How the failure of Warner-Burns and Smith-Voges has hurt Australia

The cumulative partnership numbers for Warner-Burns and Smith-Voges is symptomatic of Australia's sharp batting decline in 2016 ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Australia have been in a batting rut for the last few months, and a recurring theme has been their batting collapses, when they have lost top-order wickets in a heap. It happened in Hobart, in Perth, and before that in Colombo, Galle and Pallekele as well. In some of these Tests there have been passages when a pair has settled in, but a breakthrough for the bowling team has generally led to a flurry of wickets, and this malaise has been more acute in 2016 than it has been in a long time.

In eight Tests this year, Australia have had 79 partnerships for the top six wickets, of which 35 have ended before going past single digits. That is a whopping 44% of top-order partnerships that haven't gone past 10, which is the worst for them in more than 100 years: the last time that percentage was higher was in 1901, when they played just one Test, and had seven sub-ten partnerships out of 12, for the top six wickets across both innings.

In the last 100 years, the next highest percentage for Australia was in 1956, when 37 out of 95 partnerships for the top six wickets ended before getting to 10, a percentage of 38.95. The year 2011 was tough too, with a percentage of 37.76, but in their best batting years, the failure rates have been really low: it was just 6.06% in 2007 (two out of 33), 11.29 in 1998 (14 out of 124). Even in the two previous years, the percentages were in the early 20s - 21.26 in 2015, 22.43% in 2014. In fact, Australia's average partnership for the top six wickets in 2014 and 2015 was 50.47; in 2016, it has slumped to 36.58. From an average of one century partnership in seven attempts in those two years, the frequency has reduced to one every 13 attempts in 2016.

Of those 35 single-digit partnerships in 2016, eight came in Hobart, five each in Perth and Colombo, seven in Galle and six in Pallekele. Even in an innings when they scored big - 562 against New Zealand in Wellington - there were still three sub-10 partnerships among the first six wickets. That suggests an unhealthy reliance on a few batsmen to score all the runs, and too many top-order failures on a regular basis.

*In a calendar year, since 1930
Even when comparing with other teams in 2016, Australia's failure rate in partnerships stands out: even Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have a lower percentage of sub-10 partnerships, while the failure rate is considerably lower for the other top sides. India have had only nine completed stands of less than ten, out of 71 partnerships for the top six wickets, a percentage of less than 13. Australia's top order, on the other hand, have had 11 partnerships of zero, and 24 others between one and nine, in 79 stands. For England, Pakistan and South Africa, the percentage is below 30.

The two top-order partnerships that have been most disappointing for Australia have been the ones between David Warner and Joe Burns, and between Steven Smith and Adam Voges. In ten partnerships between Warner and Burns, the pair has added only 184 runs, of which 100 came in one innings, at the start of the year against West Indies in Sydney. The last six stands between them read thus: 3, 2, 0, 3, 2, 0.

Smith-Voges has been even poorer, with 89 partnership runs from eight innings at 12.71. Between these two pairs, they have contributed 12 single-digit stands in 18 partnerships. The one consistently prolific pair for Australia has been Usman Khawaja-Smith: in six innings they have four partnerships of 50 or more, and a superb average of nearly 57.

The contrast for these two pairs before and since the start of 2016 is particularly stark, and is symptomatic of Australia's batting slump. Before 2016, both Warner-Burns and Smith-Voges had average partnerships of more than 70. Together, the two pairs added 1474 runs in 18 partnerships, at an average of 86.71, with six century stands. Since the start of 2016, these two pairs have added 273 runs in 18 partnerships, at an average of 16.06. This five-fold drop in partnership aggregate and average for these two pairs best illustrates Australia's batting nosedive in 2016.