ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Australia v Zimbabwe, Group A, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad

Australia's batsmen off the pace

Ricky Ponting's reigning world champions began with a comfortable victory, but the way they struggled against spin suggested problems ahead

Brydon Coverdale at Motera

February 21, 2011

Comments: 43 | Text size: A | A

It was no great surprise that the speed of Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee was too much for Zimbabwe to handle. If only, the Australians must be thinking, we could face the same sort of pace ourselves. A 91-run win was a fine result for Ricky Ponting's men, a solid way to start their campaign for a fourth consecutive World Cup title, but deep down they know they should have made more runs.

Their problem, as it was in the warm-up matches, was that they struggled to get used to the conditions and score freely against spin. It's an issue they need to address, because much stronger opponents than Zimbabwe await them over the next few weeks, and not every team will quiver at the sight of the fast men as Zimbabwe's top order did when they fell to 44 for 4.

Ray Price, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams sent down 39 overs for Zimbabwe, and by the end the captain Elton Chigumbura was probably wishing slow men had bowled all 50. The pace bowlers, Chris Mpofu and Chigumbura himself, combined for 11overs that cost 76 runs.

It's a lesson that would have been taken in by Australia's upcoming opponents. Ponting spoke before the match of how it is difficult for batsmen to get settled on the slower pitches on the subcontinent, and so it proved once again. Michael Clarke was the only one of the top five who scored at better than a run a ball, pacing his innings well as he has in his past few games.

"We need to play better, there's no doubt about that," Ponting said after the win. "We need to have our own games and our own game-plans sorted out for the better spinning attacks. As the tournament goes on, we're going to need to be on top of our games and we're probably not quite there just yet, but the more we play and the more we become accustomed to these conditions, the better we'll get."

Of course, not every team will use five slow bowlers, as Zimbabwe did. But then, many pitches will provide the spinners with more assistance - Price and company didn't extract big turn, but rather tied the Australians down with skiddy straighter balls and changes in length. Australia's next opponents are New Zealand, who have Daniel Vettori and they might follow Zimbabwe's lead and open with a spinner, as Nathan McCullum did against Kenya.

If that happens, it's all the more important that Brad Haddin and Shane Watson go after the seamers with the new ball, which they didn't do against Zimbabwe. There was one big over, when Haddin showed how he likes the ball coming on to the bat, driving Mpofu over wide mid-off while Watson pulled viciously, but after 13 overs, Australia were 32 for 0. Again, Haddin got a start and failed to go on with it, a trend that Ponting wants him to turn around. It won't be easy if spinners keep bowling up front.

"That's something that me and Brad are going to have to continue to get our heads around but also, when a spinner comes on, knowing that we don't have to take a lot of risks," said Watson, who was the Man of the Match for his 79. "With there only being two guys out on the boundary, just playing good shots [is enough] and hopefully we can get off to a much better start next time and take a bit of pressure off the middle order."

Within that middle order Cameron White's scratchiness is becoming a bit of a concern. At No. 5, he is supposed to be the man who lifts the tempo after a platform has been set, but he needed a lesson from Ahmedabad's rickshaw drivers on how to pierce a gap. Not since Australia's tour of India back in October has White constructed a really strong one-day innings, and although Ponting has given him some advice, he does not believe White's form is an issue.

"I had a good chat to Cam yesterday at training, about his batting and about what I feel he needs to do and what he needs to work on over here," Ponting said. "The position that he's batting in the order in these conditions is vastly different than what it is in Australia. When you go in in Australia on the good, hard, bouncy wickets it's a bit easier to get off strike and rotate strike. It's a lot harder to do it here when there's good quality spinners bowling and the field generally comes in when you have the loss of a couple of quick wickets. I'm not worried about him at all."

As White and Clarke chipped the ball around, and the innings ticked past the 40th over, acceleration didn't become any easier. There were a couple of big hits from David Hussey and Steven Smith in the final couple of overs, but 262 was not quite what Australia had in mind when they chose to bat.

In the end, it mattered little, as Johnson, Lee and Tait passed their first test of the tournament, their wicket tally more prominent than their runs conceded. But the challenges, for both batsmen and bowlers, will only become greater as this World Cup wears on.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 43 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (February 23, 2011, 7:57 GMT)

I think our batting is coming along nicely. Watson, Ponting, Clark and David Hussey are all in really good form with Haddin and Cameron White having the kind of explosive potential Which if one bought their A game to the big matches, we would only need contributions from a couple of others. This perceived weakness or vulnerability to spin could work in our favour and might even be being played by Ponting throught the media as spinners, no matter what the pitch conditions, are easier to lift into the grandstands. In reality their their arent that many world class spinners the likes of Murali and Warne anyway who hold the worlds batsmen in a state of fear.

Posted by Andrew on (February 23, 2011, 7:14 GMT)

@ popcorn/youngkeepersdad; I think you're wrong on Smiths bowling. In short formats he is a good wicket taking option. Batting has dissappointed me. The reason for my dissappointment is a bit to do what you said (youngkeepersdad), regarding how spin is treated in this country. I think the problem is the way the pitches are (for spinners) in the 1st class arena. The pitches either hold up well, (no 5th day), or seam well. A match earlier this season involving NSW (& maybe Tassie),, Hauritz I think bowled about 3 overs for the entire match, AND not at all against QLD. Sth Oz had 2 real gems in Dan Cullen & Cullen Bailey, but they've gone nowhere, (I notice Bailey is BACK in the Sth Oz team). I had a thought that maybe a side operating out of Darwin, (in the Shield), would be the go, the Pitch has an "Indian" feel to it & so may be where we send our spinners. I also think there are some TOP cricketing talent coming thru the ranks (Richardson, Copeland, Cummins, Beaton, Burns & Lynn).

Posted by Philip on (February 23, 2011, 6:19 GMT)

Australia's batsmen struggle against spin? What's news there? Aus is hardly the land of the up-and-coming spinner is it? It is, however, the land of the medium-pace all-rounder (yeah, okay so Lee, Tait etc aren't exactly med-paced, but have a good look around the youth levels instead) and the fixation with shortened forms of the game are largely to blame. To get youth batsmen to play spin, you need quality youth spinners and U17/19 games that go a decent distance on a pitch that grips and turns. Then the superstar youth bats might actually have to learn to sweep or use their feet or else end up looking like dills. So before you fix the national team's batting, you must fix the youth bowling and fixture problems. Otherwise, nothing much will change. Thanks to sponsorship, the Sheffield Shield trophy may have got its gleam back, but the competition that used to be the best anywhere is now rather lacklustre to say the least. Oh, & Popcorn - agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments above.

Posted by Andrew on (February 23, 2011, 1:15 GMT)

@HatsforBats/PlayingItStraight re: spinners. Oz traditionally have valued a spinner in any format. Unfortunately Oz have not got many options in this arena - due to the way Oz pitches are & the fact that Oz actually plays SPIN quite well (in Oz conditions). So yes, it would be WONDERFUL if we had a "... specialist spinner, the type that dries up the runs..." that is NOT injured. We don't. As the selectors have gambled & failed on un-proven spinners twice in Tests this summer, Krezja was about the last man standing. Maybe could of sent M North as a spinner, a certain p/t spinner from WA won 2 W/Cups for Oz (Hogg). The safest bet is to bank on pace. It would be great if we had a bit more variety but as Bracken was injured & now retired, we have to gamble with Strike Bowlers. In theory (hopefully practise as well), these guys CAN win us the Cup. I more worried about our middle order, I am expecting a WHOLE LOT MORE from White. Anyways I say drop Krezja for Ferguson.Spin = Pup, Huss,Smith!

Posted by kieran on (February 23, 2011, 0:06 GMT)

@PlayingItStraight: 145kph is quick enough if the ball is good enough, and both Lee and Tait can get some good reverse going. Some pitches may offer more throughout the tournament and having 3 guys hitting mid 150's would be a bonus. As for the spinners; who would we pick? Hauritz/O'Keefe/Doherty are injured, and would anyone else offer more than Smith/Hussey/Clarke?

Posted by Lee on (February 22, 2011, 10:27 GMT)

Interesting that Ponting has been pilloried for years as being a dud against spin, mainly because Harbajan Singh got him out a number of times when he was in a bad patch of form. Now, he's suddenly regarded as one of the world's best. The problem isn't an inability to play spin bowling - It's the fact that no-one in the Aussie line-up seems to be able to compile a big, match-winning hundred any more. Look at the scorecard: Haddin, Ponting, White all got starts and couldn't convert. Watson is good for a half ton almost every time but his hundreds are as rare as bigfoot sightings. Ditto Michael Clarke. This is the story of Australian cricket circa 2011 - No-one (aside from the occasional Watson or Ponting masterclass) seems capable of the kind of monstrous innings that the Aussies were producing at will a few years back to post the big totals which win matches.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 22, 2011, 10:10 GMT)

how abtt this..playing smith or white in opening order and haddin below the order...smith is really an attacking player...even if he got out earlier it wont create impact because punter & pup r in great touch

Posted by Ralph on (February 22, 2011, 9:58 GMT)

@HatsforBats ... fair comment, but unless Tait, Lee & Co are bowling at 150kph+ then I don't believe that pace will be a decent weapon, and they are barely topping 145kph, which most international teams have a bowler capable of, so it's not a weapon. We should have taken at least one more specialist spinner, the type that dries up the runs.

Posted by Vijay on (February 22, 2011, 9:05 GMT)

Aussies will be dancing on the crease for Srilanka and Indian spin bowling :D *not for hitting fours and sixes*

Posted by Rajaram on (February 22, 2011, 8:47 GMT)

What EXACTLY is this non -performimg passenger Steve Smith doing in the side? Primarily Leg Spinner? He has proven to be No Good.Primarily batsman? No Good. Tim Paine or Callum Ferguson are better batsmen. As for spin, Jason Krejza, David Hussey,Michael Clarke are EACH better than Steve Smith.

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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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