IT was fitting that Australia invited Steve Waugh to their Ashes team announcement because he embodies the lost art of marathon batting they are seeking to channel.
Waugh hadn’t made a Test century before the 1989 Ashes series, but he scored 177 at Leeds and then followed it up with 152 at Lord’s in the first two matches of that series.
He went on to become one of the most tenacious, unyielding Ashes warriors.
Compare that to most of the current Australian batsmen and it’s chalk and cheese. Australia have played 13 Tests in the past 12 months and have had 11 centuries from batsmen.
Of those, Michael Clarke has scored four. The retired Mike Hussey has three. Matthew Wade, who won’t be in Australia’s Ashes starting side, has two. And odd couple openers Ed Cowan and Dave Warner have scored one each.
So with the exception of Clarke, the rest of Australia’s top order for the Ashes have scored just two centuries between them in the past year.
Somewhere along the way, Australia have lost the ability to turn starts into centuries – and this is nowhere more evident than with Shane Watson.
Despite being one of the most naturally talented batsmen in the world, Watson’s most recent Test century was way back in October 2010 in India.
So why have the big centuries and the long innings just about vanished? Clearly, the easy money of the travelling Twenty20 circus is one factor, with its focus on sixes and switch-hits. But former chief Australian selector Trevor Hohns believes there are a range of other factors.
“I think it probably goes back to the way cricket is being played in school cricket and at junior clubs these days,” Hohns said.
“There is certainly a focus on limited-overs cricket and big shots at a young age and that is no doubt having a flow-on to the higher levels of the game.
“Also, just the way that cricket teams play these days has a bit to do with it. Teams play for a win far more often than in the past and with that comes opportunities to play far more attacking shots. It is probably all a sign of the times with the way cricket is being played.”
Hohns likes the make-up of the squad and is convinced there has been a conscious plan by selectors to go with some hardened batting warriors.
“Australia will need some real batting rocks … and I like the look of them having picked blokes like Chris Rogers, Usman Khawaja and Ed Cowan,” Hohns said.
“These are guys who won’t throw their wickets away and will really put their heads down.
“It is a good looking and balanced squad and I don’t think they could have done any better with the batsmen they selected.”