This is the closest representation of Australia’s innings we can find. But why? Why would men whose job it is to bat – and who have been selected because they are supposedly the best at that task – repeatedly try and edge balls that weren’t going on to hit the stumps?
It’s not the first time. It’s far from being the first time. In 2008 we wrote a piece called ‘Moving ball! Moving ball!‘ about Australia’s spectacularly braindead approach in swinging, seaming conditions. Three years later, they were bowled out for 47 by South Africa, with Brad Haddin delivering one of the finest dismissals in Test history. The ball moves; Australia fail. It’s become almost a rule.
It’s the IPL’s fault!
It’s not the IPL’s fault. Despite what some people seem to believe, the Indian Premier League doesn’t actually make batsmen worse. It makes batsmen way better at laying bat on ball in relatively straightforward conditions, but it doesn’t actually dissolve the ability to identify deliveries which are highly likely to get you out if you play at them. What may be more pertinent is that there are only so many days in a year and time spent playing in the IPL is time that isn’t spent combating ‘nibble’ at the County Ground in Derby.
That’s fair enough. It makes sense that this is what Aussie batsmen do nowadays, but there are still consequences to receiving that slightly different education.
Once upon a time, Australia got to pick from the best batsmen in county cricket. Men like Brad Hodge, Stuart Law and Chris Rogers could average 60 in the Championship and they still wouldn’t get selected. With those sorts of batting resources, touring England became a piece of piss.
Was it some sort of golden generation, or was it simply that the top Australian batsmen of that time got a breadth of first-class experience which allowed them to score in English conditions? Straight and true pitches Down Under for half a year and then cruel, capricious seamers in England for the other half gives you a pretty good grounding for Ashes cricket. It doesn’t do a right lot for your ability to combat spinners on the subcontinent of course, but you can’t have everything. That’s the nature of cricket.
The modern Australian batsman isn’t devoid of experience in England. Several of them have played club cricket; most have had some sort of truncated spell with a county. It’s just that they don’t know swinging, seaming conditions quite as well as those who came before them. They lack the same conviction, they’re more liable to panic and they’re more prone to falling back on habits which basically prove suicidal when the ball does a bit. Throw in the fact that when you’re playing at the top level, even the smallest weaknesses can be ruthlessly exploited and bad things happen.
Ten men who are good at hitting the ball
If anything it’s homogeneity that’s an issue. Earlier this week, Chris Rogers described himself as being a batsman who relies on decision-making. He said that most of his team-mates were different and had been selected largely because of their skill. The thing is, sometimes all of the skill in the world isn’t enough.
Sometimes the ball swings and seams and you’d need superhuman reflexes to middle it. In those circumstances, unless it’s going to hit the stumps, you’re better off leaving it. If only one guy out of 11 has that mentality, you find yourself with a lot of eggs in the ‘hopefully everyone’s got superhuman reflexes’ basket. It’s not a wholly reliable basket.