Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Future of Australian Test Cricket - the batsmen.

Having seen the way he's batted over the last couple of days, it's hard to believe that Ricky Ponting is approaching the end of his career. Crunching drives down the ground, searing pull shots through mid-wicket, his majestic 221 at Adelaide, during which he became only the third man to manage 13 000 runs in tests, was a showcase of his endless flair, style and talent. With no plans of immediate retirement, we can enjoy watching the great man for at least a little longer, but what does the long-term future hold for Australian cricket?

Phil Hughes:

Phil Hughes is one of those players who I always want to do well. At his best, Hughes pounces on any sort of width, crashing unsuspecting bowlers through the off-side with ease. At his worst, his aversion to the leg side is horribly exposed, sometimes looking out of his depth at the highest level. Sadly, his erratic performances to date, have left him uncertain of an extended run in the team, recently losing his place to Ed Cowan after a string of failures against the Indians. This is not to say, however, that his short career hasn't yielded a number of memorable moments. Labelled as the 'new Matthew Hayden' as he debuted against South Africa in Johannesburg, as he bravely took guard to face the first ball of the test from Dale Steyn, it seemed that at least his confidence matched that of his predecessor. As he traipsed back to the pavilion 4 balls later, whether that confidence was justified, came into question. Given another chance in the second innings, a classy 75 gave his doubters something to think about, but after smashing back-to-back hundreds in the second test at Durban, and a prolific spell playing 4 day cricket for Middlesex in the run up to the Ashes, Hughes was Australia's next big thing.

After looking horribly outclassed by England's bowlers at Cardiff and Lord's however, Hughes found himself watching the rest of Australia's Ashes campaign from the sidelines, and has been in and out of the side ever since. His struggles have continued in the home Ashes series, and his 126 in Colombo was the only beacon of light in an otherwise poor tour of Sri Lanka. Indeed, Hughes has shown shades of true brilliance, most notably his scorching unbeaten 86 in a run chase against New Zealand. However, his lack of consistency means he's never managed to concrete his place in the test side. Whether it's a technical issue, or a mental issue, i'm not sure. I'm inclined to think it comes down to technique. Hughes does very much favour the offside, and whereas he can perhaps get away with it in domestic cricket, the top bowlers at test level have had no problems with exploiting it. Personally, I think that Hughes has a long future in the game. He obviously has bags of natural talent, and with a bit of work with the staff at NSW, i'm confident he can re-emerge a more complete player, and forge a long and successful career.

David Warner:

Having never previously played first class cricket, Warner announced himself with a 43-ball 89 in a T20I against South Africa, and has been a permanent fixture in Australia's crash, bang, wallop XI ever since. Prolific in the IPL, dynamic in the field, a more than handy leg-spinner and capable of batting both right and left handed, Warner's aptitude for the game is undeniable. For a long time however, questions were asked over his ability to transform his aggression and success in the shorter form, to a more measured but equally fruitful approach in the longer form. The truth is, Warner has stuck two fingers up to patience, and proceeded to score a mountain of runs at his own natural tempo. After an outstanding first-class season with NSW, in only his second test, Warner carried his bat in a breezy 123 against the old enemy New Zealand. Add to this a blistering 180 against India on a tricky wicket at the WACA, and it's clear that Warner has taken to test cricket like a duck to water. The fact that his 383 runs at an average of 63.83 have come at a strike-rate in excess of 85, makes his achievement all the more impressive. Warner's potential is undeniable.

Without wanting to take anything away from Warner's efforts however, in my opinion, a couple of good knocks, against a couple of average bowling attacks, don't define a player. My judgement as to his longevity will come when he has battled Steyn, Morkel and Philander of South Africa, played the Indians (or even the rejuvenated Pakistanis) on the sub-continent, and opened the batting in an Ashes test as Lord's against England. If he comes through these challenges unscathed, then Warner will definitely be one for the future. Judging by his record, Warner has both the attitude, and the aptitude to rise to the challenge and forge a successful career at the top of the order for the Aussies. We hope..

Usman Khawaja:

Khawaja's first 11 test innings haven't exactly set the world alight. Apart from the one well constructed innings of 65 against the South Africans, a series of 20s and 30s hasn't done justice to his abundance of talent. In fairness, I've never watched Khawaja bat for a sustained period of time, but his first class record for NSW suggests that he has much more to offer to the Australian team. As a central contract holder, he needs to seize any opportunities he gets to prove his talent at the highest level. Until then, he needs to score runs, more runs, and then after that, a few more runs, to force his way into a team flourishing against India, and awaiting the return of the irreplaceable Shane Watson.

Ed Cowan:

Perhaps the most ambitious man in Australian cricket, Cowan has made clear his intention to force Watson down the order. After a solid, but not spectacular start to his test career, i'm afraid he'll have to score plenty more runs to have a hope of achieving this. He has shown a degree of class and strong temperament in his 4 innings at the top level, with two impressive half centuries, yet I feel that he has much more to prove if he hopes for an extended stint in the first XI. In the short term, I do see him ahead of the struggling Shaun Marsh in the pecking order, yet if Watson is determined to open the batting, would Cowan be capable of batting at number 3? With so much talent in and around the Australian set up, I fear that someone with the ability of Cowan might not get the opportunities he deserves.

Shaun Marsh:

Currently occupying the number 3 position in the test team, Marsh, despite his solid performances in one day cricket, has had a torrid time recently in test cricket.  His career did kick off in spectacular fashion, with a calm, mature and well judged 141 against the Sri Lankans at Pallekele. The mastery with which he negotiated his first innings, was followed by an equally well grafted 81 at Colombo. 'Blimey, this is easy', he must have thought..

His more recent outings however, have not been as fruitful. His last 5 innings against the Indians have yielded, wait for it... a breath-taking 17 runs. Breath-taking because a man who has shown so much promise, has at times looked simply clueless. At the moment, he's the only Australian having any trouble against a lackluster Indian attack. Warner, Clarke, Ponting and Mr. Cricket all have tons (or doubles) in this series, Cowan has two fifties, whereas Marsh has nothing. He's in serious trouble. With another innings victory looming for the Aussies, a chance for him to knuckle down and play a real innings looks slim. Indeed, he would be very lucky to have earned a place on the plane to the West Indies later this year based on his recent performances. Perhaps a short sabbatical from the international scene would serve him well - a chance to collect his thoughts, work on his game, and aliment his hunger to wear the Baggy Green for his country. It worked for Ponting and Clarke, it may just work for him...

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