Why are batsmen struggling in Test cricket? Nasser Hussain, Ricky Ponting and Mike Atherton assess
Last Updated: 09/09/19 11:45am
Steve Smith has been a genius, Ben Stokes has been excellent and Rory Burns and Marnus Labuschagne have impressed, too, but batting sure has been tough for others during the Ashes.
Ahead of day five of the fourth Test, at which England are aiming to battle to a series-saving draw, Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Ricky Ponting analysed why ball is dominating bat.
Top-drawer bowling, faulty techniques, the infiltration of white-ball cricket on the Test game were all discussed by the Sky Sports trio, in a podcast you can download here!
Here is the pick of the chat…
"When Alastair Cook retired he said the last two or three seasons in his career in England was as difficult as it had been. I agree, for a number of reasons, principally because there is a very good crop of fast bowlers around at the moment. I have watched this Australia attack with great admiration and thought on the third day at Headingley they were out of this world. They gave the batsmen nothing to hit through the leg side and were incredibly disciplined at high pace.
"There is not a spinner in the top 10 of the bowling rankings at the moment, while there were five, 10 years ago. Where you compare that list to now, as well as the bowlers who aren't in the top 10, like Stuart Broad and Mohammed Shami, I think that is a better crop.
"The battle for an opening batsman in Test cricket is around about the top of off stump and the best bowlers, like Josh Hazlewood, will land it there more often than the less-good ones. The best opening batsman are the ones who make the best decisions about what to play, leave and attack in that very narrow area.
"What Jason Roy's struggles have shown is that white-ball cricket is a completely different game. I'm not saying it is easy to open in white-ball cricket but, by and large, the white Kookaburra ball doesn't swing, there might be two slips maximum and the roadmap is the same for you every time. In Test cricket, the challenges are so varied."
"Test cricket is not supposed to be easy and someone has to say: 'I am going to do my best to overcome that. You could say Smith is hiding in the middle order but he's not - he is coming in at 30-2 every time, so he is doing it against the new ball.
"The effect of one-day cricket makes it more watchable - Ben Stokes could not have played the innings at the end of Headingley or he did not have those one-day shots - but you have to admit that one-day stuff is creeping into the techniques of Test batting and definitely affecting it.
"What has been noticeable in this series is the hard hands, when I was brought up you were told to play with soft hands and let the ball come to you. That is where the game has been infiltrated by white-ball cricket. High back-lifts, hard hands going at the ball, people being castled a lot. Playing late and underneath your eyes seems to have gone.
"This is also an England comment a little bit, but I see guys coming into Test cricket with the same techniques and same mistakes, go back to county cricket and then come back to Test cricket with the same techniques and same mistakes."
"I think we have seen some extreme conditions - Headingley was probably the most difficult batting conditions I have seen in the last 10 years anywhere in the world. Even at Lord's on the last day, the bounce was a bit up and down, Old Trafford will turn last in the game, which is not something you associate with a Test match in England.
"I think there has been a real focus on conditions and making Test cricket more attractive. That means we want more wickets to fall, we don't want the boring five-day, drawn out Tests and we are not seeing many of those around the world. You know in India it will spin on the first day, you know in England it will seam and swing a lot for one, two days.
"The bowling skills have also increased dramatically. For Stuart Broad to bowl exclusively around the wicket to left-handed batsmen, three or four years ago that just didn't happen. I'm not sure the batting skills have improved.
There is also a lot more analysis - where is this one little chink in this guy's armour that we can expose? You cannot survive if you have weaknesses, you need the courage and want to go and change things innings to innings or mid-series."