England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 20, 2013

Feeble Australia the real story of Lord's

The tourists' weaknesses overshadowed Joe Root's memorable century, weaknesses that stem from home

Though Joe Root was the story of the third day at Lord's, Australia's feeble cricket has been the narrative of the match. Why should this be? Have Australians lost it? Is this a cyclical thing?

Though vindictive England fans licked their lips, there was no pleasure in the batting collapse, which was as awful to watch as it must have been to participate in. If one image best illustrated the humiliation, it was the full toss that Chris Rogers mowed at and missed. If one innings best crystallised a career, it was the 30 made by Shane Watson. If one shot summed up the malaise it was the wild throw of the bat by Phillip Hughes.

This pain, and the resulting first innings deficit, was compounded by the inability of the bowlers to make good their effort on Friday evening. Three down overnight, England were not breached again until Tim Bresnan swatted to midwicket 45 minutes after lunch. It was not that Australia bowled badly, far from it. Just that there was no inspiration. Courage and effort count but without skill, flat pitches become a bowler's graveyard.

The most obvious thing about state cricket in Australia at present is the amount of good cricketers but the absence of exceptional ones. The various competitions are keenly contested but the Twenty20 Big Bash is the zeitgeist. This is a problem because performances in the Big Bash get good press and inflate opinion and ego.

There is still a strong reference to the Sheffield Shield but the players are no more than honest and the cricket humdrum by comparison with a decade ago. Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne come round once in a blue moon but the canvas could do with the brushstrokes of less celebrated but still gifted artists such as Darren Lehmann, Stuart Law and Andy Bichel. Most glaring is the lack of spinners. There are plenty of slow bowlers but no one who gives it a rip.

The pitches are not as good as they once were. In Hobart, during the first half of the last season, 50 was a good score and there were not many of them. Seamers profit, swing is not at a premium. Lucrative IPL contracts steal the hearts of young cricketers who talk of big cheques, big crowds, and then receive disproportionate adulation. Call it the Glenn Maxwell situation - a man with a modern cricket talent who takes guard for a good time not a long time.

During the first two sessions today, Australia gave England nothing. The bowling was tidy, the captaincy astute. But the ball did not swing - in either orthodox or reverse fashion - it did not cut, it did not spin, it barely varied in pace or trajectory. In summary, there was no deception, nothing that asked the batsmen to do anything other than watch it well. Ashton Agar is a splendid young talent but he is not a Test match bowler, not yet, not close. By the evening, the nothingness told and England punched away like heavyweights in a lightweight bout.

But these were mere scratches compared to Friday's punishment when the full arsenal of Australian batting mustered just 128. Rogers should not have been adjudged lbw but the more relevant fact is that a Test opening batsman, after more than an hour at the wicket, missed a full toss. As if that were not enough, he lacked the clarity of thought to demand a review. Perhaps the embarrassment was too much or perhaps he thought it wise to leave one in the bank for his captain. Any which way, it was ugly stuff.

Watson played round his front pad, an old flaw, to be stone dead lbw. He chose to review. What a waste. Some boundaries and some blocks brought him those thirty runs. If only he would feel the ball onto his bat and guide it to spaces where ones, twos and threes become as much a part of his rhythm as muscle bound hits to extra-cover and midwicket. And if only he would get that left leg out of the line of fire. The pursuit of Watson has become an unwarranted distraction. He must respond to those who have stuck out their neck in his cause.

Those who watched Hughes tear the South Africans apart in Durban four years ago imagined a star had been born. Compact, inventive and dynamic, this was a rare batsman - one for the ages. But it is age that has withered him. Each step is now taken with caution, each stroke self-appraised. Once confident, even cocky but now locked behind the bars of introspection, Hughes is a defining example of the uncertainty with which the Australians have played their cricket these past three days. Do I stick or twist? Too late.

Is this cyclical? Yes, if the house back at home is rebuilt from its foundation. Investment in the Sheffield Shield is imperative. Hundreds of thousands of dollars find their way into the pockets of men such as Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard; Luke Wright and Owais Shah. Where is the hope in that? Pitches need to return to their indigenous state, so that batsmen learn the art of big innings and bowlers the art of prising them out.

Australia still has a culture for cricket that is unmatched. But the challenges are clear if it is not to slip away. The first job is for the team at Lord's to show they care. Hopeless as the match has become, much can be gained from an apparent defiance. Messages matter, particularly to youngsters who draw inspiration from the men that chew gum beneath the Baggy Green. The Ashes are a symbol of something in Australia's soul. Work must begin immediately to have them back by January 7 next year.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2013, 2:24 GMT

    @Herbert if you think this isnt Austrlia's best batting line up you don't pay much attention the the sheffield shield. Rogers and Hughes were 2 out of 5 batsman to maintain an average over 50 this season, two of the other 3 need to string seasons together for selection and the third is Ponting) with Smith and Khawaja having averages of 40 which was matched only by Mark Cosgrove and Mike Hussey...

    Watson Averages 43 as an opener and 30 pretty much anywhere else... George Bailey berely made a run in the shield and only averages 37 in county cricket this year... I agree about Katich, Clarke needs to swollow his pride and bring him back!! Based on FC form, I'd suggest this is australias best XI: Hughes, Rogers, Khawaja, Katich, Clarke (c), Smith, Haddin (w) Siddle, O'keefe (Lyon since he isnt in england), Harris, Bird

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2013, 9:53 GMT

    The Lords Test bore about as much resemblance to a sporting contest as watching hunters clubbing defenceless seal pups to death on the Arctic ice floes.

  • Cyril on July 21, 2013, 21:43 GMT

    What a nonsense this T20 argument is. The young English players have played far more T20 the the young Aussies (Root 31 in 2.5 seasons, Bairstow 89 in 3.5 seasons), Phillip Hughes has only played 29 T20s in 6 seasons, Khawaja 28 in 5! They have poor technique because they have been given easy rides. They were selected for Australia because they were spotted through the age groups. Since they were boys they have been told how great they will be. Neither has shown the discipline to improve their batting significantly, they both play lazy strokes far too often.

    Steve Smith has played 114 T20 matches yet has improved his technique markedly in just the last year. Time in the nets and time spent analysing his past failures mean he has probably cemented his place in the Test XI. The other young batsmen need to follow his example.

  • Richard on July 21, 2013, 15:09 GMT

    The the thing with Australia is, they might not be producing the best players at the moment, but they could at least pick their best XI. Watson could be a dangerous middle order game changer, with his belligerence and punchy drives, but he is not an opener, he's a 6. Katich should never have been dropped and Steve Smith should never have been picked. His spin bowling is too erratic for test cricket, and his batting is awful. George Bailey might not set anyone's pulse racing, but neither did Paul Collingwood, and he did a job. Sometimes you have to luck past a guys average, and his shots on flat wickets. Their bowlers are ok, especially if they picked Lyon, I don't think anyone can explain Agar's inclusion. My XI would be Katich, Rogers, Cowan, Clarke, Bailey, Watson, Haddin, Starc, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon. One of the commentators said in India Cowan faced more balls than anyone else, then after one game he's dropped, and their is no-body who can hang around.

  • AT on July 21, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Hard to digest that the Australian team is playing such poor cricket. Known for their ruthless dominance and taking command from any difficult position was what I loved about this team. If this is the state of Australian cricket with several players who don't deserve a place in the test team, they could try George Bailey who could come into the side in place of someone. Simon Katich is still around the circuit and even though there was a huge showdown with CA, he would definitely be a better opener for Australia who can even bowl a bit as required. Michael Hussey retired at the wrong time but it should be appreciated that his retirement came as a shocking news in a good way when people tend to drag the rope far too long leaving the selectors to take a call. Not sure if CA really considers Katich as an option as they need to take some drastic measures if they have to earn some respect and avoid utter humiliation

  • Martin on July 21, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    In the last Ashes in Aus I was shocked at the state of Australia's batting. It seems to have got worse. I can't see things being much different when we go to Aus for the return series this winter. The Aussies won't prepare dry pitches because their batsmen will not cope with Swann. And if they prepare pitches with any life Jimmy, Lurch and friends will take Aus apart. In short Australia are stuck - they haven't got the players for a concerted strategy to win The Ashes, not here and not in Australia either.

  • ANIL on July 21, 2013, 9:15 GMT

    Julius Caesar : " The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.." To this abject Oz team performance, without undue hesitation, can place the fault right from the Aussie Selection committee onto their captain and players. The Coach cannot be blamed upon, as yet, as he's just stepped into his predecessors jumpy boots. Where's the depth in this team's batting, apart from the big nannies as Clarke and Watson ( seem a shade of their past in confidence or technique), and in lacking a Spin department ( placing undue responsibility on young Agar's inexperienced shoulders, hoping on a rookie spinner as Steve Smith) Where's the very Spirit in winning, lacking woefully in this team's very body language ,their very field placements, the very nervous stance seen when initially occupying the crease. Where in the almighty soul of this game, has the team pride of playing under the baggy green gone to, there seems to be a massive void in thus team, more naive than sharp, come guys pull socks up

  • Tom on July 21, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    Batting has been a problem for a while, when Hussey and Ponting retired there was a big risk that the batting could be exposed. This is not a surprise, it was clear that the replacements weren't there, otherwise the retiring of these great players would have been set by the selectors, as it was in the past. First class cricket in Australia was further embarrassed by Ponting's scores for Tasmania after retiring. The system has to return to produce hard working batsman, who value their wicket and will fight for every run, or they are going to have a long wait for test success. This drop in standards in Australia has coincided with two divisions in England which has made the first class game there more competitive at least. It is now showing on the pitch.

  • Owais on July 21, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    Teams that are doing well in test cricket are the ones that are not overly obsessed with T20 culture. No wonder England is doing well.

  • Chris on July 21, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    The adulation of Watto by CA has been a frustration of no end. I think he is a very, very good all rounder. But he's not even an opener's arm pit. And I've been saying so since 2009. But all the experts keep saying "We just need to get him back as an opener where he had his best run". Well, they got their wish, and he still bats like an all-rounder of about the #6 or #7 position. He's more like a Flintoff, but for some reason "experts" think he's a Kallis (or at least has the potential).

    And the media and the public need to start valuing players who can grind out an innings. I feel that if Root was an Aussie, at tea yesterday we would have been calling for his sacking, batting nearly 3 full sessions and making only 97. We need to let go of the glory days of Hayden, Ponting, and Gilchrist belting attacks. Players like that are gone, they only learn to do it for 20 overs now.

    Like England, we need more grafters, especially opening to get the shine and more off the ball.