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North looks to develop consistency

Marcus North has had an up and down Test career so far, often getting out early in his innings, but he is determined to change his fortunes

Marcus North struck 19 fours in his century, Board President's XI v Australians, 2nd day, Chandigarh, September 26, 2010

Marcus North needs a good tour of India to ensure he makes Australia's squad for the Ashes  •  AFP

"If I had a technical issue, I wouldn't have been converting those hundreds," Marcus North said as we talked about his scoring patterns two days before the start of Australia's tour game against the Board President's XI. North has scored 21 or fewer in 19 of his 28 Test innings, and 100 or more in four of the remaining nine.
That said, North admits to a flaw, but believes it is more mental. "Probably been something I have had throughout my whole career," he said. "Something I am working pretty hard at. It is a part of my game, but I am trying to lose that tag a little bit. I have been working very hard at making sure I get through the first 20 to 40 balls. It's important for most batsmen, but for me it's a bit more important."
In the tour game, at least, North stayed true to the word, seeing off, carefully and correctly, the first half an hour of his innings. He came in to bat when both Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke had fallen in the same over. The disheartened BP's XI fielders and the small crowd had found their voice. The density of close-in fielders increased. However, they all stayed uninterested for the next three hours.
"It is maybe a mental thing," North said. "Making sure I am concentrating very hard in the early stages. Just try to start consistently, have the same approach to every innings, and watch the ball harder, get through that period."
Once he had got through that period, North displayed a fine array of strokes, the cut and the pull that should suit a Western Australian, the extra-cover drive, and also the slog-sweep upon reaching his century.
Of all the players in Australia's squad, it was important for North to get the tour off to a good start. He had scored 36 runs in four innings in the two Tests against Pakistan. The presence of Phil Hughes and Steven Smith in the squad threatens him the most. Hughes can open the innings, pushing Shane Watson down to No. 6. Smith can bowl legspin, and bat at No. 6 or 7. Then he had Andrew Hilditch saying this to keep him on his toes: "Marcus would be aware, as any cricketer is, that he needs to perform well and obviously his consistency is something that we'd be looking for him to improve."
North admits to being under pressure to keep his place, though in not as many words. "I feel all of us, every player in the Australian team, has to keep performing," North said. "So I have to keep performing. I am not alone. Looking at that batting line-up, I am the least experienced. So probably my position in the team is going to be looked at a little bit more often.
"[But] I control my own destiny. I need to keep making runs, as well as anybody else. If I keep making runs, I know I have a future in the Australian cricket team. I am looking forward to the start of the next week."
The start of the next week will indeed be important for North. For the happenings in the coming weeks will determine if he plays in the Ashes, something he is desperate to do. "I was part of the 2009 trip when we lost," North said. "I would want to do everything to be part of the campaign to win it back."
North rates playing India in India as high as playing in the Ashes or playing South Africa in South Africa. Which is just as well. For, like the rest of the team, he will do well to keep his mind on this series and not the Ashes.
North's technique will be tested thoroughly here. He doesn't possess the softest hands in the business. He has a high back-lift. He doesn't quite favour the sweep shot, or so it seemed in today's effort when he swept only thrice in making his first 59 runs. The standard of bowling will obviously be higher in the Tests. If he walks out at the loss of two wickets in one over in Bangalore, the crowd will be in his ear too.
If he does walk in during a crisis in Tests, it will provide him an opportunity to counter his other criticism - that many of his runs have come in flourishing team innings, and not floundering ones.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo