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Monday, November 1, 2010

Ashes 2010/11- Having a look at the Australian batting line-up (part-2)


In the part 2 of the article about my views on the Australian batting line-up,  I would look at the middle-order of Australia. In the past, the Australian middle-order has been very strong and it can be even said that middle order batsmen were the backbone of the Australian batting line-up. Nowadays though, the Australian middle-order looks vulnerable and under pressure is prone to collapses.

Let us have a look at the middle-order batsmen

Clarke

When he came into the side, he was full of boyish enthusiasm and would never miss out on a opportunity to attack the bowler. As the years have gone by, Clarke has become a mature batsman, who still looks to attack, but if I compare him to how he used to bat during his early days, his shot selection has improved.

Strategies against Clarke

Just like most other attacking batsmen, he likes to free his arms. At his best, he can be a carbon copy of Slater as he looks to come forward at every opportunity to take on the quicker bowlers. The way he takes on the quicker bowlers by coming forward  is a clear indication of a batsman, who grew up playing on good wickets in Australia. Clarke is also a fine player of spin, as unlike his teammates, he uses his feet well against the spinners. The main reason for his recent success is, nowadays Clarke tries to play late and it surely helped him to succeed when he played in England.

I have already talked about similarities between Clarke and Slater, but one key difference between the two is, Slater was one of the best pullers I have ever seen. He was ready to take up the challenge against even bowlers of the calibre of Ambrose and more often than not would succeed. Clarke though, doesn't shift his weight onto the back-foot and doesn't like facing bowlers, who can hit the pitch hard and specialise in bowling back of a length stuff.

So, if I am the captain of the side, I would look at asking my main seamer to consistently bowl back of a length at Clarke. It would be better, if the seamer is good at angling it into Clarke as he doesn't like it when a bowler relentlessly targets his body. The odd bouncer can come in handy too. Just recently in India, when from nowhere Sharma suddenly found a spurt of energy, he relentlessly targeted Clarke by bringing it sharply back into the righthander and soon he got his reward by taking Clarke's wicket.

I do believe Clarke is Australia's best player of spin as he is one batsman, who is prepared to use his feet. I still feel though, he is a tad overrated against spin. Yes, just like few other fine players of spin from Australia like Martyn, or Mark Waugh, he is light on his feet, but unlike Martyn or Junior, he tends to leave his crease a fraction too early. Once a batsman does that, a bowler can change his length and trouble him. Another key point to notice is, Clarke likes to cut against the spinners which in turn would help a spinner to be in the game as if he is consistent, he can produce the edge.

Key bowlers 

Swann

One of the key contests in the Ashes would be between Clarke and Swann. Once the ball goes soft, Swann would bowl most of the overs and Clarke being a middle-order batsman, who is prepared to take on the spinners would mean that both would be up against each other more than a few times.

Last year in England, it was Clarke who won the battle hands down as Swann got him out only once. Swann  though, should remember the way he dismissed Clarke in the second innings at Lord's forever! If he wants to remember it, he can even recite it 100 times daily, but he should never forget it . It was a classic case of a batsman leaving his crease too early and Swann beating him with a bit of flight. Swann also has a under-cutter which he can use it as a weapon against Clarke. Actually, I can again see similarities with the way Slater used to play spinners as he tended to leave his crease a fraction too early.

Blogitforsix on his blog also made a excellent point about Clarke in the one-day match in India using his feet well to come to the pitch of the ball and flicking most of his shots through the on-side. Swann to counter it can  look to beat him in flight, or change the angle by going around the wicket. Clarke though, may not try that option in a test match with close-in fielders around and with Australian tracks having more bounce, it doesn't look like a percentage shot.

Clarke is someone, who is good at playing the cut shot, but it also means that Swann has another option of getting him out. The key point to note is, traditionally Australian finger spinners tend to bowl outside the off-stump and their length would be slightly shorter when compared to England's spinners. I think Swann should try to follow in the footsteps of Australian finger spinners by changing both his line and length  at least when bowling to Clarke as he can utilise the bounce on offer to produce the edge of Clarke's bat. Until now, Swann has shown that he is a clever bowler as he did change both his line and length when bowling on the bouncier tracks of South Africa. It is perhaps not related to this article, but I found it interesting that a decent  bowler like Hauritz  was made to look pathetic in India. It shows that a bowler maybe great or average, but if he continues to bowl in a similar fashion to how he would bowl at home and doesn't get accustomed to the conditions that particular bowler would flop miserably.

Broad

Broad would be my second trump card against Clarke. If he can relentlessly bowl back of a length and angle it into Clarke he can find some success. If Clarke wants to pull on the front-foot, God bless him and even if he succeeds on a few occasions, the bowler should say to him, try it again mate! The one worry is that Broad can get overexcited and bowl short all the time.

Hussey

Since he made his debut for Australia in 05, he has been a great servant of Australian cricket. Hussey's uncanny ability to come good under pressure has helped Australia to wriggle out of difficult situations more than a few times. At his best, his greatest strength is again great prowess of concentration and has a good selection of shots.

Strategies against Hussey

Huss comes across as a batsman, who likes to drive on the up. Huss just like most other batsmen shuffles across his stumps, but has a tendency to come half forward and  drives on the up. Any bowler, who consistently slants  it across him would come into play as Huss doesn't just play from the crease, but early in his innings has the habit of playing with an angled bat. Any captain should have three slips and a gully against Huss .I am not sure though, of Strauss attacking Huss early in his innings as just like most modern day captains, he is as a defensive captain.

Anyway here is a classic Huss dismissal against a delivery that slants across him,

"Steyn to Hussey, OUT, Hussey's gone for a duck! He pushes half forward at one that slants across him and gets a thick outside edge which flies low towards third slip, de Villiers dives forward and grabs it inches from the ground, terrific catch, what a fielder he is, Steyn's celebration is intense"

Hussey is yet another Australian batsman, who can be vulnerable to short pitched stuff, only if it is used as a surprise element. In-fact, in his first test itself  Daren Powell got him out by bowling a bouncer, but these days WI think-tank can be strange as they didn't use it as a weapon during the rest of that series. Saffers though, picked it up and got him out a few times with that tactic in 05/06. In-fact, when they again came to the shores of Australia in 08/09, they repeated the tactic and got his wicket three times with short pitched stuff.  His tendency to come slightly forward and not shifting his weight means that on Australian conditions, it is a good tactic to employ.

Key bowlers

Jimmy Anderson

Jimmy Anderson would be a key bowler against Huss, as he likes to angle it across a left-handed batsman. I would prefer him to bowl slightly fuller to Huss, as batsmen who tend to come half forward would keep missing it, if it is shorter in length. Actually, one of the key reasons why Huss scored about million runs in the 06/07 Ashes was because England tried around the wicket tactic and with couple of bowlers like Harmison and Freddie mainly looking to bring it back into a lefthander from around the wicket meant that line of attack became an easy meat for Huss. In the last Ashes though, the quicker bowlers bowled better and repeatedly got Huss out by angling it across him.

Another key point to consider is, Anderson likes to bowl outswingers to a right-handed batsman, but curiously bowls the away swinger to a lefthander as well. He has the stats to back it up as I have shown it in my last article that 47.5% of his wickets under Flower's regime  have been lefthanders. I tend to support Anderson here, as unlike other swing bowlers of the past like Alderman, Botham, Dev, Hoggy and Hadlee, Anderson doesn't come very close to the stumps, so when he tries the inswinger, he generally drifts into the lefthanders pads and lefthanders don't need a second invitation to flick it through the on-side. A good example can be at Johannesburg, when it seemed like due to constant pressure from Sky commentators and other journalists, he decided to bowl the inswinger to the lefthander Smith and returned back with figures of zero wickets for about hundred runs. If Anderson has to listen to someone, it is the fast bowling guru Holding and he is the only one among the sky commentators, who keeps saying that Anderson should continue to angle it across a lefthander.

Among other bowlers, Broad can look to bowl the odd short delivery to tempt Huss to play the pull shot, though he has to bend his back as Huss can make a mincemeat of half-trackers. Of course, as he is a lefthander, Swann would be a threat and I don't want to bore everyone regarding Swann being better against lefthanders! Actually, if Swann is joined by a left arm spinner in the attack, it would look even better as a left arm spinner by going around the wicket can create a nice angle across Huss. Yes, Ojha who troubled Huss in India with his left arm spin bowls with a higher trajectory to Monty, but against Huss, a left arm spinner can be a useful weapon. The key point is, even on a wicket like at Adelaide or for that matter Sydney,  I don't think England should play with two spinners.

North

One of the frequently debated topics in recent times has been the form of North. He gets about eight, or nine low scores and when he is ready for the chop, he scores a hundred. I think the selectors should realise that a player like North should be dropped as he is over 30 and is maddeningly inconsistent.

Strategies against North

When North first comes to the crease, any swing bowler, or a spinner can get him out as he doesn't look much better than a rabbit with a bat in hand. He seems to blindly get a decent stride  forward, but that front-foot just gets struck and he can play all around a straight ball. He also struggles against a swing bowler, who slants it across him as he doesn't know his off-stump. He can look worse against the spinners as he rarely ever plays late against a spinner and mainly looks to sweep them. Yes once he gets in, he looks a lot more assured, but if a batsman gets so many low scores before he comes up with a good score, then he should be history. I do get the feeling that just like what happened to Greg Ritchie after the 86/87 Ashes, this would be the last time North would play for Australia!

Key bowlers

As Anderson is a swing bowler, he can be a threat against North. He should just continue to angle it across him with the odd inswinger to get him out lbw. North got some big scores in the last Ashes, but that was due to England's bowlers trying the short stuff against him. He can look awkward against the short stuff, but handles it better than most other batsmen in the line-up. England would repent, if the bowlers continue to pursue with that tactic in this series.

Anyway, a classic North dismissal against a swing bowler,

"Southee to North, OUT, North is referring this, the ball lands on middle and goes through with the line, North plays all around it and is hit flush on the pad bang in front of middle, looked obvious to us and Asad Rauf, North challenges it but in the end it's a referral used up by Australia"


Jimmy Anderson himself getting North's wicket by slanting it across him,

"Anderson to North, OUT, wonderful catch! Prior makes a super take diving to his left across first slip. Fullish ball swinging away from North, who got a thick edge to one that he might have left alone"

As North rarely ever plays late and him being a lefthander would mean that Swann would be a huge threat. I would be surprised, if Swann doesn't get him out at least a couple of times in the series.

Haddin

Haddin would be likely Australia's first choice wicketkeeper, though Paine has been doing very well in recent times. Haddin likes to take the attack to the bowlers. He doesn't mind throwing his bat at anything that is slightly wide of off-stump and likes to drive on the up. In short, he is a fine batsman.

Key bowlers

I would look at both Broad and Anderson as my main weapons against Haddin. Haddin's tendency to drive at anything that is slightly fuller would mean a swing bowler can look for a well disguised slower delivery that is full in length. In-fact, Anderson almost deceived him at Oval with a slower delivery, but the 12th man Onions made a complete mess of what should have been a sitter. If the captain doesn't believe that Anderson has a good slower delivery, he can look at Broad as he has decent variations up his sleeve.

Paine

Paine may not play in the Ashes as Haddin seems to have the backing of the selectors, but in Haddin's absence, Paine has done a wonderful job. Paine is the better keeper and his batting has come up by leaps and bounds. In my opinion, the selectors should pick him as he is the future of Australian cricket.

As far as Paine's batting is concerned, every-time I see him bat, he seems to have improved as a batsman. When I first saw him bat, he was tentative, but nowadays looks to play late and unlike some of his teammates can play well of the back-foot. If anything,  he can square up against a swing bowler and Anderson can be used against him. Swann too can look to use the crease and tempt Paine to play through the on-side, but in simple words, during the tour of India, or in England, he looked like a competent batsman.

Finally, I would say that it is up-to young seamers like Finn and especially Broad that they don't get into the trap of bowling short, but use the short ball as a surprise weapon. As far as Swann is concerned, he can be a key bowler, but it would be better, if he tries to bowl like a traditional finger spinner from Australia as he can utilise the bounce on offer.

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