July 15, 2012

You can't manufacture presence on demand

Australia's coach wants his players to be aggressive, but that will only be effective if it comes through in their performances, not just their attitude

The Australian coach Mickey Arthur had a few choice words for his team after they fell behind 3-0 to England in their recent ODI series. The question is, were they well-chosen words?

Arthur called for his batsmen to establish a "presence" at the crease. Presence on a cricket field is like respect - it's earned. It's not something that suddenly materialises at the behest of a coach.

Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting all established a presence in the middle via their deeds with the bat. The opposition feared them because all three could make a big score quickly. Players who do that can change the course of a game in one session of bold strokeplay.

Viv Richards used to saunter to the crease masticating a stick of gum and delivering the occasional hefty thump to the end of his rubber handle grip. However, it wasn't the aggressive mannerisms that worried the opposition. The devastation he might cause with the bat was the major concern.

If George Bailey or Peter Forrest suddenly start swaggering to the crease whistling "Advance Australia Fair", the opposition will probably rub their hands with glee and proceed to go about their business with renewed vigour. Coming from Bailey or Forrest, it would be obvious false bravado and the opposition would know as much. While the two think about how they should act, they won't be fully focused on their batting.

There's no shortcut to establishing a presence on the field - it can only be earned by weight and class of performance.

At around the same time that Arthur was reading the riot act to his team in the UK, the former Indian run machine Rahul Dravid was carefully choosing his words during an interview. Among his answers was the admission: "There were times when I thought too much about technique."

Maybe so, but that was Dravid. His belief in himself derived from the fact that he didn't feel bowlers could break down his impenetrable barrier. Dravid had a presence in the middle because the opposition knew they would have to work awfully hard to dismiss him, and that meant less energy to expend on the dangerous strokemakers around him. Aggression isn't the only weapon in the fight to establish a "presence" in the middle.

While he was at it, Arthur exhorted the Australian team to display more "mongrel" in the final match at Old Trafford. Nothing changed, as Australia responded with another lacklustre performance. Once again, was it the right choice of word? The word "mongrel" can easily be misconstrued as a need to display overt aggression.

A couple of seasons ago when Mitchell Johnson was told to be more aggressive, he started goading opposition batsmen. This clearly wasn't the "real" Johnson, and many batsmen looked bemused rather than bothered when he commenced a tirade.

The two best opposition fast bowlers I faced were John Snow of England and Andy Roberts of West Indies. I played a lot of innings against both and never once did any words pass between us. Mind you, I was never in any doubt both were annoyed by my presence in the middle and were hell-bent on bringing an abrupt end to it. The bowling of both Snow and Roberts spoke volumes. They didn't need a soliloquy to get their message across.

Australia are currently struggling because two of their batsmen who maintain a presence are nearing the age of retirement. Despite his skills being eroded by age, Ponting is still a dangerous player, as he showed last summer against India. He can still make a big score; he just doesn't do it as often or in such dominating fashion.

Michael Hussey makes his presence felt on arrival at the crease. He hustles runs via sharp singles and shrewdly judged sprints, and then once his confidence is up he produces exquisite cover drives and strong-arm pull shots. Hussey is a more aggressive left-hand version of Dravid - he sells his wicket at well above market rate.

Australia can win with their strong pace attack. However, they won't win as often as they would like to unless they can unearth some young batsmen whose presence in the middle is a long and fruitful one.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on July 18, 2012, 12:30 GMT

    @landl47...I enjoyed your blogs on this article with one caveat.There've been several far weaker batting line ups.Two that come to mind are the sides that played for the establishment during the WSC split under Bob Simpson & the 1985 side to Eng.The ODI series in Eng served to highlight the highly misleading nature of Aus's recent Test results when confronted by determined,proven opposition in form.The SL series included statistically the weakest attack in international cricket.Other than the ICC sanctioned 1st Test wicket that saw a fortunate result in little more than 2 days,the wickets in SL were batting roads.India were at possibly their lowest ebb.Zaheer hadnt bowled in months due to injury & Ishant came in with an ankle injury.The team was thrashed in Eng & had no bowling attack.Aus arent terrible,but the continued promotion of players in contravention of their records,ignoring of telling data & lack of consistency & leadership show little of value has changed at CA since Argus.

  • Jay on July 18, 2012, 1:52 GMT

    For Mickey Arthur to admit his team has been "bullied" & to prod it to become more "mongrel" is not surprising at all. Let's call a dog a dog: one can't convert overnight a "submissive" cricket squad into a mean "K-9" squad! The Aussies are not dishing it out like they used to in the good ol' days. The Ian Chappell to Rickey Ponting eras were generally marked by the "sledging" culture, reaching its peak with the "mental disintegration" tactics of Steve Waugh. It all changed after the ugly 2008 SCG episode: the huge public backlash caused CA to issue a directive to "change on-field behaviour"! The ACA chief Paul Marsh admitted the "team's performance has been affected" & opponents were exploiting this "weakness"! The Poms took full advantage in their 4-0 ODI triumph! For Ian to pretend that barking was worse than biting in his days is laughable. It's nice nonetheless to see Chappell - the champion of bowling revolutionaries, WSC rebels & aggressive cricket - smoking the peace pipe!!

  • Jay on July 17, 2012, 11:27 GMT

    Ian - What an about-face! How ironic that Ian is now singing the praises of Tendulkar, Ponting & Dravid, among other veterans, for their "presence" in the middle. What a Switcheroo! These three are the same "ageing/fading stars" he's been prematurely writing off & hounding for years to retire. All because of his misplaced hangup with Age & "use-by-dates" for anyone over 35! All of a sudden, Ian has found enlightenment in his new Chappell logic: "Presence ... is like respect - it's earned"! Actually, what's hurt Australia in its 0-4 ODI drubbing in England is the very absence of key veterans (besides the excused Michael Hussey): Ponting who was summarily dismissed from ODIs with a phone call; & Simon Katich who was unceremoniously axed from cricket last year. Now, where's the "respect"? Yes, Ian's right about "There's no shortcut to establishing a presence on the field"! But you cannot play the Age-card and "manufacture absences" either and not pay a heavy price for it! Get it, Ian?

  • Terry on July 17, 2012, 7:47 GMT

    Australia's problem apart from the general lack of batting options is that they have gone around and round bringing some in and then leaving them out and then starting again. Players like Hughes, Khawaja, S Marsh, North , S Smith etc have been 'the future' but have been shipped in and then shipped out. This is when selectors earn their money. Identify people with the talent and character (i'm suspicious of Watson, Johnson, S Smith etc on that count) and stick with them. I can remember the likes of Steve Waugh not being quick starters in Tests but players like him had been identified as long term prospects by (i think) Lawrie Sawle as Chairman of selectors and perservered with. Can remember reading that by the end of the 1986/87 Ashes series where Aust were comfortably beaten at home they had 5 i think of the top 6 (G Marsh, Boon , Border, D Jones, S Waugh) in place as mostly young players who they went to England in 1989 and started Australia's golden era of 15 years.

  • Andrew on July 17, 2012, 3:12 GMT

    @Selassie-I - tfjones1978 used poor choice of words "senior players", what he probably meant were better ODI players (particularly batsmen), not involved in the series. Whilst England won the series fair & square, most reasonable fans would be inclined to think with some basis, that Oz have plenty of other options. This squad is more reflective of an ODI specific team.

  • John on July 17, 2012, 3:01 GMT

    @Jono Makim: I appreciate your optmism, but I can't see much basis for it. Marsh, Forrest and Cowan are journeymen and are never going to be top-class players. Khawaja has a chance, but he's 26 now and his average is going down, not up (he made a century the other day- against a side of players not good enough to get county contracts. It's not exactly a highlight reel, is it?). England found Warner out- he can't play the short ball or the movng ball. He'll do well against popgun attacks like India or NZ, or on the slow and low pitches of the subcontinent, but that won't put Aus back on top. Watson should be batting #6, but he's #3. I do like Hughes, but he has been woefully mismanaged. Ponting and Hussey are 37- 38 by the next Ashes. They won't be around long enough for a new young crop of Aus batsmen to come through, since there are none out there at the moment. I think Benaud would agree that this is the weakest Aus batting line-up in 60 years.

  • V.L on July 17, 2012, 1:01 GMT

    @RednWhiteArmy Indirect dig at India. I would like to remind you about the 5-0 drubbing of England in Aus. When your best are at the end of their careers, you are bound to loose a few tourneys. That I would not mind. Also barely holding on to a draw in SL was dominating? Mind you there is still a series in India in the winter. In familiar conditions Indian bowlers hnt like packs of wolves and our batsmen give nightmares to even World class bowling attacks. Ask the Aussies who were beaten 2-0 twice. I would like to repeat your silly remarks after that. India did not lose a home series in more than 9 years and I do not expect the England's South African imports to change that.

  • mukesh on July 16, 2012, 17:12 GMT

    a very good article from ian , mickey arthur is obviously giving the wrong advice , he should have just told them to shut up and score runs , all this false bravado and tough guy act looks comical coming from under performers , shane warne , mcgrath and ponting could afford to do that given the team they played for and their own caliber, but not these guys , at least not yet..

  • John on July 16, 2012, 16:32 GMT

    Thank you Ian, as always shooting straight. Gone are the eras of such batsmen as Lara, Ponting and Sachin. These are the days of the angry birds like Kohli, Gauti etc who throw profanities when they reach milestones, guess that is the only way they can make their presence felt.

  • Rayner on July 16, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    Tfjones1978.... which senior players were rested mate? Mike Hussey was at home for personal reasons and Punter's been dropped, this was the best that Australia have at the moment. Although I would like to see more consistency from the selectors.. it's reeking of England's selectorship int he late 90s, one bad match and you're gone... they need to get a young team in accept that they might not win much for a few years and build from there. It took England 10 years to build....

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