Mental demons haunting Aussie batsmen
Following Australia’s capitulation on the fourth day it was clear for everyone to see: Australia didn’t have the mental fortitude to put England to the sword.
About eight years ago, had Australia been 0-109 in a fourth-innings run chase there would have been no let-up. No get-out-of-jail-free card for the opposition.
Rather they would twist the blade ever deeper until they had the opposition pleading for mercy.
Australia is not short of talent in the batting department. They are short of some mental toughness, however; the type of grit and determination displayed by the likes of Justing Langer, Simon Katich, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.
Determination to not hand the bowler their wicket, rather making the bowler bowl an unplayable delivery. In this Australian side I only see two batsmen who genuinely prize their wicket, captain Michael Clarke and the evergreen Chris Rogers.
Rogers is a gritty player who doesn’t mind a scrap and, while he will ride some luck with good deliveries, he generally won’t get out due to a brain snap.
Clarke, as he has demonstrated many times, will usually require a magic ball to remove him. Unfortunately for Australia, Stuart Broad was able to produce such a gem.
Australia’s batsmen, when they fire, can damage the best attacks in the world. We saw that at Old Trafford and we even saw it at Adelaide against South Africa last year. Only an incredibly determined Faf du Plessis prevented an Australian victory.
The problem for Australia is that they have lost their ruthlessness. That ability to bat in any situation and be absolutely determined not to gift your wicket was unmatched in Australia’s golden era.
Shane Watson and Brad Haddin’s dismissals were not exactly brilliant deliveries. They played across the line to a straight ball but with that being said, Haddin did get the rough end of the deal from Hawk-Eye.
A firm step down the pitch and a straight bat would have meant no LBW for either of them. It became painful to watch as the wickets tumbled after the dismissal of Clarke.
Australia’s top four piled on 163. Australia’s middle order (five to seven) scored a paltry eight runs between them. There was just no application or attention to detail; no clear thought to say ‘Stay calm, play it if it’s on the stumps and leave if it’s off line. Punish the bad ball.’
Stuart Broad was bowling a very good spell, but not an unplayable spell that we have seen from the likes of Dale Steyn or Mitchell Johnson at the WACA. He was on target but was getting wickets from batsmen mistakes rather than terrific deliveries.
What Australia missed in the middle order was a real tough nut. Someone like a Michael Hussey or a Simon Katich. A player who could weather the storm, show some leadership and prize their wicket.
Katich would’ve been that unbreakable wall, a figure of concentration. Hussey would definitely have been the man Australia needed. A player who could put a massive price on his wicket but, on sensing the English beginning to relax, counterattack.
Hussey’s experience in One Day cricket and his experience in batting with the tail would have been invaluable and quite possibly led to an Australian victory.
This English attack isn’t the best in the world. I’d say it’s third behind South Africa and Australia. But they have the fortune of bowling to batsmen who are second guessing themselves.
A player of Steve Waugh’s mental toughness is what Australia really needs. A man who refuses to give-up and a man who refuses to believe he can’t get the job done.
His one-legged century at The Oval highlights this. In his own words “I wanted to show them (England) that us Aussies were tougher and we could get through anything.”
Cricket is as much a state of mind as it is a physical game. If you walk out to the middle and begin worrying about what the bowler might bowl, the flaws in your technique or the runs you’re chasing then you’ve already lost.
Players such as Warne, McGrath, Waugh and Ponting have all said they don’t think about anything other than what they want to do. Warne and McGrath have both said that they aimed to land the ball where they wanted to land it and the rest took care of itself.
Ponting and Waugh said they just concentrated on the ball, not the man bowling it. It didn’t matter if it was Shoaib Akhtar or Steve Harmison, they played each ball on its merits.
I think the current batting line-up has failed to do this on occasions. They get caught up in the moment or are attempting a pre-meditated shot borne out of the shorter formats.
The issue for Australia is both simple and complex. It’s relatively easy to identify, but very difficult to fix. Once they start winning Test matches we may see that mental approach change.
Momentum is key in Test cricket. A batsman who is confident is hard to remove because he backs himself and just sees the ball and knows what he wants to do to it.
Australia, it’s time to get tough, to get that ruthless mentality. You need to get to that stage where you aren’t just looking to win, you’re looking to crush the opposition.
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