Lords Preview

As mentioned yesterday, Australia simply must win this Test Match.

Australia must learn to bat 120 overs PLUS

To win at Lords Australia must bat considerably better than they have for quite some time. I believe the key to better Test Match batting is simple. Focus on batting for a long time in the first innings. If you can’t bat for 120 overs plus, in the first innings of a Test Match, then you are going to struggle to be a dominant force in Tests.

What about the condition of the wicket you say?

Well, Test standard wickets are rarely minefields and often favour batting. I don’t care what the scores say, Trent Bridge was a decent batting strip. Long, fluent periods of defiant batting by tail enders in both sides, a centurion, and a handful of half centurions showed this. The fact there weren’t bigger team scores is indicative of the frenetic tension and pressure pulsating throughout the contest.

I’ll take a moment to mention here that there’s an ever-present agitation in cricket discussion that too many wickets favour batsmen. This is invariably led by members and former members of the fast-bowling cartel, but this isn’t to suggest that the assertion lacks merit. The substantive assertion strengthens my point that, most of the time, Test Match wickets are good for batting.

So on account of this I believe that if you aren’t getting through at least a ball and half in the first innings, then you need to improve your ability to occupy the crease!

Why are Australia failing to do this?

Frankly, part of the demise in the quality of Australian batting revolves around, what I regard, is a counter-productive and ridiculously disproportionate focus on one type of batting display. Aggressive and fast-paced batting. Perhaps it’s T20 or the alleged shortened attention span of Y generation, and by extension, the ability of current players to dig in and concentrate for long periods. Maybe, it’s just a lack of quality, but it’s likely to be a swirling combination of all of this.

Large sections of the public and the media have become carried away with the flash-in-the-pan type innings involving streaky and aggressive shots. Aggressive batting has its place in Test cricket, but it’s only one form of expression with the willow and just as you wouldn’t labour your investment portfolio with only high risk high yield options, you should have the capacity to diversify your batting.

David Warner is a prime example of the contemporary, aggressive batsmen. I for one am glad this bloke is no longer opening for Australia in Test Matches. But, we could be 0/140 at lunch you say? How many times has this actually happened, I counter.

Warner has scored 3 “entertaining” Test hundreds in 34 innings and averages 39, not 50+. It’s his “natural game” you say. Rubbish, this is weakest defence of bad shots I’ve ever heard, and it has been constantly trotted out to defend, what would have once been unforgivable, suicidal type shots from a Test Match opener. Your job as an opener is to protect the middle order, see off the new ball and tire the bowlers. I’d much rather be 0/75 at lunch 8 times out of 10, as opposed to being 0/140+ once in a blue moon and more likely to be 4/65.

It’s tough for Warner because he has been encouraged to take this approach, but I think Darren Lehmann will handle his talent with much greater awareness of the requirements of Test cricket. It is possible Warner could become a fantastic middle order weapon.

The loss of focus on what good Test Match batting requires relates to the rise of T20, but while I hate that form of cricket with an unrivalled passion, I understand it is here to stay. Developmental systems must focus on assisting young players to transition between different forms of cricket and apply a range of skill sets, and not diminish the value of mental concentration, good decision making and shot selection.

Let’s not neglect the underrated ability to leave the ball. Shouldering arms to the right balls is a critical component, and tactic, of long form batting and Australia will need to do plenty of this to wear out Jimmy Anderson and co at Lords in the next few days.

Batting at Lords

Lords will provide an excellent run-way for batting and this is good for Australia. Relatives in the old dart have gleefully reported to me that “there’s a heat wave baking England at the moment”. This means the outfield will be firm and quick. Pierce the in-field and get three or four runs. We all know that the Duke ball will hoop around street corners at various points. Deal with it.

A distinguished and respected colleague of mine commented on an earlier blog stating that Australia has recently relied far too heavily on its tail, citing that Australia’s tenth wicket partnerships at Trent Bridge accounted for 40% of our runs. As Greg correctly asserts, this trend is unsustainable.

It is absolutely crucial that Chris Rogers and Shane Watson get Australia away to a good start. I’m hoping for occupation style batting leading to none for whatever after 30/40+ overs, with a view to batting 120+ overs in the first innings and the top 7 doing the heavy lifting to take some pressure off our tail enders. I’m not suggesting we go at 1 an over, there’s quite a bit of middle ground between that and T20 style batting folks.

The Teams

Australia

As stated previously it’s likely Australia will go for a change in the batting, replacing Ed Cowan with Usman Khawaja. Jackson Bird, a slightly similar bowler to the accurate Glen McGrath (who has an awesome record at Lords), could come into the reckoning. Ryan Harris remains a salivating prospect as well. We can’t discount the possibility of a surprise either, which could come in the form of two spinners – Lyon and Agar – or with the inclusion of James Faulkner, the Tasmanian all-rounder. Australia might also drop Cowan and Starc and bring in two bowlers or one and the all-rounder. All options remain on the table. Lehmann proved with the selection of Ashton Agar at Trent Bridge that sometimes the element of surprise is an asset.

Australia have lost one Test Match at Lords since 1938. That defeat came in 2009. Record counts for nothing if you can’t bat.

England

England might replace Steve Finn with Tim Bresnan, but the former has a great record at his home ground Lords. Finn is England’s tall bowler and bashing the Duke’s seam into the Lords slope has worked well for many a tall man. England face a bit of a dilemma here, but if you haven’t already guessed by my focus on Australia in this preview, I think that the result of this Test relies more heavily on how Australia respond, than who England pick.

England’s batting is very good. It’s almost a certain that one or more of A Cook, J Trott or K Pietersen will plough into the runs at Lords and look to chalk their name up on the honours board. So it’s really up to Australia to score lots of runs and utilise our strong bowling attack to dismantle one of the best batting line ups assembled by England in decades.

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