Australia lean towards return of batting coach for Ashes and beyond
A review of the India Test series has unpacked how Australia's dysfunctional batting might have been mitigated by the addition of a specialist mentor
Australia's uncertain top six are likely to be bolstered by a full-time batting coach or specialist consultants for the Ashes and beyond, after a review of the series defeat to India investigated whether the home side's chances of victory against India last summer may have been helped by the presence of an additional skills coach.
In a conclusion that will not surprise those who watched the series closely but will doubtless draw a rueful smile from Graeme Hick, a review of the India Test series helmed by the head of national teams Ben Oliver has unpacked how Australia's dysfunctional batting might have been mitigated by the addition of a specialist mentor. The role of batting coach, held by Justin Langer from 2009 to 2012, Michael Di Venuto from 2013 to 2016 and Hick from 2016 to last year, was made redundant as part of Covid-19 related spending cuts by Cricket Australia in the middle of 2020. At the time, Langer described the decision on Hick as "nothing he's done, it's more the impact of the cost cutting that we're doing".
CA thus entered the India series with a mixture of regular team support staff and others requisitioned from different parts of the system, whether that was the Australian women's team coach Matthew Mott or Queensland's coach Wade Seccombe. In spite of many injuries suffered by the touring team after the early exit of their captain Virat Kohli, the Australian playing and coaching mix was not sufficiently well rounded to win the series, thereby forfeiting a place in the World Test Championship final next month.
One of the key challenges for the batting group entering into the India series was the switch from limited-overs games to Test matches without much in the way of Sheffield Shield fixtures in between. A similar hurdle is likely to be set down by the campaign for the T20 World Cup later this year, which will end a matter of weeks before the home Test schedule.
A flow-on effect of that struggle was the fact that Australia's two outstanding batters, Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith, did not really show their best sides until after the first two Tests in Adelaide and Melbourne. With David Warner injured and still short of full fitness when he finally played at the SCG, a host of other players such as Joe Burns, Marcus Harris, Travis Head and Matthew Wade failed to make an impact; the Indian players occupied four of the top six spots on the series aggregates. While their shortcomings have been publicly underlined by the fact that the national selectors named just three specialist Test bats in their annual contract list - Smith, Labuschagne and Warner plus the allrounder Cameron Green - the pivot back towards a specialist batting coach position is a telling admission that the series result was not entirely down to the players alone.
As a batting coach, Langer has tended to focus mainly on footwork and mental skills, but has found the many responsibilities of the head coaching role make it harder to focus on the one area. Langer has made no secret that he would like to see the likes of Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh around him, as they were on a "no expense spared" World Cup and Ashes campaign in England in 2019.
Other possible names in the mix would include the state coaches Chris Rogers, Adam Voges and Jeff Vaughan - instrumental in working on the batting of the Test captain Tim Paine - while Di Venuto is back in Australia as part of the Tasmanian setup. Ponting and Michael Hussey, among others, will be present on the summer circuit as commentators.
Whatever final form it takes, the role is unlikely to be filled in time for the scheduled July tour of the West Indies and Bangladesh, with the focus to be primarily on Test matches.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig