Shane Watson, George Bailey & Why Australia Produces so Few Test Quality Batsmen

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One of the most staggering aspects of the latest lowest ebb in Australian cricket is the fact the batting cupboard couldn’t be more bare.

In their recently completed 3-0 whitewash in the Border Gavaskar trophy, Australia’s top order performed woefully. Michael Clarke was the sole century maker in the entire series. The rest of the lineup lacked the aptitude and application to make a century. Australia’s batting lineup effectively featured four opening batsmen in Cowan, Warner, Hughes and Watson.

If ever there was a player who perfectly illustrated the sad state of batsmanship in Australia, it would have to be Shane Watson. Despite a mediocre batting average of 35 in Tests, prior to the series he was able to effectively opt out of bowling and still be a certain starter in the team. Perhaps that’s an option in the short term, but in the medium to long term, it’s losing a wicket taking bowler whose average is better than James Anderson’s, for instance (admittedly way fewer wickets).

Consider Shane Watson’s behaviour on tour.  As Vice Captain he fails to complete the required task from management after their humiliation in the opening Test. Banned from the 2nd Test he flies home for the birth of his son. Instead of taking a professional and reserved approach to the disciplinary action, he declares publicly that he’s considering his international future and shares disparaging comments about the management. As soon as Michael Clarke is declared unfit for the final test, Watson is allowed to bury the hatchett and waltz back into the team as Australia’s 44th test captain.

Headless batting and overaggressive captaincy saw Australia beaten inside three days and Watson finish the series with 99 runs at an average of 16.5, a figure that’s only marginally worse than his record over the last two years averaging 24.

A sad state of affairs indeed. But what is behind Shane Watson being able to command a place in the side and the lack of Australian Test batsmen being produced in the system?

Just how Watson is the perfect illustration of Australia’s batting woes, perhaps George Bailey – Tasmania’s Shield winning captain – is the fitting illustration to explain why there is nobody to replace the likes of Watson.

Gideon Haigh has written a brilliant piece in The Australian which shows the challenge Bailey faces to bat himself into contention. He encourages fans to put themselves in Bailey’s shoes. Today’s cricketers are expected to flick from one form of the game to the next as if they were identical disciplines.

Time was, if you recall, when summer was carefully scheduled in blocks on grounds that batting in five-day and one-day formats were essentially different crafts. For evidence that times have changed, consider the 2012-13 of Tasmania’s George Bailey.

It runs like this: from August 25 to September 3, four one-day internationals; from September 5 to October 5, nine T20 internationals; from October 14 to December 1, four Sheffield Shield four-dayers interspersed with five Ryobi Cup one-dayers; from December 9 to January 5, seven Big Bash League T20s; from January 11 to January 23, five ODIs; from January 26 to 28, two T20Is; from February 1 to 6, three ODIs; February 13, a T20I; February 19, a Ryobi Cup one-dayer; February 21 to today, four Sheffield Shield matches.

Fans who carp about the season’s many guises should try imagining it from the perspective of Bailey, compelled to make no fewer than 18 separate changes of format.

This has been mainly at the expense of his long-form cricket: in a summer when Bailey should have been challenging for an Ashes berth he has managed a single first-class half-century.

What a waste of a smart, resourceful cricketer.

How can Australia expect to produce batsmen of century-making Test match quality, until it fixes the gigantic elephant in the room?

In the meantime, anybody who makes runs in the Australia A tour or the opening rounds of the County Championship will be a big chance for The Ashes. Michael Clarke aside, every single batting spot is wide open.

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