India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 3rd day March 24, 2013

Watson most culpable of substandard batting order

As a senior player with a good record from his previous Tests in India, much more was needed from Shane Watson in this series

With a firm drive back to the bowler, Pragyan Ojha, in Australia's second innings, Nathan Lyon consigned Shane Watson to an embarrassing fate. Lyon, the No. 11, had faced more deliveries in this series than Watson, the No. 4 and supposedly one of the team's senior batsmen. Both men had played three Tests on this tour. Lyon had shown admirable fight and in two of his innings had lasted more than an hour. Watson managed that only once. Plenty of Australia's batsmen were culpable on this trip, but none more so than Watson.

After the match, Watson spoke of his disappointment at his own poor results but he also defended the wider top-order performance by saying the conditions had been difficult. If they were that difficult, how did Peter Siddle score a half-century in each innings in Delhi? How did Mitchell Starc make 99 in Mohali? Why did men batting at No. 7 or below top score in four of the eight innings? How was it that Lyon (244 balls), Starc (254 in two Tests), Siddle (350) all survived more deliveries over the four Tests than Watson, who faced only 239?

In the second innings in Delhi, Watson showed that while the conditions might have been challenging, he wasn't respecting them. On a pitch offering up-and-down bounce, pulling is fraught with danger. Anything that could threaten the stumps needed to be met with a straight bat. But Watson went for a big pull, the kind of shot that brings him countless boundaries on flat pitches in one-day and Twenty20 cricket, and was bowled when the ball kept low. It was a terrible shot in the circumstances.

Watson was the acting captain in Delhi and that made sense for a one-off match, for he is vice-captain to Clarke and was the logical choice as leader. But the vice-captaincy should not guarantee selection and Watson must be sailing dangerously close to losing his place. In the past two years he has scored 627 runs at 24.11 in 14 Tests. That would be acceptable if he was a bowling allrounder, but his primary role in this side is as a top-six batsman. On that alone he should be judged.

When the Ashes comes around later this year, Watson is likely to be bowling again. If he is making runs and bowling he provides valuable balance to the side; if he is still failing with the bat that becomes irrelevant. Watson will probably be in the XI for the first Ashes Test and against England's fast men he could score runs - he averaged 48.00 there on the 2009 tour. But then, he averaged 16.50 in this series having averaged 40.09 on his previous two Indian tours.

That Watson performed so poorly having played six Tests in India before this series made him the most accountable of Australia's batting failures, but he was not alone. The batting throughout the tour was characterised by a lack of patience and an inability to handle the turning ball. There are two sides to batting, the technical and the mental, and on both Australia were beaten soundly in this series.

India's batsmen set the example from the first Test. Collectively they scored six centuries and five of their batsman averaged 50-plus. They were patient and respectful of the conditions, they played with straight bats and they waited for the bad balls to put away. Too often the Australians tried to force the issue, hoping an aggressive approach would put India's bowlers on the back foot. Cross-bat shots and inadequate footwork proved extremely costly.

Three members of the top six averaged fewer than 20 for the series. It is no wonder Australia lost 4-0 with such a malfunctioning batting order.

Michael Clarke scored a century on the opening day of the first Test in Chennai but no Australian made one after that. Three members of the top six - Watson, Phillip Hughes and Matthew Wade - averaged fewer than 20 for the series. That is a figure that bears repeating. Three of the top six. Fewer than 20. No team can carry such inadequacies. It is no wonder Australia lost 4-0 with such a malfunctioning batting order.

As expected, Clarke was excellent in spinning conditions and Steven Smith's footwork also made him a valuable member of the middle order. Ed Cowan progressed throughout the trip and showed that he could bat time, generally forcing the bowlers to get him out rather than getting himself out. But overall it was a miserable tour for Australia's batsmen. The bowlers at times let things slip away but always they found themselves defending sub-par totals, often propped up by their own tail-end efforts with the bat.

It is becoming a worryingly consistent trend. In the past year, Australia have played 13 Tests. Clarke has scored four centuries and the now-retired Michael Hussey made three. Outside of those two, Australian batsmen have made only four hundreds in those 13 Tests: Wade has made two and Cowan and David Warner one each. It's more than two years since Watson has scored a century. In the past year, only Clarke and Hussey have averaged 40-plus, of those Australians who have played more than two Tests.

Often, Australia have got by on the backs of Clarke and Hussey, for before this disastrous tour the only series they had lost since the 2010-11 Ashes was against South Africa at home, and that could have gone either way. But now Hussey is gone and says he's not returning. Clarke cannot shoulder the batting burden alone. And a burden it has become.

There is merit in showing patience in a young, developing batting line-up. But can that come at the cost of a 4-0 whitewash in India and a couple of Ashes drubbings? The conditions in England will be more familiar for the Australian batsmen, but England's attack is full of quality. If the batting falters again in England, what then? Australia would face the prospect of retuning their line-up for another Ashes at home a few months later.

Australian cricket may not exactly be brimming with batting talent at the moment, as shown by the fact that Ricky Ponting, who retired after a woeful series against South Africa, easily topped the Sheffield Shield run tally this summer. But there are other batsmen worth trying. Usman Khawaja is one. Alex Doolan is another. So is Callum Ferguson. The in-form veteran Chris Rogers would be an ideal Ashes pick if he wasn't an opener. Australia have enough of them already.

But what this tour has highlighted is that substandard batting cannot be tolerated indefinitely, especially from senior men like Watson, otherwise this won't be the only thrashing Australia will receive this year.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on March 26, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    It needs to be said that although too many well-thought-of teens call themselves openers to avoid their deficiencies against the spinning ball when they do see it, there is also a huge incentive for youngsters to want to open, even if they don't really have the patience nor the technique for it. That's because there's so much short stuff these days. If you say you bat at 5-7 you may not get a bat or else you'll come in with no time to build an innings and be expected to go straight after rather negative bowling. Alternatively, you may find your team 3-30 or thereabouts and be expected to resurrect the innings. When you're fighting to be recognised in higher rep cricket, that's probably your best opportunity, if you're stuck down the order. At least you'll get a longer dig. What you probably won't get is to face a lot of spin anyway, because there doesn't seem that much on offer, so even if you're okay with it, you're probably better off facing the new ball and just going with that.

  • Philip on March 26, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    @Meety - I'm heartily sick of young bats who think they're openers because they can't play spin and I cannot, for the life of me, see how Warner hasn't been amongst their number. As for Cowan, he's okay and will tour, no doubt, but I'd still prefer Rogers. Watson would do too, if he can roll his arm over properly. There aren't too many other candidates for right-handed opener. Kilinger didn't have much of a season and it's hard to think of too many others with any real experience.

  • Roo on March 26, 2013, 1:31 GMT

    Watto showing a declining Test average which was @41.55 before being named VC & now since then is @24.11 - even Katich, North & Hughes were performing better when dropped from the team... Even if he returned to bowling long spells Watto averages less with the bat than Starc & Pattinson over the last 2 years & Starc is a better ODI player with bat & ball... Forget about Watto & Maxwell, make Starc our no.7 with Faulkner/Butterworth no.8, Pattinson no.9, Siddle no.10, Lyon no.11 & we will have the best bowling attack in the world - with the best backups - Harris, Hilfy, Johnson, Bird, Cutting, NC-N, etc...

  • Andrew on March 26, 2013, 0:23 GMT

    @DINESHCC on (March 25, 2013, 8:44 GMT) - I think the other bowlers are better than Hilfy. @ygkd on (March 25, 2013, 20:15 GMT) - IMO, the whole Indian tour was always going to cause problems that shouldn't be the same as what the Ashes will throw up. I would love a left/tight opening batting combo, but Watto is about the only opener that I think could handle that role (RHB). That said, I am almost over him. Cowan & Warner have a partnership record that is amongst the best ever for Oz (believe it or not)! I think Cowan is a must for the Ashes, but I have started to gorw cold on Warner, but that is because he isn't much chop against spinners. Cric Oz should ensure that a tour of India does not come before an Ashes battle (home or away). It is just crud experience. I still believe that 2-test tour prior to the 10/11 Ashes was a large factor in why we failed. Anyways - I'v named an A-tour, where I think there will be some useful options.

  • Mark on March 25, 2013, 22:02 GMT

    Watson's dismissals showed a lack of application and discipline. His performance has been below par, his attitude below par, drop him.

    Clarke, Cowan and Smith the only batsman who could handle spin. Hughes started nowhere but made improvement, he was lucky not to be dropped after the 2nd test.

    Both Hughes and Cowan got two dismissals that would have been overturned via DRS.

    Doherty and Maxwell should have never been selected for the tour. Backup spinner should have been O'Keefe!

    With Harris bowling well, he will come back into the test team. My bowling attack would be Pattinson, Harris, Starc and Lyon. Siddle as the all rounder. Bird and Johnson in the squad as backup.

    @RandyOz. Aus top the stats for the averages for the test opening pairs for the last 18 months. Hence the justification for sticking with Cowan and Warner.

    @whoster. Agreed. Clarke our only world class batsman. It's like the 80's with Border.

    @Robert1612. Agreed! Although I'd prefer Siddle instead of Faulkner.

  • Philip on March 25, 2013, 20:15 GMT

    Gee, @Meety - is that the best Ashes squad we've got? Surely Paine is worth a gig? And Hughes has made runs in the County Scene, but these aren't County bowlers he'll be facing. Cowan and Warner opening with Rogers as back up? How about Rogers and a right hander? We do still have right-handed openers, do we? It's the batting and keeping which urgently need fixing. England'll be crazy if they don't try and exploit spin to some extent, even if it is without Swann. Mind you, swing'll probably do it too.

  • Robert on March 25, 2013, 14:03 GMT

    I said before the game that Watson was a terrible choice as captain, and the manner in which he got out in both innings was irresponsible, not to mention plain stupid. For someone of his experience in Indian conditions surely would know to play straight!!! IF he is bowling may be worth a place as an all rounder, but my first choice now at 6 would be Smith. After the debacle vs India can bet London to a brick there will be dry spinning pitches for the Ashes. Smith needs to spend a lot of time in the nets in the next few months, as he Lyon and Clarke (with a few overs) as well as three of Pattinson, Siddle, Starc, Bird and Harris look like a pretty fair attack. Cowan deserves his place, Warner for the 1st/2nd test at least Clarke Hughes (maybe) + one older batsman - Voges or Bailey. Need a reserve opener (Rogers short term), another batsman and Paine/Wade as Wks. Throw in a REAL allrounder e.g Faulkner and looks a good squad.

  • Guy on March 25, 2013, 9:56 GMT

    Some interesting comments here. Generally, I think Australia will look a lot better playing in more pace friendly conditions as our best bowlers are quicks and our batsmen prefer the ball coming on to the bat. I think the selectors tried to pick an India-oriented squad, but failed. Maxwell and Doherty were shocking selections. At least one of Warner, Hughes and Cowan should have been left out for a better player of spin, perhaps Voges or Ferguson. Smith and Henriques were clever 'horses for courses' selections, but shouldn't go to England - Anderson and co would chew them up. @John Verdal: Lyon takes 7 and you would drop him? @DINESHCC, Bird has eclipsed Hilf, who is highly unlikely to tour England. My squad: Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Watson, Doolan, Wade, Hartley, O'Keefe, Lyon, Pattinson, Siddle, Harris, Starc, Bird, Johnson. Butterworth and Hopes unlucky. Ferguson suspect against good pace. Hilf - see above. NCN and Cutting - well back. Sayers and Mennie - unlucky.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    The squad for the Ashes will be very interesting. The chief trouble makers should not go. Khawaja and Johnson have been mentioned around the traps as being slack on tour. Pattinson was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Watson simply hasn't performed. The interest will be in the second spinner - either O'Keefe or Agar for my mind. Then there's the the fast bowlers after Siddle, Starc and Pattinson - I would say that Bird, Harris and Hilfenhaus are vying for two spots. The two keepers are safe but Wade would be nervous - Haddin was superb in the third test. That leaves the batting. I would bring in Rogers and Burns to accompany Warner, Hughes, Cowan, Clark and Smith. In England the fifth bowler isn't much of an issue so I'd pick six batsmen each test but maybe take Henriques or Mitchel Marsh.

  • Troy on March 25, 2013, 9:19 GMT

    If Watson isn't bowling, he's shouldn't be playing. I used to think he added balance to the side, but he certainly doesn't at present. Without him bowling, we need to play an another allrounder and he doesn't cut it as a batsman. The team that beat India 4-0 in Australia was 6 genuine batsmen, 4 genuine bowlers and a keeper. That configuration let us carry a person (Marsh was a horror show), as we still had five genuine batsman. Watson is not a genuine batsman. He had a good run for a couple of years, but hasn't been performing since his injury in south africa. If he bowls, he bats at 6 or 7. If he doesn't bowl, he shouldn't be playing.