Kieran Francis: Australian top-order problems

Sportal January 4, 2013, 8:34 pm

This summer of cricket has been an important preparation tool for Australia as they prepare to tackle two Ashes series in 2013.

After a gallant effort against South Africa in the first series of the Australian summer, a series win (and possible clean-sweep) against Sri Lanka will round out what most would regard as a good starting point for building a side to win back the Ashes.

But despite all the positives, concerns with the batting line-up continue to linger.

Even though there has been a number of partnerships and decent scores from the top-order, there is a worrying form-line in regard to their output: Nine times during the Sri Lankan series, an Australian top-order batsman (one to four) has failed to convert a half-century into a ton, with none reaching the 100 mark so far.

This statistic is not only astonishing given the questionable standard of this Sri Lankan team but also because of the quality of cricket played by these batsmen.

Opener David Warner is the biggest culprit, with all four of his innings ending between 50 and 100. We know Warner's swashbuckling style means he can be prone to going down swinging but it's important that once he establishes a score, he builds a partnership with another top order batsman and puts pressure on the opposition.

Warner's partner - and his polar opposite in terms of style - is the measured Ed Cowan, who has experienced an inconsistent summer, with a century and two 50's punctuated by a series of failures. He has only had one opportunity against the Sri Lankans to convert a 50 into a 100 and this is a worrying sign.

New number three Phil Hughes has settled in nicely to the line-up with a couple of scores in the 80's but these are the innings that should be translated into centuries to help build a huge team total.

Second drop has been shared by Michael Clarke and the now injured Shane Watson, who have both struck half-centuries against the tourists in this series, two in the case of the in-form skipper, who also registered a ton in Melbourne.

But if even Clarke, who has proven adept at bagging not just centuries but multiple centuries in the last 12 months, has struggled to convert in this series, questions must be asked.

And if the top order is struggling to make big scores on home soil against a weakened Sri Lankan attack, how will they fare in the sub-continent against India or the swing-friendly pitches of England?

It is crucial Australia's top order batsman get the balance right between attack and defence, and they also might need to improve their mental discipline to concentrate on getting big scores instead of settling for just a respectable return.

There are also question marks over communication when running between the wickets, given the three run-outs we have seen involving top four batsman during the Sri Lanka series alone.

The loss of cheap wickets in this manner cost Australia dear during their home Ashes defeat in 2010/11, and Clarke will be keen to ensure his team give nothing away for free when they head to India and England in 2013.

These are issues that need to be addressed before the Aussies embark on a huge six-month period for the team, as the conversion of scores into big hundreds, and tightening up on silly mistakes, could well prove the difference between winning and losing the Ashes.

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