'Journeymen' show just how far they have come

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The Independent Online

Marcus North and Brad Haddin, the middle-order batsmen who scored the last 200 of Australia's 674 runs at Cardiff, were both playing their first Ashes Test, but it was not their first experience of the Ashes.

Both were in England in 2005. North was filling in as an overseas player at Lancashire. "I was watching on TV, so it wasn't a great time for me. I got plenty of stick, that's for sure," he recalls. Haddin was the touring team's reserve wicketkeeper, though he never got a game. "I remember the feeling in the changing-rooms at Trent Bridge," he said. "It was a sombre and uncomfortable place to be. I don't want to have that experience again."

The chances of a repeat are much reduced by their heroics yesterday. They came together just before the close on Friday when the score was 474 for 5 and batted until mid- afternoon yesterday when Ricky Ponting felt they had added sufficient runs to put England in again. They rarely played and missed and did not give a chance until they began to force the pace after lunch and Haddin was finally caught on the boundary, trying to hit his fourth six. There were also 11 fours in his 121 off 151 balls.

North, a left-hander, played a less frenetic game (his 125 came off 242 balls); he starts with a crouching stance, and is often on the back foot, bat straight. "He's been brought up properly," observed Geoffrey Boycott. He would occasionally stretch to reach a ball outside the off stump so that he could clout it through the covers, but he always looks secure because he behaves himself at the wicket.

North and Haddin, like Simon Katich and Mike Hussey, are batsmen who give journeymen a good name. They are professionals and proud of it, all influenced by the ruthless good batting sense of Ponting. Getting out carelessly is a dereliction of duty. Scoring big runs after settling in is second nature. Haddin averages over 40 after only 16 Tests.

With the exception of Phillip Hughes, who is still in love with quick runs from unorthodox positions, and of Michael Clarke, whose craftsmanship is gilded with artistry, these are essentially serious people. Especially when compared to some English batsmen who sometimes perform like gentlemen amateurs who believe that style is as important as substance. If Kevin Pietersen was an Australian, his place in the team would probably be endangered after playing the damn fool sweep that cost him his wicket in England's first innings. Australians hardly ever sweep. Both Ponting and North looked out of character when they did so.

The journeymen do not share the celebrity lifestyles of Clarke. When North arrived in England this summer, Brydon Coverdale of Cricinfo wrote that "the tabloids have found him as interesting as a bowl of porridge." Yesterday's helping was sweetened by syrup and softened by cream.

North is softly-spoken, with an easy grin and a pleasing manner, but tough enough to captain a captious Western Australia team in domestic cricket. He is a familiar face on the county circuit, having played for Durham, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Lancashire without creating a stir.

He got his opportunity to play at No 6 for Australia when Andrew Symonds imploded and Shane Watson was injured and he took it brilliantly in Johannesburg only last February, when he scored a Test hundred on his debut. Like Haddin, he is a late developer. He will be 30 between the Second and Third Tests.

Incidentally, North also bowls off-spin (right-handed), and suggests that it has come on by leaps and bounds in recent years. He might yet get an opportunity later today to embarrass England further. He has caused quite enough already.