With the weeks dwindling until their first official World Cup fixture against Afghanistan on June 1, the Australian set up still finds itself grappling with the constitution of their preferred top order.
There’s no argument that cricket in Adelaide has changed dramatically since the introduction of the drop in wicket, particularly over the last four summers.
How much of this change can be attributed to pink-ball cricket as opposed to the pitch is difficult to say, but the cricket over the last four years is unlike what we have seen before at Adelaide Oval.
In six of the last seven first innings at the new Oval (not including Australia’s current innings), the majority of runs have been scored after the fall of the fifth wicket. The only case in which this did not occur was Australia’s first Innings in 2016, when Usman Khawaja’s 145 while opening the batting led them to 5-277 and 10-383. The other six read at follows.
NZ: 5-98, 10-202
AUS: 5-80, 10-224
SA: 5-117, 9-259d
AUS: 5-209, 8-442d
ENG: 5-102, 10-227
IND: 5-86, 10-250
With Australia currently sitting at 7-191 after being 5-120, this pattern looks set to be repeated again with a strong first session.
This is a surprisingly odd trend. While a swinging pink ball and a bit of extra grass on the pitch will most definitely make it harder for the top order batsmen, this by no means explains why the lower order in general are contributing just as much as the noted batsmen.
Remarkably, the highest opening partnership in the last 14 innings is 64. This was made by Matt Renshaw and David Warner in the second innings against South Africa in 2016. The other 13 read: 1-7, 1-6, 1-29, 1-34, 1-12, 1-19, 1-1, 1-33, 1-29, 1-5, 1-53, 1-3 and 1-0. There is something about facing that new ball at Adelaide Oval – it’s just deadly.
So what explains the difficulties found in the first half of the innings and why has the tail had such success here at the Oval? Does the older ball get a lot less out of the pitch? Does the grass sit down the longer the innings drags on? Is it just really hard to get your eye in? Is the see-ball, hit-ball mindset that the tail seems to operate under a much better approach?
These questions aren’t unique to the strip in Adelaide; they’re asked all around the world.
There have still been five centuries scored in this time period, so it’s not like there aren’t runs to be scored – just ask Cheteshwar Pujara, who was seeing a beach ball by the end of his innings yesterday after a very diligent first two sessions.
The Australians yesterday looked to emulate his patient approach, almost to their detriment. There seemed to be no intent to score runs, to find that quick single. And with a mindset not tasked with looking for runs, the Australians found it difficult to find any rhythm and tick over the run rate. Just ask Usman Khawaja with his 28 off 125 balls, a contributor to the measly 2.17 run rate.
Yet as soon as Travis Head found himself batting with the tail and realised a need for some quick runs and more aggressive stroke play, the balls started hitting the middle of the bat, the bowlers started to miss their lengths and runs started to flow.
In the space of half an hour the pitch looked like a different strip, and with Head and Mitchell Starc settled at the crease, it’s looking promising that once again a team will more than double its score following the fall of the fifth wicket.
Why this is occurring time after time at the new Adelaide Oval? Who knows – but maybe the bowlers are onto something. The top order need to stop overcomplicating their innings and just see ball, hit ball.