Hitting vs Batting, and the Invisible Man

Who would be a selector? If a player does well, he gets lauded but are the selectors thanked for picking him? Hell, no. If the team does poorly, the selectors strap on their body armour because they know the baseball bats are coming out. All of us armchair selectors could reel off the names of players who should not be in the Test team, but to my mind the bigger problem lies elsewhere.

Australian cricketers can hit, but they can’t bat. The two are very different.

It’s time for the blowtorch to be applied to the feet of the coaching staff, and the batting coaches in particular. They are the invisible men who seem to escape scrutiny when Australia’s batsmen collapse with depressing regularity. The person under the most pressure now should be batting coach Graeme Hick, who was appointed in September 2016 for a four-year term.

Test match batting is not just about hitting the ball. For too many years now, Aussie coaches and players have declared they will ‘play their natural game’, by which they mean they will throw their hands at the ball and try to smash the crap out of it at every opportunity. They will not or cannot master the Art of the Leave, as if batting conservatively somehow reflects badly on their masculinity. They will not or cannot master the art of turning over the strike when the bowling is tight, of getting through a tough session. Unless a boundary is scored each and every over, it seems, they feel they are not doing the job. David Warner is a fine player in excellent form, but few people can bat like him and the fact that he gets held up as a role model is a bit of a problem.

This ‘play your natural game’ approach hasn’t worked and is not likely to. Australia has been losing in much the same manner for years, apparently unable to learn from their opponents. More disturbingly, the Aussies say they acknowledge the need to play differently and yet seem utterly unable to do so.

Back in November 2012 in Adelaide, AB de Villiers faced 246 balls to make 33 while Faf du Plessis faced 466 balls (that’s 78 overs!) to make 110 not out and salvage an epic draw that left scars on the Australians that still linger today. Facing 148 overs, South Africa’s run rate was 1.67 runs per over. More importantly, South Africa kept the series scoreline at 0-0, then then won the Third Test and the series 1-0.

When Murali Vijay and Chuteshwar Pujara put on 370 for the second wicket in Hyderabad in March 2013, they dropped anchor and scored at a snail’s pace for a session before ramping up the scoring rate later in the day when the bowlers were tired. It was textbook Test match batting. The Australians watched but learned nothing.

And now Dean Elgar and JP Duminy have again shown the Aussies how to do it with their match-winning 250-run stand in Perth.

Oh, and let’s not point to the 2015-16 home summer and pretend the problem is being addressed. Yes, Warner and Khawaja put on 302 for the second wicket in Perth against NZ but that was on one of the flattest wickets ever seen in a Test match (and was promptly replicated by Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor with a 265-run partnership). Similarly, the 449-run stand between Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh against the West Indies in Hobart was not achieved against one of the world’s best bowling attacks.

All teams lose occasionally, but to see Australia batsmen collapse consistently over a period of years for the same reasons is frustrating.

In September 2016, Graeme Hick “stressed the need for patience from Australia’s young batsmen, instead of expecting that they could score at limited-overs speed in first-class cricket.”

He is quoted as saying “If one of our top order get in, batting a couple of sessions maybe is not enough. You’ve got to look to post a big first-innings score and take that responsibility if you get in. That may require a little bit more patience than maybe some of the players would normally play at.”

We’ve been hearing these sentiments for a long time. Why are the players not listening?

Perhaps Hick needs to start offering chocolates to the batsmen who last 20 overs or more and display the lowest strike rate.

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