In a recent chat with journalists in Abu Dhabi after Australia’s second Test defeat, coach Justin Langer went on an extended exploration of Australia’s batting woes.
One comment that stood out for me came after Langer had talked about the usual batting issues that have afflicted the recent crop of Aussie batsmen, technique and footwork, and then turned to scheduling.
“Just this week: We’ve got a Test match here, then we’ve got some T20s coming up, then some one-dayers. So, the schedule is what it is.”
Well, there’s no more hackneyed, useless expression in modern Australian slang than “it is what it is.” It’s crept in everywhere, it’s sort of the modern stressed-out version of “no worries.”
Online definitions throw up a raft of meanings for this term – as far as I’m concerned, it’s not only a truism that can’t be argued with, it suggests that one is powerless.
It seems that in Australian cricket, even one of the most influential staff on the books, Justin Langer, is powerless to do anything about Australia’s packed schedule of different formats and mini-series.
At the moment, Australia’s batsmen are bearing the brunt of this endless stream of game format changes as they stumble from one collapse to the next.
Just weeks ago Australia’s top six contenders were training to bat longer innings, pacing themselves with conservative and measured shot selection. This applies to state cricketers that were preparing for the JLT Cup final, like Glenn Maxwell or Ben McDermott, and also Test batsmen like Travis Head and Aaron Finch who were getting ready for the Test series in UAE.
Still, in the back of their minds, would have been an upcoming T20 series against some of the most formidable short format players on the planet, Pakistan.
If technique is forged by repetition, and your technique helps you deal with match stress almost automatically, Australia’s batsmen must be heading to the crease very confused at the moment. Their batting performance in the powerplay of the first T20 against Pakistan seems to confirm that.
What we are asking them to do at the moment is difficult for any athlete.
By way of comparison, if you had short and long soccer formats, could you train a defender to tackle aggressively one week – because the risk of a send-off is less damaging to his team – then tell him to hang off the tackles in preparation ahead of longer games?
His defensive instincts would be ruined.
That’s what we are seeing with Australia’s batsmen at the moment. In the Test format, we flay at balls that don’t need to be hit and leave balls that we should be defending. In T20 cricket we attack with such vigour, we forget to bat the 20 overs.
Moments after Langer had said “it is what it is” he also said that the great players are able to adapt, because of their run-scoring skills.
The problem is, with the bans on Steve Smith and David Warner, and the potential injury absence of Usman Khawaja, great batsmen in Australia are thin on the ground in our national team at the moment.
The best thing we could do is streamline their schedule, so they can get their heads right. It won’t be easy with all the stakeholders involved, but it would make a difference.