Australia news July 23, 2013

Shield pitches hurting batsmen - Khawaja


Usman Khawaja has pointed to a decline in the standard of Australian domestic pitches as one of the reasons behind the dire batting that has consigned the Test team to six consecutive defeats, most recently the 347-run humiliation at Lord's. While Khawaja showed signs of personal improvement, recovering from a poor first-innings shot to grind out 54 in the second, the collective failure of the team has led to many questions about why Australian batting has deteriorated.

In recent summers, Sheffield Shield pitches have tended towards favouring bowlers, and Khawaja said he had noticed the gradual loss of each ground's individual pitch characteristics. Where once Australian pitches were the envy of the rest of the world, now it is not uncommon to hear Australian batsman say how much they enjoy batting in England, where all disciplines of batting against pace, swing and spin are catered for.

"I think it's always nice to get a nice variety of wickets," Khawaja said. "I know when I started a few years back the SCG was a big turner, it broke up massively, it's not really the same anymore there. Adelaide used to be the same, then in WA [Western Australia] and Brisbane you'd get wickets that were fast.

"Tassie [Tasmania] used to be a road but it's not anymore, so things have changed a little bit in the last five years. The wickets have lost a bit of their characteristics over the last five years and it'd be really nice to see them come back."

Khawaja's career has reflected the wider theme of a batting decline, even if he has done enough relative to others to earn a Test recall. Lord's was his first match since playing against New Zealand in Hobart in late 2011, but since that summer he has only made another two centuries.

"I played five games last year of Shield cricket for Queensland. I scored a hundred and a couple of 80s. Probably missed a few hundreds," Khawaja said. "So I probably wasn't hard enough on myself personally, but ever since I got dropped from Australia a couple of years ago it's been up and down, trying to find my way back.

"I feel like I'm in a good place now. Hopefully I can make some of those starts into big scores. That's what I was trying to do, but you can't control that. As long as you have the intention in your head that you want to score big, that's all you can really do.

"We had some bad shots [at Lord's], myself included, a few other guys played some bad shots to get out, and you can't do that even in first-class cricket. One guy might be able to get away with it but you can't have three or four players playing bad shots and getting out, you let your whole team down. If you spend time in the middle things get easier, and that was probably the key for us in that first innings. It was a pretty good deck out there in the first innings."

When the matter of choppy scheduling was tossed up to him, Khawaja said he was not overly fussed by moving between first-class, limited-overs and Twenty20 fixtures, an increasingly common pattern for most Australian players due to the Big Bash League's presence as the summer's centrepiece. He also said the batsmen had to set a few simple goals and work towards them over the next three Tests, starting at Old Trafford next week.

"It's all in your head, how you want to play, how you want to go about it," he said. "If you want to play shots you play shots, if you don't you don't, if you want to play straight you play straight. Obviously you practice a few different things but in the end it's still watching the ball and hitting it. I think the schedule was all right last year and I think it's getting better this year. I've got no complaints about it.

"Obviously our batting hasn't been as consistent as our bowling. We seem to take the wickets but we seem to let ourselves down with the bat. We understand how important first innings runs are, especially if you're batting second in a game. That's where you win cricket games. We're not making any excuses. We're not saying it's good enough either. All we can do is go out there and apply our skills the best we can and try and take a bit of the onus on ourselves as batsmen in the top six to put our hands up.

"There hasn't been a hundred scored on tour and that's got to be our first goal going forward. Then go from there. And then, you know, what happens in the games beforehand we can't control. We can only control the next three Test matches."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    I do not believe him.Pitches change so the batsmen have to change as well.Get your eye in watch the ball consistantly the runs will come either faster or slower as long as you score runs

  • Pete on July 25, 2013, 4:39 GMT

    Khawaja didn't look great in his 54 (or rather, England's bowlers completely outclassed Australia's batsmen). But he should get another Test or two to come good or be dropped. Warner at three would be good, protecting Khawaja's tetchiness at six (although Smith looks like the long-term option), but it will be interesting to see whether the selectors will trust Warner there.

  • John on July 25, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    @Meursault - what are you saying - you would rather have teams playing for a draw than an outright? I'm sorry but the pitches are not the result of a scoring system that hasn't changed in recent history. Brisbane-same. The MCG - no longer an ankle biter but that's a good thing. The WACA getting back to it's bouncy best. The SCG - still turning still producing lots of results will turn more in a drought. Adelaide oval - isn't offering the assistance to the spinners on the 4th and 5th days and it isn't quick enough on the first - but still produces results. So not sure I completely agree with Khawaja. My theory - we have lots of outstanding quick bowlers at the moment that are dominating our rather ordinary batsmen.

  • hemanth on July 25, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    It hard to fathom the fact that many here back up the statement made by khwaja. Irrespective of the state of pitches it all comes down to the ability and skills of the batsmen to counter the moving or spinning ball. I am sure he would not have made this statement had australia won the last two test matches. Please make runs with your bat instead of making such ridiculous statements.

  • Ivan on July 25, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    @Rexton87: Couldn't disagree more. Pitches should be made from the local soil with local characteristics. Players need to adapt to the different conditions. That is what makes the game interesting. Think Tennis - Clay, Grass and Hard Court challenge players differently. How boring it would be if they all played on the same surface all the time.

  • Simon on July 25, 2013, 3:26 GMT

    Khawaja is the guy playing regularly on our tracks, so is qualified to offer an opinion. Sadly CA has shown a recent history of ignoring those under contract. They seem to think anything said outside the 'company' line is bringing the game into disrepute. Even if they responded with facts to counter Khawaja, it would be preferable to ignoring his comment. Rexton87 has spent a lot of time fleshing out one of the most ridiculous plans I've ever heard. Cricket is enjoyable because of the diversity of each countries climate, wickets and ground sizes. It's about adapting like players have for 100 years. Khawaja just want a return to traditional Aussie pitch conditions which prevailed in each state.

  • Jeff on July 25, 2013, 0:34 GMT

    What crap ! for far to long Australian wickets have been flat tracks from the late 90's and bowlers were copping a thrashing from day 1 of a game and it's only the last 5 years that now people in charge realised people want to see a contest between bat and ball ! perhaps less T20 crap and learn how to play defensively ! for more than 3 balls in a row !

  • Allan on July 24, 2013, 19:55 GMT

    Its hard to disagree with Khawaja, one of the better spoken and intelligent players going around at the moment

  • Rahul on July 24, 2013, 19:34 GMT

    @Popcorn i echo your words on Khawaja mate, great talent and hopefully will now come through now that selectors are giving him his long awaited chance. As usual very intelligently spoken by Khawaja, and it makes sense, make pitches to give both bowlers and batsman a go, otherwise we end up with batsman who can't face spin.

  • ajith on July 24, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    @Rexton, astroturf made hockey less artistic and more of a power sport. Personally I feel that would be unfortunate if cricket went that way. The fun in cricket is the variety of conditions. Just because the new crop is not good enough does not warrant making pitches the same all over. As for the guys commenting on the Aussies bowling make up for the next is not that, they need to learn how to bat. Simple. Was bad in India, and continuing in England.