West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Port-of-Spain, 1st day April 15, 2012

Handy openers need to be hefty

Australia's openers have done a good job in shielding the middle order but now they need to covert useful partnerships into more substantial figures

Upon being chosen together to open the batting for Australia, David Warner and Ed Cowan were quickly dubbed, via the hackneyed parlance of the deadline journalist, the odd couple. Five Tests and one innings in, and the truth is Warner and Cowan have indeed made a quite odd start to their international union. There has been one mighty and match-winning stand, against India in Perth, a small fleet of handy starts, and a couple of all too brief ones.

So far, their collective return as a partnership has been satisfactory, buttressing the innings against early losses more often than not, and keeping the strokemakers Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey away from the potential swerve, seam and bounce of the new ball. However the problem mounting over the course of nine innings is the fact that the loss of one opener has invariably been followed by the exit of the other.

In Port-of-Spain, on a pitch that proved worthy of the mistrust built up among the visitors in the two days leading up to the second Test, Warner and Cowan added 53 before the former was confounded by Shane Shillingford's first over of sharp spin and snicked an unsure drive to slip. Warner's innings was less than fluent, punctuated by plenty of plays and misses and a few edges, while he evaded dismissal in the first over of the match due to an appeal for a catch withdrawn so quickly that the umpires were unable to consult TV replays that suggested he was lbw.

Cowan, by contrast, looked sure-footed and firm in his judgement of what to play and what to leave. Twice he arrowed pull shots through square leg, and after Warner's demise pinged one princely cover drive through the field. Yet he was not to make it to lunch, beaten for pace and line by the decidedly slippery Kemar Roach and given lbw. As befits a man who takes pride in knowing where his off stump is, Cowan queried whether or not he had been struck outside the line. But as in Sydney against Zaheer Khan at the beginning of the year, replays showed the call to be marginal, enough to uphold the umpire Marais Erasmus' original verdict.

A score of 65 for 2 was no disgrace on a surface as capricious as this one. Nevertheless, Australia's advance as an international side requires opening batsmen capable of more than handy starts, and both Warner and Cowan have matters they need to address in order to be more consistently capable of doing so. Personal chemistry is not one of them - they have developed a decent rapport together. Cowan responds to Warner's mix of brashness and humour off the field and a keen desire to succeed on it, while Warner has drawn strength from Cowan's life experience, technical acumen and awareness of the wider world.

Instead, Warner and Cowan have to look within themselves for answers to their problems. In Warner's case it is a weakness against decent spin bowling; in Cowan's, an inability thus far to clear his mind long enough to play the long innings he has shown himself capable of in first-class cricket. The answers to their questions may, in fact, be found in looking a little more at the ways of each other.

First, to Warner. Since beginning in Test matches against New Zealand in Brisbane last year, he has demonstrated a sound method against the new ball, interspersed with natural episodes of aggression that result either in boundaries, edges or a collective "oooh" from the opposition slips cordon. Most of the time, Warner's approach has been successful, harrying the bowlers into error while not giving them the impression that he may get out any ball. It reached its zenith in January at the WACA ground, where his sprint to a century with a star-burst of sixes would not have been possible without a handful of wonderfully crisp drives against Zaheer Khan with the new ball.

However the fading of the shine and the introduction of spin has commonly created problems for Warner, bound as he seems to avoid the more outlandish tactics he resorts to against slow bowling in Twenty20 matches. Opening the batting in T20s, Warner wrong-foots spin bowlers by switch-punching with tremendous power and timing. He has previously stated that he would be unlikely to do so in Tests. As it is, his batting against spin lacks conviction, and it did not take long for Shillingford to find a way past him in Trinidad - five balls in fact.

Warner could do worse than speak with Cowan about how he combated his own weakness against slow bowling while playing for New South Wales. Early on in his career, Cowan was left shotless and often hopeless against the off breaks of the onetime Australia Test spinner Dan Cullen, before finding a method that relied on close watching of the ball and the use of the sweep to break up a slow man's line and length. So accomplished at the switch-hit, Warner may find himself a quite natural exponent of the more orthodox swipe to midwicket.

Cowan, meanwhile, has added plenty to the Australian dressing room with his good humour and evenness of temper. As his state captain George Bailey has observed, Cowan thinks deeply about the game but does not allow that introspection to darken his mood around team-mates. That said, it is possible that the cerebral is impeding the instinctive when he bats. Cowan ascended to Australia's Test XI after a run of first-class centuries that demonstrated an uncluttered mind and a sensible approach. Yet his appearances for Australia so far have not allowed him to quite reach that zone.

Warner is a man of simpler pleasures, but had forged the right Test match approach with long hours in the nets, and the advice of luminaries including Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Virender Sehwag. Organised as he is, Cowan may need to go on a similar search between now and Australia's next Test assignment against South Africa. As contrasting batsmen and characters, Warner and Cowan are ideally suited to Australia's needs, but they must find a way to go from handy contributors to hefty ones.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 17, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    @Meety, precisely, none of the criticism seems to be within any perspective of what's being played out on the field. I agree, Bravo did look good, I wonder though how much of that was the still hard ball coming onto the bat a bit better. The longer these innings go the harder it seems to get.

  • Andrew on April 17, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    @Jono Makim - you are 100% right. If we were losing or players were reeling off 100s left right & centre, then you could say Cowan & Warner are under pressure. As you said, nobody looks in complete control (although D Bravo looked the goods late yesterday). Any pitch that has variable bonce on Day 1 means that it will be tough runs. Husseys 70 odd (whilst fairly ugly) is worth 150 on any other pitch.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    I think Warner and Watson should be opening the batting. Peter Forrest deserves a chance at test level, he is a much better player than Cowan. I would like to see Khwaja back at some point.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 14:53 GMT

    Gees, I would really hate to be in the trenches with some of you blokes. Fact, Australia has won five on the trot! It is so early on in the Test careers of Warner and Cowan that you just cannot tell, not with any certainty, but gees, they are going along pretty well. Poor old Watto, the guy is leading the run count in the series and people are stilling trying to oust him, he has only been to the wicket three times and twice made fifty! The whole point is, Clarke and Hussey are also battling, despite appearing to be in reasonable form, to a) Get a start and b) to go on with it even when they do. Ponting can't even get a start. You are just never in on these pitches and I think one battling ton from Chanderpaul in 5 innings confirms that. Lighten up, critics!

  • Roo on April 16, 2012, 14:39 GMT

    What hysterics... "Carnage in the Ozzy bowling ranks is at epic proportions"... Listening to Pat Howard describing how Oz bowling injuries are at present at an all time low compared to over the last 10 years shows how much these armchair critic's know... Johnson is back bowling after surgery for a piece of metal that was removed from his toe (been there since he was a kid) but didn't make the AIS squad... If he pulls up well after the IPL & county T20, I would considered him for the ODI's in Eng in June/July...

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    @Meety, thanks for your response. Dave really hasn't anyone's 1st class average to be jealous about. I even think now he should be given a shot although he's 34. I have no confidence in either Cowan, Warner (as an opener) or Watson as a No 3. I'm just not sure who I would drop yet. I would not drop Ponting his average may have dropped in his last few innings but after Clarke and Hussey he's our best Test batsman. I think that shows how dire our test batting situation is. All the newcomers are failing and are all far behind in quality and number than that greats that stopped 5 or so years ago. I reckon our seem attack is World class with the recent addition of Pattinson and Cummins but to regain the Ashes we are definately going to go into games with an extra batsman. Watson should definately be at no 5.

  • Roo on April 16, 2012, 13:07 GMT

    @Sriraj G.S. - spot on... Many unschooled comments on this forum... @Stan Prokopiou - No... You got any idea?... @gopikrishnar - think everyone sees Watson as a middle order batter, but Clarke?... Clarke himself picks the batting order, so ask him ;) ... @Simoc - interesting idea, but I will wait for pigs to fly... lol...

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 12:46 GMT

    @Dananiki : If you can justify Ponting and Hussey, why not Hogg's. There is absolutely no-one else in the country. And why do you think Haddin "declined" to go back to the WI ? It is because he was embarrassed by the selectors' decision to play Wade as their number 1 keeper/batsman. Anyways, Tim Payne can and will take the number 1 spot just as soon as he is injury free. S.Marsh, P.Hugues and Kawaja are much more valuable assets to invest on rather than Cowan,Warner. Test Cricket is different from T20 and 50 Overs Cricket. Cowan have no technique and Warner's favor the shorter form of the game. Hope that answers you.

  • Matt on April 16, 2012, 12:09 GMT

    Temperament, style, skill, knowledge, technique, teamwork, blah blah blah. At the end of the day a good opening batsman needs to score centuries and average at least in the high 30s, preferably 40s. Cowan is below par. I hope he improves but his FC avge is not great. Hughes is by far the best option and I think its sad how quick everyone was to dump him. He's very young with a FC avge near 50 and 3 test centuries (and all overseas!). I don't think any other Australian that young has done that since Ponting? He should be being given further experience now to iron out his faults before the next big series in England, India and South Africa (and yes he gets out in the slips a bit but he still gets more runs than other batsmen with their own problems). Get him back asap.

  • Marcio on April 16, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    People need to lay off some of these players. e.. Warner. I remember two seasons ao reading he wanted to play first class cricket, and many doubted he ever would. Then he was elevated to the test team with almost no first class cricket experince. The big picture is he has been a great sucess. He is learning the trade in the international arena: scoring 4 centuries in total this season, which is pretty damn good for a guy thought to be a T20 specialist not long ago. Lay off the guy! He will only get better, but he will fail many times before he reaches his peak.

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