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Former Australia captain, now a cricket commentator and columnist

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

Ian Chappell

November 4, 2012

Comments: 43 | Text size: A | A

Ricky Ponting drives through the off side, Victoria v Tasmania, Sheffield Shield, Melbourne, 2nd day, October 24, 2012
If Ricky Ponting falls for low scores against South Africa, it will probably be due to some world-class bowling and not a lack of form © Getty Images

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

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Posted by GlobalCricketLover 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.

Posted by bobagorof 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.

Posted by DaisonGarvasis 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.

Posted by 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 .

Posted by HumungousFungus 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

Posted by mthi4life 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.

Posted by Alexk400 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.

Posted by L4zybugg3r 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.

Posted by Meety 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by ygkd on (November 4, 2012, 20:25 GMT)

Australia has had a problem with test openers for some time. Yet, I find it odd that we have come to the point where Warner has come under pressure "to keep the score moving". Whether one likes or dislikes Warner, there is one point about his batting that all must surely agree on, batting slowly is not his forte, so this pressure, if it exists, must be remarkable in forcing him to do just what comes naturally. It is also odd that it is Cowan who therefore seems to be criticized for being one-dimensional in his partnership with Warner. This partnership is a bit of a throwback to the formative years of test cricket when a hitter and a stonewaller were de rigeur. There are stories about a hitter (Bonnor) losing his effectiveness when he tried to bat like the grinding Alec Bannerman to prove he could. Perhaps Watson should open with Warner, but neither are classical openers. Chris Rogers was a classical opener, but they are a dying breed. Cowan is not perfect, but deserves another series.

Posted by Beertjie on (November 4, 2012, 18:06 GMT)

Good point @SnowSnake. However, I now agree with Chappelli about Clarke batting at 3. He is needed to anchor the innings because whoever opens won't last and one wicket will most likely lead to three. :@Paul Anderson on (November 04 2012, 15:56 PM GMT): Khawaja needs to be given more opportunities and not constantly be bracketed with Hughes who has had many more than he has. Argus needs to be followed in selection. Why was Quiney brought in on the back of one good knock in first class cricket this season? You call it a stop gap but it smacks of panic to me. Maddinson and Doolan may have a lot of potential but one can't pick on the basis of that when their recent form hasn't been great (Doolan excepted - if he keeps it up he's worth a punt). Ferguson, too, may be back in the reckoning but what's with this Maddinson-mania. He had one great season and needs to score big before even being mentioned again.

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 16:39 GMT)

Australia's batting isnt aggresive enough?

Hasnt Chappell watched Warner & Watson have a go before?

And with Clarke, Ponting & Hussey to follow. They have a pretty solid batting line up!

Posted by SnowSnake on (November 4, 2012, 16:20 GMT)

You need a solid batting line up to bat aggressively. The good thing is that all teams in the world have docile batting.

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 15:56 GMT)

I believe Khawaja has the best technique at domestic level, but as we know has been found out, just like Hughes how tough it is at international level.

it would be great for the future of the sport to play Maddinson and Doolan in the team together, both players have neat records have a lot of potential and are not stop gap measures like a Quiney, Marsh or Cowan.

Maddinson is raw but has a ton of potential, Doolan is in career best form, and with a bright start to the Shield season for the younger brigade:

(Callum Ferguson, Alex Doolan, Usman Khawaja, Moises Henriques, Joe Burns, Ben Cutting and Phillip Hughes)

are all in the top 10 run scorers in the Shield season so far, there should be at least a chance that all of these players will hopefully get a go in this international summer.

Now this is the best time to be incorporating these players into the Test arena as they can show their value in hopefully a transitional summer with a goal for long term success

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 15:41 GMT)

@Last_ride: While morne gets advantage two both left handers, steyn loses advantage. I would give advantage to morne rather that steyn, he is extremely deadly to right handers. If saf batsmen doesn't crumble it will be their series once again.

Posted by nirmalzz on (November 4, 2012, 14:13 GMT)

Result of this series only decide by SA batsmen, not by aus bowlers or batsmen. Amla, peterson, smith and devillers are far better than watson, warner, hussy and popnting..

Posted by waspsting on (November 4, 2012, 13:58 GMT)

I agree with 2nd_Slip. Opening bats taking the attack to high quality opening quicks is a luxary that comes off rarely and usually on featherbeds. To plan on countering the best pace attack in the world with aggresive openers... don't think its much of an idea, honestly (and basing the thinking of the idea on "shorter forms of the game" - not great thinking). I suppose Aus don't have a class technician opening alternative, but Watson would do better in his style when balls not swinging. See off the new ball is the classic way for a reason - its tried and tested as the best way. Even Sehwag rarely succeeds with the attack method outside flat pitches, and Warner and Watson are no Sehwag

Posted by Last_ride on (November 4, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

Everyone seems to Forget one important thing. Me Being a saffer i am going to enjoy this. That is Australia have 2 left handers at the top.Falling into the same trap England did.Morne Morkel is Going to Enjoy bowling to them. So its only good for Australia if Watson ( If he plays of course should open) Go saffers.............

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 13:40 GMT)

Australia's only advantage in this series is home advantage, player for player the Saffers have a far better side. What really concerns me is that this superb SA side is not getting 5 match series, first in England now in Australia. Is this the hosts' doing or are CSA against 5 tests?

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (November 4, 2012, 13:03 GMT)

@rahulcricket007- At least Ponting was not a clueless tailend batter trying to save his castles from a 'fiery' bunch of N Zealand pacers on some 'difficult' and 'testing' tracks at home-India ,with no 'success'- having a 100% result in castle-tumble(at least he was batting like one in the recent home tests vs NZ).Ponting would have had to face a totally diff. bunch- the likes of Steyn and co.-on 'sporting' pitches and even then it unlikely that he(Punter) will not play at least one match-defining inngs (need not be a 100 in a series where the bowling of both the sides likely to make the 'play' mostly) given the resurgent form in intl. and domestic comp. over the last year or so.The Indians will surely testify to that....

Posted by Marcio on (November 4, 2012, 12:18 GMT)

You'd think that given that SA have only managed to win 3 of the 8 internationals against AUS in the last 12 months (and not one of them played in AUS) that the SA fans might actually show a little modesty, and even some respect towards a team they have lost to regularly in recent times. A few do, but most on this site seem to have been bloated on their own self-congratulatory media, declaring themselves easy winners already. Pride cometh before a fall - sooner or later. Even the failure of the SA bowlers to trouble many of the AUS A batsmen has diminished the hubris of some. You would have thought something would have at least registered with the media and fans there. But no. The lights are on, but nobody's at home watching the (actual) game.

Posted by V-Man_ on (November 4, 2012, 11:48 GMT)

Mouth-watering indeed but there is no way Australia have the pace artillery to match South Africa. @rahulcricket007: agree with you mate.

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (November 4, 2012, 11:41 GMT)

What a joke of an article. Steyn, Morkel and Philander being unsettled by T20 hit and giggle batsmen (Shane Watson and Daid Warner) incapable of playing long innings!! Do that and we shall witness more innings in the mould of that hilarious 47 all out with Philander picking 5-15 that we saw last year in SA.

Posted by Marcio on (November 4, 2012, 11:02 GMT)

@bobagorof "Australia's capitulation for 47 last year shows the problems with filling your side full of strokemakers." So, given that SA lost 9/49 the previous session to that 47, what are we to make of the SA batting? Why cite a once-in-a-decade anomaly which was clearly heavily influenced by conditions, while attempting to extrapolate a pervasive generalisation from it? But when Chappell dares cite a pervasive and recurring theme in modern SA cricket - poor tactics and management leading to underperformance - you deem it unacceptable! I'm afraid I can only conclude from the fragile sense of self being exhibited by SA fans here, that you have been fed too many of those hyperbole-ridden fan-fest articles - the ones we now see splattered all over this site.

Posted by Marcio on (November 4, 2012, 10:53 GMT)

@Stephen Axtell, agree. How dare Chappell identify any weaknesses in the SA lineup! We should have yet another bloated, hyperbole-ridden, hero-worshipping article of the kind that have so dominated the period coming up to the tests. In fact I'm amazed this article got passed the censors, so one-sided has the reporting been! So let's get rid of Chappell and other analysts who offer a more balanced perspective. That way you'd still feel good, and wouldn't have to concern yourself with the fact that your team isn't perfect, nor that it is not an absolute shoe-in for the series. Admittedly Australia's preparation for this series has been beyond terrible (similar to the 2010 Ashes), but here's hoping for a reality check for the SA media.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (November 4, 2012, 10:50 GMT)

If Ricky Ponting falls for low scores against South Africa, it will probably be due to some world-class bowling and not a lack of form . LOLZ . WHEN SACHIN STRUGGLES AGAINST ENG & AUS BOWLERS CHAPELL CALLS SACHIN TO TAKE RETIREMENT BUT IF PONTING STRUGGLES AGAINST SA BOWLERS THEN IT MEANS HE IS OUTDONE BY CLASS BOWLERS .

Posted by SDHM on (November 4, 2012, 10:37 GMT)

South Africa CAN lose it in Tests - they looked clueless when KP went at them at Headingley and came very close to breaking when England went down swinging at Lord's too. In fact, if England could bloomin' well hold on to a catch, they'd probably have won one of those Tests! But that doesn't get around the fact that they are a seam attack of the highest quality that is difficult to resist, let alone dominate. Watson is seemingly incapable of playing the long innings at the top of the order, so no matter how aggressive he is, you always feel his wicket is just around the corner (and that's not to mention his running between the wickets!) and Warner showed over in England that there are just too many ways of getting him out; uncomfortable against Anderson's swing, uncomfortable against Finn's pace & bounce. South Africa have those covered, and add Vernon Philander to that, and I feel it might not be pretty.

Posted by Chark_attack on (November 4, 2012, 10:13 GMT)

I had never looked at it this way and while Ian raises a valid point about getting on top of the southafrican bowlers early would be a good way of shutting them down however i think wearing them down like cowen will try and do will be just as effective and probably is a safer option long term. I also like watson at 3 especially if a wicket is lost early while he is still one of australias best best bats ponting no longer has the reflexes he once did and as such a move down to 4 is right for him i think the selecters have got the batting line up pretty much spot on for this match its going to be a cracker

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 8:40 GMT)

Another Ian Chappell article another pop at the South Africans when will he stop. You would swear by his writing that it was Australia who number one.

Posted by Meety on (November 4, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

@Ragav999 on (November 04 2012, 07:46 AM GMT) - yes & no! I agree that picking players on form bursts against a modest career history like Forrest will more often fail than succeed. The issue with Cowan is a bit more complex. Yes he has played FC cricket for 9 years, but over the last two years he has been scoring tons more readily & his FC ave has claimed from low to mid 30s to around 40. IMO - he is a bloke who only now, (forgetting his current "slump") knows his game. He was great in the England summer (County + A-games).

Posted by   on (November 4, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

i still think australian batting is not that bad including cowan but he can be replaced by khwaja who is lot more talented and can make balance with saffas batting . On bowling front i don think saffas have got an edge . Its equal if pattinson siddle hilfy can bowl full length den they can find edges of smith amla de villiers even kallis but early on in their innings . Catches will be the key . Very even sides .

Posted by Ragav999 on (November 4, 2012, 7:46 GMT)

@Meety: Ed Cowan has a first class average of 40 over a period of 9 years. Do you think he can really outperform that in Test cricket? There is a price that has to be paid for picking players only on form rather than long term. I think that Australia may pay the price eventually for sticking with Cowan. Picking David Hussey is a no-brainer. Hussey brothers would definitely repay the selectors with buckets of runs.They have more motivation than the most young batsmen these days.

Posted by BG4cricket on (November 4, 2012, 7:11 GMT)

Cowan is not a test opener full stop. Alas the cupboard is pretty bare apart from sending Watto back there

Posted by dexterous9 on (November 4, 2012, 6:47 GMT)

ian you just say anything you like

Posted by Chris_P on (November 4, 2012, 6:34 GMT)

As usual, spot on by Chapelli. His experience & the ability to tell it straight might rub people the wrong way, but this guy has done it all on the test field. Let's wait & see after the series.

Posted by Rahul_78 on (November 4, 2012, 6:25 GMT)

Ian mentions it correctly that Hussey and Ponting would prefer shine been taken off the new ball. Well apart from high risk attitude of Warner of belting the ball around the park there are more traditional and trusted way of Cowan to take the shine off the bowl and seeing of the first hour of the morning in a test match. I dont understand Ian's point of how instead of complimenting Warners aggressive style Cowan can increase the pressure on Warner. If Warner and Cowan manage to play first 20 overs then it will do it nicely for OZ. With ageing Ponting and Hussey it makes lot of sense for OZ to play Clarke and Watson in the middle order. It provides good blend of youth and experience.

Posted by bobagorof on (November 4, 2012, 6:23 GMT)

The only non-agressive player mentioned is Cowan. However, Australia's capitulation for 47 last year shows the problems with filling your side full of strokemakers. Having someone who can grind out an innings when the bowlers are on top is invaluable to every good side. Kallis has a history of not being a flashy batsman, though no-one questions his effectiveness. Amla, too, is not a blaster, but is able to put attacks to the sword by accumulating mountains of runs, even if he doesn't do so with sixes.

Posted by Vikramaditya100 on (November 4, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

there he goes again.... chappelli.... i normally respect your views.... but when it comes to aussies.... i wud leave their assessment to richie benaud and mark taylor.... watson is a sitting duck against steyn.... especially in bowler friendly conditions.... and mike hussey averages 10 against morkel and steyn.... they shud have thought b4 sacking katich.....

Posted by popcorn on (November 4, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

I do not agree with Ian Chappell.David Warner has proven to be a good opening bat at the Test Level,scoring centuries against India and New Zealand.He can be likened to Virender Sehwag,Chappell's favourite opening bat - but like him can score 300 or fall cheaply because of his aggressive style. Ed Cowan is like Simon Katich or Akash Chopra, grinds and frustrates the opposition to the dust. It is a five day game,Ian,not a T20.Ricky Ponting is best at Number 3,so he should play at One drop. To ensure that Shane Watson also bowls his clever medium pasce,he should bat at the important position of Number 4. Michael Clarke has proven time and again that his best position is Number 5 - like Steve Waugh the Captain.Mike Hussey is a past master at no.6,Mathew Wade at Number 7 - the Aussie batting line -up is a solid good mix of aggression and caution.Go Aussies,go!

Posted by 07sanjeewakaru on (November 4, 2012, 5:33 GMT)

Philander belies his name - he doesn't waver from a straight line and a good length.LOL!Chappelli....

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (November 4, 2012, 4:59 GMT)

I don't know if, or when a series is happening between South Africa and Australia. Pretty frustrating. I remember, I so wanted to see the first Test Series on Indian T. V., thanks to Star T. V., shown between Pakistan and West Indies, some time ago. If this series had been then, I would have perhaps got a cable connection, in time, but the series I mentioned was as interesting. I did follow the series in the newspaper, however.

Posted by Meety on (November 4, 2012, 3:32 GMT)

Interesting as usual. A month or so ago, I felt Cowan was right to take on the Saffas. His run of low scores has me concerned. I thought he might of turned it around with an aggressive chase in the Ryobi cup. The dismissal in the 1st innings to a full toss was awful! He seems to have lost the form he played with for a good 12mths prior.

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Ian ChappellClose
Ian Chappell Widely regarded as the best Australian captain of the last 50 years, Ian Chappell moulded a team in his image: tough, positive, and fearless. Even though Chappell sometimes risked defeat playing for a win, Australia did not lose a Test series under him between 1971 and 1975. He was an aggressive batsman himself, always ready to hook a bouncer and unafraid to use his feet against the spinners. In 1977 he played a lead role in the defection of a number of Australian players to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, which did not endear him to the administrators, who he regarded with contempt in any case. After retirement, he made an easy switch to television, where he has come to be known as a trenchant and fiercely independent voice.

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