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Bren O'Brien: Aussies opt for batting insurance

Sportal December 13, 2012, 5:44 pm

The last time Phil Hughes and David Warner were in the same Test side Australia suffered an embarrassing loss to New Zealand in Hobart, their first Test defeat at the hands of the Black Caps on home soil in 26 years.

Twelve months later, by the captain's own admission, Australia have opted for additional insurance when combining two of Australia's most explosive and arguably least consistent batsmen.

The extent of the gap between the best and worst of Hughes and Warner is as much a measure of how good they are when in form as it is an indication of how bad they can be when out of it.

But knowing that pair generally operate in a feast or famine dichotomy, the National Selection Panel has stacked the top order with players with new ball credentials in the most skewed Test side Australia have fielded in many years.

With Warner and Ed Cowan opening and Hughes and Shane Watson at three and four, the home side has four players well versed at taking on the new ball, albeit in very different styles.

In a sign of the changing times of the game, Cowan is the only one you would describe as a traditional opener in that he is a player who consumes minutes and balls at the crease, sapping the energy of the opposition in order to put his team in the ascendancy.

In ten Tests Cowan had made 586 runs at an average of around 34. But more importantly than that is the amount of balls he has faced. On average, Cowan has faced 79 balls an innings, a figure greater than any of the other batsmen in the top four.

Warner faces 52 balls an innings on average, Hughes just over 60, while Watson, who has flicked up and down the order, fronts up to 71 deliveries an innings on average.

Cowan and Warner have been pitched as the yin and yang of openers, but in reality, despite Warner's superior average and superior impact, he couldn't live without Cowan, while you feel Cowan could exist in the Australian team without Warner.

Michael Clarke said on Thursday that Warner was a special case - that you have to take the good with the bad.

Hughes wasn't afforded such luxury when dumped from the Test team 12 months ago. Like Warner, he hits the ball in the air, but his problem is it is usually straight to slips or the keeper.

Clarke felt Hughes' pain when his then New South Wales colleague was dropped. Clarke endured a similar indignity as a developing batsman and describes that as the worst moment of his career.

When Hughes debuted, he had come in to replace the giant figure of Matthew Hayden at the top of the order. He started spectacularly but quickly faded.

The task of establishing his Test credentials a second time won't be any easier, especially having to effectively fill the shoes of Ricky Ponting, Australia's greatest-ever run scorer. He moves to No.3 in a bid to determine if it is his composure or his technique which is his weak link. Clarke and Mickey Arthur will hope it's the former.

Then comes Watson - Australia's Mr Versatile, who when he takes centre this weekend will be filling his fifth different spot in the batting order.

Variety seems to sit well with the all rounder, but given he is probably technically the best batsmen in the top four, are his services lost further down the order?

It means that Australia is stacked for experience in the middle order, but is light up top.

It could also mean, as Clarke conceded on Thursday, that Hughes and Watson could be exposed to the new ball. In many aspects, they are the insurance putting a buffer between the new ball and Australia's most talented pair, Clarke and Michael Hussey.

It's an interesting experiment, the success of which - as well as the likelihood of it continuing onto India and England - will be measured after this series.

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