Batting, DRS emerge as Australia’s Achilles heel

Date: July 16, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The first Test at Trent Bridge was yet another example of why Test cricket will always be the most riveting form of the game.

In the end, England proved too good and its victory has them in prime position to retain the Ashes.

One more win by the hosts should wrap it up as Australia would need to win three Tests to regain the treasured little urn.

Pre-series all the talk was about Australia’s batting frailty and it was this area that did indeed let it down.

In the first innings Ashton Agar’s (98) heroics in concert with Phil Hughes (81no) masked the fissures at the top of the order.

The tourists were 4-53 come the 15th over and 9-117 before that record-breaking tenth wicket stand of 163.

That historic final wicket partnership contributed 58 per cent of the team’s total of 280.

In the second innings Australia found itself 5-161 before Brad Haddin shepherded the tail to within 14 runs of an unlikely victory.

The last five wickets accounted for 54 per cent of the innings total.

It was a triumph for Australia to get as close as it did to victory with such a poor showing by its specialist batsmen.

There is no escaping the fact that if the batsmen do not lift their game there is little prospect of Australia causing an upset in this series.

While Shane Watson looked more at ease returning to the top of the order and Chris Rogers showed his worth in the second innings, the number three position continues to be problematic for the tourists.

Ed Cowan effectively gifted his wicket in the first innings with a wild slash outside off-stump from the first ball he faced.

His second innings effort was not much better when he was out to part-time spinner Joe Root – 10 wickets in 46 first-class matches – for 14 in the final over before tea on the fourth day.

It remains to be seen whether Cowan gets one more chance at Lord’s.

The selectors will be tempted to bring Usman Khawaja back from the international wilderness despite failing to impress in the various warm-up matches with Australia A and the Test squad with his seven first-class innings producing a modest 194 runs.

It is more likely that Cowan will play at Lord’s and should he fail, both Khawaja and the exiled David Warner – who will re-join the squad post the Lord’s Test – will shoot it out head-to-head in the three-day fixture against Sussex leading into the third Test at Old Trafford.

The other area where Australia let itself down was its injudicious use of the DRS.

In the end, England was able to secure victory as a result of having kept its powder dry.

When the Haddin wicket was referred to the third umpire, Alastair Cook did so with the knowledge that if it proved unsuccessful he still had another up his sleeve.

England seems to have a system in place when there is a belief that a referral is a possibility.

It involves a cool-headed analysis by the three key figures – captain, bowler and wicket-keeper.

If there is not a consensus no review is called for.

On the other hand, Australia’s method seems at times to be based on emotion.

The referral on Jonny Bairstow in England’s second innings is a case in point.

The Stuart Broad controversy would have been largely laid to rest had Australia still had a referral at its disposal in England’s second innings.

With successful referrals having such a telling impact on a match Michael Clarke and his men have to come up with a less emotional way of employing it.

The major positive to come out of the match was the performance of Agar and it was not just with the willow.

Whilst he only claimed two wickets in the match he showed a lot of potential.

Importantly he was never collared by the batsmen who know doubt would have been inclined at times to try and hit the teenager out of the attack.

His economy rate in England’s second innings was 2.34 runs per over on the back of 35-9-82-2 with his two victims being Cook and Bairstow and unluckily he was denied that of Broad as well.

Brad Haddin’s performance with the bat in the second innings was that of a true vice-captain and Australia will be hoping for more of the same as it will from Phil Hughes, who shelved his ego, and was content to play an invaluable support role to Agar in their historic partnership.

Australia’s paper thin losing margin after nearly five days of cricket will have provided the England team with a significant wake-up call.

The players’ celebration after claiming the final wicket was as much due to relief as elation.

Australia has shown it will not be an easy beat but its batsmen must rise to the occasion to give them any hope of a substantial upset.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 15 July 2013