Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2013

Top order failures a barrier to Australia progress

Despite the 3-0 scoreline and the performance of the bowlers in this series, Australia's top order failures should be taken as a major warning to their future success

Chappell: England need to drive hard the advantage

Brisbane, November 21, 2013: Australia are 6 for 132 on the first day of their home Ashes campaign. The top order has failed. Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson rescue them, push the total up to 295. Australia win.

Adelaide, December 5, 2013: Australia are 5 for 257 on a good pitch for batting. The top order has failed. Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke rescue them with centuries. Australia declare on 570. Australia win.

Perth, December 13, 2013: Australia are 5 for 143. The top order has failed. Brad Haddin and Steven Smith rescue them. The total reaches 385. Australia win.

Melbourne, December 27, 2013: Australia are 6 for 122. The top order has failed. Brad Haddin...

Sense a theme developing? The problem on the second day at the MCG was that Haddin tried to rescue Australia again but nobody joined him. By stumps they were 9 for 164, Haddin still there on 43. It was Australia's worst day of the series, only because Haddin and a variety of team-mates had saved others that could have been equally bad.

Australia's average first-innings total at the loss of their fifth wicket in this series has been 153. Only their stronger effort in Adelaide, on the best batting surface of the series, has allowed it to be that high. But by no standards is 5 for 153 a satisfactory average. It is reflective of poor top-order performances - decision-making, technique, patience, whatever.

It has been easy to forget because England's own batting has been abominable. Australia have a 3-0 lead and the Ashes. They could feasibly still complete a clean sweep. They will travel to South Africa in just over a month's time with the Urn safely theirs, confident in their form, confident they can return to No. 1, confident their darkest times are behind them and confident their attacking "brand" of cricket is the right one.

But South Africa are not England. Attack South Africa, or counterattack against them, and you may well find yourself in a bigger hole than when you began. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked Test bowlers in the world for a reason. They are unrelenting.

On the drop-in pitch at the MCG, the ball didn't come on to the bat, forcing several batsmen into poorly chosen shots. England also bowled much more consistently than they have so far in this series. But Adelaide was a good batting pitch. So was Perth in the first innings. So was Brisbane. Four stunted first-innings performances in a row is not a coincidence, it is a discernible trend.

David Warner's biggest runs have all come in the second innings with hefty leads. George Bailey is yet to play a knock of real importance and averages 15.75 in the first innings. Chris Rogers gets himself in and then gets himself out. Clarke and Smith have at least each made a first-innings hundred.

Shane Watson's only substantial performance at No. 3 in this series came in the second innings in Perth, where Australia had a huge lead and Watson was given licence to slog. At the MCG, he drove loosely outside off and was caught behind for 10. His lbw problem has disappeared but been replaced by mediocre shot selection - he is constantly edging behind the wicket or picking out fielders.

If Australia get out of their MCG mire, as they have managed to do so far in this series, their batting problems will be forgotten again. But they should take another top-order collapse as a cautionary tale.

Cape Town, November 10, 2011: Australia are 5 for 18. They struggle, then wobble, then panic against high-class seam and swing bowling. Brad Haddin is at the crease. Brad Haddin shimmies down the pitch and away to leg, tries to smash Philander over cover and edges behind. Brad Haddin is no longer at the crease. Australia are 6 for 18. Then they are 7 for 21, 8 for 21, 9 for 21. Somehow their last pair gets them to 47.

Australia: Brad Haddin will not always rescue you.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on December 28, 2013, 12:05 GMT

    @Chris_P, How about in 09 when Aus dumped Hughes and Watson performed admirably - plenty of pressure then! It's a baseless statement - he doesn't perform when the pressure is on. The pressure is always on, regardless of the match/series situation. Well, for a bloke who has played Sydney Grade (as have I), you sure have no idea about comparitives. MoHen has only played 1st class, Watson is playing test match cricket. There's a monumental difference, one that I'd expect would be recognised by another with such extensive history in the game. Said it before, you're comparing apples with oranges, mate. BTW, MoHen had one half decent innings in India and generally was, like the rest of the side, awful. Since then MoHen hasn't done anything. He's nowhere near the batsman, nor bowler that Watson is and should be nowhere near any Aus int. side. The only place MoHen would shine is in grade cricket, possibly why you rate him...

  • Mashuq on December 28, 2013, 11:12 GMT

    Agree @Tova on (December 27, 2013, 10:22 GMT) that Watson, Rogers and Bailey should not be in the team, but a phased removal is preferable to a mass exodus. Rogers should stay until after the SA tour. Bailey can immediately be replaced by Lynn. Watson v Faulkner is a choice I'm not sure about. As long as one of the 3 quicks chosen is a risk fitnesswise there's a case for having an all rounder. However, Watto is not really an all-rounder, more a stabilising/de-stabilising influence-cum-batsmen-that-bowls-type which is why people are uneasy with his position in the team. For me, pick 3 reliable (fitnesswise) quicks and 6 specialist batman asap, but that means the end of Rhino's career. Since he's seems to be struggling currently, for the SCG: Hughes, Rogers, Warner, Clarke, Smith, Lynn, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon, Bollinger. This way we see give Lynn a go at home and bring in Hughes who needs an extended shot as he will probably replace Rogers shortly. But when Rhino returns...

  • Thomas on December 28, 2013, 4:49 GMT

    Great article by Coverdale and pretty much sums up what many of us have been banging on about for ages. For example, we have been waiting NINE YEARS for Watson to magically transform from a limited overs player into a test player.Yes he can bowl well but he is injury prone, mentally weak and technically deficient as a batter. Why does he get all the favours from the selectors and how the hell is he a test #3?

  • Bryn on December 28, 2013, 4:25 GMT

    Australia have won 3 matches in the most dominant fashion possible but people are still finding things to rag on. when retirements happen hughes comes in, maddinson and silk come in and Faulkner comes in. solved

  • sai on December 28, 2013, 3:08 GMT

    ideal top order(playing 11) xi#2 xi#3 -1 philip hughes -1 joe burns -1 jordan silk -2 david warner -2 luke pomersbach -2 glenn maxwell -3 alex doolan -3 usman khawaja -3 ryan carters -4 michael clarke -4 chris lynn -4 callum ferguson -5 steven smith -5 tom cooper -5 ed cowan -6 cameron white -6 nic maddinson -6 shane watson -7 brad haddin -7 mathew wade -7 sam whiteman -8 jp faukner -8 mitchell marsh -8 luke butterworth -9 mitchell johnson -9 jm bird -9 steve okeefe -10 mitchell starc -10 peter siddle -10 cj sayers -11 pattinson -11nathan lyon -11 ben cutting

  • David on December 27, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    One of the more interesting comments I have seen is that Australia's batting plans for this series revolved around how to play Swann, and without him there they haven't worked out plan B yet. May be wrong, but it's an interesting theory. My other worry is the MCG pitch - I'm not complaining because we look like losing, but a pitch where a score of 226 on the first day at less than two and a half an over seems like a winning score brings yawns to even noted test cricket lovers like me.

  • Peter on December 27, 2013, 21:56 GMT

    @ScottStev. I've been a huge fan of Watson's but the brutal facts are that he has never delivered in a presure situation & he occupies a vital position in the batting order. No matter if I like or dislike a person, performances count & his plainly do not stack up. I've never been a fan of MJ's but certainly acknowledge he has delivered the goods this series. You're correct that he hasn't performed down the order, but he hasn't performed up the order either, his bowling, while adequate is not up to the class he had a few years back. In first class, MoHen has outperformed him by a substantial margin these past few years & even outperformed him in India, but who ended up being dropped? I like Bailey as well, but his FC form worries me a lot. BTW, I think, after having played (& still playing) after 30 years I got a a bit of knowledge about the game, especially after 10 years of Sydney Grade.

  • Philip on December 27, 2013, 21:28 GMT

    Australia may have won back the Ashes but they have not yet solved the problems with their batting order. Apart from Rogers, and Clarke (who still bats too low for the marquee player), the batting line-up consists of number sixes. Plus the admirable Haddin. This is perhaps to be expected. In the past decade and a half we have gone from the 20th century to the T20 century. Consequently, Australia will win some. And lose some. Batting consistency is not achieved in this manner. Australia can't afford Watson, Warner, Bailey and Smith all in the same team. One can make a case for each of them individually, but not together. It's time to realise that number three is the spot for a number three. Not a number six. And opening with a number six, while not actually a new idea - it was commonplace in the 19th century, perhaps works best when not followed by more of the same. Australia has improved because it has picked an older, more experienced team. Now it just needs batting-spot specialists.

  • Sanjay on December 27, 2013, 21:24 GMT spot on. Brydon you are spot on in your article. We need to find a better and more long term No 3 and a No 6. Watson had the ideal situation yesterday to stamp his mark but fails again with the bat. Bailey is trying to find his feet but time is not on his side. Rogers is not long term but the best option for the moment. Options are Silk, Doolan and Maddinson. I see Maddinson being in the 11 within the next 12 months. Lehmann has him in his radar after the Aus A tour of Eng earlier this year where Lehmann was coach vefore taking over from Arthur. The saving grace purely on stats to date are that Haddin has been the gel in the batting and our second innings batting has been better.