Third Test: Warner and Watson to save the day?

The David Warner situation is another example of how Australian cricket is compromised in so many areas of its operation these days. Two-nil down and with more than half its batting line-up in a state of chaos, Australia has no choice but to rush Warner back into the line-up at Old Trafford starting on Thursday.

This will happen for two reasons : firstly, Warner is one of only three batsmen in the Australian line-up that has proven that he can cut the mustard at Test level. Michael Clarke’s record speaks for itself, and Shane Watson, despite his recent agonies, is a good Test cricketer ; Warner averages just under 40 and will always be a potential match-winner. The rest you can raffle at the moment.

Secondly, from the moment Warner took Dale Steyn to the cleaners on debut in that T20 match at the MCG four years ago he became a hero to every wide-eyed youngster who dreamed of playing cricket on the big stage. It became important to Cricket Australia that a T20 slugger was seen by the public to have the opportunity to progress to a Baggy Green, and the fact that Warner has, until recently, made the transition so well has made him a vital marketing property.

Let’s not underestimate what Warner achieved in his first two summers of Test cricket in Australia. He lit up our television screens on that memorable Friday night in Perth against the Indians a couple of years ago, he stood tall when all around him succumbed to the New Zealanders in Hobart, and he smashed a hundred before lunch against the South Africans in Adelaide last November. Properly harnessed, he is a hugely influential player.

The stupidity of his altercation with Joe Root back in June was incomprehensible and he will suffer the indignity of the fall-out from it for some time yet. And it’s true that Cricket Australia had been edgy about his behaviour well before his recent misdemeanours. But you never want to extinguish the fire in the belly that makes a player what he is.

Where Warner bats and who he replaces are the immediate issues facing Darren Lehmann and the selectors. As ridiculous as it sounds in such an under-performing batting line-up, someone will be regarded as unlucky to be left out. There are cases for all of Phil Hughes, Steve Smith, Chris Rogers and Ed Cowan being selected, but they are murky ones.

The fact is that Warner is a better player than all of them. Put him back at the top of the order with Watson, tell him he has a licence to play his natural game, and lets see if we can put some pressure back on Jimmy Anderson and co. Easier said than done of course, but if there’s one thing Anderson dislikes it is being scored off freely.

Rogers hasn’t done a lot wrong, but he was confused at Lord’s and that won’t help his mindset going into this Test. His recall was always a specific selection for this series, but the logic behind it was dubious : experience in English conditions against county bowlers? It was never going to be a good look that Australia recalled a 35 yr old as England develops a couple of 22 yr olds in Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.

The make-up of the bowling line-up is equally confusing. Maybe it’s time to get some steadiness back into the attack via Jackson Bird rather than the erratic wicket-taking ability of Mitchell Starc, and maybe it’s time to restore Nathan Lyon  to the position which he must have thought was his following the Indian tour. Ashton Agar has been a great story, but it’s impossible to do your apprenticeship under the microscope of Test cricket.

Finally, Clarke must take control of his team. His first move should be to move back to no.4, to stop the rot before it sets in and to impose himself on the game. Lord’s was a disaster for Australian cricket, but there have been enough signs in the first two matches to believe that Australia is not without a chance. Watson and Warner can still influence the destiny of this series.



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