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David Warner and Phillip Hughes have missed their chance but Ed Cowan and Shane Watson must not waste an opportunity to turn a woeful tour from the top order around
March 4, 2013
When R Ashwin bowled David Warner around his legs trying to sweep in the second innings in Hyderabad, he celebrated the wicket as normal. Two overs later he bowled Phillip Hughes with a similar delivery that drew a near identical shot and Ashwin looked happy but surprised. It was as if he was saying to himself, "when will these Australians learn?" Warner and Hughes are now halfway through their series having played four innings each and neither man seems much wiser about handling the conditions.
Australia's second innings began after tea and it was an opportunity for the batsmen. Rescuing the match seemed a stretch, although of course anything was possible, but mostly this was a chance to show some improvement. To prove that their struggles so far in India had not been in vain. By stumps, Warner and Hughes had squandered that opportunity; Ed Cowan and Shane Watson still have the chance to build something worthwhile. They cannot keep leaving it to Michael Clarke at No. 5.
England's series win in India late last year was built on the twin pillars of a quality spin attack and a high-scoring top order. Australia's slow-bowling issues have been well documented. They do not have a Graeme Swann, or a Monty Panesar. They do have an Alastair Cook, although he is batting at No. 5 and from there cannot influence the game as much as Cook did as an opener. As such, the need for big runs from their top four batsmen is even greater.
It has been an abject tour so far for the quartet. At the halfway point of this Test, Australia's top four were averaging 20.50 each in the series. At the same stage England's top four batsmen - excluding one occasion when they used a nightwatchman - were averaging 56.27. Cook had made 339 after the first three innings of the Indian tour; Australia's top four combined have managed only 246. The only fifty-plus score was Warner's scratchy 59 on the first day in Chennai.
When Cowan and Warner walked to the crease with a deficit of 266 in Hyderabad, their task was not easy. But they had been given the perfect template by Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay the previous day. In the first session India added only 49 runs as the two men settled themselves and measured the bowling and the conditions. After lunch they were in a position to lift the tempo, scoring another 106. In the final session they dominated and added a further 151.
The lesson was one of patience and respect for the opposition. They did not stagnate and neither did they worry if a few maidens passed or they went 17 overs without a boundary, as they did in the early stages of their partnership. They knew that if they could keep their wickets intact, the rewards would come later. It was an example that seemed to have an impression on Cowan but less so on Warner.
The problem was not that Warner struck 12 runs off the second over of the innings, for Ashwin erred in his length and flight and those balls were there to hit. But later, Warner was betrayed by a subtle lack of patience. The first ball that he faced when Ashwin came over the wicket, he tried to sweep. England's batsmen used the sweep to great effect but Warner tried it from an awkward-length ball, and from too far across his stumps. He was not in position to cover the spin and was bowled around his legs.
He was on 26 from 55 balls at the time, far from being bogged down. He had lofted Ashwin for six only four overs prior. Yet he did not have the patience to assess Ashwin over the wicket before trying to score off him. That Hughes made precisely the same mistake only a few overs later, after facing eight dot balls, was bewildering. But given his struggles against spin on this tour - he has faced 51 balls of it for six runs and four dismissals - it was not entirely surprising.
In the first innings, Hughes had faced 23 dot balls against the spinners before he tried to force a cut off Ashwin and edged behind. He could have taken note of the temperament shown by Cowan in the second innings. Cowan did not get off the mark until his 29th delivery but did so with a pushed single to mid-off, not a risky cross-batted shot. When he did start to cut the spinners he did so only off short balls that posed little risk.
By stumps Cowan had 26 from 100 balls. Notably, Vijay had only managed 29 from his first 100 balls. He settled himself in and reaped the rewards. Cowan must do the same on day four. He looked solid but needs to restart in the same frame of mind. Big runs are there if he has the necessary persistence and judgment. By his side is Watson, who had lofted Ashwin for a six quite safely but otherwise had looked patient.
Vijay and Pujara have set the example. Warner and Hughes have demonstrated what not to do. It is time to show what they have learnt. It is time Clarke had some top-order support.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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