The Light Roller: Australia's top order woes may not be as easily fixed as Darren Lehmann appears to believe

The second Test begins on Thursday

Knocking heads together may not cure Australia's top order ills

There is nothing wrong with a long tail, as the actress said to the lemur, provided that it wags. In the great Ashes series of 2005 England's unsung lower order regularly chipped in with valuable runs and there have been famous backs-to-the-wall efforts from the likes of Anderson and Panesar since then. But tailenders don't regularly win matches by their batting exploits, however talented they may be as strikers of the ball.

Since the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey Australia have played ten Test innings. In seven of those, at least forty-five per cent of their runs have been scored after the fall of the fifth wicket - and every match has been lost. In that context, it is no surprise that Darren Lehmann has called on the batsman in the team to score more runs. Yet the question remains whether the current top six are technically and temperamentally up to the task. It may be that Lehmann's policy of 'telling' his players how to bat is ultimately too simplistic.

 

Bairstow and Smith: young bucks or young ducks?

Jonny Bairstow has had a peculiarly on-off Test career thus far. Nine Tests in six series and discarded three times already - it's hardly any wonder England have yet to see the best of him. Three half-centuries are indicative of his potential and fighting spirit but he can occasionally look rigid in his strokeplay.

The parallels with Steve Smith are striking and don't end with their slightly ungainly techniques. Close in age as well as test batting average, Smith like his English counterpart has still to play ten Tests: his eight have been spread over four series and four years. The Australian number 5 looked combative if not exactly assured during his first innings half-century at Trent Bridge.

Ultimately, neither man yet looks entirely comfortable batting in Test matches, their endeavours perhaps not helped by a final parallel: Bairstow closely resembles a rather earnest Squirrel Nutkin, while Smith - hair colour aside - bears an uncanny resemblance to 90s broom-cupboard favourite Ed the Duck.

 

The death of an Englishman

On a recent excursion to sunny Pembrokeshire I was amazed to see my better half, Mrs T.L. Roller, become immersed in The Cricketer magazine. It is understating matters to say she is no fan of the game so I was confused as to whether this was a sign of the holiday going well or very badly indeed.

After a brief discussion about Kevin Pietersen's South African heritage, she noted: 'The only other English player I know is Ricky Ponting.' Hiding behind a jocular guffaw a small part of my soul withered and died, later to be taken out and buried on a Welsh hillside.

 

Boom! Afridi's back with a bang

Remarkably, there may be others in the world - including cricket nuts - who don't see the Ashes as the pinnacle of the (and any) sport.

Supporters of Pakistan will have their eyes firmly set on the Caribbean, where Shahid Afridi put in another extraordinary performance among the many of his entertaining career this weekend.

Princely in his self-belief, Afridi has made more comebacks than Status Quo's riff. This is the man who hadn't played a test since 2006 when he captained Pakistan against Australia in England three years ago. He promptly remembered that five-day games were unutterably dull and retired after the match (which was a shame in light of what came next because you get the sense the Afridi is uncorruptable).

One-dayers and T20s are his preferred battleground but having been dropped for the Champions Trpohy, it looked as if the end could be nigh. Pah!

His 76 runs in Sunday's game came at the rate of 138 per hundred balls. No other player scoring over 15 had a run rate of better than 56.

Then, after rescuing Pakistan from complete collapse he proceeded to take 7 for 12 off nine overs. Boom, boom or bust, bust: Afridi is a cricketer to make the world smile.

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