Sheffield Shield

Where have all the batsmen gone?

The Sheffield Shield used to be a factory for producing Test-ready batsmen. But a combination of green seaming pitches and flawed techniques has resulted in the cupboard becoming alarmingly bare

Brydon Coverdale

November 6, 2012

Comments: 71 | Text size: A | A

Joe Burns pulls during his century, Queensland v South Australia, Sheffield Shield, Brisbane, 2nd day, March 9, 2012
Queensland's Joe Burns is one of the promising young Australian batsmen who has emerged over the past two years © Getty Images

Seven years ago this week, a 30-year-old Michael Hussey walked out on to the Gabba to make his Test debut. He was well prepared. Hussey had accumulated 15,313 first-class runs at an average of 52.80 before he was handed a baggy green. On Friday, Rob Quiney will make his Test debut at the same venue. He too is 30. But he will embark on Test cricket with only 3092 first-class runs to his name, at an average of 37.70.

That is not to disparage Quiney's selection. Two consistently strong Sheffield Shield seasons made him the best man to replace the injured Shane Watson. And he is far from alone: Ed Cowan and Shaun Marsh both averaged less than 40 at first-class level when they made their Test debuts. David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes had better figures, but were picked after relatively little first-class cricket.

Whichever way you spin it, things have changed dramatically from the days when the Test selectors could look at Sheffield Shield cricket and see mountains of runs being piled up by Darren Lehmann or Brad Hodge, Justin Langer or Jamie Siddons, Matthew Elliott or Martin Love. Or Michael Hussey. It is a shame for Chris Rogers and David Hussey that their best seasons came when Australia's batting line-up was more settled.

When John Inverarity's panel searched for Watson's replacement, they saw that Khawaja has been stalling after promising starts, Hughes continues to tease but has a chequered Test past, and Marsh has been dropped to club cricket. Tasmania's Alex Doolan, who made 162 against the South Africans for Australia A at the weekend, and Queensland's Joe Burns are two to watch. But the first-class batting cupboard is alarmingly bare, as evidenced by the fact that the 37-year-old Ricky Ponting is the leading Shield run scorer this season.

So where have all the young batsmen gone?

There is no question that the standard of domestic pitches around the country has played a part. Michael Hussey returned to the Sheffield Shield last week and was alarmed at how difficult the conditions were at the MCG. So far this season, the Sheffield Shield has produced 20 completed innings in which teams have scored less than 250. There have been only 13 totals of 250-plus.

The last men to make 1000 runs in a Sheffield Shield season were Rogers and Michael Klinger, who both achieved the feat four years ago. Quiney went close last summer, when he scored 932 runs, and Cowan accumulated 921. In Hussey's eyes, those performances were the equivalent of 1200-run summers a decade ago.

"It was pretty different," Hussey told ESPNcricinfo of last week's Shield game. "The conditions were pretty conducive to seam bowling. Certainly when I was growing up, the pitches were a lot truer and a lot better for batting, so as a batsman 1000 runs was a good benchmark and if you got to that, you knew you'd had a good season. But I think that has certainly lowered in the last few years.

"I'm concerned that batters aren't learning to bat for six hours and construct long innings and concentrate for long periods of time" Michael Hussey

"I'm a bit concerned, to be honest. It seems like the nature of pitches around the country are really result-based. I'm concerned that batters aren't learning to bat for six hours and construct long innings and concentrate for long periods of time."

Hussey's worries go even further. If life for the batsmen is so difficult, then it also creates a false sense of achievement for young fast bowlers. And on seaming wickets, young spinners are left feeling irrelevant.

"I'm concerned that we're not allowing spinners to develop because spinners aren't even required, because seam bowlers do the job and have a better chance of getting the wickets," Hussey said. "And I'm even concerned about preparing seam bowlers for Test cricket, because the margin for error is so big, they just have to lob the ball somewhere up there and it will do a fair bit and they're going to pick up their wickets. [But] in Test match cricket you've got to be very patient, very disciplined, for long periods of time. I'm a little bit concerned that we're not developing players and skills for Test match cricket."

Hussey is not alone in his assessment of domestic surfaces. This week, South Australia's coach Darren Berry voiced his concerns that pitches were being tailored towards results instead of towards providing an even contest. And the Australia coach Mickey Arthur was upset conditions for the most recent Shield match in Hobart were so seam-friendly that the offspinner Nathan Lyon, who must this week bowl to the South Africans in a Test match, was barely used.

"We've been disappointed [with Shield pitches]," Arthur said. "When you see Shield games going two and a half days, it's not great. It was disappointing for us when our spinner, who could play in the Test match, bowled three overs in the game. I know that this issue is being addressed at a higher level."

But the lack of big runs is not all down to the pitches. As Quiney and Cowan have shown, there are runs available if a batsman possesses the technique and is prepared to work hard. Last year Ponting questioned the techniques of the emerging crop of domestic batsmen and said many were "nowhere near what they need it to be to play Test cricket". Earlier this year Rogers analysed the techniques of several of the country's Test batting candidates and found plenty of problems. Rogers, Ponting and Hussey all know what it takes to bat for a full day and come back the next morning hungry for more runs. Between them, they have scored more than 60,000 first-class runs. Their credentials are impeccable.

Brad Hodge fits that category as well. For 16 years he piled up runs at first-class level until one day, playing for Victoria in a Shield match, he was facing the second new ball and knew that his job was to get through until stumps. But within two balls he had driven the fast bowler Peter George for a massive six over long-on. Hodge made 195 in that innings, but knew he no longer possessed the discipline for the long format. Now he makes his living exclusively as a T20 player. The format has been good to him, but he fears it has been detrimental to the development of young batsmen.

Brad Hodge provide late push to the innings, Kings XI Punjab v Rajasthan Royals, IPL, Mohali, May 5, 2012
Brad Hodge: "I think the IPL changed the way young people thought, what they wanted to do and what they wanted to achieve" © AFP

"I think the game dramatically changed the day the IPL came into the system," Hodge told ESPNcricinfo while watching last week's Sheffield Shield match at the MCG. "I honestly believe that. I think it changed the way young people thought, what they wanted to do and what they wanted to achieve. To be honest, you can play in the IPL and your technique doesn't have to be 100% up to the standard of a Test match player, and get away with it, and make a lot of money doing so."

Some batsmen have made their name in T20 and still developed into Test players. Warner is one, Quiney another. Others have slipped by the wayside. Others still are young enough to make the transition over the coming years. It was fitting that shortly after Hodge spoke of batsmen being geared to T20, he would have seen Mitchell Marsh throw his wicket away for 2 from 6 balls, chasing a wide ball from Peter Siddle.

Hodge, speaking before Quiney's call-up to the national squad, said the lack of batting depth had become such that if a batsman like Ponting were to suddenly be injured and miss the next Test, there was not an obvious replacement knocking down the door.

"There was a time when you could say someone could come in and do an 80% job of what Ricky can," Hodge said. "I reckon you'd be saying someone could do a 50% job now. There's just no one out there screaming absolute talent. Phil Hughes is one who is good, I think he's a real good player. Khawaja is good but inconsistent at this level. You need consistency at this level and he's lacked that.

"You're going to get found out for sure. When you're picking guys with an average of 30, you're going to get an average of 30 in Test match cricket. You're not going to get 50. Guys average 30 at this level for a reason. They've got flaws in their technique. Until guys start making 1000 runs, you're never going to be sure of any guy in the competition."

But if nothing else, the past few months have shown that there are at least some batsmen to watch. One of those is Joe Burns, who made an unbeaten 74 for Australia A on their tour of England this year and averages 45.71 in first-class cricket. An organised, well-rounded player, who notably is yet to play T20 cricket, Burns has made 116 and 64 in his last two Shield games. He is one of the young batsmen who have impressed Victoria's coach Greg Shipperd over the past couple of years.

"I'm impressed with Alex Doolan's technique, he looks like a very pure, technical player," Shipperd said. "I like the look of him. Joe Burns' weight of runs is starting to open people's minds about him. Hughes, of course, this year has made some runs and he's still such a young player, so he will have plenty to offer going forward. They're probably the three best young players, and Khawaja is another."

But there are few others who have made compelling cases for Test consideration. And if domestic pitches remain treacherous and techniques flawed, don't expect Hussey-like figures any time soon.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by hyclass on (November 9, 2012, 12:05 GMT)

Brad Hodges observations on the impact of the IPL and 20/20 on the direction of batsmen exactly tally with those I have been making for the last 2 years. He is well equipped to form these views being a master player in all formats with a long history of success.More than technique and all other factors combined,20/20 has created doubt and reduced concentration, stamina and character. To be successful,technique is the least relevant of factors. No two are exactly alike and players like Chanderpaul make a mockery of the textbook.Even Lara or a Viv Richards would be hard to replicate.The worst successful technique I ever saw was Paul Nobes who played for Vic and SA averaging almost 42 opening the batting.A batsman needs an attacking plan, a defensive plan and the stamina, courage and concentration to enact it consistently. Any weakness of these parts will contribute to failure. 21 months ago, I said Khawaja had the same failings as North.Since then his record has plummetted to match North

Posted by hyclass on (November 9, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

@MenFromMarts...Forrest may not make his state side. He demonstrates what Hodge is saying-the high risk of choosing men with modest records on brief runs of form. Before Marsh was chosen to play against the insipid SL attack on a very flat wicket, I suggested it was a mistake, that his time at the top would be brief and that he was lucky to be playing for his state. This week he's playing club cricket.@BG4cricket..those promoting Khawaja have no interests in facts, like his average falling 11 runs in 21 months and continually being caught behind-a Test record under 30 at a S/R of 37.-Only one very lucky hundred in 1st class cricket in 21 months, described as 'playing and missing more than the entire Yorkshire side' by Gale, they're captain, as well as being dropped twice.He averages mid 30's this season courtesy of being dropped on 11 on his way to 88 in the first Shield match,in which his number 7 and 8 team mates outscored him.The pitch comments are self serving for those with agenas

Posted by aus_trad on (November 8, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

Important article. It's absurd to think that if Aus somehow fluke a win against S.A we will be the genuine no. 1 test team again. Our batting is nowhere at he moment. The selectors are making the hole even deeper by persisting with the likes of Ponting, who is at least 4 years past his peak. Chances are, in 2 years time we will have a top 6 which will be frighteningly inexperienced, because few players are being given extended chances at the top level. Sometimes you just have to make the hard decisions, and take a punt on someone other than Punter! In the past, guys like Hayden, Steve Waugh, David Boon were given lots of chances before they were really ready, because they were the future. Pitch (and weather) conditions have also played a part. We really have had a couple of cool, damp summers here in Sydney, anyway. Hopefully the weather pattern has changed. We need lots of hard, dry pitches. Batsmen learn to score runs by scoring runs and need to spend long periods in the middle!

Posted by MenFromMarts on (November 8, 2012, 1:51 GMT)

I did a quick speed read of 67 comments and did not see Peter Forrest's name mentioned. He scored an ODI century THIS YEAR !! Granted a dreadful start to the Shield season but he is only 26 - We seem to be always searching and not persisting. Tom Beaton is my smokey for the future. Great technique. Bailey, Ferguson and Burns are all go to guys. We will be fine just not completely dominant. I believe the second pint about spinners on result oriented pitches is far more of a concern and that can be fixed relatively quickly.

Posted by Meety on (November 8, 2012, 0:57 GMT)

@Posted by BG4cricket on (November 07 2012, 19:42 PM GMT) - whilst I would say Khawaja is close to selection - I won't argue with his need to nail a ton or two before the season is finished. By all accounts of experts that have watched him bat this season - he is more polished than before, in my books he needs that break out innings to rubber stamp his reselection!

Posted by BG4cricket on (November 7, 2012, 19:42 GMT)

I disagree with the comments on Khawaja. He is talented but needs to convert his starts into more substantial efforts and big hundreds before I would say he was ready - even in the Tests he did play he gots starts but failed to convert. Doolan and Burns look the best candidates who convert starts and consistently score runs and Quiney has had a good 18 months and I thought he looked impressive when watching him bat for Australia A. Like Khawaja, Hughes needs to consistently convert starts into big scores but I think he gets unsettled by hostile short bowling early and it seems to mess with his footwork. It would be good if WA (who seriously need to rebuild and try something different) could pick young William Bosisto who I think could be a good first class player.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 7, 2012, 10:43 GMT)

@Meety well said bud, I agree with you mate that Khawaja and Burns are close to their calls as they have been batting very well and made a match winning 100 partnership in a low scoring win over NSW's awesome bowling attack last week. @CricHorizon agree with you also mate and would add that hopefully these guys can get some big hundreds in the coming months. @Axel Smith i echo every word you said mate, but class can't be kept out for too long, Khawaja will get his chance soon as his fieliding and running between wickets has improved alot this year showing that he is working on advice given to him.

Posted by stormy16 on (November 7, 2012, 10:43 GMT)

@lthornte - I see this as the only savior of test cricket. If nothing is done the obvious will happen with test cricket dieing a slow death and in its place loimited over cricket. Goes without saying there would have to be plenty of money thrown at the 'test final' for it to compete with limited over cricket.

I can barely beleive what I am reading about the Aus batting stocks and Marsh is dropped from his club side - the guy made a debut hundred in test cricket a year ago! Sure he had a horror series against India after but that is a fast drop to the bottom. As for the pitches - guess it'll evolve with time after all Sydney was once a rank turner and even the WACA went through the spinners circle before what it is today. There is some thought to not change the nature of a pitch at all. I think the Adelaid oval is a good example - been the same for yonks which is not a bad thing really. Both the SCG and MCG would have footy played on it which makes pitches all that hard to maintain.

Posted by KhanMitch on (November 7, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

@Axel_Smith you are on the mark mate. Khawaja has been very consistent and has the best technique out of all the young batsman coming through. He was unlucky to be dropped last year after top scoring against South Africa 2 games before in a record 300 chase and getting run out the game before at 40 when Punter called for a risky run first ball after tea. You have to feel for him but a classy player such as him can't be kept out for too long as he is hitting some good runs in shield cricket this year. I think those referring to him as inconsistent have certain biases against him but at the end of the day Amla went through the same thing early in his career but class won in the end.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 9:41 GMT)

The tougher pitches are good to give the batsmen a solid grounding before they get to Tests. It is better than them running up total on Route 66 Roads

Good call on Burns, he is one of the few of real Test calibre at present

Posted by ankit_barry on (November 7, 2012, 9:08 GMT)

Principle of Regression holds good pretty much everywhere, there is always the most optimum phase between "Y" which is talent development & "x's" which are pitch conditions etc etc in this case. Too flat a pitch will not be good neither will too green a pitch be. Its like driving a car, optimum fuel consumption doesn't happen at too low speeds nor too high. But i'd rather not blame T20's for that, its another form of cricket but its cricket. For all those who are saying Test's are prioroty for Aus or any other cricket board, they are living in a denial mode. All cricket boards favour shorter format because of more money & more money because its more famous than tests hence more sponsors. Bitter pill to swallow but thats the reality.

Posted by Paul-in-Finland on (November 7, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

@ Mervo , agreed , also add Basket Ball into that mix...and in a way all the other sports that are targeting young sportsmen. Interesting really that in a small country with many other sports on offer Australia is still competitive - compared to eg India ... how many more people and very few sports on offer : in a way it is Cricket or nothing there.

Posted by Andre2 on (November 7, 2012, 7:52 GMT)

OK with the comment from ARad on 6 Nov @ 18:48. But here we are talking about CRICKET ! T20 is entertainment, fun, game, a sport also ... but it is not CRICKET.

Posted by crh8971 on (November 7, 2012, 7:18 GMT)

@SKKH "Clarke has scored quite a few runs of late but he is too flashy and chancy batsman for tests." Are you kidding? 6,000 runs at 49 with 19 hundreds is a strong test record in any era for any team. I think one of the challenges is that there is a strong disincentive for states to prepare pitches that may not yield a result over four days as their state team may be disadvantaged by playing in 2 point games versus the opposition playing in 6 point games. Queensland really started the trend by preparing green, seem friendly pitches for the entire Shield season and with bowlers like Kasper and Bichel would rack up the 6 point results. Then when they had earned the home final the pitch transformed into the flatest,batsmen friendly road you can imagine. The other states have progressively adopted this strategy. In a competition where there is no financial return from gates and TV audiences there is no disincentive to prepare green top seemers.

Posted by okayplayer on (November 7, 2012, 7:15 GMT)

Why do we have to bring in batsmen at such young ages? A player can come into the team at 26-27 and still get almost a decade at the top. I'd rather see batsmen playing consistent FC cricket for a few years rather than rush a 20yr old in cause he scored a couple of hundreds. Australia has been better served by guys like Hussey,Hayden, Gilchrist, Jaques etc. Hughes and Khawaja still have a future of test cricket ahead of them just not yet.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 6:16 GMT)

20 20. It's ruining the game

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 5:40 GMT)

This is a good debate. My challenge is two fold - firstly where things always better in the past. I think not. And there are good batsmen in Shield cricket now. Quiney, Ferguson, Kwaja, Rogers and others are ready. Hussey is an exceptional exception. Secondly, the coaching has focussed on bowling, for obvious reasons. Bad technique is due to too much hit and giggle cricket and when we all get that out of the system things will be better off.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 5:40 GMT)

The lower batting averages could be a result of several things: 1. More bowler-friendly pitches 2. Better bowlers, and/or 3. Worse batting technique

I personally don't think pitches have gotten more bowler friendly or our bowlers are better than before. In the spin bowling department, if anything, we are worse than before.

3 is very likely: 20/20 cricket doesn't encourage concentration for long periods (if at all). As most people would suspect, meaningless, hit-and-giggle 20/20 cricket is wrecking the techniques of batsmen.

Posted by lthornte on (November 7, 2012, 5:14 GMT)

I know this is slightly off topic, but i think a change can be made to the Test system to improve it and give it more attractive to viewers. Over a 3-4 year period the top 8 Test countries play each other twice in home and away fixtures. With a points system and a ladder like in other sports at the end of this period the top 4 teams play off in semifinals and then a grand final. Perhaps extra points for winning away tests and potential handicaps the poorer teams would balance out the system. Winning it would reward success over a long time and it also allows the big test series to remain. Thoughts?

Posted by anver777 on (November 7, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

Why a talented Callum Ferguson is always ignored by the Aus set up ??? started his career very brightly, but no news now !!!! Is he injured or lack of form ????

Posted by L4zybugg3r on (November 7, 2012, 4:00 GMT)

I'm sorry but complaining about the pitches being too seam friendly seems a bit silly when not too long ago everyone wanted them because we were getting thrashed by the poms swinging the ball. Ok, so perhaps some of the grounds need to dial it back a little eg Hobart, MCG but I'm willing to bet Adelaide is not a green top. Having a mixture of grounds is the way to go and I have to admit we aren't the worst at it. I suppose it would be nice to see the SCG return to a spinner's wicket but otherwise there is a bit of variety around. Perhaps there aren't enough opportunities to play in other domestic leagues. I know some players play in County which is good for swing, does anyone know if they have the same opportunities to play in Ranji to get more familiar with spin?

Posted by Gordo85 on (November 7, 2012, 3:28 GMT)

Being a local here I still think they are there. But I do agree that not many hundreds are being scored anymore. Believe me you still do have good batsmen coming through but the problem is that selectors ignore them. Instead of going for youth or players younger than 37 they are still picking the old fogies before people who are younger than them. Hodge got stuffed over and the same is happening to David Hussey now as we speek but yet cricket Australia went out and picked David Warner who was labeled a short form specialist yet David Hussey was labeled the same thing yet only one of them is playing Test cricket. Joe Burns is looking like a good prospect for the future as well as those two other players I have said before Mark Cosgrove and Callum Ferguson. My dad told me recently that acording to Ian Chappel the best batsman at state level who is not in the Test team now is Brad Haddin. I find that some kind of sick joke to be honest because I know it isn't true.

Posted by Mervo on (November 7, 2012, 3:09 GMT)

A major reason, possibly THE major reason, is the massive advertising investment in four codes of football in Australia now. With a football season that runs almost 9 months each year and constant bombardment by the media in their short off season, young men are lured away from our national game. This loss is felt at the development levels of district and club cricket. The same happened in the West Indies with the promotion of basketball and other high profile sports. In India this is not a problem and in England there are fewer codes of football and far shorter seasons. We need to reduce the length of the football seasons so more young people can play club and district cricket. Otherwise we will become a minor cricket nation.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 3:05 GMT)

Lessen the proliferation of T20 rubbish and increase the money for players in FC cricket and watch them follow the money and the skill level and quality of player will increase.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 3:01 GMT)

Great article and excellent insights from two superstars of Australian domestic cricket. It's a pity Hodge isn't in his 20s, he is one of the most unfortunate stories of modern Aussie cricket. Any other side, he would have been a shoo in. Huss is a sensational player as well. Aussie batting really does revolve around Huss and Ponting, with Clarke also being reliable. Need more young guys to step up or Australia will never retain EVEN their current position. But for them to be no.1 and be comparable to pre-2007 side, they need to find some magic bowlers, like a Warne or McGrath. The current fast bowlers are good, but nothing special. Spinners are virtually non-existent.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 2:58 GMT)

Why do they keep referring to Khawaja as inconsistent? He clearly has the most cultured technique in the country and probably would have cashed in at Brisbane last year if the tired old legs and mind of Ponting hadn't sold him short. Seriously you repeat a lie often enough it becomes fact. He is clearly miffed at his treatment and I'm not surprised. His technique is light years ahead of the rest of the country and yet he keeps being referred to as inconsistent at this level - what a joke - Australia deserve to lose and badly - To think of an Ashes series in England with Warner, Watson, Cowan and Ponting in the line up simply beggars belief. I am yet to be convinced that Warner possesses the technique to even get off the mark in next years Ashes series and I cannot believe how many runs Marsh didn't score before being dropped - he must be somebody's son to get that many chances

Posted by Meety on (November 7, 2012, 2:51 GMT)

@Moppa on (November 06 2012, 23:53 PM GMT) - love the concept of 5-day shield matches - with pitches prepared appropriately. To do this, they would have to ensure that the "minimum wage/contract" is bumped up a bit, as I would imagine that would totally eliminate the possibility of earning any serious coin outside of cricket for State journeymen. I think this would be the only way to bring spinners into the mix more in Shield cricket - outside of deliberately making pitches devoid of grass. I disagree re: T20, it's not the root of all evil, but IMO, it is directly impacting on techniques & concentration. I think spinners exposed to too much T20, tend to bowl flatter (darts), batsmen are looking for the big hit too often - giving themselves room (clearing the front leg) - rather than get in line more. I would imagine if there is too much spice in the pitch - then a batsmen may be more inclined to have a tonk as there is a wicket taking ball coming soon?

Posted by Chris_P on (November 7, 2012, 2:42 GMT)

I only get down to the SCG for the odd day cricket, so rarely see other state's batsmen, but over the past few years, patience is the big thing missing. Players get a start then try to dominate, (usually high quality bowling) & fail to go on. I saw young Patterson bat with Katich last season & it was a revelation. Katich obviously helped the kid, who went on for a hug undefeated century, I think the youngest to score a debut century for NSW. I don't see this often enough. Haddin was there to guide Henriques, who is developing nicely. Stephen Smith has tightened up his technique appreciably & is now accumulating runs. Quiney looked very good the past 2 seasons, no world beater, but someone who gets his head down. The pickings are slim, the most talented batsmen I have seen the past few years has been Katich & Rogers, & no way will they get a call.

Posted by Hammond on (November 7, 2012, 2:40 GMT)

I've coached junior cricket in Australia for a number of years and the cause of the decline in batting in this country is the mindset of the young blokes. They try to smash everything in the nets, think proper defence is boring, and can't play the short ball properly. Most of them resemble baseballers out in the middle, clearing the front leg and dragging nearly everything through the leg side with a cross bat heave. T20 may be to blame, because that is the cricket they watch, but the result is teenage cricket around the country is a very different game to watch then when I played it. And you can't blame pitches either because most of us start on synthetic, which is the truest bouncing pitch there is. Can't expect these young blokes to suddenly "learn" correct batting when they reach district and rep cricket, their game is already spoilt.

Posted by satish619chandar on (November 7, 2012, 2:27 GMT)

@MinusZero : Well said. I would pick Henriques at 6 or even Dan Christian in home games. Resort Punter back to No.3 and Clarke and Hussey following him. With Wade at 7, they can have a decent batting order. If Smith/McDonald got places in test team as no.6, why not a Henriques or Christian. Both were in decent nick in recent times. Frankly, though they didn't do much in international chances they got, Ussie and Hughes are good potentials. The big guns Hussey and Punter were allowed their space even on failures but the upcoming potentials were not. Hughes has tech issues but Cowan scores lesser runs without tech issues. End of the day, runs is what matters and Hughes should score more runs than Cowan. Not sure what made Cowan a top contender for the opening slot.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 2:09 GMT)

Thank goodness Hussey brought this issue up... I play Under-17's A in Victoria and it's very rare to see a spinner bowl more than 4 overs even in the 75 over matches. Captains do not have the confidence in their spinners which is very understandable as the pitches have a lot more to offer to the fast bowlers when compared to the spinners.

Posted by jonesy2 on (November 7, 2012, 2:06 GMT)

seems to me that there is plenty of promising young batsmen around. dont get the point of the article. just typical rubbish. a shield average of 40 is a county average of 50. at least australia arent in englands situation where there is literally zero talent.

Posted by ozwriter on (November 7, 2012, 2:01 GMT)

"When you're picking guys with an average of 30, you're going to get an average of 30 in Test match cricket. You're not going to get 50. Guys average 30 at this level for a reason." And that is why marsh failed, and cowan is failing. can we expect any more from poor quiney?

you cannot go from being a average shield player to to an awesome test player. you have to be awesome to start with. khawaja and burns are two of thew potentially awesome players i see atm.

Posted by FiddyHolt on (November 7, 2012, 1:55 GMT)

@skkh: Clarke is too flashy and chancy for test cricket??! Circa 2005 perhaps but overall has been a very consistent performer since re-entering the side and is now one of the worlds best and the anchor of our batting lineup. And Warner is hardly a joke! He has a very reasonable record thus far and one of the soundest techniques going round. He just needs to find the right balance patience and not over-curbing his natural aggression.

Posted by Meety on (November 7, 2012, 1:48 GMT)

@Rahul_Ashok on (November 06 2012, 23:00 PM GMT) - now that comment I agree 100% with! The only thing missing on Ussie's current record is a Doolan-like hundred. @Macca_mat on (November 06 2012, 23:05 PM GMT) - I really think that the likes of Burns & Khawaja will get their time very soon. I hope they keep Burns away from T20 cricket. @RednWhiteArmy on (November 06 2012, 23:15 PM GMT) - well actually we sort of do to Ireland! @hes_a_victorian on (November 06 2012, 23:38 PM GMT) - good point about "front-ending" the Shield season. The lack of consistant heat to dry a pitch out is a big factor & would further devalue the role of a spinner. Pitches stay spicey all match as opposed to becoming easier to bat on Day 2 or 3. @Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (November 06 2012, 23:57 PM GMT) - it's intersting, about 6 or 7 years ago, Tasmania went really well by basically playing for first innings points & not chasing outright wins, their pitches have gone from 4day draws to 2 or 3 day result games!

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 1:33 GMT)

Have been saying this for 4 years. The problem is NOT 20/20. The problem is that there is too much coaching going on for starters instead if letting players develop their own technique. Secondly, the pitches being made are disgraceful. There is too much movement and as a result batsman are not playing long innings and gaining confidence. Cricket Australia is solely to blame for the state of cricket in Australia and a the massive injury lists that are occuring.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 1:12 GMT)

The truth seems to have been ignored here. The main reason young players are not prepared for Test cricket is because they don't get to play against test cricketers! Before the advent of so much limited overs cricket, international players played half or more of a Shield season. Young players got to test themselves against better cricketers or play along side them and learn. The good ones went on to be good test players themselves. The example of Cowan shows a good Shield player but someone who seems a little below test standard. He may still come good but it's unlikely. And Quiney isn't even as good as him. Shiled cricket has become glorified First grade. Just hope Ponting & Hussey can play for another 20 years or so.

Posted by skkh on (November 7, 2012, 0:28 GMT)

Without a doubt this is due to the idiotic twenty20 format. This format in not the future of cricket but it is the death knell for cricket. The players of today develop themselves for this format and are found wanting at the test level.Will we have another Ponting or Hussey? I have my own doubts. In the days gone by a player like Quiney would never have had a call for tests. Today he is all what we have got. Look at Watson a 20,30 or a maximum of a 50 batsman is our "best" batsman !!!! Clarke has scored quite a few runs of late but he is too flashy and chancy batsman for tests. Cowan at best can occupy the crease for some time. Warner as a test batsman is a joke. Ponting and Hussey are the last of the test batsmen in our team and I would still go a far mile to watch them play. Test cricket can never be the same again. The ECB and S.Africans do not give much importance to the twenty20 as does the Indians and we are aping them. This is where we are losing our ground if only CA realises.

Posted by kimbosterelny on (November 7, 2012, 0:08 GMT)

I think the worries are genuine. But do not forget that the shield is being started much earlier in the season than was historically normal, and we have had three wet seasons in a row. Both factors favour seam-friendly conditions. (and MinusZero, I would love to see Henriques kick on, but that was his first first class century in a 5-year career; he, like Fergusson, needs to show that he can do it regularly). That said, our batting does look very think, and I hope Hughes, Smith, Burns and co do have consistently successful seasons. I noticed that Bird, despite taking a lot of wickets in the shield, did not make much of an impact in the Australia A tour. I have not seen him; has anyone actually seen him bowl? Views, information, please.

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (November 6, 2012, 23:57 GMT)

As a London based Aust fan I follow Shield scores and am always dismayed by the lack of big hundreds which are the sort of innings that matter in Tests. Doolan's 160 odd stood out last week for it's rarity. Control of the type of wickets prepared is vital. Of course you are sometimes going to get green wickets due to weather especially in Tasmania & Qld but it's telling that we almost always seem to see truer wickets prepared for Tests able to last 5 days & then see 3 days result pitches presented for Shield matches. CA needs to oversee pitch preparation as I'm guessing curators come under pressure from state coaches & associations to deliver results. If not supervising the preparation they need to have the English system in county cricket of inspectors who can dock points for under prepared surfaces.

Posted by Antir on (November 6, 2012, 23:57 GMT)

If you are looking at experience with say over 3000 or 5000 runs in Shield cricket and age say mid to late 20s and a reasonable average above 40 then there is one name that stands out. Mark Cosgrove! Adding to this list would be great...

Posted by KhanMitch on (November 6, 2012, 23:57 GMT)

For me Khawaja and Burns are the 2 best prospects right now for test cricket. Solid techniques and they have been scoring on difficult pitches this year where others have failed. Khawaja in particular was very impressive in the recent game against NSW he got 50s in both innings against a quality NSW attack. In a low scoring match he showed the technique needed to face the South African attack and why he is still one of the better players of fast bowing in the country. His fielding and running between the wickets has improved significanly as those watching the Ryobi and Shield games would have seen.

Posted by Moppa on (November 6, 2012, 23:53 GMT)

Very interesting article. Gilly4ever, the point about Rogers, D.Hussey, Hodge etc, as made in the article, is that they were making their big runs three or four years ago. No-one, of any age, has made big runs in the Shield lately. You have to compare apples with apples - if batting has become harder over time, career averages of younger and older players can't be directly compared. I had attributed this trend to a very wet couple of summers, but I've heard people credibly make the point (e.g. Darren Berry) that unless 6 points are genuinely available in every one of your home games, its very hard to make the Shield final. So there is a massive incentive for associations to prepare 'result' wickets at home, not quasi-Test wickets for player development. How to restore the balance? Maybe we could have 100 over days, or even 5 day Shield games, so that it is not so hard to force a result on a better wicket? Personally, I don't think is due to T20, the change in pitches is the big factor.

Posted by   on (November 6, 2012, 23:44 GMT)

Although I think it true that the balance is definitely too seam friendly, the South Africans, who have pretty much the same type of pitches have excellent batsmen. Although it is true that they do not have a quality spinner, Tahir in my opinion is slighty more attacking than Harris but is clearly the 5th best bowler in the team. But back to the Australians. It's a bit hard to blame T20 because it's always going to be there from now on, so players have to adapt and try to have the best technique which will allow success in both formats. Look at the great batsmen of today. Sangakkara, De Villiers, Graeme Smith, Jayawardene, Kallis, Kohli are all elegant and supreme examples of players with techniques that work in all 3 formats of the game. The important thing is to find your technique and then understand how to use it in each different formats. (I didn't provide any english or australian examples because they have a substantial weakness in some way, whereas the others mentioned don't).

Posted by   on (November 6, 2012, 23:41 GMT)

Technique is developed right from the earliest days of the player and not when he shows up as a 15 year old with talent but a technique that leaks like a sieve! You also have to sort out who wants to play test cricket,who wants to play 20/20 and who wants to the 50 over game! Three distinct streams demand different mindsets and skills. First you make sure the first few years are dedicated to sound techniques, then you work on streaming players into what cricket area they wish to excel in. You also get wicket preparation consistency around the country with better training of the turf men! Crazy ideas? maybe but unless we have a consistent plan right from when youngsters show an interest in the game then will forever have an inconsistent future in the game of cricket!

Posted by hes_a_victorian on (November 6, 2012, 23:38 GMT)

Agree with a lot of the comments thus far and Hussey's observatinos and I think these thoughts are echoed by a lot of cricket followers in Australia. While results cricket is good and exciting, the pitches in the past two to three years in Australia have been heavily doctored to favour seam bowling, and it's been further exacerbated by front-ending the shield season, in which the weather has not yet reached summertime temperatures and it is generally still quite wet (particularly in the southern states). There's no doubt the runs Cowan and Quiney made last year were very well-earned on difficult pitches and they deserve their chance, but the conditions need to be balanced to allow batsmen to bat for long periods and develop their strokeply as well as defence. Need to find a balance. Also you only need to look at the spinner's figures (overs bowled low, wickets taken low) to see the current conditions are not conducive to developing spin bowling.

Posted by Front-Foot_lunge on (November 6, 2012, 23:27 GMT)

Its a good read but off the mark. The australian domestic season is only one part of the coin, many Aus players ply their trade year long, many in the domestic leagues over here in the UK. Shortcomings in their preparation as test players in Australia could be remedied by being exposed to other pitches and environments elsewhere . What this article misses is the general noise from the commentary boxes for international matches about curators preparing faeatherbeds for 5 day matches to ensure a full 5 days of gate receipts, thereby swinging the odds to far in favour of the batsmen. Surely result pitches in Australia will help counteract this and help produce batsmen with a decent technique against a moving ball, and surely thats a good thing?

Posted by wix99 on (November 6, 2012, 23:21 GMT)

It's interesting to note the performances of recent debutants in the Test side.

Phil Hughes -- made runs but questions about his technique Usman Khawaja -- solid technique but didn't make enough runs Shaun Marsh -- enormous talent but lack of discipline

Of these three I suspect Hughes and Khawaja may well find their way back into the team, but the selectors obviously want them to compile a lot of runs for their states first.

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (November 6, 2012, 23:15 GMT)

Stop wasteing your time with stupid sports like AFL & you might have some luck. At least the aussies cant lose at AFL haha

Posted by Meety on (November 6, 2012, 23:15 GMT)

@jb633 on (November 06 2012, 18:47 PM GMT) - refreshing to see a comment that is not nationalistic & makes good sense. Good comment. I agree a lot with the last sentence. @ nthuq on (November 06 2012, 19:17 PM GMT) - I have had my fingers crossed that an Ozzy batsmen who averages 40 in the Shield - would IF playing for Oz for a full cucle of the FTP, end up having Test stats comparable to Shield as the conditions & quality of bowlers wouldn't be easily matched around the world. @mikey76 on (November 06 2012, 19:31 PM GMT) - actually the main reason for England's improvement from 15yrs ago - is the return to 4-day County cricket (you can thank Rod Marsh for that)! @ katandthat3 on - bit of a trade off, I guess the Quinney experiment will answer that?? @VivGilchrist on - WIndies are a good example of how pitches can change the make up of a nations talent. SC-like pitches over there have led to spinners being dominant, whilst hardly any batter ave over 30!

Posted by Rastawookie on (November 6, 2012, 23:10 GMT)

ARad - As an Australian, I dont see how promoting T20 further is going to help our test side at all. Quite frankly, Australia doesn't care that much if we aren't any good at T20's, its an inferior form of cricket. Dont get me wrong, it takes brilliance to succeed at T20, but its a way smaller priority for Australia than getting our test team strong again. Australia places more value on a sport that requires sustained ability, not flash-in-the-pan brilliance. We aren't watching soccer or baseball.

Posted by HatsforBats on (November 6, 2012, 23:09 GMT)

The pitches are the way they are because Australian summers have been very wet for the last 6 years or so. Australia was in the grips of a more than decade long drought throughout the 90's when the players of the golden generation were learning their craft (Ponting, Hodge, Katich, Rogers...the list is long). I'm not concerned by lower averages for the batsmen because of juicy pitches, and at least bowlers are learning the discipline to keep putting the ball in the right spot to get the result. It is a problem however for developing spinners and there is no doubt that T20 is eroding young players techniques. But those talented enough will rise above the rest and it is up to CA to help them become the finished product.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 6, 2012, 23:05 GMT)

Well said Rahul, I think the likes of Khawaja and Burns have been scoring on tougher pitches this season and runs on green tracks will prepare them well for the top level. Its all about scoring in difficult conditions and not on flat tracks which makes a batsman and they are showing that. Khawja showed that on day 1 against South Australia on a green gabba pitch and again in the match against NSW. An average for 45 for both him and Hughes aint bad as well and a step in the right direciton

Posted by Sunil_Batra on (November 6, 2012, 23:00 GMT)

I was at the Qld vs NSW game on the weekend. On a lively ptich where other test stars failed Khawaja got to 50s in both innings against a quality NSW attack in a very low scoring contest. The next step for him is to convert some of these 50s into hundreds and we have a good shield batsman there. Burns also looks promising.

Posted by MinusZero on (November 6, 2012, 22:53 GMT)

I really dont understand why Moises Henriques wasnt picked as Watsons replacement. He has scored 289 runs in 3 innings this shield season and taken 7 wickets at 15. Is he injured?

Posted by Beertjie on (November 6, 2012, 22:37 GMT)

Good article, especially the part where seam-friendly wickets prevent the development of spinners, something that have cost Australia in the past on the slower spin-friendly tracks and will continue to hold the upward progress of the team back. So once better batting tracks are prepared batsmen with better batting records will follow. Btw although past it now Rogers could serve as a stopgap for the 2 Ashes series and the trip to India. If Warner, Cowan and Quiney don't deliver at least some decent scores at home, Rogers and Hughes may be good for India. If Punter fails, he must fall on his sword or be pushed. Wearing my Nostradamus hat, I'd say that within 2-3 years a good squad might read Hughes, Khawaja, Doolan, Burns, Ferguson, Smith, Wade, Cummins, Pattinson, Starc, Boyce, Paine, Holland, Hazlewood, McDermott and Maddinson.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (November 6, 2012, 22:01 GMT)

Playing the likes of Ed Cowan and Rob Quiney while ignoring the likes of David Hussey, Brad Hodge and Chris Rogers because they are "too old", in spite of fantastic records, is what has happened. They are still being produced at Sheffield Shield level, it is just that we have some pretty poor selectors nowadays.

Posted by   on (November 6, 2012, 21:48 GMT)

I posted about these sub-standard pitches on one of the match reports last week and no one seemed to care. But if dustbowls which finish games in 2 days are despised, even the atrocious tracks at Bellerive and MCG should be as well! Watching the live stream, it was obvious that it would never be suitable for Test cricket and FC games folding up inside 2 days is just ridiculous. How are we to assess the quality of our seamers if every Bird, Behrenderoff, Copeland gets a bagful of wickets on this surface? How are our spinners going to grow? FC pitches should be made as true as those used for Tests like we had late last summer.

Posted by VivGilchrist on (November 6, 2012, 21:35 GMT)

I've been thinking this for a while. It's all connected. Low batting averages, Low seam bowling averages, High spin bowling averages. The pitches favour seam too heavily, West Indies have a similar problem but with spin records being over inflated and batting records very low.

Posted by Buckers410 on (November 6, 2012, 21:31 GMT)

You are absolutley right. There is so much talent but the consistency is so bad. You have a whole team of good young batsman out there. Players like Khawaja, Hughes, Burns, Doolan, Smith, Davis, Ferguson, Marsh brothers, Tom Cooper, Aaron Finch stc. But there consistency lets them down. eg. Ferguson scored his first century in 2 seasons. Marsh only averages 33 in first class.

Posted by __PK on (November 6, 2012, 21:21 GMT)

I love that Hodge story. He smacks a fast bowler, bowling with a new ball, for a massive six and realises it's time to retire.

Posted by AusieBangaleeShameem on (November 6, 2012, 21:01 GMT)

A well-analysed article. Very true wordings from Brydon. Thanks mate! Keep writing this type more!! Cheers!!!

Posted by cricmatters on (November 6, 2012, 20:55 GMT)

Please do not blame IPL for every thing under the sun. Its a lucrative tournament which allows young Australian players to mix with the best in business and stake their claim to greatness. It also provides employment to lot of Cricketers past and present including support staff like coaches, fitness trainers etc. David Warner and Shaun Marsh were discovered by IPL otherwise they would still be languishing at State Sides till they reached 30 like Hussey.

Posted by Chark_attack on (November 6, 2012, 20:34 GMT)

It isnt so much to do with the pitches being harder to bat on its just australia went through an amazing period were for some reason there was a crazy amount of talent at their disposal i mean they could have easily selected an A team that would give most other countries a run for their money. Sure harder pitches will reduce a players average however a good teqniqe will still see you through and the best players will still have the highest averages and surely it will steal players for tough games at test match level??

Posted by katandthat3 on (November 6, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

This gives even more cred to guys like Hughes, Burns, Bailey, Cosgrove or even Smith who have managed to have FC averages of 40+. Burns is the business. Doolan will get more confidence from the scores he has got this season and will hopefully drive him to having a big summer. Perhaps 35+ average is the new 45+ - not saying it's ideal but that's perhaps realistic of what's around. You then have to take in to consideration the other factors to go with the average of mid to high 30's and see who can maybe step up. Unfortunately I think it's past guys like Rogers & D Hussey. Seeing how guys go in one-day cricket usually helps to give players exposure to international level while still playing normal cricket, used to be a favoured method (Hughes, Burns & M Marsh should play ODI this season). There is still some good talent from the 35+ range that have been around a while, does experience of playing FC cricket longer with a lower average help than someone averaging a bit higher for shorter?

Posted by ygkd on (November 6, 2012, 20:22 GMT)

Too true. Often you hear excitement about the next batting sensation and you have a look, see their technique and wonder what has happened to get people so excited. Too often the technical foundation is only half-built and it was that foundation that made Hodge, Hussey and their ilk so good at short-form batting.

Posted by Wozza-CY on (November 6, 2012, 19:59 GMT)

Good article. I feel Musseys comments are far more relevant than blaming T20 for the decline in young batsman. As the article points out, the problem with blaming T20 is that many batsman around the world have caught the eyes of selectors in the T20 format. Quieny, Warner, Eoin Morgan, Kohli etc. Many of those have been self-disciplined enough to make the adjustment to a longer format. But Musseys commments about the pitches that aid the seamers make much more sense about our situation. Batsman scoring low, seamers cleaning up & spinners not learning a thing. Steps are being made on the admin & management side to get us back to no1, perhaps pitches should be the next focus.

Posted by mikey76 on (November 6, 2012, 19:31 GMT)

Reminds me of England 15 yrs or so ago. Pitches that seamed all over the place that produced bowlers who couldn't cut it at the top and batsmen who couldn't construct an innings. Australia have a good stock of bowlers but there batting is woefully thin. A gradual improvement in pitches in England and a relatively small amount of T20 cricket has produced our best batting group in a generation.

Posted by nthuq on (November 6, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

Now that's one thing I'd not considered... The fact that our pitches aren't flat enough! It sounds hilarious, but it does make sense that with the current pitches we have we wouldn't be producing batsmen forced to concentrate for long periods of time to produce immense scores, or have bowlers forced to concentrate for long spells to produce wickets. Maybe that's why India's batting cupboard is so full, because of their largely flat tracks? I mean really, it never fails to amaze me that Rahane, averaging 64 in first class matches cannot get a game! Really, this puts Doolan's and Ferguson's immense recent knocks into perspective. I hope they can keep doing it.

Posted by ARad on (November 6, 2012, 18:48 GMT)

Can we make the Australian public to think like a good proportion of the Indian public by placing less emphasis on the Test cricket and placing more emphasis on local T20 club cricket tournament? Obviously, Aussies can also feel good about themselves when their native players are doing well when they score runs in their local T20 club cricket tournament. I am sure Cricket Australia can also put indirect pressure on local commentators and opinion writers to highlight all the positives of the local T20 club tournament. If that doesn't work, I am sure a bit of local pride as well as comments from the supporters of the local T20 club cricket tournament attacking the commentators/writers who are not 110% favorable towards the local T20 club cricket tournament in cricket forums and other websites may work too. Local T20 club cricket tournament is the Real Thing that Real Australians should be proud of!

Posted by jb633 on (November 6, 2012, 18:47 GMT)

A very interesting article and the truths spelt out do not hold for just Australia but for various sides. I think England, India, New Zeland are also struggling with the techniques of the younger generation. In England the problem seems to me that our county pitches are always green tops and our youngsters never learn to play a spinner on a wicket that actually turns. When they come to the sub continent they are ruthlessely exposed because technically they are not sound. I think with young Indian players the IPL is causing issues. The pitches are so flat that they are so used to hitting through the line that when the ball moves just a touch they are all at sea. Traditionally Aussie pitches have always been good for batting but I get the feeling that becuase the Aussies have been exposed by the moving ball in a couple of Ashes series, they are trying to create conditions that are conducive to movement so that their players are ready for it when they come to test cricket.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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