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Friday, October 29, 2010

Ashes 2010/11- Having a look at the Australian batting line-up


With less than one month left for the the Ashes to start, there is a considerable hype surrounding the series. Australia are no more the invincibles and England are on the up, so it promises to be a cracker of a series  between what seems like two evenly matched sides. Australia though, at home are still a formidable force to reckon with and it would be a monumental achievement if England are able to defend the Ashes and win a series in Australia for the first time in 23 years.

The major talking point before any touring party travels to Australia would be, how can the team cope with the different conditions that they are going to get in Australia. It is especially applicable to the bowlers, as it isn't just the conditions that they have to get accustomed to, but over the years, Australian batsmen have ruthlessly dismantled opposition bowling attacks to dust. So, can England's attack succeed in Australia, or would it be the familiar old story of Australian batsmen making a mincemeat of opposition bowling attacks?

My views on the Australian batting line-up

Top-order

Watson- If anyone had said to me before 2009 that Watson would one-day open the batting for Australia, I would have had a belly laugh, but to be fair to Watson, he has consistently got runs at top of the order. In-fact, if not for Watson and Katich, Australia may have lost more matches as the middle-order has been prone to collapses in recent times.

So, what has transformed Watson from being one of the also-rans to a fine top-order batsman? Watson has surely fine-tuned his technique which has helped him to improve as a batsman. He is said to have worked with batting guru Greg Chappell and the one significant change in his technique is, nowadays he tries to get a good stride forward. It is a method that most modern day batsmen seem to be following and with pitches being generally good for batting, it is perhaps a good strategy.

Strengths

Watson is at his best when he goes after the bowling, especially the new ball bowlers. He likes the ball to come onto the bat and the best time for him to attack would be against the new ball. If the bowlers bowl slightly short or full, Watson doesn't mind going after it.

Strategies against Watson

Watson sometimes goes for a premeditated forward press which doesn't help him against swing bowlers. He really got into a tangle in England as Pakistan's bowlers bowled a full length and repeatedly dismissed Watson for low scores. Thankfully for Watson, Australian conditions won't offer too much encouragement for the swing bowlers.

Watson also doesn't seem to have much of a clue against the spinners  as his tendency to  thrust his front-foot forward would always land him in trouble  against the spinners. Yes, he got  a century in India, but in my opinion, it was mainly due to him opening the innings. In India, generally top-order batsmen do well as they would spend some time in the middle and would get accustomed to the conditions before facing the spinners.  Another key point to consider is, since he has changed his technique, he struggles to keep it down while playing the pull shot against the seamers as he tries to pull more on the front-foot.

Key bowlers

Broad- I have no doubt that Broad should test Watson with a few bouncers. Now, let me make it crystal clear that I am not advocating for any bowler to get into a trap of bowling short on Australian wickets as that can be suicidal, but I do believe that Broad and maybe Finn can think of bowling the odd short delivery at Watson. In-fact, even recently against the Kiwis, Tim Southee bowling at around 80mph got Watson out by not even bowling short, but by bowling  more around the good length spot.

From cricinfo commentary,

"Southee to Watson, OUT, the miscued pull! Sudden rush of blood there, Southee pitched it on a good length outside off and Watson tried to pull it over midwicket on the front-foot, hit the bottom of the bat and the ball looped towards Arnel at mid-on who fell forward to take the catch" 

Swann- If the series was played in England, I would have thought of Anderson being a key bowler against Watson, but I don't think Watson would be troubled by swing in Australian conditions. So, I would go for Swann as my other trump card against Watson. Strauss should be on his toes, as if the new ball bowlers don't strike early, he shouldn't hesitate in bringing Swann into the thick of things as he has a great record of getting wickets in his very first over. I have also said it before that once Watson spends some time in the middle, just like any other opening batsman, he plays the spinners better which points to the importance of attacking Watson with Swann early in the innings. The close-in fielders would have to be sharp as Watson doesn't play late but gropes at the ball.

Katich

The  sponsors of any series won't like it if Katich bats for long as he can drive away the crowds from the stadium with his batting nevertheless, he has turned out to be a very effective batsman for Australia in the last few years.

When I first saw him or even in the 2005 Ashes, I remembered what Aussies themselves said about the former Saffer batsman Kirsten. Gary Kirsten when he first played against Australia in 93/94 was called a gully sucker, especially by the Aussie quick McDermott as he kept playing at most deliveries just outside the off-stump and repeatedly got caught in the gully region. When Katich first played test cricket, he seemed to have similar problems as he would follow most deliveries which were bowled just wide of off-stump without getting to the pitch of the ball and kept getting out. In-fact, after his failure in the epic series in England in 05, he even took the help of Bob Simpson. Since he has comeback into the side though, he has improved as a batsman and  has been doing well for Australia.

Strengths

Katich's prowess of concentration and his judgment of what to leave and what to play at is no doubt one of his chief strengths. He is nowadays so good that even if it is slightly wide of off-stump, he would leave it. Here is a batsman, who in-spite of his exaggerated shuffle knows his off-stump. He is also very strong on the on-side and anything that is slightly off-line would be flicked for runs.

Strategies against Katich

Sometimes a player's strengths can turn out to be his weakness and the same can be said about Katich. Very early in his innings,  Katich can be trapped in front of his stumps. The new ball would do a bit  and however good he maybe in being able to play shots through the on-side, there is always a chance of him missing even a straight delivery and him being trapped in front before he gets set.

Nowadays, Katich plays spin a lot better than he used to do which can be seen by the success he got in India in 08/09, but sometimes because of his exaggerated shuffle, he can get into trouble as he looks to turn the ball onto the on-side which in turn can lead to an outside edge. He also rarely ever leaves the crease which would always help a spinner to settle into a nice rhythm as he would realise that here is a batsman, who won't venture out of his crease and take the attack to the bowlers.

Key bowlers


Anderson- I know that Anderson likes to angle it across a lefthander and if that tactic doesn't succeed, he  goes around the wicket to change the angle. Under Flower's regime 47.5% of his victims have been lefthanders which points to the fact that he should continue to angle it across a lefthander. However, when bowling to Katich, I do hope that he stays over the wicket and looks for the inswinger as he can  trap him in front of the stumps.  He can surely remember the way he trapped Katich in front by bowling the inswinger at Cardiff in the 09 Ashes. Katich had already got a hundred with all the quicker bowlers trying to tempt him to chase a delivery outside the off-stump, but finally Anderson tried an inswinger and trapped him in front. The last option for any seamer against Katich would be, to go around the wicket and look to target his leg-stump. I am not joking, but I have often seen Katich shuffling across his stumps so much that his leg-stump can be visible for a seamer to target.

Swann- I have always thought that if a lefthander is playing, Swann would come into play. 54% of Swann's wickets are lefthanders and of course, he has got lots of players out in his very first over. The fact is, unlike other modern day off spinners Swann seems to enjoy bowling from around the wicket and with umpires now more inclined to give lefthanders out lbw to off-spinners bowling from around the wicket, he would be a threat against any lefthander. As I also said that Katich's tendency to play across the line means that an off-spinner can trouble him as he would take the ball away from a LHB, when bowling from around the wicket.

Ponting

If he ends his career now, he would no doubt go into the history books as one of the greats of the game, but the burning desire of regaining the Ashes has kept him going.  In the last couple of years Punter's batting prowess though, has been on the wane which is expected as he isn't getting any younger. If Punter wants to play for another couple of years, he may have to follow in the footsteps of the other modern day great batsman SRT. Tendulkar has become an great accumulator of runs, but for that he sacrificed his flair as nowadays, he doesn't often play the pull or the back-foot punch. I think it is high time that Punter too doesn't  look to play that pull shot, but Punter's temperament is different from SRT, so I am not sure that he would change his game.

Strengths

Punter has all the shots in the book, though at his best, his ability to shift his weight quickly onto the back-foot and play the cut, or the pull shot makes him a treat to watch. At his best, no bowler would even think of bowling short as it would mean fielders being sent on a leather hunt and bowlers ending up with figures of 0 for 100.

Strategies against Ponting

In the past, Punter had the tendency to fall across his stumps and get out lbw early in his innings, but in an attempt to correct it, just like other modern day batsmen, he started to take a decent stride forward which helped him to counter that strategy.

In my opinion, on Australian pitches, the best strategy against Punter is to bowl the traditional Australian back of a length as he does tend to go hard at the ball. He is also an attacking batsman and chases most deliveries that are outside the off-stump. So, there is a good chance of him being caught in the slip cordon, or him dragging it onto the stumps. Gully can also be a key fielding position when bowling to Punter.

After watching Punter notch up yet another hundred at Brisbane in 05/06, Holding advised the WI bowlers to change their strategy by looking to drag their length back and to bowl it a touch wide of off-stump. It did help the modest bowlers from WI as even they were able to keep him quiet. His scores against WI since that timely advice have been 17, 56, 3, 158, 5, 65, 38, 18, 39, 55, 36, 20, 23 not out and 2. More than a few bowlers have been able to get him out by bowling it just wide of off-stump during that period which includes even bowlers who normally bowler a fuller length like Collymore and Rampaul, but by dragging their length back, they were able to dismiss Punter. It just shows that sometimes it is worth listening to wisemen like Holding.
Key bowlers

Broad/ Finn- I would look at using both tall bowlers in the side and ask them to bowl a disciplined line outside the off-stump with the odd bouncer to test him on the pull shot. I do hope that England's bowlers don't fall into a trap of trying too many bouncers at Punter as even in recent times, he has fallen to a pull shot very early in his innings, but once he gets settled at the crease, he looks a lot more assured against short pitched stuff. Of course if it swings, use Anderson.

(In the second part of this article I would look at the middle order in the Australian batting line-up) 

8 comments:

Shridhar Jaju said...

Brilliant analysis GB! I have copied your entire analysis and saved it on my hard disk... and intend to do the same with your next few posts where you will continue the analysis. I hope you don't mind!

I like the strategy of attacking Katich's leg stump. And I don't think it should be a last resort strategy. Deliveries targeting the leg stump can be used as short balls... like surprise balls.

The field setting for such a strategy can be similar to that of a short ball strategy... a leg side oriented field! This means that fuller length ball targeting the leg stump can be lethal when Katich is expecting a short ball and moves across just a wee bit more as a counter!

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

Great post GB,

The thing that I find most surprising about Watson and Katich is that you would imagine they would be better suited to 5 and 6, where Oz are currently struggling.

They have turned into a decent opening partnership.

I think your point about getting Swann on early is a good one, these two won't be too used to facing a spinner too early in the day. If things start badly it would be good to see Swann on after an hour to 75 mins, not just the token last over before lunch.

And with Ponting, I agree that I hope that we don't target him with too much short stuff. Eng have got carried away with this tactic before, remember Hashim Amla in 2008.

The last thing we need to do early in the series is to play Ponting into form. Eng need to frustrate him in my view.

Remember he is playing with a lot of pressure on his shoulders, is he not the only captain to lose 2 Ashes series in England? (think thats right, but correct me if I'm wrong)

Imagine what it would do to his legacy to lose 3 Ashes series to England.

greyblazer said...

SJ,

Thank you, targeting Katich's leg stump isn't something that teams have thought about and can be a good strategy though it should be the last option.

greyblazer said...

Dean,

Thank you, both Watson and especially Katich have improved as players.

England's bowlers especially Broad has been guilty of getting into the trap of bowling short. I do believe that some of the Aussie batsmen are vulnerable against the short ball but it should be used as a surprise element.

I was actually tempted to say that the chances of Watson getting out lbw to Anderson is high but unless the conditions are like what we saw at Sydney last year I am not sure it would happen though he may get out once or twice lbw to say Jimmy as he can occasionally premeditate.

Blog it for six said...

Good eye to pick up all these points GB and I like that you went further to give some strategy on top of your analysis!

It's always such a fearful situation when you get a batsman such as Ponting, whose weaknesses very quickly become his strengths. So many times, bowlers have troubled him early to try and catch him LBW as he shuffles a bit across the crease, but then he battles through and starts turning those balls into boundaries. Same with the ball outside off stump, as you said, where he throws he hands quickly at the wider ones... soon enough they start flying through extra cover instead.

I remember Broady getting Ponting to chop on, but I'd hate to see England bowlers being reduced to trying to buy Ponting's wicket with short wide ones to induce a loose cut shot... he'll only find form that way with each run he milks.

greyblazer said...

Thanks for the comment. Yeah I do remember Broady getting him out at Oval? Punter though seems to be a bit more vulnerable yet he doesn't want to cut out some of the riskier shots.I guess it is the way he plays.

In the past bowlers have tried to get him out lbw but I do believe bowling just wide of off stump is the way to go in Aus.

Govind Raj said...

An excellent post. Absolute Cricket.

Coming to Katich, there is another area where he can be exploited. Right arm bowlers bowling surprise short ball that just leaves him outside the off stump and climbs a bit. Katich still loves to pull. More often than not, he might end up caught on the trap.

I am waiting for next parts !

greyblazer said...

Govind,

Welcome to the blog! This is for the first time I think more than a few Aussie batsmen are vulnerable against the short pitched stuff but the key is to use it as a surprise element and not get into the trap of bowling short on Aussie wickets.

IMO Katich is yet another modern day player who doesn't look to really shift his weight onto the back-foot and keep it down which may result in leading edges.