, and Clarke to enable them to win, more often than not. That hasn’t happened.

I was fully aware that the hosts would’ve been a threat in their own environment; that Jimmy Anderson especially, but also other members of their pace-bowling department, could, at some point, totally mow down the opposition batsmen. The thinking was that this scenario would probably occur once or twice during the series; just not enough times for England to win. Moreover, conditions that suited the home side’s bowlers would be to the liking of the visitors’ bowlers as well.

While that remains true, the Englishmen have shown that there is some measure of feebleness to the Australian batting, and, it appears, that feebleness can be quite regularly exploited.

 

For some time now, Australia has been worryingly reliant on the heavy gush of runs that have streamed from the bats of Warner, Smith, and Rogers. Others have contributed intermittently, but these three are the ones who have held the Australian batting together, and provided their bowlers with enough runs to grab 20 opposition wickets.

Even as they trounced England 5-0 during the last Ashes scuffle, there were signs of oncoming trouble. On a number of occasions, the Australian innings went slightly off the rails: in four of five tests, they lost five wickets for fewer than 150 runs before rescue missions, led mostly by Brad Haddin, brought them back in line.

A year later, India was beaten 2-0 in a four-test series contested on unusually benign Aussie pitches. But of the eight centuries scored by Australian batsmen, four belonged to Smith, three to Warner, and though Rogers never reached triple figures, he completed six half-centuries.

The two tests of the recent series in the Caribbean yielded two centuries from the Australians, 130 on debut from Adam Voges in the first test, and 199 in the second from, almost inevitably, Smith.

Bad form and a bad back have plagued Australian captain Michael Clarke for a few seasons. Long held as one of the modern game’s great batsmen, his last big score was his 128 at the Adelaide Oval during the last Indian tour. He has recently been vocal about his lack of production, giving the impression that he might be considering stepping away from the game.

It is instructive to note that in the test at Lord’s that Australia won during this current series, their massive first innings total of 566/8 declared was built on scores of 215 from Smith and 173 from Rogers. The only other Australian batsman to pass the half-century mark was Warner with 83 in the second innings, though it has to be said that Clarke was 32* and Mitchell Marsh 27* when victory came.

In the two games they lost, no Australian batsman made a hundred. During those games, the four half-centuries made by batsmen in the top six were made by Rogers and Warner.

Australia virtually lost the Edgbaston test when they posted 136 in the first innings. From that position, they conceded 145 runs in England’s first innings and were never really in the game after that, except in the aspirations of a few Australian fans and commentators.

In the Cardiff game, they fell behind when their 308 proved an insufficient reply to England’s 430. Set 411 to win, they never really stood a chance.

In the meantime, apart from England’s 430 in the first innings of the series, Australia’s bowlers have not allowed their opponents to run up any gigantic scores. England’s next biggest total was 312 in the first innings of the second test, a game they lost badly, by all of 405 runs.

What has been clear is that Australia has been depending too heavily on only a few players for runs. All is well when they do score heavily, but whenever they don’t, as will happen from time to time, the Australian team will have to depend on its bowlers for rescue. As they are a potent force, they will get the job done on occasions. On other occasions, however, the climb will just be too steep and their side will lose.

If the Australians are to consistently win against the top teams, especially away from their home conditions, they will need to find a few good batsmen.



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I am from Jamaica, currently live in USA. Have followed cricket for a long time. Took to writing ab...

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