India v Australia, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 3rd day March 4, 2013

Time for Australia's batsmen to stand up

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

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 here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on March 7, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    @Brendan Carter... Agree - Watson since being named VC (2 years) has a batting average @25.2 during this time, also failing to make a century... Watto's bowling except for 2 suspect pitches has also been well below par...

  • kieran on March 5, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    @ Blokey & landl47, they are the most sensible comments I've seen in quite a while. The NSP still has a lot to answer for regarding certain selections.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    I have been saying for 2 years now, it`s the Aussie Batsmen, who have been letting the team down. The bowlers need scoreboard pressure, a target too bowl at, but the Aussie top 4 have been pathetic, putting pressure on 5,6, and 7, batsmen too salvage, something out of nothing. Warner, and Cowan, have been below par, but Watson and Hughes have been pathetic. Watto`, is not up to Test Cricket as a batsman only, and Hughes technique, might have been changed, but he still is an off-stump, wood-chopper. Australia do have better more consistent batsmen than these two, Usman Khawaja, is our best number 3, and at 4, we have plenty of options, Joe Burns, Adam Voges, even Brad Haddin, and at least 3 others. The cupboard is not bare, but the selectors have tunnel vision, keep the openers, Khawaja 3, Clarke 4, and give some young blokes a crack at 5, nursing them into Test Cricket. If you don`t believe me about Watto, check his pathetic test batting statistics, since, 2010.

  • Rahul on March 5, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    Let's not high five too much about Doherty and Maxwell just yet.The Indians got themselves out on most of those wickets trying to force the pace. A lot of their wickets looked one day-ish eg Maxwells caught and bowled. India were trying to force the tempo and put the match out of reach (further out of reach).I'd love to be proved wrong but I don't see a way out for the Aussies. We have two back in the sheds. Two in the middle who specialise in getting 30′s. Followed by three 'all-rounders'. We need at least one double and one century to save this one…not a string of 40s, 50s, 60s. We can't hide behind the fact that our batsman have not been good enough and that unless we something special today changes will need to be made for the third test with Khawaja a must along with potentially a change in the bowling attack as well.

  • John on March 5, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Yes, Australia has problems- only Jonesy2 would deny that. However, this series is not representative of cricket the world over. The Aus side is full of players whose game is better suited to more seam-friendly conditions; basically, it's a side with lots of opening batsmen and seamers. The spin side is weak, both in bowling and in batting against it.

    When Aus gets on the English wickets they'll look a whole lot better. On their own wickets, better yet. My fellow England fans need to remember that and, as they say in Yorkshire, think on.

  • Joe on March 5, 2013, 3:20 GMT

    @Mervin John, you obviously didn't watch yesterday's play if you say there is no resistance in the team. Yesterday was probably the best possible day they could have had, given the situation after day two. The bowling and fielding was good. All teams go through very bad days. Have you forgotten England losing the 1st test vs SA by 18 wickets (effectively)? SA getting thrashed for nearly 500 runs IN A DAY against Australia recently? Or India taking only one wicket for 800 RUNS in the middle of their last Australian tour? All these within the last year or so. The truth here is that people whinge about the AUS team, even when they are on a streak of only 3 losses in 20 games. As soon as there is a bad game or two people become hysterical. I have full confidence that the team will turn around, and in pretty short time. A little context is necessary here (amidst some very bad cricket and terrible selections, admittedly - the big issue is how fast they learn).

  • John on March 5, 2013, 2:55 GMT

    The England batsmen seem to be slowly learning the lessons on how to play spin in these conditions. Even so, I wouldn't be putting money on them if they were to play Pakistan in UAE again right now. Having recently lost Ponting and Hussey, Australia have really taken a big step backwards in these conditions. The Australian top order are making the very same mistakes that the England batsmen were, particularly playing back to balls they should be forward to and sweeping when they shouldn't. If Phil Hughes looks as bad as he does now, imagine him up against Ajmal with the added worry of a genuine doosra that is very hard to pick from the hand.

  • Michael on March 5, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    @davidpk: No, it's an observation. It's also incorrect.

    The fact is, they HAVE made it into an Australian Test side of the last 25 years - both debuted a few years ago. Hughes debuted 4 years ago, Warner 2 years ago. Last I checked, that's in the last 25 years. Whether they should be there is debatable. But the fact is they have both played 15+ Tests, which is more than most Australian cricketers.

    An observation is that both are struggling to play spin, and it may have been better to pick batsmen who are more accomplished at playing spin. Or provide special training against spin prior to the series, like Hayden had in 2001.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2013, 1:32 GMT

    Everybody here criticizing the Aussies Batting/Bowling in subcontinent. I am sure most of you guys were doing the same when India loosing badly by repeating the same old mistakes innings after innings.

    So that proves all teams are vulnerable once they are out of their comfy zone.

    No one team is unbeatable in all conditions.