Thursday, February 23, 2017

IND v AUS: Australia"s horses-for-courses approach against India

Australian spinner Steve O’Keefe trains during a practice session on the eve of the first Test against India at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune yesterday. Pic/PTI

Australia are looking to employ a horses-for-courses policy to break their Asian drought when the first Test against India gets underway in Pune today.

The tourists have tried various strategies to break their sub-continental jinx, but all the theories have failed so far. This time however, the Australian team management is keen to adopt a mentality of picking players to suit the conditions rather than playing to their strength.

Time for action
For the first time in history, the Australian selectors have picked a squad comprising five spinners for an Asian tour and the sight of a dry Pune pitch means this is the ideal time to put the theory into practice.

The counter argument to Australia’s plan is that the abrasive nature of the pitch will only bring the fast bowlers into the game in the form of reverse swing. But in the past 20 Test matches on Indian soil, no fast bowler has managed to slice through the formidable Indian batting with swing. Kyle Abbott, Ben Stokes, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle are the only players that have taken five-wicket hauls in India since India’s last defeat on home soil in 2012. It is a good indication that Indian batsmen are accustomed to playing the reverse swinging ball better than any other batsmen in the world.

Daunting task
While the spin-heavy attack might find it equally difficult to dislodge the Indian batting, the prospect of a spin-friendly pitch means the bowling plans for spinners actually become a lot simpler, as it all comes down to accuracy and subtle variation, something Steven O’Keefe has been training for since he broke down in Sri Lanka.

One of the lessons the Australian spinners have learnt from their raids into Asia is that when the pitch is misbehaving, it is primitive to let the pitch do the work rather than experimenting too much. The pitch in Pune fits the bill and given their past failures, if there is one place Australia should back their spin attack, it is in the first Test.

For a while now the Australian think-tank has been contemplating on banking on spin. It is time to back it or face the why-did-we-bring-so-many-spinners question again.

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