Bancroft and Khawaja in danger of being dropped from an unbeaten side

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Yesterday, England produced their second-best bowling display of this Ashes, but were blunted by an extraordinary ton from David Warner and a pair of wonderfully patient knocks by Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh.

    After Warner threatened to single-handedly bat England out of the Test, the tourists rebounded valiantly in the second session to take 3-38 in the space of 23 overs and leave Australia vulnerable at 3-160 on a sleepy MCG pitch.

    But by stumps, the momentum had swung in Australia’s favour thanks to the efforts of Smith (65*) and Marsh (31*), in an unbroken stand of 84.

    That pair went at just 2.6 runs per over during their partnership, yet scored slowly for different reasons than Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja had earlier.

    Bancroft and Khawaja produced torturous innings, reflective of their glaring lack of form. Neither player looks safe in the side, especially with Glenn Maxwell pushing his case so strongly for a recall.

    Australia Test player Glenn Maxwell raises his bat

    AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi

    The selectors could bring Maxwell into the side and then push Marsh up to open in place of Bancroft, or Smith up to number three to fill Khawaja’s spot.

    Neither move is likely to take place before the end of this series, as Bancroft and Khawaja will surely be provided further opportunities. But if they continue to bat as they have in their past few innings, the selectors will need to consider changes ahead of the upcoming four-Test series against South Africa, who have a supreme bowling attack.

    Aside from his fluent 82* in his second Test innings, Bancroft has scores of 5, 10, 4, 25 and 26. At this point, his main issue appears not to be technical but rather mental. Since that half century, in which Bancroft played with authority, the 25-year-old has looked increasingly bereft of confidence.

    Yesterday he managed to hang tough for some 34 overs, doing a good job of protecting those further down the order. In that time though, he barely found the middle of the bat from 95 balls faced, even when gifted a rank half-volley or wide delivery.

    The Australian selectors are an impatient bunch so he will need to display great improvement over the next Test-and-half to avoid being dumped for the tour of South Africa.

    Khawaja likely has greater leeway due to his generous success in the past against pace-heavy attacks, including the Proteas, against whom he averages almost 50 from four Tests.

    Even still, Khawaja has averaged just 21 from his past five Tests and has been scratchy even during his two half-centuries in this Ashes. Yesterday he crawled to five from 47 balls as England stacked the offside and bowled a disciplined line and length. The left-hander flirted with a sequence of deliveries outside off stump before eventually nicking behind off Stuart Broad for 17.

    Like Bancroft, Khawaja appears short of confidence. In this series he has been a weak imitation of the man who dominated the past two Australian summers. His mindset won’t have been helped by being dropped twice this year – first for the Tests in India and then the series in Bangladesh.

    There’s no doubt Australia look a far better side when Khawaja is commanding the first drop position. They’ll be desperate for him to regain touch in time for the massive challenge of tackling South Africa.

    There are no such concerns about the form of Marsh, who has had an outstanding series. The 34-year-old has stepped up for Australia when they’ve needed him most in this Ashes. In the first innings at Brisbane, Australia were in peril at 4-76 when Marsh helped steady the innings, batting for almost three hours in making 51.

    At Adelaide, Marsh cracked 126* to shepherd Australia from 5-209 to a match-winning first innings total of 8-442 declared. Yesterday, he again came to the fore at a critical juncture.

    Now, there’s only so much praise you can afford a knock of 31*, but Marsh looked in control from the get go on a slow pitch which was by no means easy for batting.

    Even against the part-time spin of Dawid Malan, who went for just 20 runs from seven hours, Marsh and Smith shackled their egos. Their patent aim was to survive to the second new ball so they could protect Australia’s middle-to-lower order.

    They did this job brilliantly. While England remained patient, and bowled well to day’s end, they never looked like breaking the Marsh-Smith union. At 3-244, Australia are now in a strong position to build a first innings total of 400-plus.

    Even 350 would be a solid total, while anything over 400 would be very good on a pitch which is not nearly as amenable to batting as the MCG surface of recent Boxing Day Tests.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (122)

    • December 27th 2017 @ 4:33am
      Dan in Devon said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:33am | ! Report

      The selectors shouldn’t underestimate the fact that Bancroft was able to hang around and see out the new ball. There is a world of difference between losing an opener in the first few overs and one who is able to ‘bat the shine off the ball.’ I hope the selectors take a long term approach to Bancroft. As for Khawaja, his problem lies with spin. The Poms exploited it early in the series and his confidence has not recovered. Who is putting their hand up for the no. 3 position?

      • Roar Rookie

        December 27th 2017 @ 9:29am
        Matthew Pearce said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Seeing out the new ball is 50% of an opener’s job. Every opener knows they need to see out the new ball. There’s nothing special there. Sometimes you get out cheaply because of said new ball but he doesn’t deserve fanfare simply for doing part of his job.

        This is a concerning mentality we seem to be sinking into. The same thing happened with Renshaw, and clouded how poorly he was really going for a considerable time. We can’t be happy with a specialist batsman constantly scoring squat-all just because he can soak up deliveries. He’s in the top order, he needs to pull his weight. Which means making big scores once you’re in.

        Bancroft deserves the rest of the Ashes, but if he can’t impress from here, then he should be worried.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 10:42am
          Bakkies said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          ‘This is a concerning mentality we seem to be sinking into. The same thing happened with Renshaw, and clouded how poorly he was really going for a considerable time. ‘

          Those two players got credit due to the issues that occurred with picking players that had to play the Australian way as they were getting out mainly due to playing at the wrong balls.

          • Roar Rookie

            December 27th 2017 @ 11:40am
            Matthew Pearce said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

            Sure, but you go back to Shield matches, and every player and his dog there can dig in and grind out good scores.

            The issue isn’t their approach, it’s that they were getting out cheaply anyway. Getting out for nothing trying to up the ante vs hanging around, not doing anything and then getting out cheaply anyway – little difference for players whose main currency is runs.

            As several people have pointed out, these kind of players are finding it difficult to get singles and rotate the strike. Sitting back and letting the bowlers send ball after ball exactly where they want is playing right into their hands. You don’t have to slog every ball for four, but you need to be aggressive and put the bowlers off. It makes the world of difference when batting.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 9:36am
        Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        Khawaja hardly faced a ball from the spinners yesterday. His problem – as is Bancroft’s – is he has such a defensive mind set that he can’t get himself off strike. All they were intent on yesterday was self preservation. They might be putting a high price on their wicket but they need to be thinking about pushing the ball into the gaps and running quick singles rather than just blocking and staying rooted to the spot. Just hanging around is not good enough. Players like Smith, Warner and Tim Paine are always looking for quick singles and getting the scoreboard ticking over which releases pressure on themselves and the team. Khawaja was in this defensive mind set at the start of his career when he would bat for an hour for or so for around 20 and then get out as at some stage to a good ball. Both Khawaja and Bancroft need to get more positive and show a bit more intent when they are at the crease.

        • December 28th 2017 @ 12:33pm
          Stephen said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

          All batsman were struggling when the ball got older, khawaja fought it out well but got out to a good ball, the man does have 2 half centuries in his last 2 games so its amazing we are even having this discussion here.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 6:15am
      zatoo77 said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      I think we should go back to burns. Recently scored double in shield. Has three test centuries to name. He would also be looking for revenge as SA cost his position. I think at first drop spot through not opener as i think we need more stability in opening position

      • December 27th 2017 @ 8:12am
        James GC said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        I like Burns but like S.Marsh think he is better suited coming in at 5 or 6 as they both open for their shield teams this makes them perfect for these positions but neither has shined as an opener at test level.
        As S.Marsh has shown they are good at partnering an established top 4 batter and stopping a calapse, and are able to handle the second new ball when it arrives.
        Khawaja is a natural number three but his form has dropped after a great start for his shield team.

        • December 28th 2017 @ 12:34pm
          Stephen said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

          Khawaja averaged nearly a 100 in shield this year, he has 2 half centuries in the last 2 games and top scored in adelaide under lights too, plus against SA he will be needed as he is our best player of pace remembering his 140 odd under lights against SA last year

      • Roar Rookie

        December 27th 2017 @ 9:36am
        DJ DJ said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        It is pretty clear that Burns, for some reason (other than merit), is not on the selectors’ favourite list.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 10:46am
          Bakkies said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          Burns should have come in to calculations when the number 6 spot was up for grabs or due to Handscomb getting dropped.

    • Roar Guru

      December 27th 2017 @ 7:51am
      Ryan H said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Khawaja appears to be really struggling. A couple of 50s aside, his series otherwise has been pretty underwhelming, and it’s especially strange considering his form coming into the series was as good as any batsman, probably with the exception of Bancroft. He looks a shadow of the batsman at home he has been the last two seasons.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 3:53pm
        Steve Squires said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

        Take out any player’s top 2 scores this series, bar Smith’s, and they’ll look disappointing.
        Khawaja has been mistreated by selectors and should not be in any question for Test matches in the Southern hemisphere, or against pace-heavy attacks, and South Africa tick both those boxes.
        He was asked to bat in too many different positions and was never selected for a consistent run of games early in his Test career. In for 1 or 2, out for a few.
        As recently as this year, he was, ludicrously, selected for Bangladesh and dropped after 1 Test. They shouldn’t have picked him there at all unless willing to give him both Tests.

        • December 28th 2017 @ 12:36pm
          Stephen said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

          Steve khawaja is actually our best player of pace, against SA he will be crucial as he was our best batsman against them last year. He has 2 half centuries in his last 2 games, sure he is not at his best but even at his second best he has 2 half centuries in this last 2 games lol

    • December 27th 2017 @ 8:44am
      dangertroy said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Really hard to read form lines on this pitch. Warner made it look a breeze, but Bancroft and Khawaja both struggled. Marsh looked like he was struggling at the start as always, but worked it out. Smith looked to be struggling, having to bat much differently due to his hand, but looks like he’s got the pure will power to not get out.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 9:04am
      jamesb said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      I am a little concerned with the batting line up. Australia only has two established batsmen in the top seven. Whenever the other five batsmen go through a few quiet games, then all of a sudden, they are under pressure to hold their spot.

      I thought the top five from last summer was to be settled with Renshaw, Warner, Khawaja, Smith and Handscomb. Two are already gone, and Khawaja now looks shaky.

      Shield form doesn’t necessarily equate to test form. Both Bancroft and Khawaja were in great form in the SS. But yesterday, neither could score a run.

      Even if they bring in Maxwell, there’s no guaranteees that he would do well for an extended period. And theres not many alternatives either.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 11:57am
        shirtpants said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        “Shield form doesn’t necessarily equate to test form”

        Of course it doesn’t. Test is another step up from shield but what else do selectors have to go on? A lot of talk recently has been about players scoring a lot of shield runs but not in selectors thoughts. If we aren’t using shield, what can/are we using?

        No one is guaranteed to get runs at this level. Take your opportunities and make the most of it

      • December 27th 2017 @ 11:58am
        Adam said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

        If shield form doesn’t matter odi form then finch averaged 50 for 2017 give him a chance to prove himself at that level Smith at 3 finch at 4 I reckon he would go pretty good ??

    • December 27th 2017 @ 9:17am
      paul said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Let’s get some perspective on this discussion.

      The openers put on 102 before lunch. This was at a time when England was actually bowling at the stumps and attempting to take wickets. Sure, Bancroft looked scratchy, but this was mostly against the short ball where he was in two minds about how to play it . He also got a 50:50 lbw decision go against him. I’m still not sure how an umpire can confidently give a batsman out when the ball is likely to hit the bails at best.

      After lunch, the Poms resorted to their only tactic when they can’t get someone out; bowl two feet outside off stump to a packed offside field. Sure, it frustrated both Warner and Khawaja and led to Usman’s dismissal. When the Poms finally decided to bowl at the batsman, both Marsh and Smith looked pretty comfortable, again because the ball wasn’t doing much.

      Leave the batting alone for a bit. Let them get through this series and have a few more games in Shield cricket before putting together an article like this

      • December 27th 2017 @ 9:28am
        jamesb said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        The point I was trying to make in my post above is let’s try and pick and stick with them for a little while. Bancroft did play an ugly innings yesterday. But you can tell that he was trying to tough it out. The one good thing about Bancroft throughout this entire series is that he hasn’t thrown his wicket away.

        If he gets more experience playing test cricket, then I’m sure he will get better in the long run

        • December 27th 2017 @ 10:55am
          Bakkies said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Australia don’t want to go back to the mentality that ruined England in the 90s. England went through 60 odd players in that decade. The selectors had the Football mentality when it came to picking the test side.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 5:06pm
          paul said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:06pm | ! Report

          completely agree Jamesb. He did his job well, even though it was not pretty.

          • December 27th 2017 @ 5:36pm
            Bill said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

            At test level Renshaw was doing this exact job before getting axed. We cant change the policy now. Bancroft has too go.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 7:54pm
          John Erichsen said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

          Bancroft has the second innings at the MCG and the Sydney test to show selectors he can make the necessary adjustments in his technique to score runs at test level. Picked in career best form, he seems to have been found out by the English bowlers. He gets squared up far too often but perhaps this is merely a poor habit he has developed and can be batted out in net sessions. If its the way he plays, there is no point taking him to South Africa as their pace attack will be all over him. Unlike our Administration, South African Cricket will back their top seven to score runs even on a seam-friendly pitch so we can expect some livelier pitches over there.
          Bancroft’s ability to survive isn’t a bad thing for an opening batsmen but rotating the strike is essential when you are doing it tough, especially when your partner is on fire at the other end.

          • December 27th 2017 @ 8:11pm
            Don Freo said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

            That is not a technique problem. It was something particular to this game. He has a wonderfully side on technique. Funny, another “analyst” suggested, not that he was square on but falling over.

            As for rotating the strike, he did that really well for the first 70 runs of their partnership. It was only when England dried things up that he had to work things out. That was a first and he’ll sort his way through that. His rotation of the strike is one of his highlight skills. Early on, Warner had faced twice as many balls as Banners because the strike was rotated.

            The keyboard analysts are funny when they start making ‘technique’ and tactical commentary.

            • December 28th 2017 @ 3:58pm
              John Erichsen said | December 28th 2017 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

              At the start of the series he was more side-on than he was in this innings. Probably just a unhelpful habit which should be easily addressed. I must admit it surprised me because it looked most unBancroft-like. He will need it to be quickly corrected to make some runs given how ruthless our selectors have shown themselves to be recently.

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