England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day July 13, 2013

Australia lose openers' thread

The partnership between Shane Watson and Chris Rogers rattled England and made Australia's target look eminently achievable - but the men that followed could not keep it up

For 84 runs and 24 overs, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers left England's bowlers more bereft of ideas about how to confound Australian batsmen than at any time in recent memory. As a promising opening combination read faultlessly from the book on how to handle the new ball, a curious flatness descended on Trent Bridge. In contravention of what the tourists are expected to do - collapse - Watson and Rogers rotated the strike, cuffed regular boundaries and kept the good stuff out. Seldom in recent times has Australia's batting been cause for less concern.

Of course, it did not last. Watson departed first ball after drinks to Stuart Broad, victim of a marginal lbw decision just as Rogers had been in the first innings. What followed was a slow, inexorable decline, as English pressure compounded Australian lapses of the kind that have come to be expected almost as a matter of course ever since Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey disappeared from Test match view.

While the wicket of Michael Clarke provided a definitive conclusion to the chief sportswriters' walking debate and that of Phillip Hughes ensured questions of technology would only grow in urgency, they were dramatic parts of the wider whole. Shown how to conduct themselves in these circumstances and conditions by their openers, Australia's batsmen failed comprehensively to follow suit, once again leaving an enormous task in the hands of the debutant Ashton Agar.

In the case of Ed Cowan, Australia have a batsman apparently out of step with his natural game, having lost the kind of patience and judgment that took him into the side in the first place. Should they go on to record a stirring victory, it will not conceal the fact that the new coach Darren Lehmann's most pressing task is the same that confronted Mickey Arthur. At least he will have the example of the opening stand to point out.

One of the most startling effects Rogers and Watson had while they batted together was to make the target Australia confronted look eminently achievable. England's tail had appeared satisfied with their lead at the start of the day, after Ian Bell and Stuart Broad had ridden considerable luck but also showed plenty of skill to ensure it would go beyond 300. But within a few overs of the chase English brows had began to furrow, as a pair of Australia batsmen showed authority, good sense and sound technique.

Only the occasional play-and-miss interrupted their flow, and apart from one Watson loft to the straight midwicket boundary from Graeme Swann scarcely a single shot was struck in the air. The slow, deteriorating surface meant it was admittedly easier to face the new ball than the old but at no stage did Rogers and Watson allow England's bowlers to settle, punishing the merest miscalculations in line and length and also scoring from plenty of deliveries that were blameless, using quick feet and subtle hands to do so.

For once, the end of Watson's innings was not a matter for too much introspection about wasted foundations. Stuart Broad swung a good one into him, the pad was struck, and the appeal was upheld. Watson's referral was instinctive, and a Hawk-Eye projection that had the ball clipping leg stump was another marginal call against Australia. In other words, it was the kind of dismissal that, while influential, could be lived with. The next would be quite the opposite.

Cowan has been ill across this match, suffering badly from a virus that has consigned him to bed at times when he has not been needed at the ground. But he has also been afflicted by a kind of compulsion to play as his position demands rather than the way he generally builds an innings. On day one he wafted at a ball that might normally have been left and was out for a golden duck. This time around he tossed away a serviceable start by driving heedlessly at the first ball Joe Root floated into the footmarks outside off stump, moreover in the last over before tea.

In isolation, Cowan's exit was wasteful. In the context of the match it was critical. Bell later acknowledged that England had bowled somewhat loosely prior to tea. After it they tightened up, and thanks to Cowan they had a new batsman in Clarke to concentrate on. Lehmann has spoken often of allowing his players to bat the way they know best. In Cowan's case he must rediscover exactly what that is, and quickly. Even retention for the Lord's Test is far from guaranteed.

Having played so well in Watson's company, Rogers was gradually becalmed. He found it increasingly difficult to find the occasional boundary that kept his score ticking, and at length the supply of singles also began to dry, his innings slowly becoming almost as parched of runs as the dusty pitch lacked for moisture. Eventually, Rogers was undone by a neat James Anderson plan from around the wicket, cramped for room and flicking in the air to a short midwicket. Unlike Cowan, Rogers has been his usual self in this match. But he will rue the constriction of his innings, leading to error and dismissal.

Batting by this time had become a rather more difficult task, complicated by a softening, moving and spinning ball, a more focused England and the tension of the chase itself. But Clarke would be another batsman to find difficulty adapting to his new role. Typically, Clarke's best innings at No. 5 have begun with a distinct note of counterpunching, going after good balls and bad with a busy, energetic approach that takes momentum away from the bowlers. He was strangely conservative here, trying to preserve his wicket but ultimately allowing England to encircle him. His exit will be talked about mainly for the use of Australia's final review but he had hardly set a confident marker, and No. 4 will remain a kind of millstone until he can be more proactive.

Steve Smith and Phillip Hughes duly fell victim to the momentum and pressure inflicted by England, plus the extravagant turn gained by Swann. There was a familiar sense of fear and claustrophobia about Australia's batsmen in England, the kind of feeling first visited in 2005 and repeated again four years later. Agar, Brad Haddin and the rest of the tail have been left with an almighty task. But even if they achieve it, the batsmen have plenty to ponder before Lord's. A video of Rogers' partnership with Watson should be required, repeat viewing.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • H on July 16, 2013, 10:38 GMT

    @Shaggy076 think you're selling Smith a bit short there. He's outperformed Johnny so far in his career full stop, in my book. Looks a really good batsman and was way better in the field than Bairstow too. Was surprised Clarke didn't turn to him at all for even an over of occasional leggies. When Bell was looking comfortable, maybe he'd have loosened up against Smith (like Cowan did to Root) and gotten out? Not saying he's a genuine all-rounder (neither's Root for that matter), but he could be used to break partnerships, surely?

  • Graham on July 16, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    OhhhhhMattyMatty - Could say the dame about Bairstow. Smith outperformed him in this game.

  • Khawaja on July 15, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    well the number three position seems up for grabs...clarke wanted to play warner anyway...that australia's best bowler pattinson did not seem to succeed is probably a worry...bird should be a shoe in as a fourth paceman...the australians seem to bat only when everything is lost and obviously darren lehman has not gotten thru teh barrier...that clarke is failing and dabbing outside teh off stump..pattinson should realize that variations are required and just bringing teh ball in from outside off stump is not enough...against broad he should have gone around teh wicket ...yorkers, short balls, reverse swing, varying length and line...if they still play agar he could be batted up the order and try his first inning heroics although the english did not give him any short balls in teh second...to overcome that he should have hit straight down teh ground or over the top of teh bowler...te english have problems too root and bairstow but their bowling is more controlled.a change in umpires !

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    DRS needs to be looked at. Maybe the if a team reviews and it is so close that it comes back to "Umpires Call", then the reviewing team should not lose the review. Just Like DRS is supposed to be used to stop the Howlers (Broad's Not Out), maybe teams can lose their reviews only if they review a plumb decision (i.e. hitting plumb in front, huge knick.) Better still, the 3rd umpire should be able to use the available technology to just say to the on filed umpire - Hey that was a shocker - Overturn it now. Let's face it , there is at least 30 seconds between most deliveries these days. IF we are going to use technology, then use it to it's fullest capacity, not 1/2 baked like they do now.

  • Scott on July 14, 2013, 20:03 GMT

    The only change I'd make to the Aus team is Cowan. Hughes to 3, Warner to 6. Actually, I'd bring someone else in for 6 that's not part of the squad and leave Warner out. C Ferguson at 6... Loved this test match. I think we will win this series from here. England surely can't be any luckier than they were to survive this....

  • Mashuq on July 14, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    What sums up my impressions of this match are the marginal lbw decisions that went against Australia. Umpires are human but some were horrendous. Imagine the outcry if England had no reviews left after Dar's failure to give Haddin out! Anyway, the writer is spot on about Cowan's dismissal. So typical of the man's failure to convert starts there can be no doubt that he must go now. I would have written the same about Watson had he not got a score. @Ozcricketwriter on (July 14, 2013, 6:06 GMT), where's your evidence that Khawaja "is in horrendously bad form"? @punter-gilly-haydos-mcgrath-warne, not sure if Bird will reverse it as well as Harris, so the latter for Starc should be immediate. Warner may be OK at #3, but since this is the ideal time to bring Khawaja in and give Smith another game, perhaps at #6. Then if he or Khawaja don't impress and Warner goes well in warm-up games, bring him in. That would be my way to go with the batting, while waiting to see how Bird can be brought in

  • H on July 14, 2013, 12:41 GMT

    @Larry Larkin different decisions from the on-field umpires. That's why I think all this "umpire's call" stuff needs to go. Clipping is either out or not, same for both sides. The ICC needs to issue a ruling one way or the other and settle this issue once and for all.

  • H on July 14, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    @OhhhhhMattyMatty I'm an England fan, but that's nonsense. Smith's a better batsman in my opinion than Bairstow, our number 6. Not a huge amount in it, but Smith looks a better player right now. And he seems to be maturing and improving.

    Hughes needs to move up the order and Clarke needs to bat at 5. He's not a number 4, he's too susceptible outside that off-stump. I guess the problem is Australia have selected way too many openers, even Smith was a late addition to the squad. Not enough middle order players, or even top order guys who can slot in down the order. Warner's batted 6 in First Class cricket but never in Tests, afaik.

    The answer could be Warner at 3 and Hughes at 4 with Clarke at 5 and Smith at 6. There's enough talent there to give the bowlers a chance. Haddin's proving right now he's a quality batsman. Could well win this match for Australia from the brink of defeat.

  • Jessee on July 14, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    Why are people calling for Rogers to be axed? In the first innings he was quite unlucky to be given out and the second innings he was out to a really intelligent piece of bowling from Anderson. He was leading the run scoring in County Cricket before the Ashes began and already had a double-century to his name there. Though Cowan's gotta go, I was a fan as he first entered the team but gradually he's disappointed me, George Bailey deserves his shot I think and if that fails, bring Warner back. Australia were never expected to win this series so a little experimentation is just what the doctor ordered.

  • Thomas on July 14, 2013, 9:58 GMT

    This has been an absorbing test match, to say the least. Even if Australia manage to pull off a miraculous win, they should drop Cowan and Pattinson, and bring in Voges and Bird for Lords.

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