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