December 16, 2011

India in Australia 2011-12

Australian batting goes 19th century

Andy Zaltzman
Dean Brownlie shone once again with the bat, Australia v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hobart, 1st day, December 9, 2011
Dean Brownlie: featured in a yet-to-be-published chapter of the Argus report titled, "Lessons from the Shield across the ditch"  © Getty Images
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Another Test, another scintillating finish. Test matches are supposed to provide greater variety and texture than the limited-over game, but recently all they have given us is a monotonous riot of thrilling dramas, a tediously predictable sequence of wildly fluctuating nail-biters. Yawn. No wonder the crowds have been so small. What Test cricket needs is more high-scoring draws.

The Hobart Test* was a historic one for New Zealand, who overcame both their Antipodean rivals and their own batting indisciplines, to record a landmark victory so exciting that even the dolphins in the Tasman sea reportedly bunked off from fish-eating duties and listened in to the radio commentary on their in-built sonar.

(A conversation between two bottlenose dolphins intercepted by an ESPN submarine and translated by Cricinfo’s in-house marine biologist proceeded as follows: “Hey, Maureen, that was worth missing out on that shoal of herring for, eh?” “Damn right, Gerald. What a game. Most of the batting was pretty rubbish, but that was sporting theatre of the highest order.” “Sure was, Maureen. I never thought I’d live to see the day that New Zealand won in Australia.” “More fool you, Gerald. This Australian batting unit has been an accident waiting to happen for ages. And an accident actually happening several times during those ages.” “Fair point, Maureen. But I thought that brilliant win in Johannesburg would have given them some good old baggy-green confidence.” “No, Gerald, it camouflaged the same old failings. As soon as the ball starts moving around, they’re in trouble.” “I’m the same with fish, Maureen. If they’re going in a straight line, no problem, snap, gulp, yum. But a bit of swing either way, I’m going hungry.” “That’s because you go at the fish too hard, Gerald. If the fish is moving, you’ve got to wait for it, try to play it late, with a soft snout. Your problem is that you’ve had too long eating fish that don’t move about, and now the sea has become more conducive to swing again, you don’t have the technique to cope with it. Or the patience. Or the discipline. Which I find both strange and disappointing in an experienced dolphin like you.” “All right, Maureen, you’ve made your point. And let’s give some credit to the fish, they were the better sea creature on the day.” “That’s true, Gerald, but you made it very easy for them. The fact is, you’re only still in this school because the young dolphins coming through aren’t up to scratch yet.” “Shut up, Maureen, shut up. I’ve still got it. I know I’ll come good some day soon. I’ll catch some mackerel or something. Honest. I’m too good not to. Look at my career record.” “Yadda yadda yadda, Gerald. Cripes, we’d better move it. That sounds like a Japanese fishing vessel. We’d better shift or we’re going to end up on the wrong side of a bit of wasabi.”)

I digress. Hobart showcased the continuing crisis in Australian batsmanship, which, if not quite as severe or globally momentous as the Eurozone crisis, has nevertheless lasted far longer than it should have done. And the baffling nature of that crisis was highlighted by the fact that the most technically sound Australian batsman in the game was playing for New Zealand. Dean Brownlie played like the seasoned international veteran that he isn’t, a man not considered good enough even for first-class cricket in Australia, who outshone the stalwarts of his former country’s Test team.

For just the second time since the 1880s, Australia’s top 7 between them returned 13 scores of under 25 in a Test match. (The previous occasion was in Karachi in 1988-89, when the fact that Pakistan selected a grand total of zero seam bowlers hinted that they were trying to catch Australia on a turning wicket.) Only David Warner’s brilliant, pigeonhole-defying century, in which a supposed limited-over biffer with minimal first-class experience batted with restraint and selectivity whilst 30-something veterans pushed at and chased the swinging ball, saved them from one of the greatest statistical ignominies in 120 years of Baggy-Green batsmanship.

In Cape Town, just a month ago, the Australian top 7 had posted 12 scores of less than 25 – it was only the fourth time that had happened since the First World War.

Most concerningly for Australia, the experienced players have led the way, unable to find a way to halt the collapses, repeating the same hard-handed errors. In the two recent two-Test mini-series, Clarke has scored a dazzling century in each, one of which was an early candidate for innings of the decade, but has also been out for 22 or fewer in his other five innings. Hussey passed 20 just once in seven innings, and Ponting, whose long-term struggles are statistically irrefutable, only twice. Haddin made important half-centuries in Johannesburg and Brisbane, but has not scored more than 35 in his other 12 innings this year. Watson, after hitting 16 fifty-plus scores in his first 18 Tests as an opener up to the end of 2010, has added just one more half-century in six Tests in 2011.

For many years, Australian youngsters early in their careers would watch and learn from their seniors. It appears they are still doing so. Hughes has reached 40 in two innings out of 15; Khawaja has batted for at least 45 minutes in all but one of his 11 Test innings since making his debut in the Sydney Test in January, but he has passed 40 only once.

The year 2010 was bad for Australian batting, culminating in their Boxing Day Ashes debacle, a performance so inept that the ghost of Bill Ponsford reportedly chained himself to the railings outside the MCG in protest, waving a placard reading: “Knuckle down, for heaven’s sake.”

The year 2011 has been even worse. In eight Tests, Australia’s top 7 batsmen have collectively averaged 33.5, their lowest since 1988, a year in which the Australians were more than a little inconvenienced by having to face Ambrose, Marshall, Walsh and Patterson in three Tests out of eight.

Only the first Test against India offers the hope of redemption for a year in which 60% of the Australian top 7’s innings have ended with a slow trudge back to the pavilion, head bowed, baggy green that little bit baggier, after being out for less than 25. That is the highest failure rate by the Australian top 7 in any year since 1984. That was also a year in which they were more than a little inconvenienced, this time by having to face Marshall, Garner and Holding in consecutive five-Test series, a task which, for a batting line-up, must have been as appealing as being a human guinea pig in an experiment to calculate the effect on the digestive system of being repeatedly smashed in the stomach with a baseball bat.

*1330GMT, December 16: Corrected to change the scorecard link which was previously directing to the Brisbane Test

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Taimur Khan on (December 20, 2011, 12:44 GMT)

Australia need to start worrying seriously.....I imagine this must have been the gist of the senators' orations as Hannibal powered his way through Italy....on elephants no less! Or if u prefer a more contemporary example, hapless Pakistan after the breakout of the match fixing scandel or even India in 1978 as their famed spin quartet was carted round the Karachi stadium by the young Imran Khan....who incidentally is causing a few sleepness nights in the corridors of power in Islamabad these days. Seriously though....Steyn is great & all power to Philander (what a name) & to NZ but anything under 3 figures twice in a season almost brings test status into play here. If this was Bangladesh (getting banged up by the new & improved (read boring and professional) Pakistanis these days) we would be wagging our fingers and bemoaning their test status....but since the team in question was billed the greatest of all only a couple of years ago, we can only marvel at the speed of their decline.

Posted by eagerBrad on (December 20, 2011, 8:31 GMT)

Awesome Andy! Ever considered commentary?

Posted by DJ on (December 20, 2011, 8:21 GMT)

I would like to see Andy writing the next book of HHGTTG (7th book in the trilogy of 7). Especially after reading the Dolphin commentry and the obvious references to Lords and Cricket in HHGTTG. Awesome stuff.....

Posted by Navin Adhikari on (December 19, 2011, 15:23 GMT)

If I will ever read an article as good as this, I will tell my wife.

Posted by nt on (December 19, 2011, 14:44 GMT)

your articles are just like cricket. Brilliant but not interesting

Posted by eagerBrad on (December 19, 2011, 9:04 GMT)

Hahahaha, Indian Ocean dolphins surely :D

Posted by Kumar S on (December 16, 2011, 21:18 GMT)

You are to page 2 what bradman is to test cricket, what viv richards is to ODIs and what tendulkar is to international cricket!!! Yeah, completely out of it!!

Posted by Rajiv Purohit on (December 16, 2011, 20:29 GMT)

Like with all your earlier articles, I have been left craving for more of these gems... awesome Andy !!! Take a bow !!!

Posted by hasan on (December 16, 2011, 17:14 GMT)

Boring.......................trying 2 hard to be funny! Didnt get enuff attention for yr lack of hair.

Posted by Raks on (December 16, 2011, 15:15 GMT)

Please please pretty Please Andy. Replace Arun Lal and L Shiva in the Commentory team(wherever whenever they commentate) ASAP. Can not bear to listen to them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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