India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 1st day March 22, 2013

Australia's topsy-turvy batting on show again

The Australian batsmen, with another lacklustre show in Delhi, seem to not have learned their lessons on playing spin

Another day on this Indian tour, another top-order collapse, another tail-end recovery. To quote the great Major League Baseball player and manager Yogi Berra, it's déjà vu all over again. On a cracking pitch that looked more like a surface from day five than day one, Australia finished at an almost respectable 231 for 8. Peter Siddle was unbeaten on 47 and was the highest scorer. It was the third time in seven innings in this series that the top score has come from outside the top six. That is a damning statistic.

Just as the debutant Moises Henriques outshone the specialist batsmen in the second innings in Chennai and Mitchell Starc upstaged everyone else with his 99 in Mohali, Siddle has shown that despite the challenges of this Delhi pitch it can be handled. Not that many of the Australian top order can blame the conditions for their exits at the Feroz Shah Kotla. In fact, what must have displeased Mickey Arthur and his staff the most was the familiarity of the dismissals, the lessons that haven't been learnt. It was like a clip show from the previous three Tests.

Playing straight and showing patience have been mantras the coaches have tried to instil in the batsmen in this series. Arthur was livid when Warner was bowled around his legs trying to sweep R Ashwin early in his second innings in Hyderabad. In the second innings in Mohali, he flashed at a wide ball with no footwork and was caught behind in the first over. Here he did exactly the same for exactly the same result. At least he waited until the second over.

Warner's sweep in Hyderabad followed a similarly poor attempt from Phillip Hughes that yielded Ashwin another bowled around the legs. It must have been especially frustrating, then, for the Australians to see Cowan get out the same way on day one in Delhi. And just like Warner's ill-fated sweep, Cowan chose to play from the first ball after a change of angle from Ashwin. Over the wicket, sweep, bowled. Cowan had shown such patience in his 99-ball innings of 38 but it was another start squandered.

Michael Clarke spoke before the tour of the importance of batsmen going on with their starts, turning twenties, thirties, forties, fifties into big triple-figure scores. The tally is now up to 26 times that Australian batsmen have passed 20 in this series. But Clarke's 130 in the first innings of the tour remains their only hundred. Clarke is not part of this Test due to his sore back, but one of his dismissals was recreated by his captaincy successor Shane Watson.

In the first innings in Mohali, Clarke advanced to Ravindra Jadeja and was beaten by the flight and the turn, stumped because he failed to get to the pitch of the ball. Watson's dismissal in Delhi might have been a carbon copy, except for the lack of grace in his footwork. It would have been easier for the heavy roller to make a quick u-turn on this pitch than Watson. He cannot be criticised for using his feet, for reluctance to do so has been a failing of the batsmen all tour. But better judgment of length is key.

Here another Yogi Berra-ism comes to mind: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." It is all well and good to talk about footwork and ways to counter the spinners, but against quality, in-form bowlers like Jadeja and Ashwin, no amount of theorising or net batting against Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon, Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell can truly prepare a batsman for the battle in the middle.

The politician Stephen Smith has served as Australia's minister for defence and minister for foreign affairs; here, his namesake was Australian cricket's minister for defence and handling foreign conditions

Hughes looked in wonderful touch until he was roughed up by an Ishant Sharma bouncer and tentatively played on three balls later. It was fine bowling and the unexpectedly sharp bounce put down into Hughes' mind. In that way, he could perhaps claim to be the only one of the top-order men whose dismissal was a result of the surface. Matthew Wade can also be forgiven; he was given out bat-pad to a ball that touched only his leg.

Apart from Warner, the No.7 Maxwell has the most to regret about the way he departed. When he had faced only 15 balls he tried to force Jadeja through the leg side and tamely chipped a catch to wide midwicket. It was a Twenty20 shot, not the stroke to be played at 129 for 5, regardless of Maxwell's natural aggression. Perhaps he could have watched the way Smith batted.

Like Maxwell, Smith struck a six early in his innings. But he reined in some of naturally attacking urges and by the time he had faced 100 balls - the only batsman to reach that milestone until Siddle - he had only 24 runs. The politician Stephen Smith has served as Australia's minister for defence and minister for foreign affairs; here, his namesake was Australian cricket's minister for defence and handling foreign conditions.

Smith is a natural at using his feet and it was notable that he was often prepared to advance and then block. Most Australian batsman, Clarke aside, seem to think if they are down the wicket they must slog. But the Smith-Clarke approach is an important method of defence in these conditions. Alas, Smith couldn't push on and nudged a catch to short leg. At least he had helped Siddle with the recovery in a 53-run stand.

But the list of starts continued Australia's stuttering trend: Cowan 38, Hughes 45, Watson 17, Smith 46, Maxwell 10. Siddle showed outstanding patience and if he goes on to become the only man in this innings to score a half-century it will be an indictment on the rest. In truth, it already is. Eleven of Australia's 19 best partnerships in this series have involved a batsman outside the top six. What have the top order been doing?

Down 3-0 and five days from heading home you could understand if their minds are elsewhere. But this was an opportunity to show what they had learnt in their six-week tour. These men all want to be part of this year's Ashes tour. They are doing their cases little good. To borrow from Berra once more: "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else".

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on March 23, 2013, 22:29 GMT

    @ Fleming_Mitch. You did not include Starc's average of 36.25 over 4 innings. That is the third highest in the team, above Cowan & below only Smith & Clarke! I would think that Khawaja would back himself to better Starc's batting!

  • Ross on March 23, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    Unlike others taking a swipe at Smith who has done well i won't take the same line. I am a big fan of Khawaja and believe he should be in the side but lets give credit to Smith as he has batted well. Here is an analysis of in this series of our batsman: Clarke - 6 test innings in India, 286 runs @ 47.7 Smith - 3 test innings in India, 143 runs @ 47.7 Cowan - 7 test innings in India, 241 runs @ 34.4 Henriques - 6 test innings in India, 156 runs @ 31.2 Warner - 7 test innings in India, 187 runs @ 26.7 Hughes - 7 test innings in India, 141 runs @ 20.1 Watson - 5 test innings in India, 94 runs @ 18.8 Wade - 5 test innings in India, 94 runs @ 18.8 Maxwell - 3 test innings in India, 31 runs @ 10.3 Smith has clearly done well and deserves acknolwedgement. But looking at the other batsman its hard to believe that Khawaja doesn't offer more than the other guys. Clarke and Smith are the only two that have a claim to be deserving of a spot ahead of Usman Khawaja in this fourth

  • Sudhakar on March 23, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Not sure what positives India can take from this tour that will actually help them when they tour abroad and where conditions are truly good for batting. Indian bowlers have sent down 133, 93, 85, 67, 141, 91 and 98+ (ongoing) in the last 7 innings. That they still managed to win is a testimonial to their patience but what's evident is that this bowling attack cannot bowl about opposition in a hurry. India is in a strong position thanks to the overcautious approach of the Aussies, and their poor scoring rate. With the series already sealed at 3-0, would have loved to see a good seaming wicket in Delhi. It would have given the Indian selectors a glimpse of the team's character. By making one more dead track, Indian think tank has shown that they don't think much!

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 6:50 GMT

    Current Shield form appears to have been inconsistently considered given Maxwell's inclusion and Khawaja's exclusion from any of the Tests. I'm of the view that whilst calls go out to Mike Hussey to return, his brother presents a more realistic option and he could add some stability batting with Clarke in the middle order for at least a couple of series whilst we get our top order sorted. Bailey, despite a lowish first class average, could have been very useful for his leadership value to help Clarke and he has stepped up Ferguson too has shown a capability to deliver at the top level but appears to have been overlooked. All deserve a chance and given our very obvious rebuild in progress, Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson and Wade should all be rotated out and give some others a try. We might find some discipline and mettle that is so sadly lacking in this side.

  • Sudhakar on March 23, 2013, 6:19 GMT

    @Lappolozza: you can say whatever you want about the Indian bowling, but none on their action. Their bowling actions would be deemed clean even before the changed rule. It's just that the Australian batting has been bad and at times distracted. If the likes of Siddle, Starc and Pattinson can bat for hours together, the batsmen at the top the order should grind it for at least 4-5 hours. That's the key to succeed on such batting conditions and that's where Australia's struggle is,

  • David on March 23, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    @ Lappolozza. In your argument you successfully manage to omit clearly important facts. Please enlighten us as to how, on wickets that "any curator should be ashamed of," Aus' BOWLERS have been racking up runs. Do bowlers bat better on bad tracks? That would not account for the tons and doubles being piled up by the Indian batsmen.

    Since Aussie umpire Darryll Hair's disgraceful & unjustified no-balling of Murali, extensive & comprehensive testing of bowlers actions has was undertaken. The consequence was the discovery that almost every bowler, pace or spin, bends their elbow to some degree. This has been extensively documented. Indeed, without some allowance for elbow bend, cricket could not continue, as all but 1 or 2 bowlers would be ineligible to play.

    Endless pitch criticism, & accusations of unfair play mask only only your bitterness that Aus cricket has been tried, & found wanting. Remove the mote from your eye & perhaps you will see the writing on the wall!

  • c on March 23, 2013, 5:32 GMT

    first of all cricinfo said the day one pitch looked like a day 5 pitch. Having said that refuse to make excuses for the aussie batting line up. If once again the tail looks more solid than the middle order the pitch doesn't come into it. Watson needs to be dropped. All thos aussies saying hs opening stats are better than middle over therefore move him are deluded. the reason his opening stats are better is because most of the opposition fielders are behind the bat. he races to 50 and as soon as the bowler changes and the field spread he gets out. he is not a test batsman at any level except all rounder batting at 6 or 7. i am an scg member and never miss a game and rarely a session - watson just doesn't have the skill to bat for more than a day let alone a session. On one day form he should captain his country. In tests - just not good enough.

  • ANUDEEP on March 23, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    Two Things: A) Steve Smith's resurgence is not a big surprise for me as he played with a similar flair in last years IPL for Pune. He also showed that he is a good captain material. B) All this talk of t20 shots creeping in Test cricket is a big excuse, all of us know that when you play a test matches its a different ball game, you need to adjust+ have patience+ sometimes give respect to a particular bowler etc. There have been good examples of these adjustments like Mahela Jayawardene for SL and now Murli Vijay is showing a similar sort of character in this series. I think its all in the mind. Focus is the key.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    Shouting about the pitch seems strange when all the batsmen who failed went down to bad play and not due to the pitch. Smith and Siddle showed how spinners have to be played.

  • Michael on March 23, 2013, 3:25 GMT

    @Andy Plowright: To suggest that CA had anything to do with the development of Steve Smith is to give them too much credit. Smith was elevated far too early, before he had a handle on either his batting or bowling, based on his 'prospect'. After he was dropped, it took over 12 months for him to declare that he was focusing on his batting, at which stage he was playing for NSW. If anything, CA's influence hampered Smith's development.

  • No featured comments at the moment.