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Australia’s batting needs a pre-Ashes shake up

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    David Warner is in career-best form. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

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    Looking towards next years Ashes series, it is apparent the Australia does not have the quality in the batting line-up to match England’s bowlers.

    On current form, our top six batsmen would struggle to deal with the pace battery that England possesses.

    The likes of Jimmy Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan are looking dangerous, whether through swing or bounce. Also factor in Graeme Swann who, along with Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, is one of the best spin bowlers in the world.

    The only way Australia can beat England is for the selectors to not only make tough decisions, but common sense decisions. Cricket Australia could make one immediately, and that is dropping Michael Clarke as a selector. He should be replaced by the likes of Mark Waugh or Shane Warne.

    The openers: David Warner and Ed Cowan
    I genuinely think they deserve more time. In twelve months, they could be different players. Warner and Cowan have only played 16 Tests between them, and have opened the batting together in only seven.

    Warner has scored two centuries and a fifty, while Cowan has only managed two fifties. Compare that with England’s established pair of Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss, who have accumulated 38 centuries and 55 fifties in 171 Tests between them.

    On those stats, it’s a no contest. However, there are a few things that may favour the Australian pair. Warner in his short Test career has shown that he can adapt. He scored an unbeaten hundred under difficult pitch conditions in Hobart, followed by a blazing century in Perth. Recently, in the third Test against the Windies, he scored a fifty in over 130 balls in conditions favouring spin.

    Warner’s batting partner Cowan topped the Shield run-scorers tally with 948 at an average of 59.25. While he hasn’t set the world on fire at Test level, I do think the conditions in England may favour him. They are not too dissimilar to what he’s used to at Bellerive.

    I also think there are not too many openers putting their hands up consistently in domestic cricket. Rob Quiney and Liam Davies had a good 2011/12 season, but they need to back it up in 2012/13.

    The England openers may not have everything their own way. Cook will hopefully face a sterner test from our fast bowlers. He’ll face improved bowlers like Siddle and Hilfenhaus, but it’s the younger bowlers like Pattinson and Cummins who may provide a tougher test.

    Strauss will be 36 when the Ashes commence, and has struggled of late. Perhaps it’s one area Australia could have an advantage.

    The openers from both sides will determine who will win the Ashes.

    Number three: Shane Watson
    In 34 Tests, he has two centuries and 18 fifties. That is a terrible conversion rate and is not good enough to bat at three. Watson should be batting at five, where he would also provide more of a bowling option.

    Solutions at three include Ricky Ponting, Peter Forrest and Usman Khawaja. A bolter might be Joe Burns from Queensland.

    Meanwhile, England’s Jonathan Trott in 28 Tests has seven centuries and nine fifties to his name. Australia will have their work cut out.

    Number four: Ricky Ponting
    Ponting had an outstanding test series against a woeful Indian attack but has come back to earth in the Carribbean with a modest series thus far.

    What worries me more with Ponting is whether he can still adapt to different conditions? In Australia the ball comes onto the bat, while in the Windies, it’s the opposite. England will be different again with swing being dominant.

    With his reflexes waning, right now he looks like a long shot to play in the Ashes. Ponting will be 38 going on 39.

    Even if he had a great series against South Africa at home, there are no guarantees he would be successful in England. Selectors may have the tough choice to make, by tapping him on the shoulder, and allowing Clarke to move up to number four.

    Kevin Pietersen may have struggled lately, but did score a magnificent 151 in a recent Test outing. He represents a massive danger to the Aussies.

    Number five: Michael Clarke
    Clarke is in the best form of his career, so if anything, he should move up to number four and allow Watson to bat at five.

    England’s counterpart Ian Bell is a steady compact player who has a good Test record of 16 centuries at an average of 46 in 74 Tests. Again, Australia have their work cut out.

    Number six: Mike Hussey
    Hussey continues to be busy at six and still performs adequately. Hussey will be 38 when the Ashes start. Also if he has a quiet home summer against South Africa and Sri Lanka, than I would replace him with Tasmania’s George Bailey. Bailey has had a consistent last couple of years at Shield level, but he’s not Mike Hussey.

    This may spell trouble for Australia. It is crucial to Australia’s chances that Hussey still has some runs left in his old legs. If you have an old player, than he must bat at six, no higher!

    England have been struggling to fill their number six position since Paul Collingwood retired. They have tried Eion Morgan unsuccessfully, but in their last Test, had wicketkeeper Matt Prior at six.

    At this stage the Ashes top six should be Ed Cowan, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Michael Hussey.

    I still think Khawaja is the man at three. Technically he is the one. Mentally he just has to sort himself out, especially from constantly getting out in the twenties. I have him ahead of Forrest. Bailey will be Hussey’s back up.

    In some ways, it does look like a weak line-up, with the top three being very inexperienced. However, if certain key individuals step up, like Watson and Warner, and if Hussey is still up to it, England will get a run for their money.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • Columnist

      April 26th 2012 @ 8:36am
      Brett McKay said | April 26th 2012 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      James, how do Cowan and Ponting’s fifties overnight affect your ratings, if at all??

      • April 26th 2012 @ 9:00am
        jamesb said | April 26th 2012 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        Hey Brett,

        Good to see both of them scoring fifties. I still persist with Cowan, along with Warner because the cupboard is pretty bare with any alternative openers.

        Similar to Nathan Lyon, there’s not many options with young spinners, although I would’ve liked Steve O’Keefe to be given a go. Good news is Lyon is picking up wickets. Perserverance is paying off. I hope that’s the case for the openers.

        Ponting, huge fan of his, but I’m worried about his adaptabilty with different conditions at his age. Australian conditions does suit him as he likes the ball to come on the bat, but in England, with swing and accuracy from the English attack, may be a big ask for Punter who will be close to 39 by than.

        I have been a supporter of his in a prevoius article of mine, but I honestly thought he’d scoring heavily against the Windies attack, which he hasn’t.

        • April 26th 2012 @ 10:43am
          Australian Rules said | April 26th 2012 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          Would love to see Ponting at 5. Release the shackles and let him score freely…

    • April 26th 2012 @ 8:52am
      AndyMack said | April 26th 2012 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      Sorry James, but you seem to be picking your team based on what has happened in very very very recent history. Cowen, Forrest, Quiney and Bailey all have ordinary first class careers over a long period. This whole “pick them cos they scored well on the weekend” philosophy is not great for Aust cricket.

      • April 26th 2012 @ 9:08am
        jamesb said | April 26th 2012 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        “Cowen, Forrest, Quiney and Bailey all have ordinary first class careers over a long period.”

        I agree with 100%.

        But the selectors are heading towards the direction of forrest and Bailey. I do think Khawaja is the wild card here. He does have the ability, and he should be Australia’s next number 3.

        But theres not much else in Shield cricket sadly. I tried to be positve towards the end of my article, but deep down I recognise that Australia may field a weak batting line up against England.

    • April 26th 2012 @ 9:08am
      Disco said | April 26th 2012 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Good post and I like that mooted Ashes top six.

      I’d make those changes for the next Test match however. South Africa and England are going to provide far sterner challenges than India or the West Indies, and in my opinion it’s crucial to get Khawaja re-bedded into the side (ideally, but not necessarily at No.3) and move Watson down the order. However, it seems there’s an agenda within the brain’s trust to delay Ponting’s retirement, an indulgence which sort of puts such changes on hold.

    • April 26th 2012 @ 9:33am
      Dan said | April 26th 2012 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      Michael Clarke should be batting 3, career best form and best batsman in the world atm he needs to bat 3

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    • April 26th 2012 @ 10:41am
      Pope Paul VII said | April 26th 2012 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      Excellently put Jamesb. England also have Steven Finn and Graham Onions in top form and who know what else as they continue a remarkably good run of speedsters since 2005.

    • April 26th 2012 @ 11:09am
      jameswm said | April 26th 2012 @ 11:09am | ! Report

      Another option for Dave Warner is to bat him at 6. He sometimes struggles against the swinging ball, so maybe he should bat lower. I do think he has to be there somewhere – the guy averages 48 after 8 tests and can win you the game in a session.

      Khawaja is without doubt an option for both opener and 3. Remember how Khawaja was criticised for not turning the strike over, and Cowan with a lower strike rate is praised for taking the shine off the ball. It’s tough out there.

      If Warner batted at 6, Watson would bat at 5. This Ashes campaign, we’ll need Watto’s mediums. He seems to have a problem converting starts into big scores, so middle order is his spot.

      Ponting and Hussey continue to puzzle. I’m also worried about how Ponting will go with the late swinging ball, as he commits to his shot too early. Davis and Forrest are options with Khawaja, but there’s virtually no cricket for them between now and the SA series, so no one will go well or badly. Given how conservative the selections continue to be, I can’t see anything changing fast. Khawaja (and to a lesster extent Hughes) aside, they give the batsmen a lot of chances before dropping them.

      At least the bowling continues to improve. What a cracker Starc got Chanders with – unplayable – swinging away and cutting in off the seam.

      Also – I am not convinced Clarke should bat at 3. I think he should be 4 as he’s a proven success there.

      • April 26th 2012 @ 2:08pm
        Disco said | April 26th 2012 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        I can see Arthur pushing for Marsh to come back in. And Johnson.

      • April 28th 2012 @ 7:12am
        Lolly said | April 28th 2012 @ 7:12am | ! Report

        So far in his career, Clarke has been a failure at 4. Where do people get their information from?

        He might turn a corner with it and suddenly become a fine top-order player, but with a batting line-up as consistently flaky as the one we have, why move our one semi-reliable player?

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