Howard sends batting SOS to Rogers
Australia's team performance chief Pat Howard, the man held ultimately accountable for the fortunes of the national side, has reached out to former opening batsman Chris Rogers for advice on how to scotch the bleeding of the Test team's currently hapless top six.
Howard also admitted that he, the coach Darren Lehmann and the national selection panel were under pressure to keep their jobs unless results improved. Appointed as a result of the Argus review in August 2011, he said that there needed to be renewed focus on the defensive and tactical skills of batsmanship to get through difficult days like the one experienced in Hobart on Saturday.
"It needs more focus. That's simple," Howard said. "Chris was fantastic, you go back to what he and David Warner did at the Oval [in 2015], I think it was 14 runs off 10 overs, they read the situation really well. That patience and adaptability to read the situation there. I've really been impressed by Chris' insights and comments and I was before.
"He's got a good insight into the game ... we've talked to him about coming and talking to people around that, both technically and mentally, and about a year ago he worked with our Under-19s. It's a fair comment and something to drive some of our thinking."
The position of Australian batting coach has changed hands this year, following Howard's decision not to grant an improved contract to Michael Di Venuto, who held the position with some success for the previous three years. Di Venuto, who has been in Hobart this week, then took the job as head coach of Surrey, and the role was handed over to the former England batsman Graeme Hick, an internal appointment via his role at the National Cricket Centre.
Before this Test, Hick admitted he had his work cut out to build the relationships necessary to be an effective batting coach for the team. The rest of Lehmann's support staff, including the assistant coach David Saker and the fielding coach Greg Blewett, are all relatively recent appointments. Rogers has said that the spate of batting collapses pointed to deeper issues within the team, and in the domestic structure beneath it.
"I think good sides always find a way to fight when they're in trouble, and the Australian side at the moment, when they lose a few wickets it's just a collapse," Rogers told ABC's Offsiders on Sunday. "All 10 wickets have fallen, we've seen it now two Tests in a row I think for 86 in the first Test and now 85 in this Test, and you don't see that [often]. So there's something fundamentally wrong I think with the side, they're obviously lacking confidence. There's no doubt the talent's there, but they just can't find a way to fight, and that's really disconcerting.
"Speaking to particularly a few of the older guys, past players, there's a bit of a thought that maybe we should push to return to how the Sheffield Shield used to be - just pick the best sides, the best players and see who wins. We have this system now where we're trying to identify players and push them through. But we've been doing that for a fair while now and it doesn't seem to be working, the performances haven't really been there to justify it. I think it's about now finding that winning culture. We've perhaps lost that, and whether we need to find that at the level below, maybe that's the way to go."
Howard stated, among other things, that Australia's traditional Gabba start - where they had not lost a Test match since 1988 - had to be moved for commercial reasons, namely an effort to build the audience for a Brisbane match via the avenue of a day-night Test. But he also said the team had to be adaptable enough to cope.
"The team does like starting in Brisbane obviously but we just talked about adaptability and being able to play in different conditions at different times," Howard said. "Brisbane has been a Test match that has struggled in other areas of the game over the last couple of years and they look to do something different.
"I'd like to have games in Brisbane to support the team at times, there were other aspects as well, but we also need to adapt and I don't want to look for excuses. We want to look for excuses at times and look for easy answers, and I don't want to go down that track. Whatever you get overseas, whatever you get at home, do your homework, do your preparation get ready to adapt to the situation and the conditions on offer."
Like the national selectors, Trevor Hohns and Mark Waugh, Howard's contract expires at the end of June 2017. The selection chairman Rod Marsh has already indicated he will vacate his post at that time, but Howard said there had been no discussion about finding his replacement any earlier than that. He did indicate,d however, that the entire panel may be refreshed at that time.
"It's important to note that Rod and I had that discussion well before the Sri Lanka tour," Howard said. "This has been well in train and [his replacement] hasn't been contemplated, we announced it a couple of weeks ago, and it was just confirming what all of us had known for a long time.
"We've always had different guys on different tours. Trevor Hohns and Mark Waugh will go on and their contracts are due up at the same time as well, so they may not be staying either. I appreciate the pressure comes on Rod, he knows that this comes with the role, but there are people in that situation all the time and every time you say someone is not going to stay and you exit them straight away it doesn't respect the work that they are doing at the time."
Howard also defended the decision to extend Lehmann's contract until 2019 in August. "This is a great challenge for his coaching, I think he's in uncharted territory for him as well and we've talked about that," Howard said. "This is a great chance for him to reinvent.
"He's been contracted through past 2019, which is a huge year in the calendar, Ashes away and a World Cup back-to-back. We've got a young captain with a coach that's wanted to give the team and squad some stability. I make no apologies for that, I made the decision and I take accountability for that."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig