Batting: Australia's biggest bane in recent times


Coming into the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford on the back of two resounding wins in the first two Tests, England got a reality check of sorts. A galvanised Australian side, which was desperate to prove that it was not there just to ensure the record books were kept in order, came up with a spectacular performance and, but for untimely showers on the final day, would have in all likelihood taken it.
Jubilation and excitement were writ largely on the faces of fans and former Australian players almost throughout the entirety of the third Test. However, 10 days ago the same were looking forlorn and lost. The script couldn't have changed this dramatically or this drastically for an Australian side, which for the first time since 1984, lost six Tests on a trot. Starting with a Chris Rogers' offensive tour de force that set up the perfect platform for Michael Clarke to score what was arguably one of his greatest Test tons to an incisive spell by Ryan Harris in the few overs that were available on the fifth day, the Test belonged to Australia right from the word 'go'.
But, one can't help but wonder if commentators, fans and even former players, many of whom experienced the travails of the game first-hand, are reading too much into what could have been nothing more than an aberration. To juxtapose one extraordinary performance against close to a dozen or so not so flattering ones in the last year would seem slightly illogical to put it mildly.
Bob Massie, who, even in the wildest of his dreams, could not have thought to announce his arrival in the international scene in such breathtaking fashion, snared 16 wickets on debut only to snare a meagre 15 in the remaining five and to slip rather quietly into oblivion therafter. Of course, Massie's feat is inbued in Australian cricket lore to this day but people who saw him single-handedly dismantle the hapless English line-up in 1972 were left with, to borrow from Sidney Sheldon's 'Master of the Game', that two letter word so full of futility 'if'.
Before the Australians or even the English, for that matter, start making bold claims, they need to take many anomalies such as that of Massie into account. Was the Test at Old Trafford really the beginning of an Australian resurgence or was it nothing more than an English debacle? For those who started watching cricket in the 1990s and the 2000s, the whole discussion centred around an Australian comeback might have a surrealistic ring to it. Of course, this only goes on to show that Newton's theory of gravity applies to cricket as well. Those who go to the top, at one instant of time or another, need to hit the nadir and it looks like after West Indies, it is Australia's turn this time around.
No longer in contention for the Ashes urn, Australia, by pulling two Tests back in succession, can show that there was little to choose between the two sides. If Australia indeed manages something that colssal, for it does seem so, then this is sure to rank alongside its historic comeback after the 1986-87 Ashes, a series Australia lost but one that heralded the beginning of a 16-year-long domination of the Australians in cricket's oldest tournament.
Among the many positives that Austalia can take from the game at Old Trafford are Clarke's return to form, Harris' swinging spells and signs of Warner's immense talent. The one thing that will continue to gnaw at Clarke is the prologed run of Shane Watson's woeful form. The one player who is sure to be more disappointed with his failures than anyone is certainly Watson himself who surely has at least a vague idea about the talent that he possesses in such abundance. His career statistics do not do him justice and tactically speaking, the move to promote him up the order will rank alongside one of the game's greatest blunders.
That without the services of James Pattinson, a bowler who has been delivering the goods on a consistent basis for Australia, the side managed to prove formidable with the ball speaks volumes about Harris and co. The bowling, although no throwback to the days of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, has never really been the concern for Australia. The problem has and is likely to be for some more time, batting.
Of the top seven, only Clarke and Rogers possess both the skills and the temperament to bat for long periods. Neither of them are burgeoning youngsters and the dearth of batsmen who can perform on a regular basis in Tests bodes ill for Australia. With his expansive range of strokes and reasonably sound technique, one would reckon that Watson ought to have been more successful but the figures point to the contrary.
If Australia is to start winning Tests on a regular basis and if it hopes to nurture any hopes of snatching the Ashes urn away from England when her majesty's men tour Australia later this year, then these are the problems that Australia needs to address.

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