Ashes 2015 - Nick Knight: These Aussie batsmen lack experience in county game – and are paying the price

EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: The best batsmen hold their position and don’t jab at the ball after it has moved

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The Independent Online

English batsmen grow up learning to be suspicious of the ball. Australian batsmen grow up learning to trust the pace and bounce of the pitch. A sweeping statement perhaps, but true in so many cases. This marked difference was evident in the third Test.

Many of England’s top-order batsmen, past and present, use active and pronounced pre-delivery movements in order to position themselves so they know where the top of their off stump is – an essential prerequisite to good batsmanship when the ball is moving laterally, either in the air or off the surface.

Generally, Australian batsmen adopt a more static position. The head remains still and they are happy to play the original line and adjust if need be (Steve Smith apart). Hard and flat pitches in Australia enable batsmen to have such a method and can develop fluent, fearless stroke-players.

As a result, watching England bat you don’t see too much of the stumps. Conversely, when Australia bat you see much more of the stumps. An example was the dismissal of Peter Nevill in the first innings of the Test at Edgbaston, when he left a ball that clattered into the stumps.

On the flat, benign surface at Lord’s this approach was fine as little readjustment was needed. What we saw at Edgbaston was uncertainty from Australia’s batsmen.

On the first morning when there was some, though not excessive, movement the one batsman to cope with the conditions was Chris Rogers.

There was a reason for this. Rogers has played a lot of cricket in this country for Middlesex and, unusually, has played more first-class cricket here than in Australia. The conditions at Edgbaston were more attuned to home advantage. The groundsman was very quick to point out that no directive had been given in preparing the pitch. This was a very good Test match pitch.

In Ashes series over the years, many of the opposition batting line-up have been vastly experienced playing over here, in many cases in the early part of the summer prior to the series. While some of this team have played county cricket, not many have appeared over an extended period.

The lure of domestic one-day competitions and the cluttered international fixture list make it undesirable, meaning home advantage could have a more incisive impact than in previous encounters.

So why the uncertainty with Australia’s batting? Partly because some of their middle order look a bit out of form, most worryingly the captain, Michael Clarke. There exists an inability to cope with consistent lateral movement, not forgetting the excellence of England’s bowling.

The pitch granted a little bit of seam movement and the lengths the front-line bowlers used were exemplary. When the ball is seaming, the perfect length is when a batsman is uncertain whether to come forward or stay back. The best batsmen hold their position and don’t jab at the ball after it has moved. Easier said than done, but smart footwork definitely helps.

When the ball is just swinging and there is no sideways movement, the length needs to be fuller. Mitchell Starc, who is a swing bowler, in particular bowled either too full or too short too often for the conditions at Edgbaston. Mitchell Johnson is a fast bowler who, again, likes to bowl two lengths and unsettle and create uncertainty that way. Josh Hazlewood was most likely to use these conditions well as he is a tall line bowler, but to be fair to him he is inexperienced in English conditions.

The pace you bowl can also help on wickets that seam a bit, rather than excessively, as batsmen sometimes feel they can catch up with the ball as it moves off the pitch if a bowler is not express pace, say above 90mph. A player rarely has that opportunity with really quick bowling. As the ball passes the bat you simply don’t have time to react.

While Steven Finn bowled brilliantly and quickly enough, England’s bowling attack is generally not as quick as Australia’s and, allied to their control of line and length, this may also have been to their advantage at Edgbaston.

With Australia’s batting unit being dismantled on the first morning it was then very easy to chase the game. Instead of being patient and building pressure, the Australian bowlers would have felt they had to try to get a wicket with every ball in an attempt to get the team back into the contest. What often happens, as bowlers strive for wickets, is that scoring opportunities result and that is exactly what occurred.

This most intriguing, unpredictable series now moves on to Trent Bridge. Alastair Cook and his team know that one more good performance will secure this Ashes series to cap an extraordinary few months for English cricket.

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