November 4, 2012

Australia's batting isn't aggressive enough

The selectors have missed a trick by not using Watson and Warner at the top to dent South Africa's pace attack

A mouth-watering prospect, the upcoming series between Australia and South Africa could hinge on the way the home side bats.

Even without Pat Cummins, Australia have the pace artillery to match South Africa, but there are potential pitfalls for a batting order still relying heavily on ageing stalwarts Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting. And injury isn't the sole concern.

South Africa have a dangerous pace attack and two of the three Tests will be played on surfaces that assist the quicks. This will severely test the reflexes of Australia's oldest batsmen, so it will help Hussey and Ponting if they get to follow a strong start, with some shine having been taken off the ball when they arrive.

South Africa have a history of making costly mental and tactical errors. While most of these brain snaps have occurred in the shorter formats, the Australians could provoke a telling lapse in this series by mounting a timely attack with the bat. Both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel can be rattled by aggressive counter-attacks in the short forms of the game. When this happens they lose the plot for a few overs, but they are not the type to be dominated for long periods.

Consequently, I would have preferred an opening combination of Shane Watson and David Warner, who also make the best Australian pairing at the top. Watson is a class player of pace bowling and the perfect partner for Warner. Not only do they bring a right-left combination to the top of the order, they are also aggressive and can put their side in control early. Following them in the line-up are stroke-makers who can maintain the initiative.

After being firm about wanting to open, Watson suddenly started to waver last season. This could have resulted from all the talk of him bowling more and needing to have a breather between fielding and batting. Watson is an opening batsman who should operate as a change bowler. That makes it easier not to use him close to a change of innings.

In the selected side, Watson will bat at No. 3 and Warner will open the batting with fellow left-hander Ed Cowan, a grinding opener who engages in a war of attrition with the new-ball bowlers. This may be counter-productive. South Africa's high-class pace attack could tie him down and put pressure on Warner to keep the score moving.

Warner has displayed the ability to adapt in his short career and he'll have to be alert to stay ahead of Steyn, Morkel and the highly efficient Vernon Philander. While a counter-attack can unsettle Steyn and Morkel, Philander belies his name - he doesn't waver from a straight line and a good length.

This series was the perfect opportunity for Michael Clarke to move up to three. He's in excellent Test form and the ideal player to capitalise on an aggressive start. He has also shown that extra responsibility has boosted his batting rather than weighed him down. If Clarke has allowed himself to be talked out of batting at No. 3, that means he's not convinced he wants to do that job. While Clarke's attacking captaincy gives Australia a distinct advantage in the field, his good batting form could be wasted at No. 5.

Barring injury, Ponting will bat at No. 4. He has admitted his career won't stand another bad trot, but a string of low scores against this South African attack could be the result of good bowling rather than poor form. Ponting comes into the series well primed, having scored heavily against a good attack, and he'll still be a prized wicket for the South Africans. Likewise Hussey, who has a stabilising effect on the middle order and has the technique to withstand a withering spell of fast bowling. The two may be ageing but they are still good players. Sadly for Australian cricket, there are no young batsmen elbowing them out of the team.

Australia have missed an opportunity to seize the initiative in the opening thrust by not choosing their most aggressive batting line-up. Attack is generally the best form of defence, and against a strong South African side this was a chance to test the tourists' often fragile mental resolve.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • g on November 7, 2012, 7:52 GMT

    Dont quite agree with this theory. Hayden/Langer have done so well for so long and we all know how sober Langer was. How did Ian forgot that? In fact Sehwag did well when he had Aakash Chopra grinding at the other end, probably he benefited from the assurance that the other end is safe and he could play with freedom at one end.

  • Michael on November 7, 2012, 6:06 GMT

    @Marcio on (November 04 2012, 11:02 AM): Australia's 47 followed on from an innings in which only two top-order batsmen made double figures - Clarke's 151 out of a total of 284 was an anomaly. In these same conditions, South Africa went on to score 2-236 in the 4th innings with Smith and Amla scoring hundreds. Also, despite my not being a South African supporter, I don't recall mentioning any criticism of South Africa's management/tactics as being 'unacceptable'. However, I don't think that the team is going to be underprepared for this series - at least, not as much as Australia, with batsmen out of form or having 2 First Class innings under their belt.

  • Daison on November 6, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    AUS-SA would be a series to watch. If AUS has a specific role for/with Ed Cowan, that opening slot seems wasted. Watson would have been better choice to open with Warner. Bringing Clarke to Number 3 would be a gamble especially if he feels no ready for that. If Clarke is not ready for Number 3, then the current line up (including Cowan) seems the way to go.

  • GeoffreysMother on November 5, 2012, 18:28 GMT

    Excellent post by Bertjie. Australia seem to have been unable to identify young talent and stick with it. They seem to be stuck in the ' next Hayden' syndrome just as England were for ever looking for the next Botham. Such players don't come along very day and you have to identify and build the best talent you have available. Kahwaja and Hughes ( I know they are not the same) have at least gained experience in England this year, without beig spectacular, but surely they offer more than Quinney. i'm not sure Hughes can adapt his style to consistently face top class pace bowling, but I think Kahwaja can - particularly if Ponting or Hussey mentored him. Australia will need a go to batsman once these two retire .

  • Jason on November 5, 2012, 17:52 GMT

    An interesting article but flawed, I believe. Since Shane Watson began opening the batting, he has reached 20+ in annings 36 times in 51 innings, and yet only has two hundreds. This clearly implies a lack of the mental discipline that a good opener needs. How many times, particularly against England, have we seen him do the hard work getting in, only to give it away with a nothing shot. His talent cannot be questioned. His application can. Against this talented and disciplined SA attack, conservation of wickets is everything, as they will go on the defensive very quickly if things are not going their way, and there are easy runs available (off Tahir particularly) to batsmen who take the time to get in. Australia shouldn't be afraid to admit that 225-2 or 225-3 in a day's Test play is a lot better than 320-7 or 320-8, and must do everything possible not to give wickets away in clusters. Trying to consistently dominate this attack will not work, and there is no KP in the Australian side

  • Thabang on November 5, 2012, 14:25 GMT

    Let all the talking happen after the first Test,that is when we all AUS and SA fans will be able to judge which teams are ready for the series.Let everyone enjoy the 2 best sides in the world battle each other.Hope the Proteas take but this is a very tough one.

  • Alex on November 5, 2012, 2:49 GMT

    Aussies used to have aggressive batting in Mathew Hayden (pig) , Gilchrist(pig) and Rickey ponting (tiger) all signs are from chinese astrology. I started to belive in that because i see many similarity. It is not future prediction but of natural behaviour of those individuals. Ricky is old , warner is erratic. I am not sure aussie batting is that good. They also used to bat aggressive because they know they have the bowlers to back them up if things go bad. Now they have young bowlers. They still good. They followed the English textbook of bowling. tall bowlers with precision bowling work any time. SA do not have counter attacking batsman. They have kallis he can bat for hours. Steyn will be handful. I think with aussie fighting spirit it will be even but SA has edge in bowling. That will make them win.

  • John on November 5, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    @Vikramaditya100 - totally agree, I would much rather have Katich than Cowan. This sacking has come back to bite them but I don't think they'll realise the mistake because it happened too long ago. I agree with putting Clarke at number 3 but Watson is not an opener, please please please put him at number 6 to forget all this crap about resting him in the field etc. I don't think having aggressive openers is going to win this battle, more likely to get themselves out. I honestly think Aus batting only has a chance if they really grind it out vs the seamers and go after Tahir or part timers (but they won't because most of them are strokeplayers). Warner has played sensible innings eg the hundred vs nz so I think he can do it, he just has to be a bit more patient than Sehwag. I like Cowan's temperament, much like Khawaja but they both need to deliver the goods. Batting should be Warner and Cowan, Clarke @ 3, Punter @ 4, Hussey @ 5, Watson @ 6 and ALL bar Clarke should be put on notice.

  • Andrew on November 4, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    @Beertjie on (November 04 2012, 18:06 PM GMT) - I'd go so far as to say Maddinson has had one great INNINGS! @ygkd on (November 04 2012, 20:25 PM GMT) - agree re: Warner & Cowan. I just wish both of them would have a few more runs on the board this season! At least Warner looked like he was getting there!

  • Dummy4 on November 4, 2012, 22:20 GMT

    Not a bad opening combo, warner and cowan- if warner can do half a hayden and cowan can do half a katich.

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