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Opinion

Aussie batters grow complacent in cocoon of comfort created by gun-shy selectors - but at least Green finally blossoms

29th February, 2024
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Expert
29th February, 2024
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The modern method in elite cricket teams is to create an environment where players are not under constant pressure to perform or they will get tapped on the shoulder by selectors. 

It is an intrinsic part of England’s Bazball psyche and it’s the mantra that the Australian men’s team is following. 

Don’t be worried about a string of failures because you will come good in the long run. 

The flip side to this kind of mentality is that players who are not fearful of getting the chop or think there is less pressure on them to perform every time they step into the pitch is that complacency pervades the dressing room. 

Australia have been playing all summer like a team that is comfortable with their past achievements rather than hungry to make mincemeat of opponents like Pakistan, the West Indies and now New Zealand. 

The Black Caps deserve all the credit for their typically tactically astute display on day one of the first Test in Wellington but the brittle Australian batting line-up again faltered with the disciplined bowling bringing them undone. 

Apart from the rejuvenated Mitchell Marsh who has averaged 54 with the bat since his Ashes recall, most of the top seven are not near the peak of their powers right now.

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Fellow all-rounder Cameron Green took a massive step in the right direction with his combative 103 not out on day one to quash the disquiet over his recall, and elevation to four in the order. 

At 9-279, Australia are by no means in deep trouble after day one in Wellington and with a world-class bowling attack of their own, they can fight their way back in front.

They were sent in on a seaming wicket and New Zealand’s batting can also be fragile, depending on whether their cornerstone, Kane Williamson, gets set with his support crew feeding off his immovable strength at the crease. 

But it seems to be a common theme over the summer that there’s always an excuse as to why Australia’s batting unit fails to fire, whether it’s the pitch, changes in the order or the crowded schedule giving them little red-ball preparation. 

Australia usually have a few batters in top form and one or two who may be below their best. 

But over the course of a season now into its sixth Test, none of the Aussie batters would be satisfied with their output and a couple should be getting nervous about their long-term place in the side. 

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Marnus Labuschagne was one of the most reliable batters in the world but he’s now gone 35 Tests innings from 19 matches with just one century at an average of 32.5 to his rapidly regressing record. 

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 29: Cameron Green of Australia bats during day one of the First Test in the series between New Zealand and Australia at Basin Reserve on February 29, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Cameron Green bats during day one of the First Test in Wellington. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Travis Head is another undoubtedly world-class operator when he is firing but he is getting a touch of the Shaun Marsh about him recently – he is either blazing a ton or more often getting out for a single-figure score to a regrettable shot. 

On day one in Wellington, the Black Caps set him up by putting the field back so he would expect a bouncer which he struggles to counter early but then pitched it up to induce an edge with just one run next to his name.

Steve Smith is soldiering on as an opener even though it’s not his natural position while Usman Khawaja is showing signs of decline in his 38th year with bowled and LBW dismissals starting to arrive with greater frequency. 

Alex Carey’s glovework has been exemplary but his batting has been letting him down and he played a terrible shot to get out at the Basin Reserve when the team needed him to stick around with Green.

All these specialist batters have stood tall as the best in the business in the past couple of calendar years but when it comes to recent results and the trends that are emerging for 2024 and beyond there are worrying signs. 

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But when you give someone like David Warner a free pass for two years at the end of his Test career because of the credits he built up when he was in his prime, the other elite batters in the side are entitled to think they will get the same treatment. 

And because there has been a static selection policy where a small group of players have only been used on a regular basis in recent years, there is a dearth of players outside the team with Test experience that selectors can call upon. 

Whether it’s Matt Renshaw or Cameron Bancroft getting a recall or a younger option like Aaron Hardie or Nathan McSweeney, there are precious few batters with recent Test experience or any at all. 

It’s a similar scenario in the bowling department with the next-best options to the long-established Blues quartet just as old in the case of Scott Boland and Michael Neser or having little or no Test experience for virtually every other option. 

The Black Caps made the difficult decision to tell Neil Wagner his services were no longer required before this Test series because they were going with younger options, prompting the veteran quick to announce his retirement. 

It’s the kind of conversation their Australian counterparts will need to have in the near future unless some players dig their way out of their current form slumps. 

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