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Deep Point: What makes Marnus world's No.1, and why the Joe Root pile on is 'absolute bulls--t'

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22nd December, 2021
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Trent Woodhill is the personal coach to internationals David Warner and Adam Zampa and has coached 10 seasons of IPL and BBL cricket. This is his insider’s view on how the Ashes series is unfolding.

More than a few readers were puzzled, or even dismissive, of my column last week where I urged England’s batsmen to play more shots with a horizontal bat. What happened in the game proved me right.

During the Adelaide Test I tweeted about Jos Buttler needing to engage his right hip – which is what Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne do when they let the ball go.

David Warner is a little different. He can stay leg side of the bouncing ball. It was his eventual undoing in Adelaide but also got him a heap of runs. It forces the bowlers to get tighter, they get on his hip and he gets around the ball.

Warner showed better than anyone else in that match that you have to be able to score runs off balls that aren’t hitting the stumps.

Whereas England were looking to defend or leave those balls, David was looking to score off them. And this took a bit of time. He was probably five runs off 50 balls, but he adapted. He was able to defend really, really late against the moving pink ball, and then, when England’s length pulled back a little bit, he’s he was able to score both sides of the wicket, which messes with the bowler’s length.

At the moment that’s what England are missing – a player who messes with the bowler’s length so they can lock into a spell without any fear of being hit off that length.

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England need to focus on watching David, Steven and Marnus play and score runs to address how they should be playing their cricket in Australia.

Jos Buttler and Joe Root are excellent white ball cricketers. Dawid Malan is the most natural batsman in Australian conditions because he plays late.

Matthew Hayden in the commentary was talking about Malan not getting a big enough stride in. Malan doesn’t need a big stride, just as Steve Smith doesn’t need a big stride.

If the ball seams, yes you can be in trouble but these guys back themselves to find the middle of the bat. So, it’s not about a big stride, it’s about a strong hip rotation into the ball.

It was most evident with David’s defence in that last game – the best I’ve seen from him in a long time.

His weight transfer was excellent. Weight transfer is the ability to turn your whole body into the ball as late as possible so that you’re hitting the ball when it’s swung through its latest point or moved off the seam to its latest point.

Cricket’s about leaving a dangerous ball, stopping a good ball and hitting everything else and trying to score off it. But when you commit to playing what is the best method to score?

We saw that from the three Australian players who got two 90s and a hundred. And we saw the different methods each of them used.

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With Marnus, there’s a lot more going on, a lot more movement of his feet both forward and back and he plays late with a great weight transfer.

Marnus Labuschagne celebrates a century

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Steven will spend a lot of time on the crease or behind the crease. But he’ll back that he can transfer his weight to leave the ball or transfer his weight to hit the ball later, and he’ll trust his eyes.

Steven talks about his hands a lot but that’s governed by his torso and that weight transfer providing a base for his hands to control contact and placement.

David’s batting was outstanding because he wasn’t jumping forward. He was able to play late with a head that was still, transferring weight through the ball.

Once he was set anything that got above the stumps he was looking to score from and forced England to chase his body a little bit.

He could hit balls over the off stump through the off-side for twos and fours so they’d get on his hip and he’d get inside the ball and hook and pull really well – better than he has for a long time.

So because he’s hurting the scoreboard, the score’s ticking over, England’s line moved.

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England did nothing to change Australia’s line. Their length varied – a natural variation – but their line was impeccable because there was nobody hitting them off that line.

If the ball was full they were defending with a vertical blade – if it was short they were looking to leave. No one was hurting Australia at the top of off stump other than Malan with the occasional cut and Root, who works the ball off his hip and square of the wicket well.

I’d like to see Joe engage his white ball technique. That’s when he uses his hip more when he cuts and drives with both power and control.

That will mean the bat will be on an angle of about 45 degrees more often than vertical, which allows him to hit more balls through cover point to backward point hard and along the ground.

If he nicks those they’ll tend to go over the keeper’s head or over the slips.
When you nick with a vertical face, the way England are playing, you’re bringing in the keeper and slips cordon.

The best way to illustrate that is to use a golf analogy. Think about walking around with a cart for 18 holes.

Any time you push that cart you lose control and you lose power. When you pull that cart you have control and you have power, and you’re able to engage better in thought processes. England need to engage their back hip as that’s where both power and control are stored.

England aren’t pulling the cart through, they’re pushing their cart. They haven’t got the control on faster, bouncy wickets that are offering seam to take a vertical bat face.

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That was my point in last week’s article – and the key reason England are struggling – you have to adapt to conditions and if you can’t adapt to conditions you pick players who can.

I would have guys like Sam Billings, Jonny Bairstow and Liam Livingstone batting in this Test team. Their first-class records might not be as good as other players picked but in a ‘horses for courses’ scenario where you’re underdogs before you get off the plane you need to pick batsmen who are going to hurt Australian bowlers and make them question their length and their line.

David Warner of Australia bats during day one of the Second Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval on December 16, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

My frustration with the way things have always been done is that it seems we’ve gotten into a habit that when you were selected for a home Test and do well you’re automatically given an opportunity to extend your Test career away as well.

Horses for courses, especially in touring teams, is a necessity.

Jurgen Klopp will have a different formation for Everton at home in the Premier League on a Saturday than he will for Real Madrid away in the Champions League.

There was an exceptional period in West Indian cricket and Australian cricket and probably now Indian cricket where you could pick the same 11 home and away and expect to get the same result – that’s not the case at the moment for the English team.

Of course, this is hindsight because we’re dealing with 2-0, but it’s about how are we going to change what’s happening.

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We need to either change the personnel or we need to change the method of how the players try and score.

In Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan, Root and Ben Stokes they have four players who have the ability to play the way they should in Australian conditions but players like Livingstone, Billings and Bairstow would make the Australians change their approach.

We think ‘player A’ got a hundred at Old Trafford so he’s earned the right to go and bat on spinning decks in India or bouncy decks in Australia. To me, that’s just hope and I don’t believe in hope. You pick the players who are most likely going to succeed in the conditions that are suited to them, rather than hoping that a player not suited feels backed enough that they’re going to score runs.

There have been a lot of statements made about the England approach to bowling and batting. It’s that classic Ashes speak aimed at creating headlines and bringing people down.

I’m 100% certain England’s footwork hasn’t let them down. Their issue is the way they’re accessing the ball, trying to try to push the ball to defend, trying to play with a straight bat, trying to basically not f**k up – and that’s the mindset that Ashes cricket can get you in. Leaving balls is a key ingredient to succeeding as a Test batsman and Marnus is the new No.1 for that very reason. But he is also the No.1 at finding ways to score in different conditions.

I don’t think their bowling is that bad. I also think the commentary takes away from what Smith, Warner and Labuschagne were able to do in that last Test and Travis Head in the first.

You’ve had five exceptional innings from Australian players to deal with in conditions that they know well, but they’re also they’ve done it against some pretty good spells.

There has been a lot of chatter around Joe Root that’s just absolute bullshit. I think he’s doing the best he can. And knowing the way all modern cricketers are he’s got the support of his dressing room.
They’ve just got to be better, they’ve got to win more moments and stay in the contest longer.

They need to look at the way they approach that. It’s all there in the batting of Smith, Warner and Labuschagne – batting time and hurting the scoreboard.

Thanks for reading and commenting. If you have a question let me know.

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