John Townsend: Batsmen are faced with the gravity of the situation

The Aussie Angle: Australia's top order is being confronted by forces both within and beyond its control
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The Independent Online

John Rogers has waited more than five years to watch his son Chris return to Test cricket.

A handy cricketer in his own right who played a handful of matches for New South Wales before moving to Perth to run the Western Australian Cricket Association, Rogers was nonetheless not enough of a slave to the action to watch his son's every moment on the field in that belated return.

On Friday, for example, he travelled a few miles from Trent Bridge to Grantham in order to inspect Isaac Newton's famous apple tree.

Gravity compelled an apple to fall from that tree on to the dozing Newton one summer's afternoon three centuries ago and a similar force is being applied to the Australian top order.

But whereas Newton's laws describe an orderly relationship between force and motion, there is a less predictable form of gravity exerting its pull on Australia.

It comes as little surprise to those who have observed Rogers pile up runs and centuries over the past five years that he experienced success on his Test return.

Armed with precise footwork, soft hands and a willingness to play the ball as late as possible, the product of countless hours of experience facing the new ball in all circumstances and conditions, Rogers is as well equipped as anyone in world cricket to combat England's swingers.

And as he defied the England bowlers for four hours across the two innings, an investment in resolve even more valuable than the 16 and 52 runs he contributed, Rogers mirrored the recent approach of two other dogged left-handers in Simon Katich and Justin Langer.

All West Australian products, even if two were forced to look for greener pastures after their initial taste of Test cricket, they thrived in the old-fashioned role of blunting the attack.

Other members of the top order have less defined roles and are playing with the uncertainty of those with limited job security. Shane Watson is a bludgeoning opener whose ability to hit boundaries against the new ball makes him highly dangerous. But he has two flaws – a heavy front foot and an inability to convert reasonable starts into major scores.

No regular batsman in Test history exceeds Watson's record of falling between 30 and 60 in 35 per cent of his innings. Watson's innings yesterday told the tale of his career in an hour – a series of crunching drives, the framework for a substantial construction then, predictably enough, lbw attempting to swipe across his front pad.

Ed Cowan was collateral damage in Australia's bid to pair Watson and Rogers as the opening partnership most capable of resisting England's top-class swing bowlers. Now he is struggling to adapt to the different demands of No 3.

Twice he has fallen in this match by pushing hard at deliveries that required no attention.

Cowan had a golden domestic summer when England last toured Australia and was in the right place at the right time when Watson was injured a year later. Throughout his 18 Tests though, Cowan has been dogged by the perception that his demise is imminent.

Cricketing gravity has seen his career average fall to 31; Newton's principle of uniform motion suggests it will continue to move in that direction unless that momentum is arrested.

Steve Smith is energetic, inventive, light on his feet and rarely overawed. Phil Hughes has a temperament that fighting men would crave on any battlefield. All these batsmen should be subject to the natural forces that keep a top order in shape and moving in the same direction. Instead, the top order is being confronted by forces both within and beyond its control.

And with the fate of the first Test slipping away, that is a matter of significant gravity.