Sport Cricket Will the real Test batsmen please stand up?
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Will the real Test batsmen please stand up?

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Sometimes a whitewash is just that: a whitewash. Not the dawning of a new era of dominance, but rather the triumph of a decent side that has managed to paper over its various cracks for the time being.

Yes, it was 5–0, but despite what the crows, cockerels and blowhards in the press box, the pavilion and the pub might tell you, Australia’s recent Ashes triumph was a whitewash of the latter variety. It was a mixture of the good (Michael Clarke, the bowling attack), the great (David Warner, Brad Haddin) and the ‘where the hell did that come from?’ (Mitchell Johnson), all bound together with a hairy-chested esprit de corps redolent of the Chappell era.

It was a dominant performance, but one that required an unhealthy reliance on a handful of players for runs. Steve Smith, Shane Watson, and Chris Rogers all got amongst it eventually, but their aggregates were heavily inflated in the dead rubbers.

Also required was the acquiescence of the English touring party – lest we forget, England were truly awful. They were good enough to canter to a 3–0 series victory only six months ago, against an Australian team riven by internal conflicts, unsure of their best XI, unsure of their respective off stumps. In the return leg though, the script was neatly reversed.

It would be foolish to think that this couldn’t happen again in South Africa. Excepting the number four spot vacated by Jacques Kallis, theirs is the most settled XI in world cricket, with proven performers from top to tail. Australia simply won’t be able to count on runs from the tail-end, nor shelter under-achievers in the middle order, nor withstand the sorts of mini-collapses that became a recurring theme against England. Facing Steyn, Philander, Morkel and Tahir, mini-collapses have a curious habit of becoming collapses.

With an average of 26 and a single half-century, George Bailey had to go, but the focus on Bailey’s shortcomings, and those of his mooted successors, lets the top order off the hook a bit. In David Warner, Shane Watson and Steve Smith, Australia has talented batsmen who tend to make quick runs or perish – even the redoubtable Michael Clarke tends to go hard or go home.

He mightn’t be flashy, but Chris Rogers’ barnacle impersonation allows those around him to play. Even poor Ed Cowan was useful in this role, even though he was more blu-tac than limpet.

The use of a hitter in the number six position, a la Andrew Symonds and Glenn Maxwell, is great in an icing-on-the-cake scenario, where a few more demoralising runs are a bonus. But when the top order falters…well, you’d better hope Brad Haddin is in an understanding mood, and that Mitch Johnson feels like taking five for bugger-all yet again.

You might be expecting chairman of selectors John Inverarity to address this, but instead he’s wondering whether to indulge his love for a smoky (Alex Doolan) or to slot another grit-free strokeplayer (Shaun Marsh) into the side – one is unproven, the other a proven failure (you should ask Patrick Smithers what he thinks).

Is there really not a single test-calibre batsman plying their trade at Shield level? Fair enough, but rather than gambling on diamonds in the rough and pyjama converts, why don’t we at least fill the order out with the duds that are hardest to get out?

He mightn’t be flashy, but Chris Rogers’ barnacle impersonation allows those around him to play. Even poor Ed Cowan was useful in this role, even though he was more blu-tac than limpet.

The Australian batting order needs stiffening, but accepting that and then performing the necessary operation – going out and finding the stubborn bastards that can hang around at all costs – seem to be two very different things.

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