Each side has a basket case batsman on the go. England have Ravi Bopara and Australia Phil Hughes. How similar they appear; young, cocky, fast-scoring, marketable, good hundreds on their CVs. How quickly the brain-worms have penetrated their grey matter; like kids in class reduced to mumbling when asked a direct question.
Yet under the surface, their problems are very different. Hughes has a core to his batting. It's a weird core, sure, but it's a core all the same. He's the classic autodidact. There was a show on TV once called Prophet, about an evil genius of a businessman who'd spent his childhood in a cardboard box with a hole cut in it through which he watched television. His entire psyche was the result of daytime soaps [it was an idea ahead of its time]. Hughes's concept of batting is based on a similar unreality. Like a daytime soap, it obeys its own internal logic. He doesn't bat like he's ever watched anyone else bat, but there is method there.
Conventional remedies won't solve his problem, because the problem cuts at his mind and ego as well as his technique. Being bounced out, sorted by the short ball, is emasculating, because it implies physical fear at the crease. Hughes' vulnerablity is magnified because he likes to stay legside of the ball. Conventionally, it's the coward's side of the line.
That's not so in his case. His technique is based around it so the solution should be too, and maybe only he can work out what it is.
It should start, though, from the implicit truth of any short ball - it's not going to hit the stumps. Thus, a short one will only get you out if you let it. That basic reduction served Brian Close* well. Hughes could simply not play anything aimed at his body. As any rheumy old coach will tell him, the bowler will get tired before he will.
For Hughes, a physical solution might fix his mind, reassure him. Bopara seems different. As Shane Warne pointed out, he doesn't appear to know in his heart what sort of player he is, and it worries him. He bats on shifting sands, reacting to each dismissal with a revised method. Like a lot of talented batters, he has too many options and he's had them indulged by less rigorous examination.
His hero, Sachin Tendulkar, had a spell where he kept getting out to the cover drive. Putting to one side the knowledge that it was one of his most beautiful and productive shots, Sachin made 241 against Australia at the SCG without hitting it. It took him more than ten hours. 'You learn so much when you have to figure things out for yourself,' he said afterwards. 'It was about setting myself a challenge and having the discipline to see it through'.
Everything Bopara needs to know is contained within those words.
* Subject of the great Eric Morcambe line, 'I always know it's summer when I hear the sound of leather on Brian Close'. Magic.