Broken unit, again

“You were looking good. What happened?” asks Jim Maxwell.

“I got out again,” says Shane Watson.

Australia have failed to make 300 39% of the time in their first innings since the 2009 Ashes. But what does it mean. Maybe the pitches were to blame. Some probably came in low scoring Tests that Australia won. Is 39% in this era good or bad?

This year was the first since 2009 when two Australian batsmen made more than 1000 runs. That seems important. Maybe it isn’t. Since 2009, Australian batsmen have made six double hundreds (one became a triple). Three were made in the same Test series. Brendon McCullum has made three double hundreds (one became a triple this year), and a 195. It’s cute, but does it mean that much?

Martin Love is three years older than Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers. He played five Tests. He averaged 46.60. In first-class cricket, he averaged 49.85. Shaun Marsh’s first-class average is 36.61. This is his 11th Test. Different eras. Different worlds. Different.

On the TV is James Brayshaw, Channel Nine’s blokey bloke. Brayshaw averaged 42.53 for South Australia. If Brayshaw averaged that in today’s era, he’d be a Test player, not the bloke with the enthusiastic hair who says “dukes” a lot.

In the same world, Jason Arnberger would be a legend. Well, more of a Test cult figure. That world obviously can’t exist. The world that does has Test batsmen with first-class averages of 45, 29, 35, 37, 37, 41, 36, 40 and 40. These are the numbers. There are opinions, some pretending to be facts, about why. But the well is dry. The grass is brown. The cows are skinny.

It is a batting drought.

Every single person who follows Australian cricket knows all this. Even if they do not know the actual numbers, and can’t fathom any real reason why. They’ve seen 88, 98 and 47 all out.

But them, and even Don Argus when he wrote his report in Australian cricket, will also know where the runs come from. The wrong end. Whether it was poor little Nathan Lyon trying to save Australia from complete embarrassment in Cape Town, Ashton Agar’s notable 98, Mitchell Starc’s Mohali slapping, Peter Siddle’s twin fifties in Delhi, Pat Cummins’ winning runs or James Pattinson’s almost winning runs, the Australian bowlers have done their jobs, as well as the jobs of their batsmen very well.

Pattinson and Starc both average 30. Johnson and Harris both average about 20 since 2009. Nathan Hauritz was averaging 32 in that period. The tail has made 20 fifties in that time. That must mean something, a record, maybe.

In this series, the last five Australian wickets have had more 100-run partnerships than the Australian top order. And it’s not just the Australian batsmen they embarrass. They have scored almost 400 more runs than the Indian tail, despite declarations and not being needed much on the final afternoon at the Gabba.

For their hard work, the bowlers have been rested. Dropped. Rotated. Sliced. Broken. Managed.

Of course, the batsmen haven’t all been useless. Who will forget Michael Clarke’s triple-hundred? You probably have a limited edition lithograph of it staring at you. What about Michael Hussey’s Ashes when Australia took one batsmen into the 2010-11 Ashes? Or Haddin’s superhero routine last Ashes? David Warner and Steven Smith are doing alright, right here, right now.

The problem is, if we check our modern cricket lexicon guide, cricket is played by units. And Australia’s batting unit is faulty.

It’s as if someone went to the Australian batting switch and turned it from ‘Runs’ to ‘Idle’ in 2009. Before that Ashes, Ricky Ponting was averaging 56, his Tests after that date gave him his runs at 38.

It wasn’t even as if the batting line up was made up of blokes Greg Chappell found at bus stops. R Ponting. S Katich. M Clarke. D Warner. S Smith. M Hussey.

It just hasn’t worked. It hasn’t gelled. It can’t go properly. It won’t take off. It’s stuck.

The batting since 2009 has been Watson-like. It has often looked better than it is. It has that big strife, that powerful hit, the mouth and swagger. But it falters under pressure. It rarely makes the runs needed to win a series. It makes enough to survive, not prosper. He is the biggest unit of their unit.

Smith has made more hundreds this year than Watson has in his career. Watson’s four hundreds is as many as Marcus North made. It’s only two more than Matthew Wade made. Watson has made 22 fifties. Which is something. It is. It’s just not enough. It needs someone else to add to it. To save it. To often do it’s job.

Watson has averaged 38 since the great drought started. He’s been perpetually useful. There have been three series he has averaged over 50 with the bat, all are three Tests or less, none since 2010. His Test high score is 176, but in a dead rubber of a lost series. He’s scored the second-most runs for Australia since the run drought started. But that just proves he’s been there.

At best he is very handy, at worst, an alleged cancer.

After his dismissal today (17 caught behind for those of you playing #wattolotto), Clarke talked the audience through it. “A great stride forward, that’s fantastic.” It was. Had it been shown forever from side on, you would have seen this powerful man get right down the wicket and meet the ball.

From front on, “When you have a look here, how far away his front foot is from the delivery, he’s had to push away with his hands, and that’s cost him the wicket. ”

That has been Australian batting for these last few years. When viewed in one way, it looks perfectly acceptable, even respectable. But if you look from any other angle you can see the Band-Aids, sticky tape and superglue.

Today, the top five wickets added 176, the tail has added almost a hundred more, for two wickets. It’s another case of again.

It’s a batting unit that has truly earned a record of nine series wins from their last 19 series. They will probably win this series. The bowlers are good at their jobs, and all the jobs. Their batting unit is way behind.

Often they look good, but then they get out. Again.

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3 thoughts on “Broken unit, again

  1. Matt says:

    Another fine read, thanks. Surely Watto needs to go, or be given a series at number 6 or 7 and a requirement to bowl 10 overs an innings min (about double his aerage in the last 5 years) That said he’s a much better contributor than James Brayshaw is to the commentary team. The blokey stuff is rubbish and his insight isnt in the same league as any of the other commentators. Wierd that when he first got on telly (i think) on a footy show he was very good, and much less blokey.

  2. Todd slater says:

    Watson is the most manufactured player in decades. He is the modern incarnation of rick darling !
    The mirage of the ‘all rounder’ – we have to have !
    It’s been obvious for some years now that Johnson is an all rounder yet for reasons (still) unexplained, selectors have persisted with Watson . The thing that is most galling is
    A) the size of the wedge he pulls down from cricket Australia – despite years of repeated failures.

    B) that he has retained his place in the team at the expense of many others, who have been dropped after a couple of tests.
    Like Canberra raiders coach Ricky Stuart , Watson is a myth wrapped inside a riddle.

  3. SpryCorpse says:

    I think Watson has been blessed with a lack of competition. And his form in ODIs has been strong (I say without checking the numbers) which has sort of helped to disguise his Test match shortcomings.
    Possibly he would do better at 6, as Matt suggested. It would doubtless be easier against a tiring attack.
    His bowling is very useful. Tight and apt to winkle out a wicket occasionally.

    I’m certainly not surprised he has kept his spot but at number 3 his stats are exposed rather starkly. Maybe, while Smith is taking on just about everything, he can be elevated to 3. Then try to find 4 and 5. Hopefully Clarke will be back to bat at 4 (best case scenario). Otherwise these spots are wide open. I liked the look of Mitch Marsh. And Sean Marsh may stay if he can maintain the determination on display in Melbourne.

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