Australia’s top-order under spotlight
Australia’s top-order hasn't been able to churn out big scores in the two Ashes Tests so far. With Steven Smith missing the Headingley Test due to the concussion injury, Australia’s batting looks more fragile. The onus will be on the other batsmen to show more responsibility to give their bowlers a bit more chance to exploit England’s long-standing batting issues.
Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Usman Khawaja are yet to score a half-century in the series. While Khawaja has been able to get a few starts, Warner and Bancroft have especially struggled. Let’s take a closer look at Australia’s top three batsmen.
David Warner has been in all sorts of trouble since his comeback to Test cricket. England have bowled extremely well against him, keeping the ball just around the off-stump and denying him of any sort of width. In the Ashes 2017-18, England had a deep point right at the start of the innings to turn his productive shot into a single. But they have attacked him more this time around.
Warner has been dismissed thrice by Stuart Broad from around-the-wicket and the left-hander has been trying to find ways to combat him. Rewind back to the first innings of the opening Test, Warner was batting on off-stump in a bid to get a better sense of his off-stump. As a result, he became vulnerable to the straighter ball and was dismissed leg-before, although, the replays showed the ball was sliding down the leg side.
He switched his guard to middle stump in the next innings, but he looked in two minds whether to play or leave, and edged the ball behind to the keeper. In the first innings of the second Test, his head position looked a bit better because he wasn’t leaning over to the off-side a lot. He didn't switch over to off-stump but to Broad’s credit, he nipped the ball straight back at his stumps, beating him on the inside half this time around. Warner was clearly looking to cover the away movement which exposed the little gap between his bat and pad.
While playing a right arm bowler from around-the-wicket, left-handed batters should look for the ball that is aimed at their stumps. In other words, they should be playing down the line of the stumps and if the ball does move away, playing the first line would mean they are likely to get beaten on the outside edge, which is perfectly fine. Warner needs to look at the things he was doing well on his good days and back himself to do well in the middle.
Cameron Bancroft’s technique has been under the microscope in the two Tests played so far. In terms of the set-up at the crease, Bancroft is quite orthodox. He has a slight trigger movement across towards the off-side (like most of the batsmen).
When the ball is outside off-stump, he makes one final movement into the ball which is fluent. When the ball is slightly straighter and at the stumps, his third movement is a plant right across his stumps (front foot pointing towards the point) which then leaves him a bit vulnerable to the straighter ball.
Bancroft plants his left foot across the stumps
In the first innings at Lord’s, Bancroft did well to survive the initial burst, which is difficult for any batsman but he was pinned in front of the stumps, undone by a fast, nip-backer from Jofra Archer.
England quicks are most likely to keep the plan of bowling at his stumps during the rest of the series. So what exactly can Bancroft do to sort his problem in such a short period? Reversing back to his trigger movements, he moves his back foot first and then gets his left foot across the stumps (which is the second movement). If he can find a way to be a bit more open-chested at ball release, then if he does plant that foot across the stumps (third movement), it won’t get him too far over the stumps.
Usman Khawaja has looked in decent touch in comparison to Bancroft and Warner – to say the least. He has got off to decent starts but hasn’t been able to kick on and get a big score.
Khawaja had some problems with the short ball in the World Cup but England haven't quite peppered him with the short stuff. They have persisted with the fuller length on just around off-stump, luring him to play at a maximum number of deliveries.
He is someone who likes to dominate the opposition but has to get a bit tighter in his stroke play and get in the right positions to play the ball. During the second Test at Lord’s, he was guilty of catching up with the seam movement off Chris Woakes’ bowling and as a result, the outside edge was found. In the next innings, he went nowhere with his feet against Archer. Both his feet were pointing down the wicket and all he ended up feeling for the ball outside off-stump.
Khawaja feels for the ball outside off-stump
Australia batsmen have to be on top of their game in the absence of Steve Smith. England’s vulnerable batting line-up will be under huge pressure if Australia put up a competitive total on the board.