BY Ian Chappell, The Daily Telegraph, December 09, 2012
With Shane Watson back from injury and Phil Hughes in the side, Australia now has four openers, Ian Chappell says. Picture: Daniel Wilkins Source: PerthNow
AUSTRALIA’S batting order was compromised by Ricky Ponting agreeing to a demotion and Michael Clarke’s reluctance to move up.
With Shane Watson in the line-up, Australia had three openers. Now with Phillip Hughes’ promotion, they have four.
Watson should open, not be pushed further away from the new ball and closer to the immediate danger of facing wily spinner Rangana Herath as soon as he walks to the crease. Constructing a batting order is not difficult.
The myth that the best batsman should be at three was born in the Bradman era. However, he should at least reside in the top four and not be parked away at five as is currently the situation.
Ideally, the best players are in early to prevent trouble rather than being held back in order to extract the side from the mire.
In Clarke’s case, his thinking should be: “Better to come in at one for not many than three for very few.” When you don’t have a prototype No.3, it’s logical to bat your best player in that spot.
If that sounds like too much responsibility for Clarke, well that’s what captains have to do.
A batting line-up is formed to provide the best chance of winning the match and, consequently, I’m loath to select three openers.
It’s OK occasionally as a band-aid solution, but it really means you don’t have a ready-made No.3.
The best openers enjoy the challenge and can handle the new ball efficiently. The ideal combination is right and left-handed, like Michael Slater and Mark Taylor, with one a goer and the other a steady player.
That makes David Warner and Watson the ideal pair, as the former can quickly devastate the opposition and the latter plays pace well and is rarely dismissed early.
Ponting was the ideal No.3; a player with the technique to survive the new ball but the inclination to mount a counter-attack when needed. If you don’t have a Ponting, then a David Boon type is the next best choice. He blunted the bowling after an early loss and had the game to go on and make a big score.
Three is the best place to bat because the pattern of play can be set for those who follow.
Clarke is best equipped in the current side but his reluctance means four is his spot.
A typical No.4 is a Greg Chappell or Mark Waugh. Both players had a wide range of strokes, the technique to survive the early loss of wickets and the inclination to dominate wherever possible.
There’s no type-cast for five and six, but they should be able to play both spin and pace well as they’re often called on to handle the second new ball.
Doug Walters was perfect at six, as was Adam Gilchrist because they could change a game in one session.
Both Walters and Gilchrist could also help you win what seemed to be a lost cause because they would naturally counter-attack when the opposition expected a rearguard action.
The current team, with a plethora of openers, is in part a reflection on the dearth of young players successfully batting in crucial positions for their states. The system is not producing young players to plug these gaps at Test level and the Argus report has done little to rectify the flaws.
The retirement of Ricky Ponting is the ideal watershed moment; the right time to start looking to the future while selecting a side to beat Sri Lanka. If Australia don’t take that route, then the selectors may find themselves forced to tread that rocky road in the heat of an Ashes battle next year.
Herbie Collins, a shrewd former Australian captain from the 1920s once said: “The most important thing in selection is to get the right combination.”
At the moment, Australia have a batting combination that is too easily cracked.
Ian Chappell’s Best XI
Watson: “Opening his best position”
Warner: “Match winner, needs support”
Hughes: “Bandaid solution but he’s young”
Clarke: “Forget past traumas – he’s in form”
Hussey: “Ideal anchorman”
Henriques: “Performing consistently”
Wade: “Needs to be a good keeper”
Johnson: “Is he a WACA bowler or not?”
Starc: “Battle with Johnson for one spot”
Siddle: “Attack leader sorely missed”
Lyon: “Good finger spinner”
Smith: “A talented, smart all-round option and Clarke’s considerate of spinners”