With two T20 World Cups on the horizon, the bitter disappointment of a red-ball disaster against India must quickly turn to the busy calendar Australia will face in the coming months.
Prior to Australia’s T20 trip to South Africa, the absence of the injured Glenn Maxwell was identified as a problem, and most pundits were fingering Matthew Wade or Mitch Marsh as the obvious replacement.
The balance of the team, batsmen versus all-rounders, the fifth bowler, effectiveness of hitters and other topics occupied the minds of fans.
Given the dominance of David Warner, Aaron Finch and Steve Smith, the performance of Wade, Marsh and Alex Carey largely faded into irrelevance. For the record, in three completed digs each, Wade made 29 runs off 22 balls, Marsh 44 off 38, and Carey 48 off 38. Nothing special, but little opportunity really for any of them, and Maxwell’s absence was not an issue.
While we recorded a 2-1 series win, Australian observers were rightly frustrated with our inability to get over the line in Game 2, and some criticism was aimed at Smith and Warner for not pushing harder earlier. But when Smith was dismissed, we needed just over seven runs per over. That looked like a comfortable position for such a highly rated batting unit.
Some pointed at our batsmen for not getting the well-established Warner to the striker’s end. Warner brought up his half-century off 38 balls with a boundary four in the middle of the 12th over. He then managed only an additional 16 runs off 19 balls. The middle-order of Carey, Marsh and Wade between them managed 21 runs from 20 balls.
Remarkably, after Warner reached his 50, the only boundary hit was a six by Carey. South Africa bowled and fielded very well, but one boundary in the last seven overs of a T20 match?
Finch did not seem particularly worried about this performance, but I think it showed a long-existing Australian weakness, and that is its ‘all or nothing’ mentality.
You are either a power hitter like Maxwell and Warner or you don’t belong in the T20 game. This leads to the idea that the only way to score well in T20s is to be super aggressive in the power plays, then push 1s and 2s if you have to, before you go crazy at the end. A generalisation, but you get the point. I think the T20 game has some subtleties that Australia hasn’t yet recognised.
The likes of Maxwell, Warner, Chris Lynn etc are great for the spectacle and they are likely to come off on the normal Aussie flat, consistent pitches when the ball comes on and even the slower ball doesn’t deviate much.
Not all pitches are like that, and the slower pitch that is friendly to the cutter as was the case Game 2 at Port Elizabeth, particularly in the second session, require a different approach.
Quality batsman can adapt to all conditions as required, and I think Australian selectors are looking too much at the big hitters regardless of conditions. With the modern cricket bat, anyone can clear the fence or hit the fence before the ball is cut off.
Timing and placement is just as important as muscle and, forgive my nostalgia, the likes of Michael Bevan and Mike Hussey are the type of player that Australia needs. Of course, this needs time and application, and I think we would be far better off if batsman stopped practising 80-metre clearances and started working on the skills needed to adapt to all conditions they are likely to face and the shots they need to emulate these great players.
Weight on the ball and soft hands are two skills that Australian T20 batsmen are just starting to apply effectively. The greater skills of bat face control, combined with footwork, use of the crease, and playing late are skills that are clearly lacking. Game awareness and managing scoreboard pressure are also works in progress.
These skills, honed under pressure, are required when faced with the South Africa Game 2 scenario. I think these skills have been usurped by the more spectacular and higher risks shots like the over the shoulder flick.
Pre-meditation is apparent all too often and batsmen are continually getting unstuck by trying to guess what the next delivery is going to be. Great when it comes off, but you look stupid when it fails.
I think batsmen are trying too much innovation and attempting high-risk shots when a genuine cricket shot properly placed and weighted is the better, lower risk and more productive proposition.
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe we need to take a deep breath on power hitting, nudge the pause button and go back to the approach that made Bevan and Hussey the best finishers in the game. Graeme Hick should get Ricky Ponting and Hussey on board and start developing these ‘old fashioned’ skills so that we have a chance to apply them for the T20 World Cup in October this year.