Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day January 14, 2012

Australia's opening odd couple

Australia should continue opening with David Warner and Ed Cowan, even when Shane Watson returns to the team
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David Warner is brash; Ed Cowan is understated. Warner muscles runs where he wants, Cowan milks them where he can. By his own admission, Warner has barely read a book; Cowan has written a fine one. They seem as likely a pair as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. That's good for Australia. The Ungar-Madison partnership entertained audiences for five years on American TV. Australian fans would love to see the Warner-Cowan combination last that long.

On the second day at the WACA, they completed a 214-run partnership that placed Australia in a position of domination against India. It was just the second double-century stand by an Australian opening pair since the end of the Matthew Hayden-Justin Langer era. Shane Watson, the most constant thing about Australian opening in the past two years, was never part of one.

When Watson returns from injury, it should be in the middle order. How that affects the balance of the team remains to be seen. On current form, Shaun Marsh would be the logical man to miss out, but given Watson is unlikely to be part of the Test side until the tour of the West Indies in April, much could change in the meantime. What shouldn't be altered in the short term is the Warner-Cowan partnership.

It is early in their Test days, but the signs are promising. Warner has made two contrasting Test hundreds in his first five matches: a composed century full of common sense and ignored impulses on a tricky pitch in Hobart, and a breathtaking 180 at better than a run a ball against India at the WACA. Cowan has two fifties to his name, both so unobtrusive that they risk being forgotten. They shouldn't be.

The best Australian opening combinations in modern times have consisted of one man who dashes and one who dabs - think of Hayden and Langer, or of Slater and Taylor. The primary role of the openers is to negotiate the period of swing and seam, to take the shine off the new ball. As Warner observed after the first day in Perth, he and Cowan both do that, just in different ways.

"I know that Ed's working hard to see the new ball off," Warner said. "That's how Ed plays. It's not going to affect my game at all. With him at the other end soaking up the balls and getting himself in is fantastic, because he's taking the shine off the ball and at the other end I'm doubling that and taking all the lacquer off the ball."

Warner showed in Hobart that he can knuckle down. But at his most outrageous, as he was in the first innings at the WACA, his work can hardly be called Test batting. He said as much himself on Friday night, when he recalled his thought process as he approached triple figures - "this ain't Test cricket, this is something different", he said. The feeling didn't go away on the second day as he racked up 180 from 159 deliveries, including a six over extra cover off Zaheer Khan.

Cowan's style is nothing if not traditional Test play. He nudges and nurdles, pushes and prods, leaves and, ah, leaves again. When Cowan steered a two behind point to bring up his half-century at the WACA, Warner ran down the pitch to congratulate his partner. The crowd cheered politely. It was not him they had come to see. But his role was invaluable: had wickets been falling at the other end, Warner could not have felt as secure in his strokeplay.

Not that Cowan was slow. He still scored at a strike-rate of 61. Eventually, he was dismissed for 74. He walked off slowly, disappointed to have missed such a golden chance for his maiden Test century. He deserves plenty more opportunities. The value of his runs became more apparent when the rest of the specialist batsmen struggled to get past the teens.

Cowan proved himself a perfect foil for Warner. What two such different men talk about at the crease is anyone's guess. But as long as they bat even half as well as they did at the WACA, Australia's opening odd couple should not be parted.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • zenboomerang on January 17, 2012, 4:16 GMT

    @jeauxx... Watson (Ave 38.1) is nothing like Hayden (Ave 50.7) - neither in runs scored or century making partnerships... He has run out his partners more often than any other batsman during his career... His batting average has been dropping alarmingly since being made vice-captain... Averages 1 century every 29 innings - 3 times slower than good Test batsmen... His Test average is just 2.6 runs higher than Haddins... If the team is batting well you need a good batter at no.5/6 for the 2nd new ball - Hussey was an opener during his long SS career & is a good foil at this position as would Watson be in the 'fragile' middle order...

  • zenboomerang on January 17, 2012, 2:49 GMT

    @Itchy... Try looking at Pontings recent dismissals - many lbw's with his head falling over & creeping across his stumps... This time he kept his head up - same result - the ball got through his defenses once again... 1 ton in 2 years is not the sign of a batsman in form... His batting form for last year is about the same as Marshs... Enough said...

  • dummy4fb on January 16, 2012, 5:31 GMT

    Eventual team: Warner, Cowan, Marsh, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Wade, Pattinson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon. Reserves: Hilfenhaus, Cummins, Starc, Copeland, Christian, Johnson, Cutting

  • zenboomerang on January 16, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    @Itchy... Try looking at Pontings recent dismissals - many lbw's with his head falling over & creeping across his stumps... This time he kept his head up - same result - the ball got through his defenses once again... 1 ton in 2 years is not the sign of a batsman in form... His batting form for last year is about the same as Marshs... Enough said...

  • zenboomerang on January 15, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    @Itchy... Try looking at Pontings recent dismissals - many lbw's with his head falling over & creeping across his stumps... This time he kept his head up - same result - the ball got through his defenses once again... 1 ton in 2 years is not the sign of a batsman in form... His batting form for last year is about the same as Marshs... Enough said...

  • Andross on January 15, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    @ jeauxx I completely agree, I think that the old adage 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it' is the operative phrase here. If he's in the side and performing well, keep him at the top of the order, maybe there is a case for him being at 3, but I can't see him lower than that. It's similar to people who say that Clark should bat at 3, my response is 'why--just because he's Captain--does that mean that he should bat at three?' Would you have batted S Waugh at 3 because he was the captain? No, he was a middle order batsman, there's nothing wrong with that, he was just more suited to it. Just as Watson has proven to be at his best at the top of the order.

  • manjulap on January 15, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    I guess they should stick to the same team for the 4th test too! annihilate the Indians and do what ever changes are necessary! my opinion Marsh should go & get in Khawaja. Big question mark over Haddin! Go Aussies and conquor......

  • TheLoneStranger on January 15, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    I stick by my comments regarding Ponting's dismissal. He played a millionaire's shot on a pauper's score. Any grade batsman in form could have kept that delivery out. Ponting played all over it. The comment by the ABC radio commentator was that it was "an expansive shot". I thoroughly agree. I didn't suggest Ponting be dropped, merely chastised for an injudicious shot at a time when he should have been consolidating. I also stick by my assessment of Haddin's and Clarke's dismissals. They played the wrong line; and in fact Haddin need not have played at all; the ball was clearly outside off and not going to trouble him had he shouldered arms.

  • Meety on January 15, 2012, 4:34 GMT

    @jeauxx - you seem to be analysing as if it were an ODI batting lineup, which nobody is wanting Watto to drop down. Watto's conversion rate is poor. Yes he was one of our better batsman up until the Ashes last year, since then he has been off the boil. Watto is not a natural opener, & I would argue that #6 is a place he would ultimately master, for the time being I think he would do well @#3 or #4 depending on Punter.

  • Okakaboka on January 15, 2012, 3:40 GMT

    The only movement of Haddin in the batting order is completely of the score card...err...out of the team. This Hack should be number 11 if he is played as a keeper!!!! Watson will replace Marsh......and Wade MUST replace 'can't bat..can't wicket keep' Haddin.

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