Cameron Bancroft and David Warner are in need of some runs.
Cameron Bancroft and David Warner are in need of some runs.

How do Australia fix their trouble at the top?

THE unanswerable question about the fitness of Steve Smith for the third Ashes Test will play second fiddle over the coming days to the more immediate need for Australia to address the issue with its openers and the form rut of David Warner.

Australian captain Tim Paine praised the guts of his players who helped forced a dramatic draw at Lord's without the help of Smith who became the first player in Test history to be replaced in an international match because of concussion.

A call on Smith's fitness for Thursday's third Test at Headingley won't be made until closer to the opening day but even the master batsman conceded the short gap was working against him despite a Sunday scan revealing no structural damage.

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Smith's opening innings of 92 aside, Paine said his team was off its best at Lord's but was content that with a 1-0 lead after two Tests, knowing they are within just one more win of retaining the Ashes.

David Warner has failed to reach double figures in four innings this Ashes series.
David Warner has failed to reach double figures in four innings this Ashes series.

That's a task being made harder by the horror run of Warner, who was out for just five in the second innings, his fourth consecutive single-figure score in the series and only the second such run of poor returns in his career.

After blitzing the World Cup, Warner has been an Ashes flop with just 15 runs at a scary series average of just 3.75 through two Tests, and the first man out on every occasion.

Between Warner and his opening partner Cameron Bancroft, their partnerships have netted just 37 runs, with a best return of just 13.

Cameron Bancroft has fared little better as Australia’s opening partnership has flopped.
Cameron Bancroft has fared little better as Australia’s opening partnership has flopped.

Paine said Warner's stellar Test career suggested he would bounce back, but it was an issue the Aussies can't escape in a series that has now come alive on the back of England's new ball weapon Jofra Archer.

"I think if you look at top order batting across the two teams it shows you it's probably a pretty difficult place to be batting on either side," Paine said.

"Yes, those guys would like more runs. We know how good David is, he's got 7000 Test runs at 50 (6381 at an average of 47) and Cameron Bancroft I thought in this game looked pretty good, faced a lot of balls.

"He probably would've liked to have scored a few more runs but I thought he acquitted himself pretty well again against some pretty high-quality bowling."

That high quality bowling looks to have given England the momentum and the potential absence of Smith, who had scored 37 per cent of Australia's runs through the first three innings of the series, could be telling.

Jofra Archer’s pace has ignited the Ashes contest and Warner needs to find a way to combat it.
Jofra Archer’s pace has ignited the Ashes contest and Warner needs to find a way to combat it.

But Paine believed the Australian plan was still on track, and that the performances of Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, who made 57 after being told on Sunday morning he was playing for Smith, spoke volumes.

"Whether Steve's playing, whether James Pattinson is playing it doesn't matter. The players we pick are picked to play a role, they're really clear on that. They know what's expected," he said.

"We knew coming here the five-Test series would be tough and there is a reason an Australian team hasn't won over here for 18 years.

"Having said that if you would have said we have we are 1-0 up after two Tests we would have taken that every day of the week. We are happy with the position we are in now."

THE OPENING CONCERN

Opening partnerships this series:

11, 13, 2, 13 - 39 runs @ 9.75)

David Warner:

2, 8, 3, 5 - 18 runs @ 4.5

Cameron Bancroft:

8, 7, 13 & 16 - 44 runs @ 11

News Corp Australia


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