- The Investec Ashes 2013
Border: Australian tail better than top three
Allan Border, the former Australia captain, has spoken of his bewilderment at how the vastly talented allrounder Shane Watson is skating desperately close to a failed career, in a Test match team where the bowlers looked more capable of batting time than the batsmen.
Having experienced the enormous pain of Australian cricket's troubled times during the 1980s, Border paralleled the current team's lack of performance and good fortune with the teams he led so valiantly three decades ago. A horrid defeat by 347 runs at Lord's handed Australia their sixth Test match loss in a row, a streak not seen since 1984, when Border inherited the captaincy from a tearful Kim Hughes.
Seldom known for expressing opinions that are any less than guarded, Border was particularly frank in his assessment of the batting he saw at Lord's over the past four days. "Our major concern right now is the performance of the top six. I could honestly say the nine, 10 and jack looked more competent than our one, two and three," Border wrote for Cricket Australia. "If that was me in the top three I'd be embarrassed. We need to settle on our best 11 and stay with it. I'm a believer in the pick and stick method, so we need to find our best 11 suited to the conditions and stick with it."
Whether or not that best XI includes Watson is a matter of increasing debate, given the frequency with which he is getting out for infuriatingly handy scores, and now also falling in a remarkably similar manner in each innings. After watching Watson fall lbw for the third time in four turns at the crease this series, Border said he could not fathom how a player this talented could keep making the same mistakes.
"We all know what a wonderful player Shane Watson is. He looks like a million bucks when he's firing. What is worrying though is that he keeps getting out in the same fashion. Now who is to blame here? Is it Watson for not adapting? What about the coaches?" Border wrote. "In an era where we've got a thousand coaches and psychoanalysts and dieticians and sport scientists it defies belief that a player can be making the same mistakes. Whether it is a technical thing or a mental thing I don't know.
"Is Shane not listening, or are people saying bad luck, you got a good one? We need to find out what the best is for Shane. Is it opening the batting? Or maybe batting at six and making him a genuine allrounder? Whatever it is we need to find out soon or Shane's time will have come and gone and we won't have seen the best of him. The buck stops with Shane and he needs to figure it quickly because it will be a real shame if he doesn't fulfil his potential."
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has said that Watson is well aware of the technical problems revolving around the prominence of his front pad, and credited England's bowlers, most recently James Anderson, for repeatedly finding it.
"We've talked about it many times. I actually think it was a pretty good ball to be fair from Anderson. It nipped off a length and cut back," Lehmann said. "The first innings he played across his pad but this innings I thought he played pretty well. We would love him to make big runs as everyone would but he is just one of the top seven who has to do it."
Watson gave some indication that he was trying to combat the problem by taking a leg-stump guard in the second innings at Lord's, and Lehmann said there would be more tinkering to try to ensure he scored the runs that his talent has continually hinted at without ever quite delivering.
"Particularly here at Lord's with the slope and it coming back in, he made that adjustment, but that may be different at Old Trafford, it depends on where you are playing , they are going to target that," Lehmann said. "We know that. We know we are going to bowl to their batters, they know how they are going bowl on our bowlers. We just have to make technical and tactical decisions - at the moment we are not coming up with the right ones and the right results."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here