The Ashes 2013-14 January 7, 2014

Hard run-makers revive Australia

As England's senior batsmen went missing, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin set the tone for their team to dominate in runs, hundreds and, ultimately, wins

At the very back of a book I wrote recently, titled Raw, I offered a chapter: "How to bat six hours in a Test". It was my take on a how to become a century-maker for young aspiring batsmen. Since then, after watching a test or ten, I have been reminded again of how to do it, to make crucial runs when vitally needed, and how not to. The Ashes marathon has provided a thesis on what is, to batsmen, a very important subject.

Test cricket has forever been a game where it's the bowlers who win the matches. It takes 20 wickets, as we all know, to win. No one ever knows how many runs it takes, just that it takes crucial runs to see your side in front when the last ball is bowled. The best bowlers win Tests; batsmen need to keep the game alive, to allow their bowlers time to make their move.

What are crucial runs and why is reaching three figures in particular so important? In essence, crucial runs are those made when the bowlers are dominating, most likely due to pitch conditions. When the going is tough, either at the start with new ball challenges or overall as wickets are falling with regularity, if runs can be eked out, hard earned and against the tide, then they become the difference.

As the back-to-back Ashes series decelerate to closure, it is worth assessing the crucial run-makers, the century-makers, and the century fakers - those who pretended and failed. Firstly, some stats to give a sense of this story. There have been 20 hundreds scored in ten Tests: 14 to Australia, (ten at home) and six to England (five at home). Of the victories secured, Australia scored ten hundreds in five wins, England four in three wins, leaving four hundreds scored in the draws at The Oval and Old Trafford and two scored in losing causes - Chris Rogers and Ben Stokes in Durham and Perth respectively.

That is the stats out of the way. What is interesting to evaluate is the why and why not. When Ian Bell went on his three-ton spree on sporting pitches in the first, second and fourth Tests in England, he set up crucial victories. He was the difference. In the third and fifth Tests, Bell wasn't required to score crucial runs as the pitches were friendlier, and two draws resulted. After that, in Australia, as his runs dried up completely, so too did England.

Throughout both series, England's senior men, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior, have not been factors of any note, never able to score those crucial runs. Therefore England, without Bell scoring a hundred, have been utterly ineffective. Nothing came from their senior leadership group, excluding Bell. Nothing over six months. Why? There are two reasons, I believe.

Firstly, burn out. After a dominant-but-exhausting five years on the road with all four - Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Prior - playing a crucial leading role, they have hit the wall. Secondly, natural leadership. Mainly, this group prospered under Andrew Strauss' captaincy, with the series win in India being the exception when Cook led the way.

In my opinion, there are no quality captains left in this England team. When left to focus selfishly on their own game, they are world-class batsmen. Without a natural skipper to inspire them, they become rudderless. When in charge they can't make the crucial step up and do both roles.

On Australia's side, the key to their revival, first at the Gabba, was Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke, vice-captain and captain respectively. From their tenaciously strong leadership, their less experienced team-mates followed a firm command. Leadership ruled, crucially. Why?

In Perth, Smith and Haddin showed that batting in partnership over two sessions is the cornerstone to a well-earned win

A year earlier, Haddin had an enforced break that allowed him to refresh while Matthew Wade stepped in. Clarke is simply in the prime of his life and leadership drives him fiercely. He has lifted his intensity about what was truly needed to restore the team's credentials, as he sought valuable advice from former Australia captains and mentors. Australia's rise has paralleled Clarke's step up, in all he does.

Haddin's 94 in 261 minutes at Brisbane was as good as a century. It set the scene for his form and leadership as it did for the rest of his team. Twice David Warner capitalised aggressively and brilliantly on tired bowling in the second innings but it was Clarke who always held the key. His counterattack in the second innings at Brisbane, after an ugly miscue in the first dig, was the series definer. His was a crucial hand.

It was Haddin and Clarke who reopened the can of worms for England in Adelaide. After the first day left the match on edge and in the balance, Clarke and Haddin stamped their mark emphatically, with a 200 run partnership blitz over two sessions of high quality.

At 2-0 up, Australia increased the ante. This time crucial runs came from one of their rising stars; Steven Smith became the next genuine century-maker. His first hundred at The Oval gave him a taste; in Perth he played a Clarke-like innings. Although interestingly, traces of his captain's style and functionality were shown. Smith's 111 at the WACA was a ripper. Along with Haddin (55 in 152 minutes) again, this mighty fit pair showed that batting in partnership over two sessions is the cornerstone to a well-earned win.

Melbourne came and went as England capitulated tamely, burnt out and burnt at the stake. It was as if everyone had forgotten about the art of crucial run-scoring and century-making. Bell was reduced to a first-ball waft. Cook and Pietersen pretended and succumbed. Trott, Prior and Graeme Swann were nowhere to be seen, three critical factors to England's previous success reduced to dust. No one could muster up the courage of batting two sessions, let alone build a partnership to counter the Australian force with the ball and in the field. Oh, and Haddin (65 in 143 minutes) made crucial runs again.

Finally to Sydney, and to Smith again. His appetite whetted after Perth, he produced an even better first-innings ton. Encore, it was Haddin who set the scene in tandem with his fellow New South Welshman. In 20 overs they scored 20 boundaries, the partnership a fast and bruising 128, almost identical to the one in Perth. When Haddin went for 75, Smith guided the tail astutely and in doing so gave his hometown crowd a rousing moment as he brought up his third Ashes century with a mighty six.

Smith has learnt directly from Clarke. Fresh and hungry to show his mettle to captain and country, he epitomised the qualities needed to be a crucial run-maker, a true century-maker: belief, energy, fierce focus, and following a high-quality mentor.

Haddin and Clarke, and a new leader for the future, Smith, not only stole the show with fresh vigour and energy, they showed how to make important runs and allow their fine bowlers to pounce. A mention, too, for Rogers, a resilient journeyman, relishing the chance to blossom late in his career. His two centuries in Australia came via high-quality batsmanship; a man knowing his limitations, relying on simple means and a hardened mental approach, playing for his life. Over the two series, Rogers made three hundreds (to join Bell, Clarke and Smith) and he finished the highest run-scorer (with 830) on either side during the whole campaign.

Australia, with fine leadership, proved to be the movers and shakers, and they had batsmen to score crucial runs and set each game up. Their superbly balanced bowling attack captured all 100 wickets in the five Tests in Australia, the first time this has ever happened anywhere - proving, ultimately, that the best bowlers win matches.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mashuq on January 9, 2014, 11:20 GMT

    Fine analysis pin-pointing essentials. Agree @Samdanh about Aus batting requiring improvement for which this coming tour is simply too early for the necessary team-building. By next Ashes certain newbies need to be brought along with the necessary skills, e..g., Fergusson needed to go to India for the tests 10 months ago. Take him to UAE in October. Take Doolan and Hughes to SA next month in place of Bailey. Try out others against India next summer with a view to Ashes '15. Just make the right calls, e.g., someone who can in future replicate the steadiness of Rogers rather than the dash of Warner. Keep the basis secure by retaining Warner, Rogers, Clarke and Smith while revolving the other two spots. Ignore the need for an all-rounder until someone good enough on paper emerges. Ashes '15 may be too early for Agar, Faulkner, but don't pick the Big Show if and until he's more substance than talk in the longer form. Agree SOK needs to tour next month if and until someone better emerges!

  • Varnendra on January 9, 2014, 1:45 GMT

    Crowe is the best after Tendulkar, Lara, Viv Richards and Greg Chappel so he must know something. As he says Clarke play extremely crucial knocks. In England too he made the most important hundred. Whether and bowling let him down. In SA he made a brilliant hundred but the batsmen in the second innings conspired to make the Australian score 21/9. In India too he made an important hundred and a ninety. I think in Sri Lanka too he did something like that. Then those 2 double hundreds against SA and the the 300 against India. He never scores worthless runs for his stats. Really a great player.

  • Suren on January 8, 2014, 22:39 GMT

    What a sensible analysis!! Well Done Martin. Having said that and taking nothing away from the sheer brilliance Aussies showed, would you sanction all the sledging tactics they employed? Clarke threatening Anderson (#9 batsman) was not sledging, it is verbal abuse bordering thuggery! My view is that too many interested parties have accepted that sledging is part of the game now, and I am sure there are classes conducted how to counter with your own sledging before key matches! Where is this going to end..... the authorities have to draw the line I believe. The Aussies did not have to employ any such tactics to win! It was a pleasure to see how Windies and New Zealand played their games - there was intense competition but they did not cross the line and showed very good sportsmanship. That is what cricket is all about. Thoughts?

  • kieran on January 8, 2014, 21:07 GMT

    Bowlers win matches? Well I guess they do in some games. You have to take 20 wickets to win? Actually, you can win and not take ANY wickets, if you bowl first. And if you bowl 2nd you only have to take 10 wickets to win. One thing you always have to do to win though is score more runs. Eye opening stats.

  • john on January 8, 2014, 9:09 GMT

    Speaking of rudderless, new zealands test team has being sailing around the pacific without a true leader....taylor needs the captaincy again..

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    Brilliant Article! Probably one of the best written piece in terms of perspective other than Mark Nicholas. England definitely need a leader with more instincts than methodological approach. All successful captains have been instinctive other than Pointing as he was having a great team and a core set of players that could play for the ages. Its time for England to groom a leader other than Cook,

  • Michael Ponnudurai on January 8, 2014, 7:11 GMT

    Aus batting order up to No.6 will have to improve their batting if Aus desire to put up a commendable performance in SA. At least two of them should prepare to grind, play straight and play long innings. Aus escaped with rearguard recoveries throughout the just concluded Ashes. Not sure if the same would be possible in SA. Also, Aus can expect drier pitches as they countered in England in 2013 Eng summer Ashes. Being an ovesreas tour and to aid a back up/succession plan, it would be best for Aus to choose in squad a second spinner. My gut feeling is that SOK will be a quality addition. He can be included in XI if conditions warrant 2 spinners or if unfortunately Lyon is unable to play any Test. It is very important for Aus to build a quality spin pipeline behind Lyon to avoid a repeat of last minute scramble that happened when Warne retired. While Aus has a good pipeline of young fast bowlers, it is very key for them to groom good spinners as well

  • hyph on January 8, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    An informative, considered and unbiased report. Well written, Mr Crowe!

  • PALLAB on January 8, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Wow,master analyst Crowe producing cricinfo articles every 3 days. Actually,more than Haddin's decisive 94, it was Johnson's crucial 64 which gave OZ the momentum & Hadd the partner-cum-partnership,otherwise game was in balance at 6 down. Also, let's remember that it's easy to show batsmanship leadership in home conditions (which Dhoni also does in India while failing abroad)which Haddin does.His (and Clarke's) home/away averages difference skew is not ideal which has also resulted in poor Test performances away.Apart from Bell, it's actually Prior (very good away performer) whose most innings are crucial in Eng's previous wins but his form was poor.Also, some of the crucial 100s by OZ in OZ Ashes were when OZ bowling unit pounded Eng in their 1st innings. Shows imp of strike bowlers as one of the greatest crucial knocks in recent times (195) played by Sehwag in Melbourne'03 went WASTE cos of average Indian bowling unit. Also Lara's 688 runs in SL'02 series due to weak WI attack.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2014, 5:11 GMT

    I agree with Martin Crowe England don't have a good leader Cook does not understand his role as captain pls check the Analysis in the previous article almost every test match england Had Australia on the ropes with being 5 down down thanks to the bowlers in the first innings Only for haddin to come back and score this shows the lack of Skills shown by cook to read the game and pull the game from The scruff of the neck and build some momentum this is where Clarke did so well tactically