Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2009

The Australian batsmen must stand up

In the hours following yesterday`s play, all of the focus has been on the Australian bowlers and the ease with which England were allowed to play them, particularly in the last session which yielded around 180 runs. There`s little doubt that the Australian bowling attack let England get away but there is some context missing which would not totally excuse the quality of bowling on offer but, at least, provide a riposte to those who insist the largest problems for Australia lie in their bowling attack.

The Australian bowlers were subjected to a hefty workload in the first innings against a quick-scoring batting line-up on a very true pitch. All of the pace attack bowled 20 or more overs, Hilfenhous with 31. This was without Nathan Hauritz`s bowling due to a dislocated middle finger on his bowling hand courtesy of Andrew Strauss. That England `only` got to 450 is a testament to how well the bowling unit covered for the actually missing Hauritz and the virtually missing Johnson. Had England been allowed to escape to 600, which they were threatening to, Australia would simply have been out of the match from that point onwards. 450 meant they had a chance of staying in it.

Imagine the dismay of the bowlers who, on said flat pitch, watched as the batsmen threw away their innings` one after the other. The number of mis-timed pulls would have made even Andrew Hilditch question where their heads were at as the chaos unfolded in wicket order;

Hughes: wild swipe caught down the leg-side
Ponting: tied down by tight bowling
Katich: seemingly set to pass 50 and having just batted Australia out of early trouble, decided to hook Onions down to fine-leg only to be caught by, albeit, a great catch but somewhat an injudicious stroke
Hussey: had just passed 50 and lost Katich, average leave to a ball which ran up the slope
Clarke: charitably, a very tame chip to short mid-wicket
North: needed to knuckle down, pull wasn`t on, dragged on to the stumps
Johnson: pull to mid-wicket, again, when the side needed some more introspective batting (and he`s capable of it)
Haddin: high bouncer, pulled to short mid-wicket

After only 60-odd overs, the bowlers were out in the field again, 220 runs behind in the match and expected to take wickets a bowler short. They received some good news when Hauritz appeared at the bowling crease and took a couple of quick wickets and, certainly, in the middle session against Bopara and Pietersen, they bowled very well without luck (or support from the field) but the threads stitching together the bowling effort unraveled quickly in the final session as Siddle and Hilfenhous tired. Hauritz was taken to by Prior and others and Johnson did little to improve his day, struggling to consistently hit a line or length anywhere near being threatening.

However, all the problems with the bowling mask serious issues with the batting. Whilst the going was good in Cardiff, the Australian batting line-up smacked the living daylights out of the English bowlers but in favourable conditions here, couldn`t get anywhere near 300 after their bowlers did just enough to keep them in the match. Cardiff`s batting papered over the inexperience and lack of grit seemingly inherent in the Australian batting.

Now is the time, guys. No-one is saying the bowlers are without fault (some emnity must come their way for conceding 450 in first innings) but the larger problem lies with the mettle of the Australian batting line-up. There are two days to bat (presuming England don`t bat for a period in the morning session) and a win is off the cards. South Africa proved it could be done last year at the same ground and the pitch isn`t playing any serious tricks yet. There`s a sniff of bad weather around so if there`s anyone in the Australian team for whom a return on investment is due, it`s the batting line-up.

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