Australia in South Africa 2014: Australia’s top order struggles in focus

I have been saying for some time that Australia’s top order has been inconsistent at best and out of form at worst for some time now.  The Ashes victory in Australia was built not off the back of top orders runs but the efforts of, principally, Brad Haddin with the willow and the bowlers.  Over night, after a respite of sorts in the first test, Australia’s top order limitations were again brought to the fore.

On an innocuous wicket on which Australia’s much vaunted bowling attack was made to bowl some 150 overs, no top order batter, David Warner aside, was in the long enough to construct an innings.  Now, those of you who read this blog who lament that I am often far to negative when it comes the Australian cricket team, consider these statistics:

  • Australia has played 16 test matches in the last 12 calendar months (including the test match currently in play).
  • During this span Australia has batted 31 times (again including the current innings).
  • Australia’s average score when the third wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the one innings where the 3rd wicket was not lost) was 95.
  • Australia’s average score when the fourth wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the two innings where the 4th wicket was not lost) was 134.
  • Those numbers, low as they are, are skewed by a couple of excellent partnerships.  Of more concern is that 18 occasions out of 31 possible innings the Australian top order has failed to reach 100 before three wickets were lost (or 58% of the time).  For the fourth wicket the numbers are not better: 12 times in 30 possible innings Australia has not reached 100 before the fourth wicket has been lost.

These numbers have to be a concern for every Australian cricket fan.  Whilst they have been winning, they have not been doing it through runs at the top of the order.  That fact is most explicitly seen when one considers that during the span of six wins Australia has recently has in a row has failed to pass 100 before losing its 3rd wicket on six out of eleven occasions and before losing its 4th wicket on five out of ten occasions.

The injection of Doolan and Marsh has not improved Australia’s top order based on last night’s evidence and, whilst the captain continues to score big hundreds on occasion, he has also been getting out regularly before reaching 20 which is putting the middle order under more and more pressure.

I do not know that there is an easy solution given that Australia has continued to tinker with its top order throughout this span of 16 test matches.  Equally, if there is one area in which Australia’s performance needs to improve it is in this area.  In India and in England the cracks in Australia’s top order could not be filled enough to secure enough runs to lead Australia to victory.  In Australia, against a woeful England, it did not matter as it also didn’t at Centurion.  Now that Australia faces the prospect of a suddenly resurgent South African line up with a lead to defend it is again up to the middle order to bail the top order.  One is starting to wonder how long this can go on before these top order struggles begin to burn the Australian team again.  I, for one, hope that test match is not the present one.

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