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Forget Kevin Pietersen, Ashes headaches are all Australia's

Mike Atherton Times Online 22.07.2009 22:37
Forget Kevin Pietersen, Ashes headaches are all Australia's - Andrew Flintoff - Cricket

As Andrew Flintoff knows all too well, careers are made during Ashes series. They can be destroyed, too. Mitchell Johnson and Phillip Hughes came with reputations that were inversely proportionate to the length and breadth of their achievements and the most worrying sound for Australia during the first two Tests has been the gentle hiss of escaping air as their balloon-like reputations deflate.

Forget the fitness of Brett Lee and Shane Watson or the state of mind of Ricky Ponting, Johnson and Hughes are Australia's biggest problems and they will not retain the Ashes unless a cure is established. More than that, if they continue to perform poorly or if alternatives are not found, not only will Australia lose the Ashes, they will also lose the series heavily.

At the moment, it does not matter whether Ponting wins or loses the toss, it does not matter which team bat or bowl first; England know that, from the outset, they have an advantage. It is why great opening batsmen and opening bowlers really are worth double, because they settle dressing-room nerves at the outset and set the tone for the rest of the match.

The numbers tell Hughes's tale, as they do for any batsman. Since the opening match, against Sussex at Hove, his top score has been 36. But much more damaging for Australia is his discomfort against the short ball.

From the moment Stephen Harmison did his patriotic duty for England Lions at Worcester and sent down two bouncers on the perfect line, the word has gone around that Hughes has a problem. He is small in stature, something that has not proved to be a disadvantage to generations of batsmen, but when things are going badly he lacks the physical presence of, say, a Matthew Hayden. He looks intimidated, not intimidating.

Specifically, he also has a technical problem. His back foot splays to the leg side on delivery, an involuntary twitch that is fiendishly difficult to shake off, so that the angle of his hips, shoulders and body face mid-off, not the bowler. It means that he has a blind spot for anything on ribcage or armpit line. Nor does he find it easy to score on the leg side because his hips are “closed” and in the way, and his bat cannot get at the ball.


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