Aaron Finch believes that Australia’s bowling attack has helped paper over some cracks in the batting line-up this season after five Tests that brought just two individual centuries.
Australia fell to an eight-run loss against West Indies at the Gabba on Sunday, one of the biggest upsets in Test history, after a collapse of 8 for 94 in a chase of 216. In the first innings they had also been 54 for 5 before Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey and Pat Cummins led a recovery.
While the home side had won the previous four Tests of the season, their batting had been under significant pressure since the opening game against Pakistan in Perth where they made 487. Only two individual centuries were scored – by David Warner and Travis Head – although Mitchell Marsh twice fell in the 90s and Steven Smith carried his bat for 91 in Brisbane.
Marnus Labuschagne made 18 runs in three completed innings against West Indies, and has averaged 28.25 for the season, while Head made a king pair at the Gabba. Aside from his matchwinning 119 in Adelaide, Head’s next-highest score for the five Tests was 40.
“Think the bowlers have been the ones who have got them out of jail a few times, but also Usman Khawaja…and Mitch Marsh is also pulling his weight in that regard. They’re not great numbers for a middle order that I think have got some much talent.” Finch told ESPN’s Around The Wicket show “The hundreds column is a concern for me. Guys are getting starts, and that’s reflected in the numbers, it’s not like they’re averaging six.
“If you have a bad series in two Tests like Marnus [Labuschagne] that’s okay, everyone will have that at some point, but there’s not enough hundreds. There’s a few cracks that have been papered over from Usman Khawaja and the bowlers who have done a brilliant job for a long time.”
On Labuschagne, specifically, there remains confidence that he will work through his slump ahead of the New Zealand Test series which starts in late February. Michael Clarke said that it was a phase almost every player will endure at some point, but had spotted a small technical challenge Labuschagne was going through.
“The only thing I can see technically is that he just looks to be squaring up a little bit with his right shoulder,” Clarke said. “So mainly the balls that are that back-of-a-length, instead of staying really side on like he does and back-foot defends the ball to cover or to point, or even drops it to his feet, he’s just squaring up a little bit. And that’s why he’s playing a little in front of himself, edging it to a second, third [slip], gully area.
“Again, he’s such a good player, he’ll go away now, he’ll work on that before New Zealand. You can’t write Marnus off. He’s batting at No. 3 which is one of the toughest positions in Test cricket. Don’t be surprised if he comes out against New Zealand and he’s the leading run-scorer. About every top-class batsman goes through a stage like this.”
Finch added: “Think that’s been highlighted in his strike-rate as well,” he said. “You get into a defensive frame of mind where you think about survival first and I’ll cash in later on. But the wicket’s they’ve been playing on, you don’t get that opportunity to cash in – it’ not like they flatten out and become absolute roads and you can bat for two days, we just don’t see that anymore.”
Meanwhile, Callum Ferguson warned that the task for the top order is unlikely to get any easier when they head to New Zealand for two matches which shape as key in the current World Test Championship cycle.
“Don’t think Marnus is the only one getting caught out squaring up and that can be a bit of a result of batting on some wickets that are bowler-friendly,” Ferguson said. “You just get a little bit out of shape, so they’re going to have to do some hard work before they get over to New Zealand to just get a bit more side on, a few of them, and start playing a touch later. Because over in New Zealand they’ll be seaming, swinging conditions and New Zealand are very good at extracting the most out of those pitches.”