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

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

Daniel Brettig at Queen's Park Oval

April 15, 2012

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Ed Cowan latches onto a pull, West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Port-of-Spain, April 15, 2012
Ed Cowan has not looked out of place in Test cricket but has yet to fully cash in © AFP

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plays and misses and a few edges, while he evaded dismissal in the first over of the match due to an appeal for a catch withdrawn so quickly that the umpires were unable to consult TV replays that suggested he was lbw.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

RSS Feeds: Daniel Brettig

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Meety 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by   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!

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by   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.

Posted by zenboomerang 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...

Posted by   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.

Posted by Seers 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by Meety on (April 16, 2012, 11:58 GMT)

@Sriraj G.S - "...started playing his cricket as an opener." I assume you mean youth cricket or maybe even Grade cricket. Khawaja by my count has opened ONCE for NSW. Since Khawaja has been on the seen the main openers have been Hughes & Jaques, with Katich, Watto & Mail having stints. @Stan Prokopiou - I don't think there is any glaring reason, there was talk he is suss against the short ball, but I think its mainly been timing of his career. Even though Oz have dropped off since the 15 yrs of dominance the middle order has still remained fairly strong over the last 4 yrs. I would imagine his more mature performances of late in the ODI side may give him a bit of a boost, but I think a Baggy Green has probably passed him by. IMO - he was a worth a try somewhere! @Simoc - define "an inform Marsh"????? We do have options that are as good as Marsh, the trouble is we require better (FC ave above 40), in that case D Hussey, M Cosgrove & Khawaja & Burns & Lynn.

Posted by   on (April 16, 2012, 10:54 GMT)

@Meety: Khawaja started playing his cricket as an opener. He didn't get an opportunity to open in FC simply because of their riches esp Hughes, Jacques, Katich, Maddinson. I have no doubt Khawaja has the ability to take the opener's slot - his (in)consistency is the most disappointing factor.

Posted by   on (April 16, 2012, 9:43 GMT)

Can anyone tell me why David Hussey has never been given a chance at Test llevel?

Posted by gopikrishnar on (April 16, 2012, 9:41 GMT)

No.3 is not an all rounder's position.Clarke should come in at 3 and allow Watson to move down,possibly into No.5 which is Clarke's position at the moment.This would give Watson more breathing space if he is required to bowl a lot of overs.

Posted by Simoc on (April 16, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

Watson and Clarke are technically the best batsmen in the Australian team and Pontings time to move on is very close. I reckon if Oz win the second test play Forrest in the third test and give Ponting a spell to enjoy the scenic West Indies. There are no batsman in Australia apart from an inform Shaun Marsh, who look test quality at present. That can change quickly and hopefully will.

Posted by Meety on (April 16, 2012, 9:11 GMT)

@mari2619 - usual poor comments. Cowan is a gifted writer & I couldn't care less if he was writing about 3rd grade Hobart cricket! @landl47 - way too early to be doing that sort of analysis on Warner, you take a batsmens top scores out of any analysis & they look threadbare. The fact is he has two 100s in a short career thus far. He still averages over 45, coupled witth this series tough on stroke makers, he is in my test team for the home summer even if he finishes with binary-like scores over the next 3 innings. @RandyOZ - apart from some List A games, how many matches do you think Khawaja has opened in? The answer is very close to ZERO. Making him open in Tests with no experience in the role is IMO setting him up for an epic fail. I think his technic MAY handle that role, but it's too much to ask.

Posted by RandyOZ on (April 16, 2012, 8:46 GMT)

Put simply, this is not a test standard opening partnership. Marsh has proven that a first class average of 30-something is not good enough, no matter how good your start is to test cricket. Cowan should be dropped immediately and usman Khawaja brought straight in. By the time the next Ashes rolls around I will expect to see Hughes and khawaja opening.

Posted by schleppo on (April 16, 2012, 8:38 GMT)

I believe that the partnership of Warner and Cowan will continue for many years. Like Stackpole and Redpath of past they will be able to start the innings in the manner that aussies enjoy. We all know through stats that Cowan can score big in trying conditions and this will come, be patient critics and enjoy the ride.

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (April 16, 2012, 8:18 GMT)

warner is a good but i seriously doubt ed cowan's ability as a test class opener , but with no clear replacement he will continue for few more years.. watson is no number 3 batsman , i really think khawaja/forrest/bailey should play at one down.. they have a fantastic pace attack and decent spinners , how khawaja , forrest ,shaun marsh & bailey shape up in the next few years will determine australia's fate

Posted by ihaq1 on (April 16, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

australian openers of teh past have always played aggressively...warner probably has to play according to his aggressive style...cowan seems tobe bogged down as if he cannot get teh line of teh bowl right...or his orders might be to let warner be aggressive and sort of keep his side of teh wicket...one feels that they are not as confident as they should be...they should go for their strokes as australian top order batsmen have always done so...and let watson, ponting, clarke, hussey rebuild if they fail...they have a great quartet to follow although Forrest a relatively successful beginner can be tried out as an opener with watson or in place of ponting...

Posted by satish619chandar on (April 16, 2012, 5:51 GMT)

What Australia lack is a good No.3 who can hold the innings together.. Hussey and Clarke didin't fit very well in top four and also, with them coming up, it left the lower order without much experience.. Why not have Watto at 6 and Punter back at 3 until he wishes to move out? Anyway, Watto can max score some 50+ runs and by coming at 6, it will be more useful rather than creating a opening by playing in top order.. Just try Punter at 3 for couple of matches and if its not in his terms, move him to 5 and have mike Hussey at 3.. A no.3 batsman need to be a guy who can bat long and bring centuries..

Posted by   on (April 16, 2012, 5:25 GMT)

I have no doubt in my mind David Warner is a future star in the making. He will fail a few times - I am pretty sure he'll be dropped once in his career in the next year or two - before he comes back like Langer/Hayden/Martyn/Waugh/Ponting et al did. Cowan, on the other hand, is older and I don't think he will given as many opportunities so he really needs to cash in now. Personally, I really hope this partnership blossoms over the next few years. I like the chalk and cheese approach both these batsmen bring to their game. If they reach their full potential it'll make Aus a lot stronger than they are at the moment.

Posted by dananiki on (April 16, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

Comment number 2, just who would you pick instead of Warner, Cowan, Lyon and Wade????? I look forward to your reply!

Posted by Meety on (April 16, 2012, 4:49 GMT)

@MinusZero - "...Your No.3 should be your best batsman..." - that is an Ozzy tradition (not always followed), however, not really followed by any other teams except NZ (sometimes), & SL (currently). Most countries like to go with a #3 that is part opener, part middle order. Ian Chappell likes the #3 to be the best batsmen in the line up.

Posted by landl47 on (April 16, 2012, 4:49 GMT)

Warner has the capability of being a brilliant player and might develop into one, but at the moment he lacks consistency. He's made 2 test centuries, but only 209 runs for 10 times out in the rest of his test innings. He's the Mitch Johnson of batting- how long do you play him when he only succeeds once in every six innings? Cowan's a journeyman, not test class, never will be. Watson has reached 50 in tests 20 times, but only has 2 centuries. Those are the stats of a #6 or 7, not a number 3. With Ponting 37 years old and Hussey 37 next month and no test-class replacements in sight, Aus has a huge problem. Clarke's done a fantastic job keeping them in games up to now, but how much longer can he do it? The bowling is OK and if Pattinson and Cummins kick on it will be more than that. The great thing they have going for them is that they're Australians and never, ever give less than 100% or concede victory to the other side. Other countries need to learn from that.

Posted by   on (April 16, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

The comments so far make me laugh! Who would replace Ponting? Cowan? Warner? There is not the depth in the batting stocks there was in the Mid 90's early 2000's ... No Lehmanns, Laws, Blewetts, Martyns, Loves, Divenuto's etc. Our bowling stocks are strong however!

Posted by Mary_786 on (April 16, 2012, 3:41 GMT)

The worse thing about Cowan is that he talks too much about himself in the media and why would you release a book ever year when you are not even established in International cricket yet, score some runs first Cowan before you talk yourelf up.

Posted by Mary_786 on (April 16, 2012, 3:38 GMT)

Cowan doesn't look comfortable at this level and he bats too slowly putting pressure on the other batsman. Punter's days look numbered as well.

Posted by RJHB on (April 16, 2012, 0:54 GMT)

I do not agree Taij Chand, those guys ARE the best we have in Australia for now. I'd sure like to know who is better for each of those guys please?! We definitely do not have any better openers around with perhaps only Quiney from the Vics possibly being a match, but certainly not better. Lyon needs to do more but again who is better? Wade has played one test and done little wrong. Who is better?? I agree with the article though, if Australia are to advance in the world order, the openers plus Watson need to start causing some damage. Starts are great but against good sides its the centuries that count. And for the love of God, will someone please teach Warner how to bloody SWEEP!!!!!!!!

Posted by leggetinoz on (April 16, 2012, 0:45 GMT)

I have a different thought about the whole Clarke at #3 debate. I think we get hung up on traditions to much, I look at it this way. Clarke is great against the spinners and Watson is better against pacemen. As much as i would love to see Watson down the order, i don't think Clarke should move up to #3 and unless we can find a good replacement at 3 than Watson should stay. It just makes sense for Watson to come in when the paceman are firing with the new ball and Clarke to come in with the older ball and more likely a spinner. It takes advantages of any strengths and weaknesses and the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

Posted by gibbons on (April 16, 2012, 0:22 GMT)

Is there an obligatory 'what's wrong with Australia' article to be posted each test? It was Watson during the first, the openers during the second... Good thing it's a short series, or they'd run out of players. And before we cue the flurry of 'Australia aren't the best team in the world, wahhhhh...' responses, is anyone actually saying that they are? Can't it be enough for now to, y'know, have won a few matches in a row without having every man and his dog jump on their backs to try and make sure they don't get any pretensions of being talented?

Posted by straight_drive4 on (April 16, 2012, 0:22 GMT)

@hatsforbats - i agree 100%

Posted by Meety on (April 15, 2012, 23:16 GMT)

I think the Cowan/Warner partnership is a pass at this point. Cowan needs a century before the end of this series to ink his name in.

Posted by MinusZero on (April 15, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

Cowan needs to get some runs, but the fact is, who would replace him. Watson again out for over 50 but less than 100. He needs to be in the middle order. The scores he gets are for a part time batsman, not and specialist batsman. He needs to start getting big scores or be moved. Your No.3 should be your best batsman....it isnt and has never been Watson. Clarke should be at 3, Hussey to 4, Watson 5 and someone else (not Ponting) at 6. Ponting should have retired after the India tests. If he retires now he is going to go out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Posted by alexbraae on (April 15, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

Give these two an extended run, and they could become the backbone of a future Australian batting lineup. We need to remember that Ponting and Hussey don't have long left in their career, and some stability will be needed after they go.

Posted by HatsforBats on (April 15, 2012, 22:25 GMT)

I just hope that these two are given a decent (and lengthy) opportunity to develop their partnership. Maybe Warner just needs to attack the spinners; most times he should be well set before a spinner starts, in which case he should be in a good position to attack. On pitches like this one where spin will come even with the new ball, play with positive intent and just get off strike. Cowan has shown he can pull & drive beautifully, he needs to trust in the skills that got him into the test side.

Posted by   on (April 15, 2012, 22:11 GMT)

As I said numerous times in the past : Australia is far from being the number one Test team, especially compared to England and South Africa. Their top order is deeply under qualified plus Ponting is longgggggggggggggggggg past his best. Can't see him playing in the next Ashes. Cowan,Warner, Lyons, and Wade are NOT the best in Australia. The selectors can do much better, but are not for whatever reasons.

Posted by popcorn on (April 15, 2012, 22:03 GMT)

I do not think David Warner has the temprament to be a long -term Test Opener.Shane Watson and Ed Cowan DO.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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